English Champion Trainer Major Dick Hern Dead at 81

Dick Hern, who trained such outstanding runners as Nashwan, Brigadier Gerard, and Troy, is dead in England at the age of 81. The man known as the "Major" worked for nearly a quarter-century for Queen Elizabeth II and ended his career training horses from a wheelchair after breaking his neck in a 1984 hunting accident.

After launching his training career in 1957, Hern won 17 Classic races, according to the Racing Post, including the Oaks and St. Leger with Queen Elizabeth's Dunfermiline in 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee. He was England's champion trainer in 1962, 1972, 1980, and 1983, with his best seasons coming in 1977 and '78 when he trained 74 winners each year.

Born Jan. 20, 1921, in Halford, Somerset, Hern was educated at Millfield, then served as a tank commander in World War II, reaching the rank of major. Following the war, he rode in point to point races, then became a riding instructor. In 1952, he was coach of the British equestrian team, which won a gold medal for showjumping in the Helsinski Summer Olympics. After the Olympics, Hern turned to training, working first as assistant to Major Michael Pope, with whom he served during the war. When he went out on his own, his first job was as private trainer to the late Lionel Holliday in Newmarket.

One of Hern's greatest accomplishments came with Brigadier Gerard, who won 17 of 18 races and defeated the great Mill Reef in the 1971 Two Thousand Guineas. But it was another eight years before Hern won the Epsom Derby for the first time, when Troy demonstrated a devastating turn of foot to win in dramatic fashion. He came back to win the Derby the following year with Henbit and again in 1989 with Nashwan.

In 1990, Hern found himself without any of Queen Elizabeth's horses for the first time in 24 years. Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, who raced Nashwan, offered Hern an opportunity to train out of a new base in Lambourn, and it was from there that he developed the top sprinter Dayjur for the sheikh. The latter colt was Hern's only Breeders' Cup starter, and he was a most unlucky loser of the 1990 Sprint, jumping shadows in deep stretch and allowing Safely Kept to get up for a narrow victory.