When Lookaway won the feature race on the first day of Cheltenham’s 2023-24 season, the spotlight on course focused on trainer Neil King, for whom the success underlined his return from the previous campaign’s doldrums.
The Wiltshire trainer’s ten winners had been his lowest score since 2006-07, while Lookaway himself had reflected the troubles by failing to get anywhere near winning in three starts having been unbeaten in two bumpers the season before, including the race after the Grand National at Aintree, a Grade 2.
“We had such a dreadful time last season,” admitted King. “We just couldn’t put a finger on it and we spent a fortune trying to find out what’s wrong and doing our best. Lookaway showed again at Uttoxeter in May that he’s a serious horse and I’m over the moon.”
But the victory wasn’t just a boost for the trainer and his yard, it was a tonic too for owner and ROA member Peter Beadles, who was unable to be at Cheltenham due to undergoing a course of chemotherapy, but made his delight known to his television.
Explaining his background, Beadles says: “I lived in Liverpool from the age of five to 19 and the Grand National was the most talked about event of the year – at that time possibly more than the Liverpool-Everton derby.
“My father wasn’t interested in football, but we always got involved in a sweepstake at the National. When I was 19 I went to study agriculture at Wye College in Kent; they had a jumps racecourse and I frequented that on a regular basis.
“Then when living in Essex, I was a member at Newmarket for many years. I have a very good friend who told me I should see some jump racing and he took me to Huntingdon, which I thoroughly enjoyed.”
So much so that Beadles’ interest and passion led into ownership, and he has been involved in eight horses now, the early ones via shares and more recently having his own red and yellow silks carried by Lookaway – who went up 10lb to a mark of 132 after winning at Cheltenham – and others.
He continues: “It was at a Huntingdon meeting that Neil King’s operation in Newmarket was promoted, and I got permission from my wife to go and see him.
“I bought a leg in Outback and found that one of the other shareholders was a farmer I’d known through Round Table and not seen for about 40 years. He was a very keen horseman, so I felt somewhat reassured.
“I knew nothing about horses and needed guidance. Neil did that for me, we got on very well, he makes my racing decisions for me. When he moved to Wiltshire I decided I’d stay with him and I believe that’s been the best move in racing that I’ve made.”
Asked for his magical moments to date, Beadles replies: “I’ve always wanted to win at the big racecourses. In March 2019, Princeton Royale was entered at Ascot – I didn’t know Ascot had jump racing – in a two-mile-five-furlong chase “Jonjo O’Neil Jr was on board and it was the first time he had seen the horse. He was the outsider but led virtually throughout and won the race in a course record time, which he still holds. It was such an unexpected pleasure and the Ascot staff were all delightful and looked after us very well.
“Next there was the bumper on Grand National day at Aintree, for which Lookaway was 28-1. All the top trainers were represented, yet the horse won going away. The hospitality was great and it showed me what a good choice Neil had made when buying him.
“I can’t think how many times I’ve watched the replay. I was in trouble with some of the annual members I know at Cheltenham because I’d messed up their multiple bets!”
He adds: “And then there was Cheltenham at the end of October, and the Grade 2 Sharp Novices’ Hurdle, Neil had had a bad time last season but this year his horses seemed to be coming back on form.
“Lookaway had been running well and again led from the front, was going away at the line and Jack Quinlan – a great jockey – had trouble stopping him. Unfortunately, I am not too well at the moment and on a course of chemo, so crowds are out. I was, however, fit enough to shout at the television!”
Beadles found himself shouting at the television again last month, when Lookaway returned to Prestbury Park for the Greatwood Hurdle and acquitted himself superbly well to split the Nicky Henderson-trained pair Iberico Lord and Luccia in finishing runner-up.
“I was very happy with his performance, he was giving 6lb to the winner and beat 13 pretty good horses,” says the proud owner.
“I spoke to Neil this morning [the day after the race] and the horse ate up last night and is in good shape. We’re just trying to decide where we should go next.
“This is what I always hoped racing would be about and am delighted to be in the situation I find myself in. I’m also very pleased for Neil, who got me here!”
As well as being forced to miss in person his horse winning or running really well in big races in his silks, there are other enjoyable aspects of ownership Beadles has had to forego too.
He explains: “You can’t beat that winning feeling – I’ve had one at the Grand National meeting and would quite like one at the Cheltenham Festival now too! – but another really nice thing about being a racehorse owner is the companionship of other owners and members at the racecourses.
“I know some of the annual members at Cheltenham backed the horse when he won in October, knowing I was the owner, and two of them went out in the rain to video the winner’s enclosure and send it to me.”
He adds: “As for the downsides, I would say that weather, ground and injuries are the worst.”
Beadles, a minor shareholder in a travel business he sold to his management team in 2014, and who has an interest in a few other Essex businesses, initially chatted to Owner Breeder between Storms Babet and Ciaran – so not the best time of year for weather or ground.
However, fingers are crossed that his horses steer clear of injury, and that Lookaway especially continues to give him something to look forward to.