Wednesday 19 July 2017

Eve Johnson Houghton: Like Father Like Daughter

Eve Johnson Houghton is, of course, the daughter of Fulke Johnson Houghton, from whom she took over the training licence at Woodbury Stables, the family training centre at Blewbury, on the outskirts of Didcot, Oxforshire, in 2007. Fulke Johnson Houghton saddled over 1,200 winners, including the likes of Habitat and Ile De Bourbon, in a 45-year career stretching from 1961 to 2006 and has been on hand to assist his daughter since his ‘retirement’. Apparently father and daughter don’t always see eye to eye, but Eve does concede that Johnson Houghton Snr is “brilliant” in the yard.

Eve Johnson Houghton was an accomplished amateur rider, winning the prestigious Ladies’ Diamond Race at Ascot – the most valuable race of its kind – twice. She subsequently worked alongside the late John Hills, eldest son of Barry Hills, for six years as secretary and assistant trainer. During her time at South Bank, Hills saddled Wind In Her Hair to finish second in the Oaks and Broadway Flyer to finish second in the St. Leger. Similarly, her time as assistant trainer to her father coincided with that of his last really top-class performer, Tout Seul, winner of the Dewhurst Stakes and third in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Eve made a bright start to her training career after taking over from her father, saddling 22 winners in her initial season, and has improved her total every season, bar one, since. In 2017, she trained 50 winners in a season for the first time.

One of the success stories of the 2017 season was Accidental Agent, a three-year-old colt bred by her mother Gaie and named after the autobiography of her grandfather Major John G. Goldsmith, who worked under the codename ‘Valentin’ for the Special Operations Executive during World War II. The Delegator colt progressed from winning an ordinary handicap on the Polytrack at Kempton in September to winning the value totescoop6 Challenge Cup at Ascot in October and finishing fourth in the hugely competitive Balmoral Handicap, back at the Berkshire track, on Champions Day, two weeks later.

Other horses who should continue to pay their way include Jake’s Hill, a four-year-old colt by Eclipse Stakes winner Mount Nelson who, according to his trainer “has a lot of scope” and “will be better with another winter under his belt”. Similarly, Eve believes that On To Victory, a four-year-old colt by 2,000 Guineas winner Rock of Gibraltar, “will be a lovely horse next year.”

Saturday 1 July 2017

David Elsworth: A Lifetime in Racing

Veteran trainer David Elsworth, 77, has been involved in horse racing, in one way or another, for 60 years. However, he is probably best known as the trainer of Desert Orchid, winner of the King George VI Chase (four times), the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Irish National. However, he also enjoyed many other notable successes, including Rhyme ‘N’ Reason in the 1988 Grand National and Barnbrook Again in the 1990 Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Elsworth won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship in 1987/88 and, in his heyday, trained 143 horses at Whitsbury, Hampshire on the edge of the New Forest. Having decided to concentrate his efforts on the Flat, he recorded his sole Classic success in the 1990 Irish 1,000 Guineas with In The Groove, who also won the Juddmonte International Stakes and the Champion Stakes that year, and the Coronation Cup the following year.

Far and away his most popular performer on the Flat, though, was Persian Punch, a giant, courageous chestnut who won the Henry II Stakes (twice), the Doncaster Cup, the Goodwood Cup (twice) and the Jockey Club Cup (three times) between 1997 and 2003. Persian Punch suffered a massive heart attack, collapsed and died in action at Ascot, as an 11-year-old, the following year, having won 20 races and over £1 million in prize money.

In 2006, David Elsworth moved from Whitsbury to Egerton House Stables in Newmarket. He said at the time, “I suppose some might be wanting to retire at my age, but what would I do if I did? I love what I do. I love being with my horses. I love the life.”

Although training on a smaller scale than was once the case, Elsworth has continued to be successful since the move. He saddled Snoqualmie Boy to win King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2006, Barshiba to win the Sandringham Handicap at the same meeting in 2007, and the same horse to win the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock Park in 2009 and 2010. More recently, he also won the Juddmonte International Stakes at with 50/1 outsider Arabian Queen, who held on gamely to beat Horse of the Year Golden Horn, who’d already won the Derby and the Coral-Eclipse and went on to win the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Not bad for a man who was once took a job as a market trader to make ends meet, eh?