Turf Talk: A Yorkshire legend of the kind that may never be seen again

This week, Harrogate Advertiser horseracing correspondent Jeff Garlick reflects on the career of one of the most popular steeplechasers trained in our region, Wayward Lad.

Sunday, 26th April 2020, 1:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 26th April 2020, 1:02 pm
Michael Dickinson with his famous five horses from the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup

Several readers have asked for his inclusion in this series of articles and, as he was a personal favourite of mine, I am more than happy to oblige.

Wayward Lad spent his entire career at Poplar House, Dunkesick near Harewood, the location of the amazing Dickinson family.

Tony Dickinson, wife Mary and son Michael held the licence there at varying times and Wayward Lad won races for each of them.

Tony Dickinson held the licence during Wayward Lad’s novice hurdle season of 1979/80. His home reputation had clearly reached the racetrack because he started favourite for his debut win at Leicester.

He ended that season with six wins from eight outings, starting favourite in every race.

But, chasing was always going to be his game. Michael Dickinson had taken over the reins at Poplar House in 1980 and Wayward Lad was immediately sent over the larger obstacles.

He won four of his eight races as a novice, culminating in success at the Welsh Champion Chase.

Michael Dickinson was champion trainer in 1981/82 winning 84 races and Wayward Lad did his bit to help land this title, triumphing in six of the seven chases that he started, including the prestigious Peterborough and Timeform Chases.

Robert Earnshaw was on board Wayward Lad for those six victories having taken over from Tommy Carmody, who had ridden him to most of his early successes.

Poplar House enjoyed an annus mirabilis in 1982/83, recording a British record 120 wins.

Wayward Lad won the King George at Kempton in December when ridden by John Francome, and the following March he was part of the Dickinson ‘famous five’ in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He finished third to Bregawn with Captain John, Silver Buck and Ashley House completing the famous quintet.

In 1983, Wayward Lad won the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and followed up with his second win in the King George with regular partner Earnshaw back on board.

Such was Michael Dickinson’s success, that in the summer of 1984 he was head hunted by top owner Robert Sangster and the licence at Poplar House passed to his mother, Monica Dickinson.

The 1984/85 season saw three wins from seven starts for Wayward Lad with his win in the Whitbread Gold Label Chase at Aintree the highlight.

At the start of the 1985/86 season Graham Bradley had taken over the reins on Wayward Lad and rode him to win his second Charlie Hall Chase and his third King George.

‘Brad’ was also on board at Cheltenham in 1986 in what was to be possibly Wayward Lad’s best performance.

As an 11-year-old with an aversion to the Cheltenham Hill he actually jumped the last in front and was agonisingly run out of it by the Irish mare Dawn Run and lost by a length.

I was at Cheltenham that day and the commentary by Peter O’Sullevan saying “and the mare’s beginning to get up” still haunts me and many others to this day.

Wayward Lad raced on as a 12-year-old and finished his career with a superb win in the Gold Label Chase at Aintree.

He was sent to Doncaster sales to resolve a dispute with his owners and was bought by the Dickinsons and sent to son Michael who was by now training in America.

So Wayward Lad spent his retirement in the Maryland sun having won 28 times from 55 races.

He was a true Yorkshire superstar, the like we may never see again.