Famed for his big-race victories in his famous yellow, green and white colours that were carried to Aintree glory by Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds, Hemmings died on Monday night at the age of 86.
A self-made entrepreneur who also owned Preston North End, he was a popular – and humble – figure on Britain’s racecourses.
Hemmings supported countless trainers – but it was fitting that the Sue Smith-trained Vintage Clouds was his final Cheltenham Festival victory when surging clear in March to land the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Smith and her husband Harvey saddled 131 winners for Hemmings – more than any other yard – but, just as importantly, enjoyed a great and enduring friendship.
“He was just a great man to know,” the High Eldwick trainer told The Yorkshire Post. “He had a terrific sense of humour.
“We had that many good times together, both with the racehorses and also socially, that it is difficult to pick out a single memory.”
Fittingly, Hemmings was the very first person on the phone when Vintage Clouds rolled back the years to win at Cheltenham this year – Covid lockdown restrictions meant that the winning connections could not be present.
“He was absolutely delighted – and we were delighted for Trevor,” said Smith. “He’d run so many times there (Cheltenham), so when the old horse had his day, it was a wonderful day.”
Hemmings used to be a regular visitor at the Smith stables – they became acquaintances through their shared enjoyment of showjumping and the love of horses.
“He never interfered. He left you to get on with the job. He was one of our first high-profile owners when we were getting going and he was always the same when he went to the races.
“He would come into the paddock, have a laugh and then put his jockey at ease by saying ‘Go out and enjoy yourself’. But it wasn’t just racing. He became a very good friend and both Harvey and I will miss him greatly.”
Vintage Clouds triumphed at Cheltenham under Ryan Mania who spoke of his pride at winning his first Festival race for such a respected and revered owner.
Though Hemmings was not p resent, Mania said it was an “honour” to win in such iconic colours and hear how much that the victory meant to the octogenarian owner.
“His first concern was always the horse. He never tied you down to instructions – he was just a gentleman and would tell you to go out, enjoy yourself and look after the horse,” added Mania. “Jump racing was lucky to have him.”
This sentiment was shared by former champion jockey Brian Hughes whose first Festival winner came courtesy of Great Habton trainer Tim Easterby’s Hawk High in 2014.
Many owners, said North Yorkshire-based Hughes, would have baulked at entering an unfancied 33-1 horse in a race as competitive as the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
However Hemmings, he said, was both a great gentleman and a sportsman who treated victory and defeat with the same humility that – along with his trusted cloth cap – became his hallmark.
“I still have the television interview that he did after the race with Lydia Hislop on the Sky-Plus,” said Hughes as he recalled the owner with fondness.
He went on to cite the consistency of Cloudy Dream, trained by the late Malcolm Jefferson and then his daughter Ruth, and his pride at winning last year’s Many Clouds Chase at Aintree aboard Lake View Lad.
This victory was more significant than many because Many Clouds was a crowd-pleasing warrior, and National hero, who meant the world to Hemmings.
“I rode for him in Grand Nationals and Grade Ones – there was never any pressure. The last thing he’d say is ‘do your best, look after yourself and look after the horse’,” added Hughes.
“As long as you were doing your best and looking after the horse, that’s all he wanted. He also did a lot of good for racing and never wanted any recognition – that was a mark of the man.
“You would struggle to find anyone who would begrudge Mr Hemmings any of his successes because he was such a genuine man. There was no side to him. A gentleman and he will be missed.”