An Interview with Top Owner Clive Hitchings
Updated: Dec 31, 2022
Life is worth living and no one has abided to this more than racehorse owner Clive Hitchings.
Born a farmer's son in Upton Bishop, Herefordshire, Clive left school at sixteen. Having received a scholarship to attend Monmouth, Clive was admonished by the headmaster for not heading towards university. His words ‘you will never make anything of your life’ were the echo to the next two years when Clive worked on his father's farm. At eighteen, he was called up to for national service in the RAF, and was trained up as a wireless operator using Morse code. After the initial training, Clive spent most of his time in Hong Kong. Whilst Clive was away, his father became ill and was unable to run the farm so he sold up.
Prior to joining the RAF, Clive had been involved in motocross, following in the footsteps of family members who were speedway riders. This led to Clive getting a job selling motorcycles, scooters and three-wheeler cars in Gloucester. Then after getting married to Joan in 1963, Clive worked for an oil company, rising up the career ladder from salesman, depot manager to general manager. In 1970, Clive had the opportunity to take over a Herefordshire company trading as Hills Of Ledbury Limited, under which name his horses run.
This season Clive has Secret Investor and Switch Hitter with Paul Nicholls, and Westhill for ‘pointing with Sam Loxton. Joan has Grace A Vous Enki, Espoir De Guy, Mr Washington and Fame And Fun running in her own colours but it is in Clive’s distinctive spotted ones that they've had the biggest successes – Yala Enki, Virak, Secret Investor’s terrific win in the Denman Chase in 2021, beating stablemate Clan Des Obeaux by a neck. Not to mention the many point-to-pointers he's owned over the years – the amateur division of horse racing that remains dear to Clive. Saint Reverin, Fontaine Again, Premier First, homebred Springbrook Girl and Better Future, who is still alive at 33, having won sixteen point-to-points in his prime, have all prolific winners between the Flags for Clive.
Formerly a keen horseman, regularly hunting and competing, Clive also is a big family man – he and Joan have a daughter Helen and two sons Nick and Charles, plus quite a few grandchildren and great grandchildren. Clive documented his wonderful life in his memoirs entitled Born lucky: the Harder I Worked, the Luckier I Became, though these pages only just do Clive Hitchings justice.
Have you ever ridden? My first involvement with horses resulted from my secretary, Anthea, who mentioned she was having riding lessons with the stickler Jo Challens near Upton-upon-Severn and she suggested I should learn to ride. I said yes and she phoned Jo, booking me in. That was the start and I spent about thirty years with the Ledbury Hunt. I rode in hunter trials, team chases and competed in a four-person team called the Space Invaders made up from Ledbury Hunt members and competed against an Irish team at the Royal Show.
I had one ride in a ‘point – my first ride was a winner so I retain a hundred per cent record! Beforehand, trainer Bill Bryan said to lose weight, get fit and do a lot of running, which I did. The horse was called Semper Spes. I tried to pull up on the second circuit but the more I pulled, the faster he went and he got up to win by a short head.
Clive winning on Semper Spes at Bredwandine Point-to-Point, 1980
How did you get into racehorse ownership? One of my customers was a very well-known point-to-point rider and trainer, Joe Jackson. One day, I called into see him about business and he showed me a horse that he’d collected from Wales in lieu of a debt. Up ‘til then the horse, Du Bellay, had been used to pull a cart. I bought the horse from Joe and put it in training in ‘points – the rest is history.
What was the inspiration behind your design of colours? During my time doing National Service in the RAF, it was discovered that I was colour blind, especially with reds and browns. I chose two colours I could see, which were blue and yellow. Besides, I like the combination of those two colours and they show up clearly during a race.
Who have been your trainers? Bill Bryan – point-to-point.
Venetia Williams – National Hunt.
Paul Nicholls – National Hunt.
Tom Symonds – National Hunt.
David Dennis – National Hunt.
Andy Hobbs – National Hunt and point-to-point.
Ian Williams – National Hunt.
Matt Sheppard – point-to-point.
Tom Weston – point-to-point.
For a number of years, I trained my own ‘pointers at Tyre Hill and I also had a permit to train my own horses under Rules.
Who are your favourite jockeys? Despite putting me through a wing when schooling, Karen Bryan was my favourite jockey in point-to-points – she rode a lot of winners for me. Under Rules, Aidan Coleman has ridden a few winners for me and is always a class act and also, Bryony Frost.
Who do you admire in racing? Paul Nicholls – I’ve never known a trainer like him and his communication is brilliant. To be on top of his game for so many years with a large number of horses and staff is incredible.
Which is your favourite racecourse? ‘Pointing is Bredwardine where I rode my winner, Chaddesley Corbett is local and I’ve had a lot of winners there, similarly to Maisemore Park, where Julian Pritchard rode a lot of winners for me. Under Rules, I’ve had successful days at Haydock, where Yala Enki won two Grand National Trials.
Memories of Yala Enki
Which have been your favourite racehorse? Yala Enki – he’s such a character. He won eleven, been placed in two Welsh Nationals and won three Portman Cups at Taunton.
What is your ideal type of racehorse? I love French-breds that aren’t too big. I prefer browns, bays and blacks and not the chesnuts or greys as much.
Photo credit: Becky Bailey Photography
What made you change from primarily owning ‘pointers to owning a lot more runners under Rules? I enjoy both codes but ‘pointing is only at the weekends and as I gradually retired, I wanted opportunities to go racing through the week. The facilities are so much more comfortable at my present age, but I still prefer ‘pointing between the two.
Please describe the feeling to have a winner at Cheltenham Racecourse: A winner is fantastic wherever it is but a winner at Cheltenham was overwhelming. Yala Enki had previously finished second in that race, beaten a short head then won it last season. It was amazing, especially as Yala was a locally owned horse. With the crowds cheering and shouting, it could have been the Festival.
What have been your most favourite winners ever? My favourite horse, Yala Enki, winning the Portman Cup for the third time successive year at Taunton, and also him winning at Cheltenham. And, of course, my win in the Hunt Race at Bredwardine!
Photo Credit: Pinnacle Phototgraphy Agency
What race would you most like to own the winner of? I’ve always wanted to win the Lady Dudley Cup at Chaddesley Corbett, and also a Cheltenham Foxhunter’s.
What is the best racing party you’ve been to? In July 2015, we sponsored a race at Worcester Racecourse and invited all the people who had been connected to or involved with us in racing to celebrate having over 200 winners. We’d had a lot of joy and pleasure over the years with the help of the trainers, grooms and jockeys. It was a good day’s racing in good company and we hope to repeat it again if we get over 300 winners. Unfortunately, a set of my colours that were displayed were stolen – we were partying too hard and having too much fun to notice; Worcester Racecourse did replace them though!
What was the best advice you were given about owning racehorses? Don’t look at how much it’s costing – just enjoy it!!
Favourite drink: G&T.
Favourite meal? Steak.
Other hobbies/interests: I love all sports and have played most of them: golf, squash, table tennis, cricket, tennis, football and rugby (I scored the winning try for the RAF against the Army on TV, be it in Hong Kong!)
Favourite holiday destination: We had a place in Puerto Banús, Spain for many years, as well as boats and holidayed in Torquay for many years too.