Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase, still regarded by steeplechasing purists as the official start of winter and the National Hunt season, evokes memories of many of the all-time greats who have won this race.
First run in 1969 as the Wetherby Pattern Chase, before being renamed in 1978 to honour Charlie Hall who trained nearby, few winners have been as impressive as the Michael Dickinson-trained Wayward Lad 35 years ago.
He might only have had to beat stablemate Ashley House and Josh Gifford’s highly-regarded Royal Judgement after good to firm ground deterred some high-profile runners, but the chaser’s flamboyant jumping was a sight to behold.
Standing off the fourth last – then a massive open ditch at the start of the home straight when Wetherby’s fences were regarded as the stiffest in the country – Wayward Lad surged clear under jockey Robert Earnshaw.
A safer jump three out was followed by another extravagant leap at the penultimate obstacle before the crowd-pleasing odds-on favourite cantered home to accept the applause of racegoers who had come to acclaim their local hero.
Wayward Lad had been third in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup when Dickinson, ably assisted by his parents Michael and Monica, trained the first five horses home in the blue riband race from their Harewood stables.
Arguably the best horse never to win the Gold Cup, Wayward Lad appeared likely to win the 1986 renewal before Jonjo O’Neill conjured an amazing run out of Dawn Run, whose victory – to deafening cheers from Irish racegoers – will always be remembered for Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s “the mare’s beginning to get up” evocation on the BBC.
Retired in 1987 after winning 28 out of 55 career starts, only Dawn Run had earned more prize money and Wayward Lad – good enough to win three renewals of Kempton’s King George VI Chase – is remembered fondly by Earnshaw.
Though he won the 1982 Gold Cup win on the Dickinson’s Silver Buck, and three successive Queen Mother Champion Chases on Badsworth Boy, the former jockey, now a senior steward with the British Horseracing Authority, says Wayward Lad compares favourably with these two greats.
“His qualities were a high cruising speed and a turn of foot that was particularly spectacular,” Earnshaw told The Yorkshire Post ahead of this year’s Charlie Hall Chase.
“Because he travelled so well he did have the ability to make some fairly spectacular jumps, as he did in the 1983 Charlie Hall. He was just a fantastic horse to ride. He didn’t have a downside. It was like sitting on a bus. I just steered him. I didn’t do much. I was the passenger.”
Earnshaw says Silver Buck had more quirks and will always be special because of their Gold Cup and the fact that he was asked to look after this horse when he left school.
Noting also that Badsworth Boy’s record in the two-mile Champion Chase, jump racing’s ultimate speed test, stands to this day he says it was simply his good fortune to be associated with three champions who stayed so sound for so long because the Dickinsons were so meticulous over the training of their horses.