Porlock delivers on Studd's Cheltenham dream
The feel-good factor returned to Prestbury Park last week and we witnessed some incredible performances predominantly by the Irish entourage who descended to plunder the gold and silverware deep in the Racecourse vaults. However the English flag was valiantly raised once more after the closest finish of the week writes Kirsty Boutflower.
The largest and most impressive trophy is awarded to the winner of what in an ordinary year is known as the Foxhunters or “Amateurs Gold Cup”. For those involved in the grass roots of the sport of Point to Pointing, just competing in the race is the pinnacle of many years spent trudging round muddy fields. Indeed Point to Point owners, trainers and jockeys are on the whole a hardy breed, who would happily admit that they compete for the sheer guts and glory of the game, rather than financial reward. Over the last ten years however, the coveted trophy has gone with the exception of Hazel Hill in 2019 - to either Irish trained runners or those trained “professionally”. There is no glossing over the frustration borne by the home brigade of true amateurs, who were dealt a further blow this year due to the race being confined to professional jockeys following a BHA ruling.
Retired Chartered Surveyor, John Studd who lives in Midhurst, has long had a love affair with Point to Pointing. Despite coming from a non-horsey background, he lived opposite a farm which was home to a pony won in a Daily Mail competition and this consequently gave him the opportunity to learn to ride. He progressed through the hunting ranks to Pointing, winning a maiden at Parham on Eastern Prince in his mid-20s. But it was his interest in the breeding side which gripped him hardest when he bred his first foal in the garden at home when he was only 15. Bitten by the breeding bug, he bred the talented event horse, Lord Killinghurst who went on to compete at the Beijing Olympics under Andrew Nicholson. However a trip organised by the Thoroughbred Breeders Association to France convinced him to invest across the channel and focus his interests there combining breeding, buying and selling bloodstock.
With the incentives on offer in France, John also enjoyed a fruitful time with over 30 winners trained by Francois Nicolle and Gabriel Leenders. One of these was a Kayf Tara gelding out of a winning French mare, John had raced and was called Porlock Bay. A clearly-talented horse, he won five times over hurdles there but suffered from what could be called “delicate leg syndrome”, and it was decided that a tilt at Pointing in the UK could be the answer.
John and Barbara, his late wife, had long dreamed of having a runner at the Cheltenham Festival and often joked about how the enormous Foxhunters trophy would look on their sideboard. And when he came to name the Kayf Tara gelding who was to fulfil this dream, he chose the place she had so loved on the West Somerset coastline, Porlock Bay. John was keen to use a Point to Point trainer based in the Wessex Area and Will Biddick proved a wise choice.
Porlock Bay arrived at the yard and, following a summer with Biddick, the plan to run at Cheltenham in March was discussed. A first run in December at Kimble went better than imagined when running out an impressive 20-length winner of a 2m4f Open. John recalled Biddick saying to him after the race, “this is a horse….for Cheltenham!” With the new ruling disallowing Biddick to ride due to his amateur status, he was quick to book Lorcan Williams for his next engagement, a 3m1f Hunter Chase at Wincanton in early February. Sametegal, from the Paul Nicholls yard narrowly beat Porlock Bay, but heavy ground meant that the talented winner was hard to peg back and it was still felt to be a satisfactory prep run for Cheltenham.
The newly named “St James Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase” had attracted a quality field of 18 including the last two winners and with several rated above Porlock Bay, John thought a first-six finish would be a creditable performance. After jumping neatly throughout, Lorcan found himself in a handy position at the top of the hill and landed over the second-last in front. Pressed hard by favourite Billaway all the way to the line, connections then had to wait an agonising few minutes as the judge deliberated on the closest finish of the week.
John and second wife Gill are still letting the result sink in. A lifelong dream achieved. Sadly due to the value of the trophy, it remains at the racecourse and John does not get to rearrange his sideboard to accommodate it. Porlock Bay, himself infinitely more valuable than any trophy in his owner’s eyes, is due to return to Killinghurst Stud for his summer holiday with a possible return trip to Cheltenham next year. A plan well and truly executed.