Racing Record Breaker

IF I was asked to choose an equine hero, without a doubt it would be a bold jumping gelding called Supermaster, who was at his peak around 40 years ago around the northern circuits.

I loved to watch his fluid action, first over hurdles and then later in his career over fences with equal dash and assurance.

He swept to victory with a commanding lead at Wetherby, one Boxing Day, emerging from the huge flakes of a growing blizzard to a standing ovation from the waiting crowd.

He won 34 races in all, and it was immensely appropriate that he was to provide his trainer with the 1,000th winner of his career.

It was through this exceptional horse that I came to recognise and admire the unsurpassable qualities of the man, his trainer, Arthur Stephenson.

By the time I was five years old, I had become inextricably fascinated by the racehorse, chiefly through visits to Wetherby, Ripon, Thirsk, Pontefract, Doncaster and York with my father and uncle.

A Boxing Day outing to Wetherby saw me lost forever from a very early age to the sheer majesty and power of horses jumping.

From that point I was like a limpet, stuck firmly to my father's side whenever there was racing on the horizon, oblivious to the raw northern climate.

Interwoven throughout my childhood was W A Stephenson ( Bishop Auckland) as he was shown on the race card, invariably in those days with G A MacMillan booked to ride.

"Stephenson has several runners tomorrow. Arthur, that is, not Willy," my father would say.

For William Arthur Stephenson, born on April 7, 1920, was a cousin of Royston trainer, Willie Stephenson, and the two were not to be confused.

Arthur Stephenson came from a farming family that had been based at Crawleas, a few miles from Bishop Auckland, for more than 200 years.

He was only 14 when he won his first point to point on a mare called Ruby and within two years he was on the winning trail, riding under Rules.

His astute understanding of horses was inherited from his father, Ben, who also rode point to point and National Hunt winners. By the time he took out a permit to train after the war, Arthur had already ridden more than 100 winners.

When he took out a full licence in 1959, he won 34 races and O' Malley Point was undoubtedly his best horse, beating subsequent Grand National winner Merryman to win the Hearts of Oak Chase at Manchester.

He remained a man of the people right up to his death in 1992, and almost all the horses in his yard belonged to Northern owners and farmers, who were in racing for sheer joy, and who appreciated value for money.

While he had many big race winners, with Pawnbroker winning the Mackeson, The Thinker landing the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and numerous close calls in the Grand National, extending back to his first placed horse in the Aintree big race, O' Malley Point, the small races were equally important to him.

When The Thinker won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1987, his trainer was , typically, at Hexham, sending out Succeeded to win there.

I remember vividly his record breaking season of 1969/70 to which Supermaster made a significant contribution, along with Rigton

Prince, Huperade, At Ease and Credit Call.

He saddled up 114 winners that term, boosted with Huperade's win over hurdles at Nottingham, followed by chase wins at Doncaster, Bangor, Newcastle, Market Rasen and twice at Hexham.

Supermaster flew the hurdles at Wetherby and carved out a successful novice chase career at Teeside Park, Sedgefield and Newcastle. Another novice chaser, Rigton Prince, won at Nottingham, Catterick, Carlisle, and twice at Wetherby. Hunter chaser Credit Call was in fine fettle, scoring six wins at Nottingham, Sedgefield, Worcester, Hexham, Uttoxeter and Stratford.

But the highlight of the season was when Arthur Stephenson saddled up an unprecedented number of winners in one evening. He won seven races with Supermaster, Kingzog, Battledore and Hillbirio winning at Newcastle, while Midday, Huperade and Tipperty scored at Market Rasen.

To commemorate that monumental occasion, the two racecourse authorities joined forces and presented the trainer with a silver salver.

He ran the family farm to the end, and appeared to thrive on the combination of farming and training his large string of horses.

His horses always had a stamp of toughness and class like the man himself.

He was the first trainer to pass the century mark of 100 winners in one season in 1970 and he repeated that in six of the next seven seasons.

And that was without the vast strings, and significant wastage of horses through injury and worse, which seems to accompany the endless quests to be Champion National Hunt trainer today.

Arthur Stephenson dominated National Hunt racing for so long, in a quiet and astute way, that is seems there will never be anyone of that ilk to replace him.