The Horse-World Remembers Baron Lord Sam Vestey
Nothing was more convivial than supping good wine with Lord Sam Vestey and his wife Celia at the Deauville Racecourse during the summer meeting, something both my wife and I had the pleasure of on several occasions when we had horses running at the track. It is with great sadness that at only 79 years of age the Third Baron Lord Vestey died last week, and this is a small but heartfelt tribute to him.
Lord Samuel Vestey was born in 1941 to Captain William Vestey of the Scots Guards, and who tragically was killed in the Second World War His mother was Pamela Armstrong, who was a granddaughter of the great opera singer Nellie Melba. Sam was educated at Eton College before going to Sandhurst Military Academy, following in the footsteps of his father in the Scots Guards. At the tender age of only thirteen, he succeeded his Grandfather as the Lord Vestey and was allowed at that point to sit in The House of Lords in Westminster.
Following a commission in the army, Lord Vestey continued in the family tradition of farming mainly beef cattle from his seat in Gloucestershire and Argentina where the family owned the Fray Bentos meat processing group. He was well respected and liked in the official posts he occupied during the 1990s. He was chairman of the Meat Training Council in the early 90s as well as belonging to The Worshipful Company of Butchers. His holdings company ‘Vestey Holdings’ was also the owner of the large family butchers outfit – Dewhurst Butchers.
Lord Vestey, first married in 1970 and had two daughters, but the marriage did not work out and he divorced in 1981. He re-married later the same year Celia, with whom he had a further three children, two girls and a boy. He and Celia were wonderful together. He was rather more stayed and traditional, but she, an absolute riot, full of pizazz and character. They made a terrific couple and bounced off one another in conversation in real style. They lived at Vestey’s farm – Stowell Park near Cirencester. As well as being a close personal friend of The Queen, Lord and Vestey were also great friends with Prince Charles, and in fact Lady Celia Vestey was God Mother to Prince Charles’ younger son Prince Harry.
Together with his cattle interests, Lord Vestey was an absolute horse man. He bred horses at his Stowell Park Stud and had a plethora of national titles including the title of Master of the Queen’s Horses. As well as being great friend with Her Majesty, as seen on many occasions as he would be in Her carriage going down the Royal Mile at Ascot Royal Race Meeting, he was also Chairman of the Cheltenham Race Course. It largely thanks to his inspirational leadership in that role which has made the Cheltenham National Hunt racing Festival every March the iconic event it is today. It was while he was chairman at Cheltenham that he, as a joke, proposed the running of the Royal Ascot Meeting at Cheltenham while Ascot was being refurbished in 2005. There was a short time when he may have made good on his proposal as the course was actually considered for the role. He retired from his role at Master of the Horse in 2018, and as a personal thankyou from The Queen, he was given the title of Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and also The Queen appointed him a life time member as Lord in Waiting to the sovereign.
His interest in horse racing was mainly National Hunt. Not only did he breed horses but he also ran them with some success. Possibly his most notable success on the racecourse was with Karshi, who won the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1997. Celia was sister of well-known National Hunt trainer Henrietta Knight who trained Karshi as well as several other decent horses for The Baron. On the flat, Lord Vestey owned Juggernaut, who was his first group winner. The horse also ran in the Derby in 1971 which was won by the great Mill Reef. Some of his other notable winners on the flat were Unblest who won the Champagne Stakes and Macadamia who won the Falmouth Stakes, then a Group 2. Macadamia also won The Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot in 2003. He trained his flat horses with James Fanshawe in Newmarket and with Richard Hannon. He also had horses in training in France with Eric Danel based in Deauville, which is how we got to know him and Celia. In National Hunt racing he owned What A Buck, who won the SGB Chase. He had two Finale Junior Hurdle winners, Primrolla (1982) and Rodman (1977) as breeder. He had other big race winners including Flintgrove, (The Scilly Isles Novice Chase), Goldspun and Lonesome Glory. His main trainers for National Hunt were Henrietta Knight of course and David Nicholson.
Lord Vestey was well known as totally ‘unstuffy’. He didn’t care what your background was or where you came from, he simply took everyone he met on their own terms and was well known for putting those who may have been in awe of the man at ease. He has been succeeded by his son William, who is now the Fourth Baron Vestey, and who also has a great love of horses, so I doubt the end of the Vestey of the dynasty is nigh just yet.