CHRISTOPHER ‘Kit’ Bousfield is almost unique in his longevity and has been an important cog in the works of British (and Irish) trotting since his first winning drive with Pandora in 1953 until a mare from his breeding (Miss Pantastic) won in Cork three weeks ago.
Christopher ‘Kit’ Bousfield owns the famous field at Appleby (often mistakenly associated with Appleby Fair). He turns 100 on August 25th and the British Harness Racing Club and enthusiasts in the Eden Valley are holding a one-off Centenary Meeting at the fabled Holme Farm tomorrow to celebrate the ‘Grand Old Man’ of British Harness Racing.
Kit is married to Sandra (71) and they have four daughters Helen (Holmes) Claire (Slack) Catherine (Alderson) and Rachel who is married to the 2021 The Irish Field Irish national champion driver, Patrick Kane. Special thanks go to Claire and Catherine who helped collate these tales of a life well lived.
The Bousfield family moved into Holme Farm, Appleby around 1895. Kit’s dad, Christopher died in 1932 aged 47 years, Kit was 10 years old and heard the death bell when he and his brother were delivering milk before school.
Kit’s father had Clydesdales that worked on the farm. The Bousfields used to buy the work horses as two-year-olds known as ‘stags’ to break.
In wheeling and dealing in cattle between Edinburgh and Lancaster, Kit’s father met Johnny Rob. Johnny was a keen ‘trotting man’, and this is how it all began.
Johnny was importing ‘pacing’ horses from America in cattle boats, and he provided Kit’s dad with his first trotting horse, Little Mary, 1925. She was his first horse to run at Appleby for Kit’s father.
Johnny Rob had some of the best horses in the UK at the time, with two men training the horses, all ridden, as there were no sulkies in those days.
Kit’s earliest memories of racing are the guideless races whereby the horses were let off and raced without a jockey. They were stopped with a rope draped in bags that was put across the track. One of Kit’s horses called ‘The Jack’ ran in a guideless race at Wolsingham, but he didn’t return.
The Clydesdales that had served their time at Holme Farm were sold ‘to the best man in trotting,’ Sandy Reid from Lesmahagow, Scotland. Sandy almost single-handedly kept trotting going in the war years by breeding for the sport.
He bred Star Boy (later purchased by Jimmy Winter’s dad, James) and Pandora. Kit wanted a horse and Sandy found him April Star, a roan mare whose blood line is still in the stable today in the shape of Clemistic.
George Dodd (Clem Dodd’s uncle) trained Pandora and Star Boy. After both horses won their heats at Appleby, James Winter asked George to drive Star Boy.
It was then that George had said ‘put that lad on Pandora’ that Kit got his chance drive. This was Kit’s first race (driving) which he won, in 1953. There were 10,000 spectators for this meeting, there were even special trains laid on from the northeast.
Winning Musselburgh with April Star off 17 seconds (back marker, tape start) was another early memory of Kit’s. He can remember the tape starter saying “you won’t be taking all that money back to England” after he won.
Kit drove and won at dozens of tracks, sadly many of the venues are now closed. Motherwell, Kendal and Chasewater were ‘hard’ tracks. Lanark, Clapham and Longtown were of the grass variety.
Kit was a great backer of the New Zealand entrepreneur Noel Simpson who tried to lift British harness racing from the fairs and gymkhanas of the north to a purpose-built American style floodlit track at Prestatyn, North Wales.
Kit can remember on one occasion he had been fined £25 and on leaving the stewards room he slammed the door. He was summoned back into the room and fined a further £25” “They really did try to run racing well.”
Unfortunately, the Prestatyn project ran into problems within a few years and became the first of several abortive attempts to take the sport ‘big league’ in these islands.
In his brief reign, Simpson imported and sold many pacers, mainly mares to kick start British breeding. Tiny Trews was one such mare, although Kit only got to buy her as some of the best judges said she was ‘too small’.
He recalls that the best thing about Tiny Trews was you could ask her three or four times in a race, and she would always respond. The mare won the Moussec Pace, a series run over three weekends at Prestatyn. The legs were over a mile, mile and a half and finally two miles.
Other favourites over the years have been Trew Seas (out of Tiny Trews), Trews Choice, Mystic Chief (exported to Canada) Clemistic, April For Sure and Declaire.
Kit thinks that Clem Dodd of Manchester was the best driver he’s ever known. “Clem sat quietly in the sulky and could get everything out of a horse.”
Hurricane was the best British horse Kit has seen racing.
Kit had a close association with the great Phil Robinson (‘wee Phil’) who often came to Portmarnock for bigger meetings. For a while Phil trained some horses for Kit at the Kent showgrounds.
Kit was much in demand as a catch driver for some London ‘businessmen’ who would arrange transport for Kit in a Rolls Royce. He says he saw and heard some moves in those circles which he dare not repeat!
Kit enjoyed his tussles with a young Ian Pimlott around the Kent showgrounds and he recalls that was the only driver to beat Kit and Tiny Trews at that venue.
Kit sold April Showers around 1970 to Eric Dougal of Glengormley. He went over to Ireland to drive the mare and won with her at Lambeg. He remembers “it was like winning the Grand National, there was so much excitement.” Then they went on to race a track in the Republic where the mare was second.
Eric has been a good friend to Kit sending April Showers’ offspring over to Appleby for training. April Cover up, April Fame and April For Sure all came from this line as well as April Columbia, a top mare for John Gill.
John Shanahan of Leap became friends with Kit back in the 1980s taking Hi Los Chief to stand at stud. Kit can probably thank John for the introduction of Patrick Kane to his daughter Rachel, when he came to Appleby to drive Cams Best in the three-year-old grass championship. On that particular weekend, Kit had the luck as his Thomas Gratton took the three-year-old trophy.
Worth Seeing and Truly Amazing are two other pacers to go from the Bousfield yard to success in Ireland. Stakes On The Pan was a recent breadwinner for his daughter Rachel.
Trew Seas was one of the toughest horses that Kit ever bred. In 1987 some confusion in the race planning at Tregaron meant that the horse had to run twice within 90 minutes, both top-class races which he duly won.
In it for life
Kit has always had pacers rather than trotting horses. “Once you are in pacing, you’re in it for life,” is one of his sayings. LeTROT of France has driven the popularity of trotters in recent years, but Kit has stuck with the hobbled gait.
He has also kept thoroughbreds. His only flat winner was Hassan trained by Gordon Richards in 1970. However, Kit didn’t get his money on as he was busy milking cows!
Kit has enjoyed his driving days more than breeding or organising races. He continued in the sulky seat to his mid-60s. In recent decades he has been content to train and watch his girls on the track.
The respect and affection for this giant of the sport will be obvious from the turnout at tomorrow’s once in a lifetime occasion.