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The Famous Five, a Cheltenham Tale


In the build up to this year’s Cheltenham Festival we bring you a special guest blog by Stephen Wallis, part of the Visitor Services team at Palace House.

This special Cheltenham blog looks back at the ‘Famous Five’ with the help of the legendary trainer Michael Dickinson, who in 1983 saddled the first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.  On 17 March 1983 he and his team at Harewood stables masterminded this momentous feat which saw Bregawn lead home Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House.

What were your thoughts at the beginning of the 1982/83 season and how did the season progress for the Harewood Stable?

In 1982 we were lucky enough to be 1st and 2nd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.  A week later I was still on the high and full of the joys of spring when I announced to my partner, Joan Wakefield that you haven’t seen anything yet we are going to have the first 7 next year!

1982 Cheltenham Gold Cup – 1st Silver Buck   2nd Bregawn

Every time we jumped in the car together and drove down Harewood Avenue I would start my commentary for the 1983 Gold Cup by saying “Michael Dickinson has 7 chances in the race” and then proceeded to call the race as I thought it would pan out.  “Going out on the last circuit Bregawn forces the pace……..     At the top of the hill Wayward Lad is making steady and relentless progress………..  Silver Buck is going well………..  At the 3rd last a mistake by Captain John and coming to the last they are all upsides”.  I didn’t know who I wanted to win so my call ended “The only thing certain is the cup is going to Harewood”.

 Joan had heard this call at least 25 times throughout the year.  

On Boxing Day 1982 we had 12 winners and all went well.  The next day we had 4 losers and nothing went right in January and February.  So much so that I said to our head man, Brian Powell, last year we were 1st and 2nd in the Gold Cup and this year we’re not even going to have a runner but miraculously we got 5 to the post even though Silver Buck and Wayward Lad were not at their best.

 During the season despite the difficulties Bregawn had won the Hennessy Gold Cup, the reigning Champion Silver Buck four of his five races including a fourth success in the Edward Hanmer Memorial Chase at Haydock and Wayward Lad had won the premier winter prize,  the King George VI Chase at Kempton where Silver Buck came third.  Meanwhile, Captain John had been runner up in the Hennessy and the winner of the SGB Handicap Chase at Ascot whilst the outsider of the five Ashley House had been victorious in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock.

 Joan was a schoolteacher at the time and they would not give her the day off or let her watch television.  As a result she had to smuggle a radio into class, gave the children a hard test to do while she listened on an earphone.  Going out in the last circuit Peter Bromley called “Bregawn is forcing the pace…………  Wayward Lad is making steady and relentless progress…………….  Silver Buck is going well and Captain John a mistake 3  out” and coming to the last he called “The only thing certain the cup’s going to Dickinson” at which time she burst out crying because she had heard it all so many times before.

What were the instructions given to each of your jockeys?
The jockeys were all sensible professionals and did not need any instructions.

How did you manage the logistics of running five horses in the premier race at the Festival?
Training the horses up to the race was pressure and hard work but, logistically, getting horse boxes to take the horses to the race meeting was simple.

What were your thoughts during and after the race?

After the race it wasn’t elation it was just relief.  

How would you rank 17 March 1983 as a race day in your career as a trainer?

Life changing.

Could you sum up each of the five in a few words?

SILVER BUCK. – I rode him to win 3 hurdle races and he was a fantastic ride.  When he won at Haydock carrying 12 stone 7 he gave me as good a feel as is possible to have.  He was a very shy timid horse but very kind.

WAYWARD LADWas all class.  He had speed, a brilliantly quick jumper and was very unlucky not to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup.  In 1983 he was nowhere near 100% fit and ran really well.  In 1986 England had been under snow since Christmas and his first work on grass was 8 days before the Gold Cup.  During that time Dawn Run had had 2 races in Ireland.  Fitness was the deciding factor.

CAPTAIN JOHNA lovely kind horse.  Have a real soft spot for him.

BREGAWNA tough, hardy battler who stayed well.

ASHLEY HOUSELoved firm going and in 83 the going was soft.  Considering he hated the going he ran a good race.  Watching Robert Earnshaw ride him down the back 5 fences at Haydock Park when the fences were big was poetry in motion.

I understand you make regular trips to the Cheltenham Festival.  Are you planning to come over this year?

I am a self-appointed ambassador to Cheltenham and I invite non-racing people to witness our great sport.  We’ve had Dame Judi Dench, Carol Vorderman, Richard Hammond, Eamonn Holmes, Dame Kelly Holmes and Howard Webb.  This year we welcome back, Carol Vorderman, Eamonn Holmes and Richard Hammond plus the Head of NASA, Bonnie Tyler, Judy Craymer (the Producer of Mama Mia), Carl Hester and Angela Hartnett.


1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup Result

1st       Bregawn                      Graham Bradley         100/30 Fav

2nd      Captain John               David Goulding          11/1

3rd       Wayward Lad             Jonjo O’Neill             6/1

4th       Silver Buck                 Robert Earnshaw        5/1

5th       Ashley House              Mr Dermot Browne    12/1


If you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane then a visit to Newmarket and Palace House, which is the home of the National heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art is a must. Tickets for a day at this incredible facility in the Home of Horseracing, which houses an impressive collection of memorabilia, can be purchased by clicking here.


Blog by Stephen Wallis, Palace House Visitor Services

We would like to thank Michael Dickinson for his help with this blog.

Black and white photo of Bregawn jumping the last ahead of Wayward Lad is courtesy of Timeform and the late Alec Russell.