The Rise, Rise … and Fall of Hightown Stables
Late 1944 saw the departure of the Americans, and the stables were in a bit of a mess. Major Bay Powell returned from the war and immediately refurbished the yard to bring the it up to his very high standards. Very soon owners returned their horses, and Maj Powell also bought some of his own in order to fill the stables, as overheads had spiralled by this time. The old jockeys returned, and then for a while Eric Brown trained in his own right at Liddington before returning to Aldbourne as the licensee of the Mason’s Arms. Dick Holland soon also left to take over as licensee at “The Crown”, and whilst there trained a few horses from stables behind this building, his best winner being Hal’s Venture, which later transferred to Hightown, following Dick Holland not having his
Jack Dowdeswell remained as Powell’s no 1 jockey. He was very successful, and became Champion Jockey in 1946/47,
winning amongst others the prestigious Grand Sefton Chase at Aintree. In 1947 Powell had 5 winners in one afternoon at Taunton, Jack riding 4 of them. Hightown really was at the top of the tree, with Bay Powell leading the National Hunt Trainer’s list. Gordon Richards (later Sir Gordon) rode regularly for Powell as did a young Frankie Durr. In 1949 Royal Mount, ridden by Hightown stable jockey Pat Doyle won the Coventry Chase, the Becher Chase, and finished 3rd in the Grand National.
In 1951 a very young Lester Piggott rode occasionally for Hightown at National Hunt meetings mildly successfully, and a picture here shows him jumping with Jack Dowdeswell, before he decided to specialise in flat racing – much less hazardous! A young jockey named Dominic Forte was given his moment of glory in 1952, when Maj Powell put him up on Pharisa in the Lincoln Handicap – which he won, easily beating Gordon Richards, who was fancied to win (see original newspaper story in display cabinet).
A precursor of what was to come happened in 1952when a Hightown trained horse – Deux Temps – ran badly
and was tested positively for dope. After a lengthy enquiry, Powell was exonerated from any blame. The owners of the horse put up a £1,000 reward for information, but no one claimed it.
In 1952 Powell trained a winning horse called Roydon – ridden by Lester Piggott. The next year this horse was the first of several rides for him by Dick Francis and again won. The earlier events at the yard could easily have been the basis for some of Dick Francis’ novels!
By now Hightown was turning out winners in both jumping and flat racing.
In August 1955 a horse called Hijiji had a positive dope test. Ridden by Lester Piggott, it finished a poor last at Wolverhampton. This time Powell had his licences for both flat and National Hunt removed, and his long training career came to an abrupt end. Five years later a rumoured horse dope pedlar from Compton, Berks, committed suicide, and this led to a swoop on various racing personnel who were then found guilty of horse doping. Because other local stables were involved, it was always thought that Hightown had also been the victim of criminal acts, and possibly involved one of Maj Powell’s own employees. However, nothing was ever proved, although it seems that one particular employee escaped being run over, and later moved from the area. Major Powell was never charged, and was always considered to be completely innocent of any involvement.
These events led to rules being changed, and it became the discretion of the Stewards of the Jockey Club whether or not to withdraw a trainer’s licence – much too late for Major Bay Powell, who continued living with his wife at Hightown until his death in 1965.
Shortly before these sad events, another Aldbourne jockey was making his name. Peter Pickford, although never riding at Hightown, rode many times for one of the country’s first female trainers – Rosemary Lomax of
Baydon. Peter rode nearly 200 winners in a long career, many for Lomax, including wins on a horse called Hart Royal, with whom Peter rode twice in the Grand National, unsuccessfully, but he did ride in 4 other Grand Nationals, finishing as high as 8th in 1952. Peter is shown in our pictures riding Hart Royal.