Your starter for 10… When was the last US trained winner of a Jumps race in the UK?
American horses face some big obstacles coming over to Europe to compete over Jumps, but every few years, someone else comes to have a tilt at the big prizes. And whilst they rarely trouble the judge, we can’t fault their enthusiasm in trying.
The very best US horses have succeeded over here, but many of them are British or Irish exports coming back after excelling over there. In fact, the US steeplechase calendar is filled with British horses and riders, the first of which are firm ground specialists and the second riders finding the summer season over there more rewarding than flitting between Hexham and Newton Abbot over here.
This year, there is once again a US entry for the Champion Hurdle. Winston C is one of just 6 horses with Keri Brion in Ireland, who, as his former assistant, has taken over the licence of US Chasing giant, Jonathan Sheppard, now retired at 80. It’s another brave attempt by the Americans to compete at the highest level of the sport, on terms that are rarely to their advantage.
If you were to track your previous bets on US success over here, you’d cease betting pretty quickly I suspect. Nevertheless, here though are some of America’s more successful imports:
Historians among you will recognize the winner of the 1935 Champion Hurdle, a gelding who’d been a leading chaser in the US in 1931. Chenango was one of two American horses trained by Ivor Anthony at Wroughton, the other being Flaming, an Imperial Cup winner but with glass legs.
The 1935 renewal of the race wasn’t sadly anything special. Only 5 ran and Chenango galloped home to win unopposed by 5l. The following year he ran an undistinguished race in the County Hurdle and died that summer.
Battleship was a stocky but small horse of just 15hh 2, bred in Lexington, Kentucky, and owned by Marion duPont, a descendant of the billionaire chemicals dynasty. After winning the American Grand National, she shipped Battleship over to the UK to be trained for the National, by Reg Hobbs in Lambourn.
Battleship was withdrawn in the preparation for the 1937 National and set for a run in the following year’s race, ridden by Reg’s son Bruce, subsequently a successful Flat trainer. At just 17, the diminutive pair couldn’t actually see over the Chair, and confidence was so poor that Hobbs Snr had special reins made with an additional 18″ length!
In an eventful race in which Hobbs Jnr was saved after a mistake by one Fred Rimell, Battleship and Danieli took up the running after Becher’s second time around. Battleship made a shocking mistake 3 out, but giving his horse time to recover, Hobbs drove his horse to the line, and won by a head.
The horse and owner were greeted on the quay in New York on their return that Spring by an enormous crowd.
The horse to set the ball rolling in the modern era was Jay Trump, bought by amateur rider Tommy Smith, who raced from 1962-66 inclusive. Jay Trump showed early talent, winning the first of three Maryland Hunt Cups in 1963, and that win, with a course record, set up the idea of a tilt at the National. Jay Trump won the Hunt Cup a second time the following year, and was shipped to England for the autumn, housed with Fred Winter in Lambourn in his first season training.
Two autumn victories set him up for a run in the King George on Boxing Day, assisted by a dry autumn that replicated conditions that would have applied in the US. On the back of wins at Sandown and Windsor (remember them Jumping?), he was remarkably installed favourite for Aintree but needed a third race to qualify for a handicap mark before entries closed in early January. The King George was that race.
Although the King George had been around since 1937, the race didn’t at that juncture hold the same prestige as now. With more emphasis on handicaps creating the structure of the season, reinforced by the advent of serious sponsorship to endow them well, a mere conditions race like the King George had fallen behind. As a result only 3 entries stood their ground for the 1964 King George, comprising Mill House, Frenchman’s Cove and Jay Trump.
Yet the field was to diminish further after a heavy frost elicited the withdrawal of 33 runners that day, Mill House among them, ensuring the smallest field in the race’s history. The match did not excite the crowd; Jay Trump was deliberate in his jumping and finished a distant second, but with a handicap mark of 11st 5lb for the National.
The 112 entries for the race distilled down to 47 runners, headed by 1964 Cheltenham Foxhunter winner Freddie. The race was run in the shadow of the first modern threat to the National, Mrs Mirabel Topham having declared the previous autumn that she intended to sell the site for development.
Jay Trump’s amateur rider, Tommy Smith, admirably coached by Winter, rode an excellent race weaving bis way around a pile-up at Becher’s on the first circuit and taking up the running at the Canal Turn a circuit later with Freddie. On the run to the elbow, with Freddie neck and neck, Crompton drew his stick, and Jay Trump nearly downed tools, but reverting to hands and heels, he drew clear to win by 3/4l. The winning owner received £22,041 (£365,016 now).
Jay Trump went back to the US to win a further Maryland Hunt Cup the following year before retirement.
It wasn’t until 1980 that another British-bred horse was to venture across the Atlantic to win the National, ridden by another enthusiastic amateur in Charlie Fenwick.
Ben Nevis started his career in Point-to-Points but without distinction which led him to be exported to the US. Twice a winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup, he was despatched back to Britain to Tim Forster at Letcombe Regis to run in the Grand National of 1979 where he was brought down at the Chair.
He reappeared in the race the following year, when totally unfancied in the heavy ground, and left the paddock to eternal pessimist Forster’s perpetual instruction to his National jockeys, “keep remounting”. Fenwick, though, had done his homework, as this ambition had been some time in the making; his grandfather had narrowly lost the National in 1928 when US trained Billy Barton was runner-up. Moving into contention at the 19th, Ben Nevis was left in the lead at Becher’s second time around and won unchallenged by 20l.
Trained in Pennslyvania by Hertfordshire-born Jonathan Sheppard, Flatterer was already a winner of four Colonial Cups and two Temple Gwathmeys in 22 victories by the time he was sent over to run in the 1987 Champion Hurdle. Unlike his predecessors, he wasn’t trained in Britain before running at Cheltenham; contemporary air transport allowed him to be flown over just 4 days before the race.
The previous spring, he’d been flown to Paris where he ran second in the French Champion Hurdle, so his form on typical Spring ground in Europe was well known.
Up with the pace throughout, he was headed running down the hill, but ran on with great vigour to give an almighty fright to See You Then, winning his third consecutive Championship. But for misjudging the last, the margin of 1 1/2l would have been considerably smaller.
Flatterer didn’t return to Britain again, and was retired the following year after pulling up in the Breeders Cup Chase at Camden.
Winner of 23 of his 42 starts, Lonesome Glory came to the attention of British racegoers through an innovative addition to the racing programme, the brainchild of Cheltenham’s Edward Gillespie with one-time amateur rider and racing impressario George Sloan.
In the autumn of 1988, the new trans-Atlantic Sport of Kings Challenge was introduced, with qualifying races in the US autumn campaign, followed by races at Cheltenham, Chepstow and Leopardstown. Designed largely for progressive Intermediate horses, the Challenge offered significant prize money, especially in the US, and bonuses for winning on both sides of the Pond.
The initial US challenge for the inaugural contests at Cheltenham was nothing short of remarkable, with four travellers from America. However, they were to find the difference in ground conditions an intolerable burden. In fact, in the early years weather disrupted the Series to the extent that Chepstow was dropped altogether.
It wasn’t until December 1992 that Bruce Miller and his daughter Blythe sent over Lonsesome Glory to win the Cheltenham leg by a head. After Cheltenham, during which we won a $50,000 bonus for winning a Sport of Kings race on both sides of the Pond, Lonsesome Glory was campaigned with great success back in the USA, winning a Colonila Cup and Camden Hurdle, before being switched to Charlie Brooks at Lambourn for the ’95-96 season whilst Bruce held the fort back home.
He ran 3 times that season, winning a handicap chase at Sandown, beating the likes of Egypt Mill Prince and Remittance Man, whilst See More Business won his Novices Hurdle on the same card. However, he wasn’t able to handle the conditions at Haydock in January in the Peter Marsh, and his owners opted to send him home again after he incurred a muscle injury.
The subsequent year, he picked up the Carolina Cup and a third Colonial Cup before retiring in 1999.