Under normal circumstances, victory in a 61-80 fillies’ and mares’ handicap at Bath would not be enough to see a senior jockey punching the air in delight. However, the result of the Swindon Designer Outlet Osprey London Handicap marked it down as far from a run-of-the-mill event.
This race was the last of many thousands in which one of the runners was trained by Barry Hills – and as that runner, One Lucky Lady, emerged the winner, thus signing off one of the greatest training careers in history with an appropriate flourish, it is easy to understand why her jockey William Carson should have greeted victory with such enthusiasm.
Barry Hills’s decision to hand over the license at his Faringdon Place Stable to his son Charlie has been greeted with an outpouring of respect for his magnificent career, but the truth is that no amount of praise could ever overstate the impression which Hills has made on his sport. Although coming from a racing background – his father Bill had a short career as a jump jockey and a longer one as a head lad – Barry Hills certainly was not born with undue advantage, but he was able to scale the heights entirely thanks to his own industriousness, horsemanship, flair and initiative.
Hills amassed the capital required to start training in 1969 largely thanks to backing Frankincense, the 100/8 winner of the previous year’s Lincoln Handicap for the stable of John Oxley, for which Hills was the travelling head lad.
In only his fifth season as a trainer he saddled Rheingold (whom he had bought as a yearling for 3,000gns and who had finished second in the previous year’s Derby) to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe under Lester Piggott. Thereafter, Hills never looked back.
Now, with more than 3,200 winners under his belt, Hills has decided that it is time to hand on the baton to the next generation.
If the success of his other sons, the jockeys Michael and Richard and the trainer John, is anything to go by, the future of Faringdon Place is in safe hands, with Charlie surely set to demonstrate that, as his father’s son, he has had the best upbringing any young horseman could wish for. Charlie’s ultimate target must surely be to train a Derby or an Oaks winner, and thus rectify one of the very few omissions on his father’s roll of honour.
Barry Hills has four times saddled the runner-up in the Derby and was responsible for one of unluckiest Oaks losers in history (Dibidale, robbed of what seemed certain victory in the Oaks in 1974 by a slipped saddle) but very few other big races have eluded him.
He has trained big winners for all the sport’s major owners, but he will always be most synonymous with one owner above all others: he was the principal British trainer to the late Robert Sangster for most of that great sportsman’s racing life, and the two men were perfectly suited, as friends as well as co-competitors.
It was very fitting, therefore, that on his last day as a licensed trainer Hills should eschew the day’s principal meeting (York, whither he sent Self Centred to finish third in the nursery) in favour of attending Chester, Sangster’s local course and a track where the two enjoyed tremendous success over the years, most notably at the May meeting.
The cheers duly rang loudly on the Roodee when Hills’ runner there, Na Zdorovie, won the two-year-old maiden; and there was hardly a dry eye in the house in the evening at Bath when victory for One Lucky Lady – ridden fittingly by William Carson, the grandson of Dibidale’s jockey Willie, who rode so many winners for the stable over the years – meant that Barry Hills ended his career as he had spent it: as a winner.