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Dick Hern 1921-2002: Master of his profession who enjoyed success and respect in equal measure.

Byline: George Ennor

DICK HERN has entered racing folklore as one of the most successful trainers in the sport's history. He won every British Classic at least twice and had an outstanding record in the St Leger, which he won six times - with Hethersett, Provoke, Bustino, Dunfermline, Cut Above and Sun Princess.

He won the Derby with Troy, Henbit and Nashwan, and his other Classic winners were Brigadier Gerard and Nashwan (2,000 Guineas), Highclere and Harayir (1,000 Guineas), and Bireme, Dunfermline and Sun Princess (Oaks).

Troy, Nashwan and the sprinter Dayjur were among the outstanding champions of recent years, but it was Brigadier Gerard, beaten only once in 18 races and perhaps Britain's greatest champion of the 20th century, who was the best he ever trained.

William Richard Hern, referred to as `The Major' by all but his closest friends, was born at Holford, Somerset, on January 20, 1921, the son of Roy Hern, a cavalryman and gentleman farmer.

He went to school at nearby Millfield and started riding as an amateur, mostly in point-to-points, when he was 17.

During World War II he served with the North Irish Horse in North Africa and Italy, but typically found time during a lull in the fighting in northern Italy to clear mines from the temporarily disused racecourse at Ravenna and organise a race meeting with the help of his friend Michael Pope.

In 1952 he acted as coach to the British three-day event team at the Olympic Games in Helsinki, and then became a racing professional when joining Pope as assistant.

His entry into training in his own right came at the end of 1957, when he took the job of private trainer to Lionel Holliday.

The best horse Hern trained for Holliday was Hethersett, who started favourite for the 1962 Derby but was brought down at halfway. The colt went on to win the St Leger.

In that year, Hern gained the first of his four trainers' championships, and at the end of the season he moved to West Ilsley Stables, where he took over from the retiring Jack Colling. Joe Mercer, Colling's retained rider, stayed on in that role under Hern.

Hern sent out the winners of 62 races in his first season there, and his winners in 1964 included Grey Of Falloden in the Doncaster Cup and Cesarewitch. That stayer raced for Lord Astor, whose brother Jakie Astor's Provoke provided Hern with his biggest win of 1965.

The St Leger of that year was regarded as a formality for Meadow Court, but the race was run in bottomless ground and driving rain. When the field came into view half a mile from home it was the 28-1 chance Provoke who was in front, and he stayed there to beat Meadow Court by ten lengths.

Less than two weeks later, Lord Astor's Craighouse completed a notable stable and family St Leger double at The Curragh.

The stable was hit by a serious viral attack in 1966, but at least there was the encouragement of the first support from the Queen, who sent half a dozen yearlings to West Ilsley.

The stable's Remand was much fancied to beat Sir Ivor in the 1968 Derby, but could finish only fourth and within days was found to be coughing. Once again, for a period, the yard suffered badly from a virus.

The stable enjoyed a resurgence in 1970, when Highest Hopes won the Ascot 1,000 Guineas Trial and Fred Darling Stakes, and gave Hern his first big victories in France in the Prix Eugene Adam and Prix Vermeille.

Among his two-year-olds that season was the unfashionably bred Brigadier Gerard. That colt, bred by his owners John and Jean Hislop, by Queen's Hussar out of La Pava (a mare who never won a race), became Hern's masterpiece.

Brigadier Gerard was unbeaten in four juvenile starts, culminating in the Middle Park Stakes, but was not officially considered quite as good at that age as My Swallow or Mill Reef.

Hern produced him to take on those two in the 1971 2,000 Guineas without the benefit of a warm-up race, and `The Brigadier' showed star quality as he beat Mill Reef by three lengths.

Brigadier Gerard's talent, courage and consistency marked him as a champion among champions. His only defeat came when, in one of the greatest upsets in racing history, he was outstayed by the Derby winner Roberto at York in 1972.

In retrospect that defeat only serves to emphasise how well Hern had done to prepare the horse to stay well enough to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on his previous start.

Brigadier Gerard's exploits as a four-year-old enabled Hern to become champion trainer for the second time, as the colt's victories included the Prince of Wales's Stakes, Eclipse Stakes, King George (the only time he ran at a mile and a half), Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Champion Stakes.

Other good results for the stable in 1972 came from Sun Prince in the St James's Palace Stakes and Sallust in the Sussex Stakes and Prix du Moulin. Both colts belonged to Sir Michael Sobell, who, along with his son-in-law Sir Arnold (now Lord) Weinstock, had sent their horses to Hern when Sir Gordon Richards retired in 1970.

Hern trained the Queen's filly Highclere to win the 1,000 Guineas and Prix de Diane in 1974. It was a rare achievement for a British-trained horse to win a French Classic, and there was also domestic glory at that level when Lady Beaverbrook's Bustino won the St Leger.

As a four-year-old Bustino won the Coronation Cup, and was just forced to give best to Grundy in a titanic battle for the King George which is still widely described as the `Race of the Century'.

One of the few controversial moments in Hern's career came at the Derby meeting of 1976, when it was announced that Mercer's contract would not be renewed. He was replaced by Willie Carson.

Carson's first season at West Ilsley saw the new trainer-jockey partnership triumph in the Oaks and St Leger with the Queen's home-bred filly Dunfermline, and in the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup with Lady Beaverbrook's Relkino.

In 1978 the stable housed the champion miler Homing, who won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes by six lengths, and the following year Hern won his first Derby with Troy, who beat Dickens Hill by seven lengths in the 200th Derby.

Troy went on to win the Irish Derby, the King George and the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup before ending his career with third place in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

In 1980 Hern and Carson did even better, winning the Derby with Henbit and the Oaks with Bireme. Unfortunately, Henbit cracked a bone in a leg at Epsom and never recovered his form.

Hern was champion trainer again that year, thanks also to Ela-Mana-Mou, who won the Eclipse and the King George, and champion three-year-old filly Shoot A Line, who took the Cheshire Oaks, Ribblesdale Stakes, Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks and Park Hill Stakes.

Further Classic glory came in the 1981 St Leger through the 28-1 chance Cut Above; with Carson injured, the colt was ridden by Mercer. In that year Height Of Fashion, a daughter of Highclere, was the joint

top-rated two-year-old filly in Europe by virtue of her win in the Fillies' Mile at Ascot. At three the Queen's filly won the Princess of Wales's Stakes.

In a deal which had important ramifications several years later, the Queen bought West Ilsley Stables in 1982 from the Sobell-Weinstock family.

In 1983 Hern gained the last of his four titles, with his biggest successes coming courtesy of Sun Princess in the Oaks and St Leger, and Little Wolf in the Gold Cup.

The stable was again plagued intermittently by a virus during the 1980s, but Classic success still came Hern's way in the Irish Oaks with Swiftfoot in 1982 and Helen Street in 1985, the same year in which Petoski won the King George.

The hunting fall which certainly shortened Hern's life had occurred the previous December and, later that year, by which time he was able to walk with the aid of a frame, he fell at home and broke a leg. Thereafter all his training was done from a wheelchair.

It was some time before he felt able to go racing again, and his comparatively quiet seasons of 1986 and 1987 provided little encouragement, though Longboat took the stayers' triple crown. The fact that during this time not one of the key men in Hern's operation left the stable testifies to the loyalty the trainer could command.

In the summer of 1988 Hern went into hospital for heart surgery and the licence at West Ilsley was briefly held by Neil Graham, who had just succeeded Alex Scott as his assistant. Hern did not, therefore, officially receive the credit for the St Leger success of Minster Son, who was bred and ridden by Carson and owned by Lady Beaverbrook.

Hern left hospital towards the end of that year, but in March 1989 came the leaked news of the Queen's decision that he should vacate West Ilsley Stables at the end of the season.

The news, which emerged in an unhappily underhand manner, rocked racing to its roots and produced expressions of unrestrained disapproval which would have been remarkable enough in any circumstances, let alone when the Queen was involved.

The racing world learned that Hern was to leave the yard, that there would be no further additions to the horses he then trained for the Queen, and that his place at West Ilsley was to be taken by William Hastings-Bass (now Lord Huntingdon), who was then training at Newmarket.

The villain of the piece was widely believed to be the Queen's racing manager Lord Carnarvon, but the fact had to be faced that it was the Queen who owned the stables and it was she who controlled who trained there.

Had any owner other than the Queen been involved, the emotions among racing people would have been expressed in even more vigorous terms than they were. Newspaper comment was strongly unfavourable, and Carson said that he would retire if nothing turned up to enable Hern to continue training in the manner to which he had become accustomed.

In mid-April Hern took the almost unprecedented step of issuing a statement in which he expressed his thanks for the support he had received, that he was sure the only reason for the Queen's decision was concern for his health, and that he was very grateful that he was still to be allowed to live in the house which he and his wife had been occupying. Public comment ceased, but feelings continued to run high.

Racing's pleasure was as great as it was unabated when Nashwan won the 2,000 Guineas for Hern on his reappearance. Ironically, it was Nashwan's dam, Height Of Fashion, who had been sold by the Queen to Hamdan Al Maktoum in 1982 in order to finance her purchase of West Ilsley Stables.

Nashwan, a hot favourite for the Derby, obliged by five lengths and went on to win the Eclipse and the King George. However, his racing career ended in anti-climax and premature retirement after he suffered his only defeat when third in the Prix Niel.

It was fitting that Hern should have another excellent year for Sheikh Hamdan in 1990, particularly with Dayjur, who proved himself a truly great sprinter.

Dayjur collected the King's Stand Stakes, Nunthorpe Stakes, Haydock Sprint Cup and Prix de l'Abbaye before proving a most unlucky loser of the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park, where he jumped a shadow a few strides from the line with victory in his grasp. He was voted Horse of the Year.

The trainer moved to Kingwood House, purchased by Sheikh Hamdan, in time for the start of the 1991 season, which was the first in his long career in which he did not win a single Group race.

The following two seasons were also disappointing, but in 1994 Harayir won the Lowther Stakes and did all that was hoped for her in 1995, winning the 1,000 Guineas, Celebration Mile and Challenge Stakes. Hern also had his only champion two-year-old in 1995, Alhaarth, who won the Solario Stakes, Champagne Stakes (Goodwood and Doncaster) and Dewhurst Stakes.

Hern's career was inevitably winding down and he retired, full of praise and honours, at the end of 1997.

In 1956 Hern married Sheilah Davis. On and off the course she was always a major support to her husband, and never more so than in the dark hours of his injuries.

Hern was very much a trainer of the old school, not in the way he trained his horses, but in his reserved attitude to the media and attendant public pressures.

Maybe, at least in part, because of his deafness in one ear, he did not enjoy being questioned by pressmen after one of his horses had won, and though he was never less than co-operative, he was always relieved when that exercise was over.

He never, except to his friend Michael Seely of The Times, gave interviews at his stable, whose workings and whose inmates he felt were the business of his owners and himself, and nobody else.

This reticence perhaps encouraged a public view of him as a shy, almost reclusive man, but his many friends will all testify that this was a long way from the truth. Away from the action he was much more relaxed. He was a great raconteur and had a fine singing voice, which he was often willing to demonstrate to admiring domestic audiences.

To the racing world in general, though, Dick Hern will be remembered as a truly great trainer. He earned the respect of everyone who knew him for his personal qualities, which were never better demonstrated than in the way he fought against his injuries, and he was recognised by the younger generation of trainers as the doyen of his profession.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:May 23, 2002
Words:2350
Previous Article:Dick Hern 1921-2002: Five of the Hern greats.
Next Article:Dick Hern 1921-2002: Tributes.


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