Kingsclere 1964 – 2003
Ever since the days of John Porter the yard at Kingsclere has echoed with the hoof beats of a steady stream of champions. From 1953 Peter Hastings- Bass trained the winners of numerous notable races including the Royal Hunt Cup, Stewards Cup and Cambridgeshire during his all too short career and upon his death in 1964 the licence was handed to his assistant Ian Balding. Under his guidance Kingsclere has been the home of top class racehorses that have won major races all over Europe. Amongst the galaxy of stars that he has trained are familiar names such as:
Inevitably, given the scale of the estate, Kingsclere’s history has been a story of a succession of rich men as well as trainers. The first of these was Sir Joseph Hawley, a colourful figure of the Victorian turf, who kept strict control of stable administration and the placing of horses, employing trainers largely as glorified stud grooms. After running a very successful stable in converted farm buildings at nearby Cannons Heath for many years, with a young John Porter employed as his private trainer, Hawley built a new yard at Kingsclere in 1867. It was considerably smaller than the present yard and the trainer’s status was reflected in the tiny cottage in which he was expected to live.
However in Porter, Hawley had found a trainer with a touch of genius and within two years he had trained a Derby winner when Blue Gown took the 1868 event at Epsom. Blue Gown went on to win the Ascot Gold Cup that same year and became the first in a long succession of top class horses to emanate from Porter’s yard at Kingsclere. Eight years after appointing Porter, Hawley died, generously including a clause in his will giving his young trainer the option to purchase the estate for £4,000, half what it had originally cost. The ambitious Porter, who was rapidly becoming the leading trainer of his day, exercised the option and set about transforming the yard into a model of its type.
In his autobiography he describes the process: “I was very anxious that the architect should embody in his designs the ideas I had formed regarding the requirements of a racing stable; so when I was convalescent (Porter had been struck down with typhoid) I obtained a drawing board, T-square, pencil and paper and set to work to prepare some plans”. Porter did an excellent job; more than a century later, the old yard works as well as ever. It has lasting beauty that derives from being utterly functional; spacious airy boxes; excellent drainage and no slippery surfaces. Such is the air of permanence and solidity about the place that it seems probable that it will still be working perfectly in another hundred years.
From the newly built yard at Kingsclere Porter’s stream of big race winners continued. The wonderful stayer Isonomy won eight major races between 1878-1880 including the Ascot Gold Cup (twice), The Doncaster and Goodwood Cups and the Queens Vase. In 1882 Porter had charge of two fillies Geheimniss and Shotover who were both considered to be serious candidates for the Oaks. However, rather than run them against each other, Porter instead pitched Shotover against the colts in the Derby. It was a brave decision that paid off handsomely when she won the great race and her stablemate made it a famous double in the Oaks three days later. Following Epsom the owners of the victorious fillies sponsored a day of festivities and celebrations on the downs for all the villagers. Kingsclere enjoyed more Derby success the following year when St Blaise triumphed at Epsom, however his achievements pail into insignificance with those of the legendary racehorse Ormonde.
Ormonde was a late developing two year old in 1885 and was fortunate in many ways to be trained by such a patient handler as John Porter. Given time to mature and develop the colt did not make the racecourse until the autumn, but such was his undoubted talent that he ran away with the Dewhurst Stakes one of the leading races for juveniles run all season. As a three year old Ormonde ridden by the great Fred Archer came into a league of his own with wins in the 2,000 Guineas, The Derby and the St Leger making him one of those rarest of creatures a ‘Triple Crown’ winner. The Champion Stakes and July Cup were amongst the highlights in his other victories and exhibit his remarkable versatility. Despite winning all sixteen of his racecourse starts Ormonde was exported to Argentina to carry out stallion duties because he developed a respiratory defect late in his racing career. However, both he and his regular partner Fred Archer will both be remembered as two of the greatest in the long history of racing.
Another legacy from the nineteenth century are the superb gallops laid out by Porter on Watership Down. His famous Derby gallop, a winding valley gallop cutting through the undulations of the Downs, out of sight of the ever present touts, survives today, albeit in slightly altered form. This gallop that had served Porter so well with Ormonde, Blue Gown, St Blaise and Shotover continued to pay dividends as Sainfoin was prepared to win the 1890 Derby. The following year Porter sent out Common to win the 2,000 Guineas, The Derby and the St. Leger.
A fillies’ Triple Crown was obtained with La Fleche in 1892. A remarkable filly by any standards, as well as winning The 1000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger she also won the Cambridgeshire, Newmarket Oaks and Nassau Stakes in the same season. Porter also had charge of the leading colt of 1892 and whilst he did not manage to win a classic (he was the victim of a suspicious ‘poisoning’ prior to the Derby) he did win the Eclipse, Sussex and Champion Stakes as a three year old.
In 1899 a horse called Flying Fox emulated the Ormonde and Common by becoming John Porter’s third Triple Crown winner. The 2000 Guineas, Derby and and St Leger were not the only big races won by Kingsclere trained horses; The Eclipse, Jockey Club, Queen Anne, Prince of Wales and Nassau Stakes added to an impressive haul in memorable season. La Roche won the 1900 Oaks for John Porter and whilst this was not his final big winner before his retirement in 1905 it was the last of his many classic winners in a career that must be recognised as one of the most remarkable of any generation. Despite training 23 classic winners, such legendary horses as Ormonde and Flying Fox, for some of the most notable people in the land, including the Prince of Wales, Porter’s thoughts in retirement reveal the perennial insecurity of the trainer’s lot. “Experience had proved to me that the emoluments I received as a trainer merely provided sufficient to live upon. There was no surplus to put in the bank. Any money I have saved has come to me in the form of presents from my patrons and as a result of fortunate speculations in bloodstock”.
Even before Porter’s retirement in 1905 the estate cost so much to maintain that it had been reconstituted as ‘Kingsclere Ltd’, a syndicate involving the Dukes of Portland and Westminster. After Porter’s retirement they employed William Waugh who trained successfully at Kingsclere from 1906-1924. Amongst his biggest winners were Troutbeck (1906 St Leger), Winkipop (1910 1,000 Guineas) and Clarissimus 1916 (2,000 Guineas).A fallow period ensued between 1924 and 1934, when training resumed under the control of Fred Butters, younger brother of the Aga Khan’s trainer, who added to the Kingsclere roll of honour by training Midday Sun to win the Derby of 1937. Two years later war broke out and Kingsclere’s gallops were silent once more.
After the war, during which time American soldiers had been stationed in Park House, the former jump jockey Evan Williams took out a licence to train at Kingsclere. Previously Williams had been secretary to Ivor Anthony at Wroughton, the stable Aubrey Hastings had made famous by training no less than four Grand National winners. Hastings’ son Peter, after learning his trade under Ivor Anthony at Wroughton for six years, bought Kingsclere in the early 1950s and took out a license to train there in 1953 on Williams’s retirement.