Since I started my career in horse racing, I have been fortunate to meet some exceptional characters. One of them was racehorse owner Andy Stewart.
Our paths first crossed when I was managing Brighton Racecourse in 1998. Andy, a stockbroker and international businessman, lived locally in Hove and was friends with the track owner Sir Stanley Clarke. He came for lunch and immediately became an ally in our attempts to improve the fortunes of the course that had fallen on hard times prior to Sir Stanley’s takeover.
In those days Andy’s interest in horse racing was yet to blossom but over the following two decades he became a prominent owner with a string of top class horses most notably Big Buck’s who won the World Hurdle (now the Stayers’ Hurdle) four times in succession from 2009 to 2012.
His association with 12 times champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls produced a host of successes in the biggest races in the calendar with horses including Cenkos, Celestial Halo, Tatenen, Poquelin, Oslot, Sahir Du Rheu and Pacha Du Polder. One of his promising young horses Thyme White was a winner at Chepstow’s Jump Season Opener last year.
Last November he sponsored all the races on a day at Chepstow and named them after his family and Rose Loxton, a former head girl at Paul Nicholls’s yard who had died of cancer. This was typical of Andy’s kindness and love for the people at the heart of the sport.
He has remained a friend and supporter of mine ever since those Brighton days so when I took a call on Saturday morning to be told that he’d passed away it was a huge shock. He was just 70 years old and had suffered injuries from a fall at his home in Barbados.
There has been a huge number of tributes from across the racing industry all highlighting his generosity, loyalty and passion for racing. He’d have been touched that the industry thought so much of him. I and many, many others will miss him hugely.
It is now less than a month until the traditional opening meeting of the winter/autumn season in the UK at Chepstow on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th October – the Unibet Jump Season Opener. The feature race on Day One is the £60,000 Unibet Persian War Novices’ Hurdle, a race named after an outstanding horse who won three consecutive Champion Hurdles from 1968 to 1970.
For his first two championships Persian War was trained close to Chepstow racecourse by ex-jockey Colin Davies, but his owner was hard to please and the horse was moved to another stable. The race named after him was first run at Chepstow in 2000 and, being confined to novices and run over two and a half miles, it has proved to be a stepping stone for several future staying hurdlers and chasers.
Silviniaco Conti won the race in 2010 and went on to be a consistent top class chaser with 16 victories earning over £1m. They included seven Grade 1s, notably the King George VI Chase on at Kempton in 2013 and 2014.
One of the best Persian War Hurdles for producing future stars was that of 2014. The winner, Blaklion, would later win the RSA at Cheltenham, Aintree’s Becher Chase and finish fourth in the Grand National when favourite. The runner-up, Vicente, won two Scottish Grand Nationals.
Thyme Hill was a classy winner in 2019. He was an unlucky fourth at the next Cheltenham Festival, beaten a length and a half after twice being denied a clear run. He has become one of the top British staying hurdlers, winning Aintree’s Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle this year.
The 2020 running went to Paul Nicholls for the fifth time in the last eleven years, with McFabulous, who has since taken his career record to 7-13. A novice chase programme beckons for him.