My Induction into racing was the duel between Brigadier Gerald and Mill Reef in the 1971 Guineas, then the epic battle between the Queens of French Racing - Allez France and Dahlia.
When Dahlia arrived for the Coronation Cup in 1974, I knew I couldn't miss the event, but in the pre-parade ring my eye was taken by a lovely chestnut colt call Buoy. He looked ready for the battle, and when Joe Mercer was given the leg up onto those crimson and silver braid colours, my love affair began.
By the time Bireme won the Musidora at York I was hooked. I became more fascinated in the bloodline and breeding of the family.
In 1981 this London Taxi driver, with his strange new hobby, escaped for the day and was drawn to North East Hertfordshire. I found Arches Hall driving down country lanes heading towards the village of Standon. The stud was at the top of a hill, with the valley and river Rib running below. I parked the cab and crossed the river. I walked up the main drive noting the beautiful surroundings, everything so peaceful, in stark contrast to the pace of driving a cab around London, I felt like I was on Holiday.
The paddock close to the main house had two mares under a tree, and as I approached they came towards me. One was Ripeck by Ribot, and the other, her daughter Boathouse by Habitat. I walked into the main yard and one of the lads asked if I needed any help. I said I was very interested in the stud and he told me that stud groom Roy Ingrams would be back from lunch shortly. Roy was the size of an ex-jockey and he was the first racing man I had ever met.
Roy gave me a full tour of the stud, and because of my knowledge of the family Roy thought I was in the industry. Roy was surprised by my knowledge of his and Dick Hollingsworth's Felucca Family.
In the spring Roy used to take me on visits to various Newmarket stud's to see the mares and stallions. One unforgettable time was a morning visit to see my equine heroes Brigadier Gerald and Mill Reef. With over thirty years experience Roy was very well respected. I was now visiting Arches Hall on a regular basis, which for me was such a breath of fresh air. I was soon beginning to understand the yearly cycle of the stud, from foaling, farming and preparation of young stock, to training or sales.
My first meeting with Dick Hollingsworth was in 1981 when I was invited into the main house. He was in his early sixties then and still working. The first thing I noticed in the house were the pictures of his three Park Hill Stakes winners. We sat in the main lounge overlooking the garden with a great view down the main drive. A Picture of his father's horse Raeburn, the 1936 Irish Derby winner, hung over the fireplace. He was more interested about me and my family than talking about his Bloodstock, and he told me the story about Kyak's trip to Italy to visit the great Ribot. She spent days on a train and they never heard about her for months. He said that the mating which produced Ripeck was one of his best decisions. The old matron Kyak was still there on my early visits, and after her death I was delighted when Roy presented me with her head collar.
I was now becoming obsessed with the family - first or last didn't matter to me. I was lucky enough to have the freedom to walk the stud, visiting with mares, with foals, yearlings, colts and fillies, and barren and retired mares. I just loved every minute of my time there. When the days work was over I would listen to Roy tell me more stories.
With the death of Richard Hollingsworth in January 2001 his baton was passed on to his nephew Mark Dixon, who inherited Arches Hall and the Bloodstock. The loss of Hydrofoil to a lighting strike was very unlucky, as she was the last of the Cutter line. Mark sold Arches Hall and moved his best mares to Ireland to the Mount Coote Stud. Mark sold half of Prowess to James Rowsell in 2006 and looks forward to the continuation of his Felsetta bloodline with Prowess, whose daughter Talent won the Epsom Oaks in 2013.
My hobby for all these year has been like owning my own racehorses, but without the worries of paying the bills.
B W Thompkins
I was interviewed by the Racing Post about my connection with Silver Braid racing. The interview was published on the 2nd April 2017.