Tuesday 23 January 2018

Stalwart Hills desperate to release reins on high

Thomas Kelly

Strenuous efforts will be made to find the special horse which can give Barry Hills the final winner in his long and spectacularly successful career when the trainer sends out his last runners at York's Ebor meeting.

The 74-year-old has announced plans to hand the licence to Charlie, the second youngest of his five sons, at the end of next week.

It is part of the Hills legend that Barrington William -- his mother thought Barrington might look impressive on the brass plaque outside a solicitor's office -- set himself up as a trainer by landing a huge gamble in the Lincoln.

While serving as travelling head lad to John Oxley in Newmarket, he netted £60,000 -- around £1.5m today -- with a well-planned punt on his stable's Frankincense in the 1968 Lincoln. He started backing the horse at 66/1, it won at 100/8 and Hills set up his own yard on the proceeds the following year.

In the 42 years since, he has become one of the greats of the game and one of its most respected practitioners. He has sent out nearly 3,200 winners (fifth in the British all-time list, after Henry Cecil, Michael Stoute, Richard Hannon and John Dunlop) and allied with quantity has been quality, headed by 10 British and Irish Classics and a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The Epsom Derby was the one great race that eluded him; he had Rheingold and Hawaiian Sound beaten in photos and two other runners-up in Glacial Storm and Blue Stag.

His first winner, La Dolce Vita, at Thirsk in April 1969, was appropriately enough named, but though his chosen career has brought him a sweet and enjoyable life, there has been nothing soft about it. Hills is a self-made man who rose from humble beginnings through hard work, skill and the shrewdest of judgment, and his standards have never slipped.

But, having come through several bouts of serious illness in recent years, he is to let go the reins, even though he will still be there riding shotgun as managing director of the family company. Working with animals is, after all, more a way of life than a job.

"He just has a fantastic instinct and feeling for horses," said eldest son John. "It's a kind of sixth sense. He can see things in horses that other people can't see."

Charlie Hills (32) has learned his trade working not only alongside his father, but with leaders of the profession in Australia and in Newmarket, and is perfectly aware of the responsibility of the task he is to take on.

"It's going to be a lot of hard work and graft," he said. "We've got a good team here and we want to keep things going. It's a fantastic opportunity, something I've been looking to do for years and I'm very much looking forward to it."

Racing, indeed, has long been a family affair -- Hills himself was the son of a stable lad -- and while he will hand over to the "& son" that has been over the Faringdon Place door for six years, in his case his legacy is "& sons". John is a trainer in his own right and twins Michael and Richard are top-rank jockeys.

Hills has given top-level success to some of the sport's most successful owners, including with Hawaiian Sound and Ascot Gold Cup hero Gildoran in the colours of his late close friend Robert Sangster. His most recent Classic winners, Haafhd and Ghanaati, raced for Hamdan Al Maktoum and his most recent at the top level, Redwood, for Khalid Abdullah.

The last elite runners with BW Hills next to their names will include the smart filly Angels Will Fall in the Lowther Stakes at York and, before that, Red Jazz in the Hungerford Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.

Irish Independent

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