Chatting With… Clive Smith

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

Kauto Star and Master Minded lit up National Hunt racing from 2004 until 2012. They won twenty-four grade ones between them, whilst carrying the distinctive emerald green, yellow and purple colours of Clive Smith. Recently, I had the pleasure of talking to Clive about his superstar racehorses.

Throughout his life, Clive has always admired horses and became interested in the sport through point to points, “I had never been riding; I had just been on a horse a couple of times in my life, but I did athletics for a start at school and then I became a golfer and that was my main interest. I did used to like to go and watch point to points at meetings around the south of England. I went to quite a few around Aldershot and into Kent and Buckinghamshire. I enjoyed it all. I like the look of a horse. I think horses are beautiful creatures and I admire them for the ability to give their best.”

Clive’s involvement with the ownership side of horse racing began when he was introduced to Jenny Pitman in 1987, “She was very successful. She had a couple of Grand National winners and won the Gold Cup. She was a person who had to fend for herself a lot – she was a woman in a man’s world, really. She did very, very well and she stood up to everybody and was very successful and a very nice person.”

Before Kauto Star and Master Minded, Clive had another good horse, “Jenny Pitman found this horse for me from Ireland, called Hawthorne Hill Lad. I named him that because I had, at this time, got into building golf courses and I’d bought an old racecourse near Windsor called Hawthorne Hill – it was an old point to point course and I decided I could call this horse Hawthorne Hill Lad, which was me!” He won three of his six starts and placed in the other three before, unfortunately, suffering a career-ending injury.

After Hawthorne Hill Lad, Clive “went on gradually looking for better horses and different horses”. By around 2004, Clive had joined forces with Paul Nicholls’ yard and Anthony Bromley, a bloodstock agent, managed to find Kauto Star in the middle of France. “He was sort of for sale after having won a good race there and eventually we were able to negotiate and buy him. It was a wonderful feeling because I just felt that he was very well-bred and he had great potential. And he did!” At first, Kauto Star’s old trainer resisted selling him to Clive, “The French trainer didn’t want to sell him and, in France, the French trainers tend to have a share of the horse, but there were two Englishmen who also had a share of Kauto Star at that time. They wanted to sell him, but the trainer didn’t want to. Eventually, he had to let go because they outvoted him!”

Kauto Star was purchased in June 2004 and, from the start, everyone seemed to think that he could be a very good horse, “He was ridden on the gallops at Paul Nicholls’ yard by Clifford Baker, the head lad, who knows horses inside-out, as does Paul Nicholls. Between them, they could see that he had great potential. He eventually raced for the first time with me as owner on the 29th December 2004 at Newbury, in a two mile race and he actually stormed in and I think everybody knew then there was a potential star in the making and that’s how it started.”

From there, Kauto Star would go on to be one of the greatest racehorses we have ever seen, “He won big races and we worked him up to eventually have a three mile race at Haydock in 2006. He won that race. It was a three-miler so we knew then that we had potentially a Gold Cup horse at Cheltenham. With horses, if they’re chasing, they can either be a two miler, two and a half miler or three-miler but, of course, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is three miles and two furlongs. It’s very difficult to get a horse who can do all these distances and on different courses, but he was capable and eventually, with good care and very good training and well looked after at the yard, he was a very top horse to look at and to follow. It was brilliant.”

Kauto Star was having a faultless season before the Gold Cup in 2007, “At the time, we had won five races on the trot that season before the Gold Cup so we were very hopeful but you never know – it is a very unpredictable game. There was a lot of runners, maybe seventeen or eighteen that year, and he came through. He was very, very well-ridden by our top Irish jockey [Ruby Walsh] and he just went off and won the race brilliantly. It was a great feeling and that was a wonderful race to win.” In 2008, Kauto Star failed to win the Gold Cup, conquered on that day by his biggest rival, Denman. However, the following year, Kauto Star became the first – and only – horse to regain the Gold Cup crown.

I was keen to know Clive’s highlight of his and Kauto Star’s journey and his answer surprised me, “The most exciting, in a way, was when he was written off towards the end of his career in 2011 when he won the Betfair Chase at Haydock when he wasn’t expected to do well at all. He absolutely stormed in and, as they say, he brought the house down. It was probably the greatest thrill for the crowd that they have ever had there. Such a wonderful race and nobody expected him to do that. It was really great”.

Something Clive stressed was the team effort behind the success of this horse, “There was a great team. Ruby [Walsh] had got the hang of riding him. […] Clifford Baker was a big part of the team and, of course, Paul Nicholls was overseeing everything that was happening and it all worked out to be a tremendous team effort.”

Kauto Star captured the imagination of so many fans and in particular the Queen! “She had a horse in the 2009 Gold Cup when we won that. She invited us to have a talk about it and all of these events happened and it was just a lovely feeling to be involved. There was a lot of interviews, TV work and the actual spectators were very interested. You could say it was the time of my life really, the ten years that he was around in my ownership. It was just a great thrill!”

Tragically, Kauto Star passed away in 2015, “I owned him from June 2004 all through his life until he died, unfortunately, in 2015, in an accident which can happen with horses, I’m afraid. They’re very fragile creatures to keep quiet all the time. They want to jump around and jump fences and sometimes they do it to their disadvantage.”

Simultaneously, Clive had Master Minded running in his colours. Whilst Kauto Star is probably the most well-known of the duo, Master Minded won two Champion Chases and numerous other grade ones, “He was basically a two-miler coming up to two and a half miles. He was exceptional. He won the Champion Chase by nineteen lengths in 2008 and he was a great thrill. He was a wonderful fast horse. Ruby Walsh rode him brilliantly.”

However, they believed he could be good over longer distances, “We were fairly sure and we were trying him at three miles when he finally had an unfortunate racing accident in the 2011 King George, which Kauto was winning for the fifth time that year, and Master Minded was right there and he couldn’t quite keep up with the extraordinary gallop Kauto put them under.”

At Paul Nicholls’ Ditcheat stable, Master Minded was closely matched with Kauto Star, “On the gallops, really, him and Kauto were about equal, apparently, according to Clifford Baker, who rode them both at times – not at the same time of course! They were always on the gallops together and he could equate one’s ability to the other.”

Master Minded at the Cheltenham Festival 2020 Retraining Of Racehorse Parade

Master Minded lives with Sophie Haylock, who nursed him back to health following the injury. She retrained him and they now take part in local dressage competitions. I watched him participate in the 2020 Cheltenham Festival ‘Retraining Of Racehorses’ parade with Sophie and it was amazing to see him back at the scene of his Champion Chase victories! “He was an amazing talent and a tremendous horse.” Clive said.

Both horses were trained by Paul Nicholls, “He’s a very successful trainer and a very good trainer. He thinks very well about where he’s placing his horses and I think that’s his major talent – he has an eye for detail. He has been very successful and rightly so. Being a trainer in National Hunt and indeed flat racing is a very competitive business, very much so. He has come through and got to the top. He’s a very good chap, he trains very well and he’s got a very successful operation, which he has built up from the early 1990s at Paul Barber’s yard.”

Clive is no longer involved in the ownership side of horse racing, “There comes a time when you feel like you’ve got to retire from the game and I haven’t got a horse now. I did think about going into eventing and I bought a three-day eventer but it is all very difficult and the horses have got to stand up to a lot. In a three-day event, they have to do cross country, dressage and show jumping so that is a very difficult game. I think it is also very competitive and you could also say that I’m never going to be so lucky again to own such great horses as Kauto Star and Master Minded.”

Despite not owning racehorses, Clive’s passion for the sport shows no sign of dwindling and he is disappointed that Cheltenham won’t have the crowds for the Festival, “It is a shame that Cheltenham isn’t going to happen this year as we would all like. I’ve been going for over forty years to Cheltenham and, since 1981, I’ve missed one day. […] In the early days, in the 1980s, I went out and watched the two-mile Champion Chase and stood by a fence and watched them fly over there at great speed. It’s a very speedy race. I found that very exciting and it stays with you – you don’t forget these experiences so you get to the point where you’re going to keep going. You just keep going for as long as you can and it’s very disappointing that we won’t be able to be at Cheltenham this year because of the virus and all the rest of it, but we’ve just got to hope. I’ll watch it on TV again because I’d never miss it! It’s great fun, wonderful fun!”

It was an honour to speak to Clive. Our conversation was fascinating and I am very grateful to him for chatting with me! Whilst he no longer owns racehorses, the colours and achievements of his legendary steeplechasers, Kauto Star and Master Minded, will be remembered for many years to come. 

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