Death of union pioneer Henry Ponsonby ‘was full of optimism’ | horse racing news

Edward Whitaker (

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Henry Ponsonby: “One of those larger-than-life figures who lit a room or a racetrack”

Edward Whitaker (

Written by David Carr

Henry Ponsonby, a hugely successful pioneer of guild ownership hailed by one coach as “the most optimistic and enthusiastic person I have ever met,” has died at the age of 74.

Partnerships he has built have enjoyed hundreds of winners, including at Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot, and introduced the likes of Gilly Cooper and Sir Alex Ferguson to the monarchy.

When the Jockey Club, then racing’s governing body, allowed unions for the first time in 1976, Ponsonby took advantage to “fulfill my own ambition of racehorse ownership” and hit his first runner when Beloved Mistress won in Salisbury the following year.

Among the many good horses he managed were the Oregon Trail (who won the Arkell Chase race), Tiger Sword (Ebor), Darris Wiens (Northumberland Plate, Queen Alexandra Stakes), Gatwick (Silver Bowl) and Beechworth Kidd (Mallard Handicap) .

Mark Cranham

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Tiger Cliff (left) and Tom Coyle pounce on Ebor’s victory in 2013

Mark Cranham

The last was named after his old friend Colin McKenzie, a former racing journalist, who said: “Henry was one of those larger-than-life personalities who lit up a room or a racetrack.

“He was full of optimism, as you should be, and his skin was really thick when things went wrong.

“He convinced me on my 65th birthday that he had a horse named The Betchworth Kid, which was my nickname on the Daily Express, if I had a 10 percent stake. I did and it was one of my best life decisions as Mallard won a runway race.”

Eve Johnson Hutton, Group 1 award winning coach, started with Ponsonby and said, “I thought he was indestructible. He was the most upbeat and enthusiastic person I’ve ever met.”

‘Nothing got him down. Even when the horse was running poorly, it was like: ‘We won’t stop thinking about it, let’s move on to the next horse!’ “He loved winning and was a really good loser.

“My first racing job was to work in his office for two years and I had a lot of time for him. It would leave a huge gap in my life.”

Ponsonby horses were pulled from Newbury on Saturday.

Sword Beach was set to compete with Alan King, who said on Friday, “It’s such a big shock. I only spoke with him yesterday and he was so excited to go shoot his new kids today. We were due to have lunch with him in Newbury tomorrow.”

“He has been a huge supporter of many coaches and a very good friend. He worked hard and played hard. We enjoyed a lot with horses like Who Dares Wins, On To Victory and Scarlet Dragon.”

Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)

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Who dares win holds The Grand Visir to win the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot

Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)

“The joke was that he had a horse called Who Dares Wins and everyone assumed that meant he was in the SAS—and he was too slow to correct that opinion!” said Ponsonby who served in the King’s 15th and 19th Cavalry and Mackenzie.

Syndicate work, directed by current directors Fiona Marner and Liz Rutter, is set to continue. Ponsonby is survived by his ex-wife Jane and daughter Christine. Funeral details have not yet been announced.