Lord Vestey, the man who gave the green light to the Cheltenham Festival’s extension from three to four days, has died aged 79.
Vestey, who was the chairman at Cheltenham for more than two decades, also saddled winners of his own at the famous meeting including Karshi, who romped home in the 1997 edition of the Stayers’ Hurdle.
The cause of death has not yet been disclosed, but comes at a time of tremendous sadness for the family with Vestey’s wife Celia, who was the sister of former Best Mate trainer Henrietta Knight and a Godparent to Prince Harry, also passing away in December.
The ‘Master of the Horse’ to the Queen, Vestey has been around horses all of his life after time spent serving as a lieutenant in the Scots Guards. He owned several businesses in farming and food production as part of Vestey Holdings, but it’s in racing where he is arguably best known.
Running his own yard, Vestey’s blue silks became synonymous with success on the flat in particular, with the likes of Radwell, Unblest and Macademia picking up Group wins in the Solario Stakes, the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Stakes and the Falmouth Stakes respectively.
One of his best-loved horses over obstacles was Karshi, whose switch to hurdles proved to be a fruitful one with victories in the Lonesome Glory Hurdle and, latterly, the Stayers’ Hurdle – going off as a 20/1 outsider.
The horse was initially trained by regular Vestey sidekick James Fanshawe, but was later moved to Knight’s yard where he enjoyed some success despite the trainer describing him as a ‘real nightmare to train’ due to his jittery nature. Karshi would go on to sire Pennine Walk and Persian Heights, winners of the Queen Anne Stakes and the St James’s Palace Stakes respectively.
“Lord Vestey was one of my original owners and has been a tremendous supporter ever since,” Fanshawe said on Thursday.
“He was just a big supporter of racing – Flat and jump – full stop.
“He had a lot of success as an owner and breeder, but put an awful lot back in as well. He did a lot of work behind the scenes and knew the name of every groundsman and gateman at Cheltenham.”
It’s as chairman of Cheltenham that Vestey will leave behind his most lasting legacy. On his watch the Festival grew from strength to strength, and the popularity was such that a fourth day of racing – ensuring a flagship race on each of the days – was added in 2005. When the racecourse opened their new Princess Royal stand back in 2015, the bar was named after the Lord following his retirement from the role just a couple of years earlier.
Vestey also acted as something of an advisor and confidante to his wife, who ran a number of horses including Maximize, who would go on to win the Feltham Novices’ Chase with Tony McCoy in the saddle back in 2001.
The Lord is survived by son William, who also has horses in training and who will continue in his role on the committee at Cheltenham racecourse.