The late William Richard ‘Dick’ Hern CVO CBE, also widely known as ‘The Major’, was one of the outstanding racehorse trainers in the second half of the twentieth century. He first became directly involved in horse racing, as assistant trainer to his friend, Major Michael Pope, in 1952 but, five years later, successfully applied for the job as private trainer to leading, and notoriously difficult, owner Major Lionel Brook Holliday at Lagrange Stables in Newmarket.
In 1962, Hern saddled the first of his seventeen British Classic winners, Hethersett – who had started favourite for the Derby, but was one of seven horses that fell, or were brought down, in a melee at Tattenham Corner – in the St. Leger Stakes and became Champion Trainer for the first time. At the end of the 1962 season, Hern succeeded R.J. ‘Jack’ Colling as the trainer at West Isley Stables, near Newbury, Berkshire and, in 1967, started training for Queen Elizabeth II, with whom he would enjoy a fruitful association over the next 22 years.
In 1972, Hern was Champion Trainer again, thanks, in large part, to the exploits of British Horse of Year, Brigadier Gerard. With a Timeform Annual Rating of 144, Brigadier Gerard remains the joint third highest-rated horse of the Timeform era, behind only Frankel and Sea-Bird and, that year, won the Lockinge Stakes, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the Eclipse Stakes, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the Champion Stakes. Just for good measure, Hern also saddled Sun Prince to win the St. James’s Palace Stakes and Sallust to win the Sussex Stakes.
In 1980, Hern was conferred the honour of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) by his royal patron and, fittingly, won the trainers’ title for the third time. His six domestic Group One victories that year came courtesy of Bireme in the Oaks, Henbit in the Derby, Ela-Mana-Mou in the Eclipse Stakes, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Shoot A Line in the Yorkshire Oaks.
Three years later, Hern won the Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks again, this time with the same filly, Sun Princess, who later won the St. Leger Stakes before finishing second to All Along in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Her Oaks victory was notable for two reasons; she was the first maiden to win the Epsom Classic since Asmena in 1950 and her winning margin, 12 lengths, was, and still is, the largest recorded in the history of the race. Her St. Leger victory, though, secured Hern his fourth, and final, trainers’ title.