AS autumn leaves begin to gather on the pavements and the chillier mornings leave us with goosebumps, it can only mean that proper Jump racing is almost upon us. The Charlie Hall Chase is a few weeks away… the Paddy Power Gold Cup is within sight. But if you really want to set the National Hunt pulse racing then a new book stands out above all the others at present. BURROUGH HILL LAD: THE MAKING OF A CHAMPION RACEHORSE charts the remarkable story of the elegant but powerful chaser and his redoubtable owner Stan Riley. He was one of my favourite jumpers of all time. Here co-author GAVAN NADEN writes exclusively about how the book came to be…
During the summer of 2012 I was with co-author Max Riddington, visiting friends in the small Leicestershire hamlet of Burrough on the Hill. On the wall of their study was a photograph of a majestic black horse, set against the backdrop of the rolling hills of Burrough. Next to the photo was a huge metal hook, that stuck out into the room.
I mentioned I had no idea they liked horses so much. What unfolded was a story that had to be told.
They had moved into this property not long before and after a little research discovered the champion racehorse Burrough Hill Lad was named after their village. They then uncovered a trail that led all the way across the county to Stan Riley, the magnificent beast’s owner and breeder. Although now in his 80s, Stan held the 1984 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner very close to his heart.
It transpired Burrough Hill Lad had been born in our friend’s study, (it was actually a stable back then) and tethered to the very hook we were staring at. We discovered there were many tough moments when Stan had been that close to selling him, and this rags- to-riches story would never have happened.
We knew from that moment we had to meet Stan.
From humble beginnings Stan had fought to keep his head above water, first as a tenant farmer, then as a timber merchant, before turning his hand to manager of the village post office and restaurateur. His was a tale, via divorce and near bankrupcy, that went all the way to royalty.
There was no question about what we had to do next. Tell their story. We’d previously written the biography of Princess Diana’s mother, and later Princess Diana’s grandfather. But this was a new challenge. The indomitable Stan Riley and the breathtaking Burrough Hill Lad.
We hope we’ve done them justice.
The book is available via Chequered Flag Publishing and Amazon at £11.99.