With the notable exception of Cheltenham in its midst, courses around the Three Counties stage a paucity of the Graded races that make up the National Hunt Pattern, which defines the best equine performers of their generation. Stratford and Worcester’s focus on summer Jumping has left them out in the cold where Pattern status is concerned, but Warwick’s 3 Pattern events have thrived with its specialism in Jumping since it dropped flat racing in 2014.
Traditionalists will focus on the Classic Chase, once upon a time a 4 mile slog remembered by many as the Brooke Bond Oxo National, but the chase which shows the most recent growth in quality is the Kingmaker Chase, a perfectly timed prep for the Arkle Trophy on the opening day of the Festival.
Inaugurated in 1991, the race is named after Warwick’s most famous son, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as the Kingmaker, best known for deposing Henry VI and subsequently switching sides to depose Edward IV and reinstate Henry during the War of the Roses, whilst living at Warwick Castle.
In common with so many of the Point-to-Point races we run around the West Midlands area, the Kingmaker Chase has been a testing ground for horses and riders who graduate to the top flight of the sport.
About the race
Run over a distance of about 2 miles and 12 fences, the Kingmaker is open to novice chasers aged five and upwards. It is generally held in February of each year, although the race was previously contested in May, until 1996. Its distance was also cut at the same time from 2m 5f.
The second running was fraught, timed days after a controversial TV documentary suggesting blood doping by champion trainer Martin Pipe, in which both the Warwick vet and the race sponsor, Pertemps (now sponsor of the Stratford Foxhunter Chase, one of the season’s big 3), had been vociferous critics. Pipe set out to win the race by providing 6 of the 9 entries, subsequently did so and declined to attend the presentations. Yet another example of racing’s occasionally parochial spats breaking into the open.
The race has been transferred to Wincanton on three occasions, and has also been held twice at Sandown Park, latterly in 2019 due to the equine flu outbreak. There were no races in 1995, 2003, 2004 or 2012 where foul weather took a hand.
Surprisingly, the Kingmaker has not produced an endless stream of top flight two milers, but notable among its successes has been Flagship Uberalles (1999), winner of the Arkle the following month and the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2002; Voy Pur Ustedes (2006) who followed the same Arkle path successfully and chalked up the Champion Chase the following year; and Long Run (2010), who fluffed his lines at Cheltenham a month later, but made up for it over the longer distance of the Gold Cup in 2011, beating Denman, under amateur and current Point-to-Point senior rider Sam Waley-Cohen.
Notable among its graduates, 2009 winner Gauvain continued his success into the Point-to-Point field from the age of 12 for Victoria Collins, winning at Cottenham, Hereford, Fontwell, Eyton and Parham.
During its near 30-year history, the race has produced an array of winning jockeys; below we profile some of the most successful.
Three jockeys have tasted success in the race on two separate occasions. They are Adrian Maguire, Jimmy McCarthy and Peter Scudamore. Scudamore went back to back in the first two races held, in 1991 and 1992.
In the first race, he rode six-year-old Anti Matter to victory and followed up with a win on nine-year-old Milford Quay 12 months later. It marked a double for Martin Pipe, too, who was honoured in 2009 with the creation of a new race at the Cheltenham Festival named after him.
Scudamore, meanwhile, would go on to become an eight-time Champion Jockey, riding an incredible 1,678 winning horses over the course of his career. His achievements in the sport were rightfully marked with the bestowing of an MBE, but his career, like so many before and after, began in the Point-to-Point field, during the 1976 and 1977 seasons around the Herefordshire circuits. However, courtesy of Kingmaker Toby Balding, Scu was able to graduate from Pointing to the professional ranks within 2 years.
Following Scudamore was Adrian Maguire, who was winner of the Kingmaker in 1993, though he had to wait another four years before repeating the feat. Maguire was at the height of his talents during the 1993-94 season, when he rode 194 winners, and won more than 1,000 races in total across the UK. Maguire cut his teeth in Irish pony racing, and is another prodigy identified by Toby Balding who set him on his way in the larger and more competitive UK jockeys sphere.
McCarthy, meanwhile, was a winner in 2000, on Cenkos, and then again eight years later on Kruguyrova. He retired from the saddle in 2013 after a riding career spanning more than 25 years, and nearly 500 winners. He enjoyed success throughout his career, with notable scalps in the Tote Gold Trophy (now Betfair Hurdle) at Newbury and Cheltenham’s Cleeve H and Greatwood Hurdles. Jimmy is now a senior part of the team at Jamie Osborne’s in Lambourn, focused on the Flat.
Three time winners
Just one jockey holds the honour of having completed a hat-trick of wins in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase, and that man is Robert Thornton. The Darlington-born jockey was a winner in 1999, and then went back-to-back in 2005 and 2006 to seal a treble.
“Choc” Thornton was steeped in hunting, growing up with a father as a professional huntsman, but he started working for David Nicholson at the tender age of 14, before he would have been allowed to ride in Points, and fast-tracked straight to Rules racing at the age of 16. He never looked back.
Thornton was a consistent top ten finisher in the British Jumps Jockey Championship, enjoying particular success during the 2007/08 season, when he rode more than 100 winners.
Not a great one for post race interviews until he’d spoken to his employers and owners, he couldn’t help but hit the headlines at Cheltenham, where he won his first feature race in 2006; his victory on My Way de Solzen in the World Hurdle still stands out as a career highlight among 15 Festival winners that also included Katchit in the Champion Hurdle.
Success at Cheltenham can help turn a good jockey into a truly memorable sportsperson, with the Festival propelling news from the sport into the mainstream on the back of intense betting interest. Today, horse racing betting news is round the clock, but in years past it took success in the big races to grab the headlines and the same remains the case today. Thornton did just that.
Like many who leave the saddle, Choc has remained close to the sport he loves. He manages Apple Tree Stud in Icomb, near Stow-on-the-Wold, producing top flight Flat stock.
We hope you have enjoyed this guide to the most successful recent horses and jockeys in the Kingmaker. As all of us who promote grass roots racing will testify, developing excellence at any level is an important part of growing the sport’s popularity.