Trevor Hemmings, one of jump racing’s greatest supporters and the owner of three Grand National winners, has died at the age of 86.
Famed for his big-race victories in his famous yellow, green and white colours, Hemmings was also the owner of Preston North End Football club, buying the then financially-troubled Lancashire outfit in 2010.
A statement from the club on Monday night read: “Preston North End Football Club can sadly confirm the devastating news that its owner Trevor Hemmings CVO has passed away this evening 11th October 2021.
“A further statement will be made in the coming days but in the meantime his family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult time.”
Hemmings first won the National in 2005 with the Willie Mullins-trained Hedgehunter, before Donald McCain’s Ballabriggs added a second Aintree triumph in 2011 and Many Clouds ran out victorious in 2015.
Trabolgan was a Hennessy Gold Cup winner for Hemmings, with other popular names to carry his colours including The Last Fling and Albertas Run.
Donald McCain has led the tributes to Hemmings.
McCain trained Ballabriggs to provide Hemmings with a second Aintree success in 2011 following on from Hedgehunter (2005) and added to by Many Clouds (2015).
Having also had horses with his father, Red Rum’s trainer Ginger, McCain explained while also losing a huge supporter, his family were mourning the loss of a friend.
“It was a huge shock. He’d been in touch fairly recently and he even used to ring my mum now and again just to keep an eye on her,” said McCain.
“Obviously he was fantastic to me. Dad trained for him in his latter years but for me as a first-season trainer to have horses for Trevor Hemmings was a huge thing and he supported me every year through thick and thin for every year that I’ve been training.
“He’s been a wonderful man for me and a lot of other trainers. He was very fair and while it’s corny, he was just a gentleman. He was a wonderful supporter to me, you can’t underestimate the reason why he was so successful and that is because he allowed you to train horses the way they should be trained.
“He was not just a great man but he was a great friend to the family as well.
“Cloudy Lane was the first good horse I had for him and Mr Hemmings bred him as well, we had some great fun with him even before Ballabriggs came along, he won at the (Cheltenham) Festival and was favourite for the National the following year (finished sixth).
“It was no fluke that he won three Grand Nationals, he allowed you to do the job, he never rushed you.
“He’s a great loss to National Hunt racing but in particular the northern National Hunt racing scene, that can’t be underestimated as he was a great supporter of many trainers in the north.”
Oliver Sherwood described Hemmings as the “perfect owner”.
He told Sky Sports Racing: “It was a real shock to get a text from David Minton (bloodstock agent) last night. He’d been in really good form recently, he hadn’t been in any ill health, so it was a huge shock.
“We had some great days with Many Clouds and I’ll be forever in their debt. Without Trevor’s input I wouldn’t have even run him in the National because I thought it was a year too soon.
“After his slightly disappointing run in the Gold Cup, Trevor said we had nothing to lose and the rest is history.”
Reflecting on that National success, Sherwood added: “I won’t forget that weekend for as long as I live. Trevor flew down the next day in his helicopter and celebrated with all the locals in Lambourn and paid for everybody to have a drink.
“It was a huge turnout in the centre of Lambourn, which will stick in my mind forever. We’ve still got a huge picture in our yard now of ‘Clouds’ in the square in Lambourn. They were very special days.
“Many Clouds was one of many good horses Trevor owned. I think he had a soft spot for all his National winners.
“Trevor would be the first to say he was a very lucky man to have the horses he did, but then he enjoyed the highs and knew the lows that came with owning racehorses. He knew the game inside out as well, which is very important.
“He was the perfect owner. He let us get on with it and knew we knew the horses better than anybody.”
Hedgehunter provided Willie Mullins with his first and only victory to date in the Grand National 16 years ago under Ruby Walsh.
Mullins said: “We had a great day with Trevor Hemmings and Hedgehunter.
“It was a dream come true to win the National – it gave us one of the great days in my training career.
“He (Hemmings) was a man who it was an honour and a pleasure to train for.”
Trevor Hemmings Obituary
By Molly Hunter
Trevor Hemmings’ love of horses was born when, as a child, he was entrusted with the Chorley greengrocer’s cob – to whom he attached a cart of potatoes, dampened to increase their weight as they were sold by the pound.
There was something prophetic about his early memory, a young Hemmings delighting in horses while sharpening the business acumen that would earn him a future somehow foretold by the name of his first equine love – the cob called Klondike.
It is certainly accurate to depict Hemming’s adult years as a ‘gold rush’ – but the circumstances of his early life were a world away from the billionaire businessman and three-time Grand National-winning owner he was to become.
Born in Woolwich in 1935, Hemmings was the working-class son of a Royal Ordnance factory worker, with the company’s World War II relocation to Lancashire necessitating a family move to Leyland when he was five.
Hemmings witnessed his parents’ struggle to balance financial stresses with a determination to avoid debt – something which perhaps shaped his own principles.
On leaving Leyland Secondary Modern School at 15, Hemmings was faced with four employment options – Leyland Motors, working alongside his parents at the Royal Ordnance factory, the declining weaving mills or the police force.
Instead, he went to Lancashire College night school to study business – alongside a variety of daytime roles, such as cleaning diesel trains and boiler-making, before beginning an apprenticeship in building.
From there, he forged a lucrative path in the construction trade – first profiting from house-building before forming an alliance with Fred Pontin and the expansion of Pontins Holiday Parks.
Gaining a seat on the Pontins board, Hemmings negotiated the partial sale of the company to bookmakers Coral – in return for 500,000 shares in their business.
Coral lost casino gaming licences and the value of those shares plummeted.
But in 2000, Hemmings bought the company back from brewer Scottish and Newcastle, then sold it on a second time at a price of £46million.
That business acumen was serving him well, including as a one-time majority shareholder in Center Parcs, introduced to Britain by S&N.
Also in the millennial year, Hemmings spent £100m on 361 pubs previously owned by S&N and acquired the leisure division of retailer Littlewoods for £161m.
The portfolio was not done yet, though – because Hemmings had big plans for Blackpool, buying town-centre land including the famous tower and Winter Gardens.
His hopes to build a Las Vegas-style ‘supercasino’ at the tower foundered on the absence of Government approval – but in 2010, the sport-loving Hemmings bought the financially-troubled Preston North End Football Club.
After decades of investment and trading, at the age of 85 in 2020, Hemmings’ wealth was reported to total £1.025 billion by the Sunday Times – shortly before his October acquisition of Cork City FC.
Throughout, alongside the mammoth work ethic, his love of horseracing took hold.
“That’s why I went into horses – to have another interest,” he said.
Hemmings’ first National triumph came in 2005, when the Willie Mullins-trained 7-1 favourite Hedgehunter surged clear by 14 lengths under Ruby Walsh.
Hemmings described it as “the happiest day of my life with the horses” – and one he felt would never be repeated.
On the last count, however, he was wrong – because in 2011, the Donald McCain-trained Ballabriggs gave him his second National success.
Having won the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival the previous year, Ballabriggs was well-fancied and won at 14-1 under Jason Maguire.
Hemmings’ third win over the famous Aintree fences was provided by one of his classiest performers, Many Clouds, trained in Lambourn by Oliver Sherwood.
A winner on his bumper and chase debuts, Many Clouds landed the Listed Colin Parker Chase at Carlisle – following up with a three-and-a-quarter-length success in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
In January 2015 the Grade Two BetBright Cup followed at Cheltenham – and after a distant sixth behind Coneygree in the Gold Cup at the Festival, Many Clouds claimed the National under Leighton Aspell at odds of 25-1.
Many Clouds could finish only 16th in the 2016 National, but tenaciously recovered his form to win again at Aintree the following December, this time on the Mildmay Course.
Then came a January day at Cheltenham which presented the triumph and tragedy of National Hunt racing in the space of seconds as Many Clouds produced a remarkable performance to beat previously unbeaten top-class chaser Thistlecrack by a head.
Yet then, after the most gruelling of uphill finishes to the Cotswold Chase, the 10-year-old tragically collapsed on the Cheltenham turf and died with what was subsequently identified as a severe pulmonary haemorrhage.
At his peak, Many Clouds held a rating of 167, just a pound below the rating achieved by Hemmings’ three-time Cheltenham Festival winner Albertas Run.
Jonjo O’Neill’s middle-distance specialist Albertas Run, hero of Cheltenham’s Ryanair Chase in 2010 and 2011, also won both the Melling Chase and Old Roan at Aintree.
Albertas Run stayed three miles to win the 2008 Royal & SunAlliance Chase – a race Nicky Henderson’s Trabolgan took for Hemmings in 2005, before going on to Hennessy Gold Cup glory that same year.
Cloth Cap flew the flag for his owner more recently and was an impressive 10-length winner of the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase, previously the Hennessy, in 2020.
The success came after Hemmings announced he would be dialling down his investment in the sport, as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on leisure-industry finances.
He vowed to keep around 25 horses in training, a relative handful compared to previous years when he would have a team of more than 100 in his famous yellow-and-green quarters.
Hemmings provided some context to that outlay in a 2000 Guardian interview, when he said: “It’s an expensive hobby, and I don’t know how much I’m writing off exactly. Perhaps I wouldn’t want to do it if I knew.
“But I measure it another way. I probably give about eight – or 10 – times more to charities in a year than I would spend on horses. So I think my perspective is fairly good.”
His philanthropic contributions were never made public, save for his funding of Preston’s SAFE centre for victims of sexual violence, but there were hints of a silent largesse at work.
Zara Phillips’ event horse High Kingdom, on whom she won a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games, was owned by Hemmings and given the stable name ‘Trev’ – a hint at the rider’s fondness for the man himself.
Nor did he ever forget where he came from, his business interests always mirroring working class roots.
Hemmings’ investments in pubs, British holiday parks, football clubs and neglected northern towns suggested his attention never strayed too far from erstwhile peers.
Beginning with so little, his sound investments and industry accrued massive wealth – yet he remained unknown to the average person.
Something of an affable enigma, Hemmings said little and let his success, generosity and enormous contribution to sport speak volumes instead.
Sir Anthony McCoy was among those to take to social media to pay his respects to leading owner Trevor Hemmings, who died on Monday evening, aged 86.
McCoy won 11 races on Albertas Run, arguably the classiest horse Hemmings ever owned given he won the 2008 Royal & SunAlliance Chase and the Ryanair twice, in 2010 and 2011.
He also won the Grade One Melling Chase at Aintree in 2010.
McCoy took to Twitter to say: “Desperately sad news that Trevor Hemmings has died. I’m very proud to have worn his iconic colours on many wonderful days. He was a great friend to many but a greater friend to our sport and that of his beloved @pnefc. Thoughts with all his family and friends.”
Paul Nicholls won back-to-back Scottish Nationals for Hemmings with Vicente in 2016 and 2017, and said: “Incredibly sad to learn of the passing of Mr Hemmings. A truly fantastic supporter of National Hunt racing for decades who will be sorely missed. All of team Ditcheat’s thoughts are with Mr Hemmings’ closet family and friends. May he rest in peace.”
Oliver Sherwood famously trained Many Clouds to provide Hemmings with a third Grand National in 2015. He also won the Hennessy Gold Cup (now Ladbrokes Trophy) in 2014.
“RIP ‘Boss’ – a true legend of a man but as important he was a true gentleman #trevorhemmings,” said Sherwood.
Tom Scudamore was on board Cloth Cap who won the Ladbrokes Trophy last November.
He posted: “Very sad to hear the passing of Trevor Hemmings. A gentleman to deal with and one of jump racing’s greatest supporters. Condolences to his family. RIP”
Mick Fitzgerald rode the likes of Afsoun, Blue Shark, Trabolgan and Juveigneur to big-race wins in Hemmings’ famous colours. He tweeted: “Sad to hear of the passing of a true gentleman of the game. Trevor Hemmings loved this sport and I shall miss his phone calls when he had a winner on big days. I had some great days wearing his colours. RIP.”
Sam Twiston-Davies rode Vicente to both of his Scottish National successes and added: “Incredibly sad to hear the passing of Trevor Hemmings. An absolute gentleman to deal with and did so much for racing. Condolences to his family. R.I.P.”
Sue Smith trained more winners for Hemmings than any other trainer. The likes of The Last Fling and Vintage Clouds – a winner at the Cheltenham Festival this year – were among the best of them.
“Very sad news. A great owner but more importantly a great friend,” said Smith
Nick Alexander trains Lake View Lad, an emotional winner of a race named in memory of Many Clouds at Aintree.
“A gloomy damp morning here at Kinneston and a sombre atmosphere on the yard having learnt of the passing of Trevor Hemmings yesterday. I cannot thank him enough for his support, thoughts and prayers with his family and friends,” said Alexander.
Tim Easterby was another northern trainer to provide Hemmings with a Cheltenham winner, when Hawk High won the Fred Winter in 2014.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Trevor Hemmings, a true gentleman and great support of racing. Our thoughts are with his family and friends,” said Easterby.