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Credit Call – the horse who collected big races

  • Posted: Friday, 15th May 2020
  • Author: Carl Evans

One Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase, three Aintree Foxhunters’ Chases and four Stratford Champion Hunters’ Chases – that was the phenomenal record of Credit Call.

In terms of featured hunters' chase triumphs of the modern era he has just one rival, J P McManus's On The Fringe, who in 2015 and 2016 achieved the treble of Cheltenham and Aintree Foxhunter Chases plus Punchestown's Champion Hunters' Chase. On The Fringe also won the Punchestown race on another three occasions. Throw in Credit Call's victory in the top novices' race, the pointtopoint.co.uk-sponsored John Corbet Cup at Stratford, and both he and McManus's horse collected nine top hunters' chases. Credit Call also made one visit to Ireland, where, as a ten-year-old he conceded weight in a Fairyhouse hunters' chase and won comfortably.

The only horse to win Aintree's big hunters' chase on three occasions (he ran in it six times and only failed to complete once), Credit Call was predominantly partnered by two owner/riders, namely Chris Collins for five seasons and Joey Newton for two. Asked for their summaries of the horse, Collins says: "He would lob along unconcernedly and then make ground at the end of races. It wasn't a burst of speed," while Newton says: "He was quirky, like so many good horses. He was unbrave, but a good jumper. He was very careful, and always on his toes when jumping. He would never go long and make exuberant jumps – he loved popping away."

Credit Call at Aintree, from a montage of photos supplied by Joey Newton

Foaled in 1964, a son of Reverse Charge out of Atout Noir (Atout Royal), Credit Call amassed his haul in eight seasons of racing from the yards of two trainers. His first custodian was County Durham-based William Arthur Stephenson – known as Arthur or W A – a legend among licensed trainers who coined the phrase 'little fish are sweet' and who set a record for winners trained in Britain – 2,988 – until it was surpassed by Martin Pipe.

A former amateur rider, Stephenson trained The Thinker to win Cheltenham's Gold Cup and he handled a number of leading hunter chasers, including Credit Call, Titus Oates and Hilbirio. That trio were all owned and ridden at stages in their careers by Collins, who became head of his family's Goya perfume business, and whose passion for horses and competition was not undertaken in a superficial way. Champion amateur under Rules 1965/66 and 1966/67 seasons (the first title coming when he was aged 22), Collins owned and rode a string of racehorses, won all the major hunters' chases, finished third in the Grand National, landed the Swedish National and Grand Pardubice and became an international three-day event rider. He must have been a good man to follow across Leicestershire's famous hunting country, which was another of his passions.

Simply taking a horse to the country then known as Czechoslovakia when it was part of Russia's Soviet Union bloc was a feat, but to ride in and win the Pardubice, Eastern Europe's most famous and fear-inducing race – as Collins did in 1973 – was an astonishing achievement. It would be another 16 years before the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union dismantled.

Collins rode his own Stephen's Society because he didn't want to risk his best horse, Credit Call, although the latter's subsequent record at Aintree suggests he would have been equipped to deal with the Pardubice's challenge. Only one horse from Britain or Ireland has won the race since, the Charlie Mann-trained-and-ridden It's A Snip, who was triumphant in 1995.

Collins's father, Douglas, who founded Goya, published in 1963 a book titled 'A Nose for Money – How to Make a Million'. Fortunately for racing some of that hard-earned profit was invested in the sport. Goya was the perfect brand for association with concerted attempts by women to ride under Rules, and the Goya Stakes, a ladies' race for amateur riders run on the Flat at Kempton in May 1972 broke centuries of male domination. It was won by Meriel Tufnell on Scorched Earth.

Chris Collins as businessman and leading amateur rider

In the same year, thanks to Chris Collins' vision, Goya also sponsored the first ladies' open race point-to-point championship – the equivalent is now sponsored by Skinner's Pet Foods – which involved 35 qualifying races and a final at Garthorpe.

Credit Call's second trainer was Ursula 'Urkie' Newton, a grand dame of hunting in Leicestershire, a daughter of Lord Rank, a British industrialist whose Rank Organisation is associated with bread producing under the Rank Hovis McDougall banner and through Rank's film production and cinema-owning empire. The Rank Foundation continues to provide charitable support across the UK.

Mrs Newton's husband Lance was a licensed trainer who founded the Melton Hunt Club, an organisation whose roles include managing Garthorpe point-to-point course, but she had been widowed by the time she purchased Credit Call as a schoolmaster for her son Joey, who at the time was 18. Credit Call, who was rising 11, proved to be some schoolmaster, for Joey won two Aintree Foxhunters' Chases on him at a time when the fences and drops were stiffer than today, plus the final one of the horse's four Stratford Champion Hunters' Chases. Only Baby Run – who featured in this series of All-time Greats on April 3 – can claim to have been as good a schoolmaster hunter chaser, having given 16-year-olds Sam and Willie Twiston-Davies landmark triumphs.

Bred in Britain by J V Leavy, Credit Call was bought by Stephenson as a three-year-old store for 1,100gns in 1967, and two years later made his racing debut with three unsuccessful runs in novices' hurdles.

A fondness for 'big, robust horses'

Collins, who has lived throughout his life in Buckinghamshire, says: "I used to go to up [to County Durham] each summer and buy one or two horses from W A – he had bought most of them in Ireland. They tended to be unraced four-year-old potential chasers, but I bought Credit Call as a five-year-old after he had run over hurdles. Arthur knew the sort of horses I liked, and I liked big, robust horses." Few came bigger or more robust than Pardubice winner Stephen's Society, who Collins describes as "like a tank".

"Further back at the beginning of my career I was riding full time [but as an amateur] and I bought Mr Jones from Arthur [not long after the new pairing finished third in Jay Trump's 1965 Grand National]. I was very impressed with W A's methods, and when I opted to ride full time I considered various trainers but went with Arthur. It seemed a good idea to go up north and toughen myself up a bit.

"Of all the people I've met in business or politics the one with the most fantastic presence of mind was W A. He was a hard man, but fair, and hard on himself. Everyone respected him. I had 30 to 40 horses with him over the years and it was a very happy relationship."

As a six-year-old Credit Call began his racing association with his new owner/rider, heading straight into hunters' chases. He made a winning debut at Nottingham, was brought down at Kelso when looking sure to be at least placed, and then finished a close third at Ludlow – he conceded 7lb and 14lb to the winner and runner-up. Wins at Sedgefield, Worcester – where he beat Grey Sombrero, a subsequent Whitbread Gold Cup (bet365 Chase) winner – Hexham and Uttoxeter were followed by his first big triumph when taking the John Corbet Cup. Hard held by Collins running to the last, he was left clear when a rival fell and sauntered home by ten lengths.

Looking back on his many triumphs on Credit Call, Collins says: "Winning the John Corbet was my favourite – it was always a race I liked to win because it indicated which horse was the leading novice of the year and one for the future, which was always very rewarding."

The triumphant procession continued in 1971 when Credit Call won five of nine hunters' chases, although he fell a couple of times, including in that season's Aintree Foxhunters' Chase won by Bright Willow under Robert Chugg. Collins says: "He was lobbing along and going well when I made the decision to move up before the final open ditch. He hit the top and fell."

Defeats included a third to Hope Again and Poulakerry in Cheltenham's Foxhunter Chase, which at that time took place over four miles, but he finished the season on a high with the first of four wins in the Horse & Hound Cup. Collins was injured and leading Scottish amateur Graham Macmillan deputised as Credit Call (5/2) beat Humorous and Lord Fortune.

The undisputed king of hunter chasing

As an eight-year-old in 1972 Credit Call became the undisputed king of hunter chasing and the first horse to win the sport's 'triple crown'. Unbeaten in seven races, they included the Cheltenham and Aintree Foxhunter Chases and the Horse & Hound Cup, and he defeated some high-calibre rivals along the way, often conceding weight.

Hanging onto those crowns proved challenging and in 1973 Credit Call's five wins did not include either Foxhunter Chase. Sent off as favourite at Aintree he came to challenge winner Bullocks Horn at the second-last fence, but faded soon after to finish fourth – the winner was ridden by Lord Oaksey. However, Credit Call's season ended on a winning note with a third Horse & Hound Cup triumph in which he gave 4lb to runner-up Lord Fortune and beat him by a short-head. Lord Fortune won the following season's Aintree Foxhunters' Chase under Derek Edmunds.

Credit Call had won 23 hunters' chases and added four placings from 31 starts, and as a ten-year-old he remained among the top rank of hunters, gaining another four wins and another place in Cheltenham's four-mile Foxhunter Chase when second to Corrie Burn. However, he was only sixth at Aintree and his owner/rider decided it was time to sell while there was an engine under the bonnet.

Looking back, Collins says: "I remember an occasion when he pulled himself up and W A said, 'He doesn't go for you at home'. I wondered if he was getting bored with me. I had a very nice young horse called Cornwallis, who won the John Corbet Cup by 12 lengths, and who I thought would be better than Credit Call. Sadly he subsequently went wrong, but since I was planning on only one more season of [race] riding I sold Credit Call. It was a way of tidying things up." It also proved well timed, for after a heavy fall at Cheltenham's April meeting the following season Collins retired from the weighing room.

Of his decision to offer the horse to Urkie Newton, he says: "She was my hunting guru in Leicestershire. The doyenne of hunting in that part of Britain, I would ring her up and ask which pack to go out with. I liked taking horses hunting since it was in my interest to know what they could do before their first run."

Urkie Newton and W A Stephenson, Credit Call's two trainers

A deal was struck, Mrs Newton became the owner and her teenage son Joey was about to gain not only a fabulous mount in races but also an education at Stephenson's Bishop Auckland stables, where Credit Call remained for the 1975 season.

Joey recalls: "I had finished A-levels, worked on a dairy farm before Christmas and then went up to Arthur Stephenson's yard. We had point-to-pointers at home, but Credit Call remained at Arthur's as much for my education. I lived in the house with him and his wife Nancy. They put up with me – I would ride three lots and then help on the farm.

"My father had died when I was 13 and I was in need of a mentor. Arthur was brilliant at keeping a cocky 19-year-old under control. I would come back having ridden appallingly and been beaten half a length in a race at Newcastle and he would say 'Never mind lad, you did nothing wrong', then I would win a race and think I was the best and he would say 'What are you crowing about?'.

"Nancy was the most terrific wife who kept the show on the road. I would share evening meals with them, and at 10pm I would go out with Arthur and feed the horses."

Newton reveals that one of Stephenson's favourite tipples was cider vinegar, regarded by some as a home remedy for various ills, although the great man died at 72 and it cannot be said to have helped him achieve a very long life. His young protégé recalls: "W A tried to make me drink cider vinegar and it was the only time I refused to do something for him."

Newton went on to emulate Collins and become a leading amateur rider, helped by the experience he gained on Credit Call. They won four of eight hunters' chases in their first season together, opening with a win at Catterick and going on to beat Lord Fortune and Mr Rusty in Aintree's Foxhunters' Chase. Racing prominently, Credit Call took up the running two out and won by two and a half lengths and 20 lengths, and he also won a fourth Horse & Hound Cup, albeit a slice of luck was involved. French Colonist, owned and trained in Sussex by the Embiricos family, looked sure to win until falling at the last.

Newton concedes he would not have won, yet picks that victory out as his favourite, saying: "The Horse & Hound Cup was the race my father wanted to win. He had a very good horse called Cool Autumn who he thought could win it. He ran against a horse called Santa Grand at Fakenham and beat him, and then went to Stratford where it was assumed he would beat him again, yet in the Horse & Hound Cup Santa Grand won easily [ironically, under Collins].

"In those days the Horse & Hound Cup was so important and Aintree wasn't like it is now. The first year we won at Aintree there was a crowd of 3,000 people on Foxhunters' day. Mirabel Topham [Aintree's then owner] was trying to close the place down."

Joey Newton (right) with Peter Greenall (now Lord Daresbury) in their riding days

As a 12-year-old in 1976 Credit Call found improved form and Sale & Mackenzie's annual formbook put his rating up from 11st 8lb to 11st 12lb. He may have been refreshed by a change of scene after moving to the stables run by Newton's mother, although Joey says: "Good horses don't take much training."

Credit Call's form for that season shows eight runs in hunters' chases, six wins and two seconds. The defeats included one in the four-mile Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase in which he was beaten four lengths by False Note – Joey says: "I should have won, but left it too late," – but at Aintree he put his horse's head in front when it mattered for a narrow win over dour stayer Crème Brule.

Newton recalls: "I asked for a big one at Valentine's, missed it and nearly fell off, and we were up against it from there all the way home."

The victory procession continued with wins at Ludlow and Uttoxeter when conceding weight, and while no one realised the four-miler at Cheltenham's May meeting would be his final race he delivered a magnificent performance, giving weight to the high-class pair Lord Fortune and Horoscope yet striding clear on the climb to the line.

That sequence of wins suggests Credit Call would have been a leading contender for major honours at 13, yet while following hounds as part of his qualification for the season ahead he suffered a catastrophic injury and could not be saved by vets. Newton says: "It was a terrible shame, and he was such a good hunter, so light on his feet."

'I just thought these things were meant to be'

Looking back on his time as an amateur rider, Newton says: "I was incredibly lucky. I was second in the Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase twice, I won Aintree's Foxhunters' Chase twice and a Horse & Hound Cup. Apart from Credit Call I had other good horses, and I just thought these things were meant to be. By the time I was 25 I just presumed this is what you did on a Saturday afternoon."

Credit Call won 37 hunters' chases, but was fortunate to be trained and ridden by talented people. Urkie Newton died at the age of 74 in 1995, while Joey Newton went on to ride 110 point-to-point winners and another 45 under Rules.

A farmer by profession, he has been involved in racing in numerous ways since retiring from riding, his roles having involved a non-executive directorship of Huntingdon Racecourse, a race-day steward and former chairman of Racing Welfare.

He no longer owns racehorses, and says ruefully, if with tongue in cheek: "We now have these dreadful event horses." His daughter, Willa, is a professional event rider.

All-time Greats - published each Friday! Do you have any fond memories of any of the 'Greats' (Double Silk, Baby Run, Teaplanter, Spartan Missile, Cavalero, Grittar, Earthmover and Credit Call) featured so far, or your own recollections of a different 'Great'? If so, we would love to hear them (email: [email protected]). The best may feature on this website in coming weeks!