Advent blog: Frankincense

22nd December 2013

This advent blog comes from Museum friends Tony Lake and Stephen Wallis.

Some children waking up on Christmas morning might not believe their eyes, but back in the winter of 1967-68, Barry Hills believed his.  And he backed his judgement accordingly.

Lady Halifax’s homebred son by Princely Gift out of Amathea had matured and improved. The ante-post bookmakers were offering long odds about the horse in John Oxley’s yard, once known to have bad feet, winning the Lincoln, but Barry knew he would. 'It never crossed my mind that he wouldn't win.” Over the winter and early spring he, and a few others “in the know”, went about placing small amounts here and there across the country, at every price from 66/1 downwards, on the four-year-old to win the first major handicap of the coming flat season.

As Greville Starkey eased the top weight, under the record breaking burden of 9st 5lbs, to head the field of 31 to win by a half-length, a new era had dawned. “In all I took £60,000 - a lot of money back then.' (Modern equivalent: £1,520,000 approx). Barry Hills’ winnings helped to set up as a trainer at South Bank Stables in Lambourn. However, the story that reads like a fairy tale neither starts nor ends there.

Barrington William Hills was born in 1937 and he followed his father into racing as soon as he could. As an apprentice to George S Colling, the first of his eight winners as a jockey came on Sudden Light, at Newmarket, July 14, 1954. However, his burgeoning career was interrupted by National Service with the King’s Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery, but in due course he re-joined Collin. John Oxley took over at Hurworth House on Collin’s death, in 1959, and Barry stayed on as travelling head lad. Training from his own yard though was always his plan, and the Frankincense coup merely hastened that plan.

Barry’s first winner as a trainer was La Dolce Vita, at Thirsk, April 18, 1969. Unsurprisingly, the Ernie Johnson ridden three year old was a well backed 2/1 favourite. Forty years later, on April 7, 2009, he returned to Yorkshire, Pontefract this time, to saddle another well supported favourite, Chapter And Verse, who, ridden by his son Michael, became his 3000th winner. Undoubtedly a perfectionist of the old school, Hills is one of only five trainers to have sent out that many winners on the Flat in Britain.

As well as quantity Hills will always be associated his quality. In his fifth season as a trainer he landed the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe with Rheingold (Lester Piggott). He was instrumental in bringing Steve Cauthen to Britain, and duly provided the American with his first Classic winner, Tap On Wood. In recent years, few horses have been as popular as Further Flight and Barry nurtured him to success in the in the Ebor and five Jockey Club Cups. In all Barry sent out a five British Classic winners: Enstone Spark (1978 1,000 Guineas), Tap On Wood (1979 2,000 Guineas), Moonax (1994 St Leger), Haafhd (2004 2,000 Guineas), Ghanaati (2009 1,000 Guineas).

Continuing the fairy tale, on Saturday, 20th August, 2011, after his last runner as a trainer, One Lucky Lady, scored at Bath's evening meeting under William Carson, he handed over the reins of his Lambourn stables to his 32-year-old son, Charles. Thus opening a new chapter to the fairy tale.

All Barry’s children have excelled. His eldest son, John, trains at Kingwood Stud, Lambourn, and has had notable successes including:  Wind In Her Hair (Aral-Pokal Stakes), Dark Islander (Oak Tree Derby), Crimson Tide, (Premio Ribot; Preis Von Dusseldorf), Docksider (Brandenberg Mile; Hong Kong Mile).Richard retired from riding in 2012 after being number one jockey for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum for 15 years.  Successful worldwide he won six British Classics: 1,000 Guineas - Harayir (1995), Lahan (2000), Ghanaati (2009); 2,000 Guineas - Haafhd (2004), Oaks - Eswarah (2005), St Leger - Mutafaweq (1999). Richard’s twin Michael, also retired in 2012, after riding 2,085 winners, his big wins include: Derby - Shaamit (1996), King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes - Pentire (1996), Hong Kong Cup - First Island (1996). Even in the infancy of his career Charlie has tasted glory with Just The Judge (Irish 1,000 Guineas), Chriselliam (Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf) and Kiyoshi (Albany Stakes, Royal Ascot). A fifth Hills boy, George, provides Bloodstock Insurance in Lexington, Kentucky.

So the “gift” of Frankincense can be clearly traced right up to today, but what of the horse himself? As a two year old, after finishing second on his debut in Newmarket’s Granby Stakes, he ran six more times, winning once, Clifton Bridge Stakes at York. At three, he ran six times, never finishing out of the frame, and winning four races (including a walk over at Sandown), most notably Redcar’s prestigious William Hill Gold Cup handicap. After his Lincoln triumph, stepped up in class, he was beaten into second place in Royal Ascot’s Queen Anne Stakes, although market leader at 7/4, and was no match for Royal Palace in the Eclipse where he finished fourth. After finishing third, behind Petingo in the Sussex Stakes, Frankincense was retired to stud; however, his sweet smell of success remains with the Hills.