The other day, for no particular reason, the name Hotroy came into my head, to be followed by Blueroy, two horses that raced during the formative years of my racing education. There were quite a few ‘roys’ over the years and I am pretty sure that somewhere deep within my memory is buried the name of the man who owned these horses. It was, and remains, annoying that I couldn’t draw this name from the deep well of forgetfulness and as I have no form books in my library I researched the internet, knowing that the ‘roys’ were trained by Walter Nightingale. For reference there is an interesting and nostalgic film held by the East Anglian Film Archive (?) about the top trainers from the 1950’s which featured Nightingale. What is particularly notable about the footage is the large strings of horses ridden by lads with nothing on their heads more substantial than a flat cap! Those were the day, perhaps.
As some people had favourite football teams that were not resident in their home towns – those annoying people who proclaim undying love for Manchester United, Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspurs etc but who have never even visited the cities let alone the grounds of those teams – I used to follow the fortunes of W.Nightingale without ever knowing anything about him. Now, long after his death, I am receipt of a whole lot of facts about him. Though not who owned the ‘roys’ or the names of any of the other ‘roys’; I sort of remember there were quite a few.
Walter Nightingale trained at South Hatch, Epsom, at a time when Epsom rivalled Newmarket and Lambourn. He took over the training licence from his father around 1927 and though (rather like Ander Fabre who was the Vincent O’Brien of France before switching to the flat) he is known primarily as a flat trainer Nightingale was a force in National Hunt during the 1930’s, winning the Imperial Cup, twice winning the Liverpool Hurdle and the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival in 1948 with Clare Man.
In 1930 he won the Irish Derby with the maiden Rock Star and for a good while he had the interesting distinction of being Dorothy Paget’s main flat trainer, winning a wartime Derby for her in 43 with Straight Deal. It is said that Nightingale, wearied by the eccentricities of Paget – midnight phone calls were the norm – invited her to remove her horses or else he would let them all loose on Epsom Downs.
Dorothy Paget was not his most famous patron, though, as Nightingale trained with great success for Sir Winston Churchill. Colonist won eight races in one season for Sir Winston and went on to win The Jockey Club Cup. When Nightingale suggested they make a stallion out of Colonist Sir Winston wrote to him saying ‘he never thought he would end up living on the immoral earnings of a horse’.
Nightingale also won a Portland H’cap for the great man with Welsh Abbot and a Stewards Cup with Tudor Monarch, as well as training High Hat to twice beat the great mare Petite Etoile, the second time in a race appropriately named in honour of Sir Winston. (Given his prominence as a racing owner it is surprising, if not regrettable, given the good publicity it might bring, that such a race does not exist today). Vienna was another good horse Nightingale trained for Sir Winston.
Nightingale also trained for Her Majesty the Queen, with Gay Time being the best.
Away from monarchy and Britain’s greatest Prime Minister, Nightingale also trained Niksar to win the 1965 2,000 Guineas – it was around this period that Duncan Keith rode for him, his surname no doubt drawing me to the horses he rode. Thinking Niksar his last great chance to win a Derby on his home ground Nightingale put 24-hour security on his stables fearing the rumour that a gang were out to nobble the horse. Indeed the night before the Derby intruders found their way into South Hatch, their dastardly deeds only thwarted by staff who were sleeping in the next stable to Niksar.
Not that Niksar would have won at Epsom, his night’s sleep disturbed or not, as the 1965 Derby was won by Sea Bird, one the best Derby winners of all time, certainly one to come from France. Indeed I Say, also trained by Nightingale finished one place in front of Niksar in third, winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom the following season.
He produced jockeys and trainers as well as classic winners, with jump jockey Bill Rees apprenticed to him and the successful lightweight (remember the days when horses carried 7st 7lb) Ray Reader. The trainers Alan Jarvis and Dave Hanley also learnt their trade under Walter Nightingale, one of those successful, if old-fashioned, trainers, who achieved enough during his career to be remembered once in a while.
If only I could add to the list that begins with Hotroy and Blueroy
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.