Robin Oakley

King of the hills

Why Neil King abandoned Newmarket for the Marlborough Downs

There are now two Kings of the Marlborough Downs. Leading jumps trainer Alan King has long trained top horses at Barbury Castle but since summer 2014, to the confusion of delivery drivers, he has had a new neighbour, the former Newmarket trainer Neil King. The only surprise is that Neil did not come sooner: driving with him up and down the gradients and gulleys of Upper Herdswick Farm was — if his wife Clare will forgive the comparison — like witnessing the consummation of a love affair. He eagerly showed off his refurbished woodchip gallop, his fine schooling grounds and the laurel bushes that will in time provide cross-country obstacles, his loose school and the ponds he has established to benefit local wildlife. His pride in the transformation of the once rundown yard near Wroughton is as obvious as his bounding energy.

Watching clusters of scatty two-year-olds jogging along the walkways next to busy roads and queuing for Warren Hill gallops you think of Newmarket trainers as townies. Farmer’s son Neil is a countryman through and through. After a pupillage with Nicky Henderson in See You Then days, and working for an American jumps trainer in Maryland, Neil ran a livery yard and rode and trained point-to-pointers before setting up as a public trainer. One point-to-point victory he won’t forget was on Prince Torus, a talented but fragile horse he took with him on leaving Henderson. Having finally got him right and booked the local champion rider, connections took £200 out of the bank to back him. The rider was then claimed to ride another horse and the owner suggested that Neil rode him instead. They won on the bridle, although not trusting his riding as much as he did his training the stake had been reduced to £100!

When you are with Neil, he stops to point out buzzards and kites above the roe deer trotting through the rows of saplings planted by his predecessor Jim Old.

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