Nick Townsend goes to meet Eve Johnson Houghton, still ec­static over her Royal As­cot win in the Queen Anne

The Racing Paper - - News -

It is a week on from those open­ing sec­onds of Royal As­cot, 98.85 of them to be pre­cise, that had a eu­phoric Eve Johnson Houghton and her mum Gaie deaf­en­ing ev­ery­one in the vicin­ity as their colt Ac­ci­den­tal Agent pre­vailed in the Queen Anne Stakes. And, if the tears of an over­come trainer and owner-breeder have long since dried up, the good­will flow­ing in her di­rec­tion hasn’t.

For sheer drama, it was def­i­nitely ‘All about Eve’, to bor­row from the Bette Davis clas­sic, af­ter jockey Char­lie Bishop had timed his chal­lenge im­pec­ca­bly on the son of Del­e­ga­tor.

Johnson Houghton laugh­ingly ad­mits: “I feel like a right celebrity…” as she al­ludes to the me­dia and pub­lic re­sponse to her first Group 1 and first Royal As­cot win­ner.

While cer­tain other own­ers would have un­der­stand­ably re­ceived such an out­come with a cal­cu­lat­ing, busi­ness-like eye, the Johnson Houghtons’ unashamed pub­lic dis­play of plea­sure en­deared it­self to all who wit­nessed it, apart per­haps from those race­go­ers ad­ja­cent to her and Gaie as events un­folded. “There was an aw­ful lot of scream­ing going on,” she con­ceded in the af­ter­math of the race.

This is what rac­ing should be all about – never mind the £367,000 first prize money that Ac­ci­den­tal Agent had just earned, or en­hanced po­ten­tial stal­lion value. Nor the fact that, al­though Cracks­man and Lau­rens are cur­rently tied at the head of the stand­ings for Cartier Horse Of The Year, the Johnson Houghton colt – named af­ter Eve’s ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther John Gold­smith’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy about his life as a Special Op­er­a­tions Ex­ec­u­tive dur­ing the Sec­ond World War – is also now in con­tention.

The trainer has now re­turned to planet earth. “Well, nearly,” she says. “Get­ting there. All the lovely com­ments, emails and cards have been quite over­whelm­ing.”

And yet, there is an­other side to rac­ing. There al­ways is, given the for­tunes bet each day, whether it is the mil­lions placed on the Queen Anne (with the Johnson Houghton win­ner pre­vail­ing at 33-1, most of it re­main­ing in the book­ies’ satchels or on­line ac­counts) or rather less on a mid­week event at Brighton.

There is al­ways some­one ready to at­tribute a bet that’s gone awry to the per­ceived de­fi­cien­cies of a trainer or jockey. On this oc­ca­sion, ap­par­ently it was the lat­ter. “Just at the mo­ment I’m re­ply­ing to a rather abu­sive email from some an­gry punter – be­cause one (of ours) got beat at Brighton. Hon­estly!” she ex­claims.

Most of us would sim­ply hit the delete button – but not the for­mi­da­ble Johnson Houghton. “I al­ways like to re­ply to them.” She adds: “Th­ese peo­ple are com­plete mo­rons. If you don’t like a trainer, or a jockey, or a horse – don’t back it. There is no obli­ga­tion.” She pauses. “It makes me laugh.”

That is the won­der­fully capri­cious world into which Johnson Houghton, right, suc­ceeded her revered trainer fa­ther Fulke Johnson Houghton just 12 years ago, hav­ing as­sisted him since 1999 at Wood­way, the sta­bles steeped in rich achieve­ment, above the vil­lage of Blew­bury in Ox­ford­shire. It was from here that Fulke trained such es­teemed per­form­ers as Ri­bocco, Ribero, Habi­tat and Ile de Bour­bon.

Not that Eve’s des­tiny was set from the start. She started off temp­ing in London in her twen­ties, “just bash­ing a type­writer, or com­puter in the of­fice of a small com­pany. Then the per­son who was man­ager left, and no-one else was ca­pa­ble of sort­ing it all out. I was fright­fully bossy and took over,” she re­calls.

Johnson Houghton later worked for the lead­ing syn­di­cate man­ager, Henry Pon­sonby, with horses in­clud­ing Af­fair Of State, win­ner of over £240,000 in the Tattersalls Breed­ers Stakes at the Cur­ragh.

Coin­ci­den­tally, Henry Pon­sonby Rac­ing’s pro­gres­sive geld­ing On To Vic­tory is Houghton Johnson’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in to­day’s Northum­ber­land Plate at New­cas­tle, tra­di­tion­ally a great bet­ting race. The son of Rock Of Gi­bral­tar last ran in the York­shire Cup, finishing 18 lengths be­hind sub­se­quent Gold Cup win­ner Stradi­var­ius. “But he found that ground too firm,” says his trainer.

Af­ter her stint as of­fice man­ager, Johnson Houghton, a fine am­a­teur rider, who twice part­nered the win­ner of the Ladies

Di­a­mond race at As­cot, worked for Lam­bourn trainer John Hills for about seven years be­fore re­turn­ing to the fam­ily base, and ul­ti­mately suc­ceed­ing her fa­ther.

As she en­thused at the time: “Most peo­ple set­ting out to train would kill for the own­ers, who have all been very sup­port­ive, and the fa­cil­i­ties I’ll have at Wood­way.”

Johnson Houghton has seized the op­por­tu­nity vo­ra­ciously. Five years ago, she had 35 horses, and said her ideal would be dou­ble that. To­day, she trains 70 and is flour­ish­ing. “Be­cause I’ve been quite suc­cess­ful in the past few years, it’s been eas­ier for me to get horses,” she says.

Her cur­rent charges in­clude around 30 ju­ve­niles. “I’ve got a nice bunch of two-year-olds, but the ground’s re­ally firm so I haven’t been press­ing any but­tons re­cently.” Once she does, you ex­pect Johnson Houghton will ex­ceed the half cen­tury of win­ners she topped for the first time last sea­son. Two win­ners on the day af­ter we spoke brought this year’s tally up to 22 al­ready. How­ever, noth­ing is likely to com­pare with Ac­ci­den­tal Agent’s lat­est suc­cess, un­less of course her elite miler, rid­den by Char­lie Bishop, fol­lows up at As­cot with a tri­umph in the Queen El­iz­a­beth II Stakes on Cham­pi­ons Day, a likely next tar­get for the fouryear-old.

What pride her grand­mother, the first woman to train a Clas­sic win­ner in Bri­tain, would have felt for Eve. He­len Johnson Houghton was re­spon­si­ble for the 1956 2000 Guineas win­ner Gilles de Retz at Wood­way.

How­ever, be­fore 1966 the Jockey Club did not al­low women to train – lest they fall into the hands of “bad men” as Florence Nagle, one of the most vo­cif­er­ous cam­paign­ers for the gen­der bar to be over­turned, was once ad­vised by a Jockey Club Stew­ard – and their li­cence had to be held by a man. The suc­cess was there­fore recorded in the name of her as­sis­tant Charles Jerdein.

No such prob­lems for her grand­daugh­ter Eve whose suc­cesses in the last two years with such names as Mag­no­lia Springs, Ice Age, What About Carlo and Scar­let Dragon has ad­ver­tised her train­ing prow­ess.

And, of course, the ex­ploits of Ac­ci­den­tal Agent whose four vic­to­ries and three places from 14 runs thus far, has earned her mother a touch over £600,000 prize­money.

A fol­low-up in the Queen El­iz­a­beth II Stakes, an event won by Eve’s fa­ther with Rose Bowl in 1975 and 1976, would take that fig­ure to well over £1m. And the ex­hor­ta­tions would prob­a­bly be heard back in Blew­bury.

Th­ese peo­ple are com­plete mo­rons. If you don’t like a trainer, or a jockey, or a horse – don’t back it. There is no obli­ga­tion”

“I’ve got a nice bunch of two-year-olds, but the ground’s re­ally firm so I haven’t been press­ing any but­tons”

Fa­mous fa­ther: Fulke Johnson Houghton with Eve

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