HENRY MORSHEAD has big riding boots to fill. His grandfather, Peter Beaumont, is steeped in the Yorkshire countryside and remains the last Northern trainer to saddle the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup – jump racing’s most celebrated race.
His mother Anthea – now the widely-respected assistant clerk of the course at York – was a pioneering rider in her own right who, to this day, remains the only female jockey to beat the professionals over Aintree’s Grand National fences; the win coming on her father’s much-loved JJ Henry in 1991.
Yet, as the three generations of this proud racing dynasty come together to reminisce about the sport which runs through their blood ahead of Beaumont’s 80th birthday celebrations next week, the pride is palpable as the riding reins pass through the family.
After learning to ride on the burgeoning pony racing circuit before making a successful transition to point-to-points, 17-year-old Morshead junior now rides under National Hunt rules while studying for his A-levels.
Understandably, he looks a natural in the saddle. His very first ride on his mother’s Locked Inthepocket saw him finish a very creditable second at Wetherby and he gained valuable experience when safely nursing the veteran No More Prisoners around Worcester this week.
He is also undaunted by the family reputation. “It definitely helps having all these connections. When I’m meeting people, they already know my grandpa and mum from racing,” he says.
Fresh-faced and brimming with enthusiasm, the professionalism of horse racing today is very different to the tense times of World War Two which marked Beaumont’s early years at the farm and livery yard near Ripley run by his parents, Alfie and Vera. He proudly shows a photograph, slightly faded, of him holding a horse with a gas-mask strapped to his waist.
As a jockey, his proudest memory is riding a winner at Sedgefield on Coronation Day in 1953 – but it was another 15 years before he, and his late wife Margaret, would move to Brandsby in the shadow of the rolling Howardian Hills where their first challenge was the ramifications of a foot-and-mouth crisis.
It was here at Foulrice Farm where he became an increasingly accomplished – and respected – point-to-point trainer before he was persuaded to put his modesty to one side and take out a full licence.
As many expected, it did not take long for the shrewd Beaumont to confirm his credentials as one of the foremost steeplechase trainers of his time. His finest hour came when Jodami – a horse that he had spotted in a field in Ireland – galloped up the Cheltenham hill to win the 1994 Gold Cup.
“There’s nothing like it – and don’t forget the three Irish Hennessys. They were all Grade Ones, all with a horse that we broke in before he jumped a hurdle,” he said.
His daughter remembers the Gold Cup for different reasons. “I used to ride Jodami a lot at home,” she told The Yorkshire Post. “I had had a bad fall at Musselburgh and broken some vertebrae in my back and done some internal damage. I had bruised my heart. When the Gold Cup field came round with a circuit to go, my heart was beating so hard that I thought I was going to collapse with a heart attack and die without knowing the result.”
There’s a slight irony here. Back then, Morshead was unperturbed about the anxiety that she caused to her parents when she rode – and raced – without fear. Now the tables have been turned as she watches her son canter to the start. “Mum, bless her, died 14 years ago and used to get worried and nervous,” she recalled. “Now it is my turn...because you are out of control. You no longer have any input. Horse and jockey were much calmer than me when Locked Inthepocket raced at Wetherby.”
Born in Harrogate, and educated at Easingwold School, Morshead was Yorkshire’s champion point-to-point rider on four occasions, and competed overseas, before becoming involved in the day-to-day running of her father’s yard where the emphasis was always on the quality – rather than the quantity – of horse stock.
Understandably, her face becomes etched in happiness as she recalls JJ Henry’s win in the John Hughes Memorial Chase when she beat the pros over the National fences. “Ten days before, he got a corn in his foot and I couldn’t ride him. We took him to Ronnie O’Leary’s equine pool in Malton. I just gave him one canter in the half dark the morning before he race. He was brilliant, he just got in a lovely rhythm.”
It was a success that led to another treasured photo in the family album of the bowler-hatted Beaumont riding JJ Henry in a parade of champions at the Great Yorkshire Show. He and his daughter used to ride with the Ryedale Hunt – and now Morshead and her son have the same sense of fun on the point-to-point circuit.
Do they argue? “Occasionally. More when I was younger,” admits Morshead junior. “We have fun,” interjects his mother (and horse box driver). “We’re all competitive by nature and you want to do well and be there with a shout at winning. In all competitive sport, you have more losing days than winning days.”
In the meantime, there is a small matter of a rugby tour to South Africa with Cheltenham College for the younger member of the Morshead family, whose father, Sam, was a jump jockey and is now clerk of the course at Perth.
Morshead junior is not the only racing luminary to emerge from this academic institution where he enjoys the privilege of a sports scholarship – this was the alma mater of Tom Scudamore.
“You might want to be a scrum-half?” asks his grandfather. “I’m a bit too skinny, I’m a jockey,” says his grandson, who will be joined on the rugby trip by Gold Cup and Grand National-winning trainer Jonjo O’Neill’s son Jonjo junior.
Mention of this name is uncanny – O’Neill senior and Beaumont received their training licences on the same day. The coincidences continue; Morshead’ first point-to-point winner on Red Danaher came courtesy of Robbie Supple, who used to ride for Beaumont and was third in the 2000 National on Niki Dee, who remains a family favourite.
In the meantime, he is riding out for up-and-coming trainer Rebecca Menzies, who has leased the stables at the Beaumont farm, and will be at York today to help round-up any riderless horses. He will be in his element.
Typically, Henry Morshead is unfazed when asked to offer the best piece of advice proffered by his quietly-spoken grandfather: “An awful lot. The importance of being a horseman. Patience... that things don’t always happen at once. Just doing things properly.”
The retired trainer gently nods his head in approval and says with precision: “Enjoy it if you can. Just do your best. You can’t do more than that. And always be polite to your owners.”
They are wise words that explain why Peter Beaumont is still revered as one of the great gentlemen of racing – and why his grandson is already regarded as a name to follow in the sport of kings.