RETURN OF A LEGEND: HENRIETTA KNIGHT

A familiar face returned to the point-to-point circuit this weekend, as Henrietta Knight had her first runner between the flags in over 25 years! She ran Port Golan at Lockinge – her local track. Port Golan, who finished a very close second to Otto The Great in the Mens Open in his second run for the West Lockinge-based trainer, was ridden by Harry Bannister for his father Nick who is Master of the Pendle Forest & Craven Hunt.

Port Golan is Henrietta’s first runner in point-to-points since 1989, when she took out a licence and started training under rules. Younger racegoers may not be aware that she was a leading point-to-point trainer in the 1980s from the same West Lockinge base before turning her attention to professional racing and being responsible for legends such as triple Gold Cup winner Best Mate.

Henrietta reminisced about her last season training pointers. “I was given a cushion inscribed with the names of the winners in my last season. There were 14 of them – Curraheen Boy, Dromin Joker, Political Whip…” Indeed, the list of top point-to-pointers trained by her is a veritable who’s who of 1980s greats. “Matt Murphy was one I owned myself, then there was Broonie’s Taing, Reynard’s Bow… and of course Dromin Leader, who was the only winner ever in a point-to-point for (current trainer) Oliver Sherwood.”

It is fair to say that Henrietta was not just a great trainer of horses but of jockeys too. Mike Felton was Men’s National Champion three times, helped to his title by her patronage. Then there was city trader David Naylor-Leyland, who didn’t succeed in his ambition to be champion jockey, but it was not for want of trying – he rode many winners on the horses listed above – as well as American three-day-eventing star Bruce Davidson, who won a Cheltenham Hunter Chase on Dashing Fred, and Johnny Wrathall. “He was my assistant trainer and possibly the best of all my jockeys,” recalled Henrietta, “and died tragically young in a road accident. I remember him winning the United Hunts Challenge Cup at Cheltenham on Naughty Niece – what a ride he gave her.”

Her stellar career as a National Hunt trainer needs no introduction. As well as Best Mate, the only triple winner of steeplechasing’s Blue Riband in the last 50 years, she trained Champion Chase and King George Chase winner Edredon Bleu for the same owner, Jim Lewis. And more recently, before she retired from the training ranks at the end of the 2011/2012 season, she trained a number of good horses for Tim and Camilla Radford, including dual Peterborough Chase winner Racing Demon, Somersby and Calgary Bay.

The last named is the other horse Henrietta currently trains for Hunter Chases and point-to-points alongside Port Golan, and he returned to form by winning at Ascot last month. As I talked to her while she was feeding her Connemara ponies and planning the final stages of her forthcoming book, Not Enough Time, about her life in racing and with her late husband Terry Biddlecombe – who sadly died last year I couldn’t resist asking an obvious question: is she planning to start training more pointers again?

“That depends if people ask me to train one for them,” was her reply. Hopefully, she’ll have a lot of takers.