PIONEERING former trainer Helen Johnson Houghton, the first woman to train a Classic winner in Britain, died on Tuesday night at the age of 102.
Although not officially in the record books, Johnson Houghton was the first female trainer to win a Classic when 50-1 chance Gilles De Retz took the 2,000 Guineas in 1956.
Johnson Houghton had tried to take out a licence after her husband Gordon was killed in a hunting accident in 1952 but, due to Jockey Club restrictions at the time, only men were allowed to hold a training licence, so the colt had to run under the name of her assistant, Charles Jerdein.
In a 2010 interview, Johnson Houghton described how she felt at being denied the right to train in her own name. “Bloody maddening,” she said. “It seems so ridiculous in this day and age, doesn’t it? Beyond belief. But that’s all in the past and I no longer agonise over it.”
The Jockey Club finally changed its rules in 1966 following a prolonged court battle with Florence Nagle, who scored an historic victory in her battle for sporting equality for women.
Johnson Houghton, who was the twin sister of legendary trainer Fulke Walwyn, had taken over the running of the historic Woodway stable in Oxfordshire after the death of her husband.
Her son, also Fulke, took over the licence in the 1960s but Helen was always involved in the operation and even rode out until she was in her 80s.
Her grand-daughter, Eve Johnson Houghton, has been training at Woodway since 1999 and continues as a successful trainer to this day. She broke the news via her Twitter account yesterday. “So sad to say my amazing, extraordinary, wonderful grandmother Helen Johnson Houghton died peacefully in her sleep last night aged 102,” said Johnson Houghton.
She later added: “She was extraordinary in so many ways, and a pioneer in racing. She lived to a fair old age and, although in a way we were expecting it, we’re still in shock.”
l Vulcanite made a promising start to his chasing career yesterday with victory in the bet365.com Novices’ Chase at Hereford but there was drama in the stewards’ room afterwards.
A former useful novice hurdler, the Charlie Longsdon-trained five-year-old outpointed Salden Licht – having his first start for 606 days – by three-quarters of a length. A good jump at the last took Vulcanite into the lead under Tony McCoy and the evens favourite edged it. However, following an inquiry trainer Oliver Sherwood was fined £3,000 and jockey Leighton Aspell banned for 14 days over the running and riding of fourth-placed Furrows. The horse was suspended from running for 40 days.
McCoy completed a double on Stravita (5-1) after Ajman fell at the final flight when appearing to have the bet365 Handicap Hurdle at his mercy. The favourite’s demise left Stravita to scoot up by 12 lengths. “You can’t buy luck,” said McCoy.