William Richard Hern, better known to most simply as Dicky, was born on the 20th of January 1921. Having enjoyed a career in the army, Hern became a riding instructor and then gained a licence to train thoroughbred horses, going on to train 16 British Classics winners between 1962 and 1995.
In fact, such was Hern’s ability as a trainer that he earned the Champion Trainer title four times during his career. When you consider that he spent the latter part of his career in a wheelchair after a hunting accident in 1984, it makes his achievements even more remarkable. Dick Hern died on the 22nd of May, 2002 at the age of 81.
Dick Hern rose to the rank of Major in the British Army before choosing to leave in order to pursue a career in racing. Initially, he worked as a riding instructor, including instructing the British Olympic team to a gold medal in the 1952 Summer Olympics. Six years later and he gained a licence to privately train the horses of Major Lionel Holliday at his La Grange Stables in Newmarket, going on to train Hethersett to a win in the St Leger for him. At the end of the 1962 season he moved to West Isley, taking over from R. J. Colling. He lived in West Isley for the rest of his life, enjoying some of his most incredible moments there.
He became a trainer for Queen Elizabeth II, for example, training her horse Highclere to win the French Oaks. As well as being a trainer, Hern was also a keen hunter and it was whilst out with the Quorn pack in Leicestershire that he suffered a fall, breaking his neck. Remarkably, not only did he survive but he also kept his place at the top of the pack of trainers, being one of the most popular of people in the industry. He suffered another health problem in 1988 when it was revealed that he had a leaking heart valve, resulting in the Queen’s racing manager, Lord Carnarvon, concluding he wasn’t up to the task and not renewing his lease.
Hern was an incredibly successful trainer, so it is worth taking a look at some of the races that he managed to train winners for during his career. It is fair to say that this list is far from exhaustive and some of the races he won more than once:
- 1,000 Guineas
- 2,000 Guineas
- Epsom Oaks
- Epsom Derby
- St Leger Stakes
- King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes
- Prix de Diane (French Oaks)
It goes without saying that Dick Hern will have trained hundreds of horses during his career, winning most of the biggest races in the sport with them. Names like Bustino, Ela-Mana-Mou and Emmson were all the responsibility of Hern, whilst horses such as Dunfermline, Bireme and Sun Princess helped him win the Epsom Oaks. There are some horses that are worthy of further mention, however:
If you look down the list of races that Dick Hern trained a winner in during his racing career, the chances are pretty high that Brigadier Gerard was the horse that enjoyed the victory. He had a working relationship with Joe Mercer as his jockey, with the pair winning races such as the 2,000 Guineas, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Goodwood Mile together. In fact, Brigadier Gerard won 17 of the 18 races that he took part in, being rated as the best racehorse trained in Britain in the 20th century. The only time that he lost a race was when Roberto defeated him in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup’s inaugural outing.
Though his relationship with Queen Elizabeth II was undoubtedly soured when the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, the Queen’s Racing Manager, sacked him from his position as her trainer in 1988, there is no question that the success of Highclere meant that he held an important place in her heart. In spite of the fact that Highclere’s racing career lasted just over a year and encompassed a mere eight races, victory in both the 1,000 Guineas and the Prix de Diane meant she will be long remembered. She would have added the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth II Stakes to her list, only for Dahlia to beat her to finish line.
Nashwan was born in the United States of America but was brought over to the UK in order for Dick Hern to train him at West Isley. Willie Carson was the jockey that rode him throughout his racing career, leading him to an incredible ‘four-timer’ when he won the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, Eclipse Stakes and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, all in 1989. His only defeat came in the Prix Niel, after which he was retired from racing and put to stud, becoming a successful sire of numerous different winners. His pedigree included other winners for Hern, including both Bustino and Highclere on the dam side.
Petoski’s racing career lasted a little over two years, with his first run coming in the June of 1984 and his last one being in July 1986. During that time he ran 12 times and won four races, with the most notable win being in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 1985, largely because the international field was fiercely competitive that year. Owned by an eccentric character called Lady Beaverbrook, Petoski was sent to be trained by Dick Hern along with other horses of hers, such as Bustino. The other notable races that he won were 1984’s Vintage Stakes and the Princess of Wales’s Stakes a year later.