Devon trainer Stewart Pike dies at 73

  • Posted: Thursday, 3rd June 2021
  • Author: Carl Evans

Stewart Pike, who bred, owned and trained the 1996 Stratford Champion Hunters’ Chase winner Proud Sun, has died at the age of 73.

Married to Monique for 50 years (the pair pictured above), the couple farmed at Sidbury, near Axminster, in Devon and were a familiar site at West Country point-to-points. From the outstanding mare Roman Lilly they bred a string of quality hunters, headed by Proud Sun (Sunyboy), but including the hunters’ chase winners Synderborough Lad (Rymer), Front Cover (Sunyboy), Sweatshirt (Leander) and his full-brother Winter’s Lane.

Pike also acquired the mare Miss Redlands after she had foaled the King George VI Chase and Gold Cup winner See More Business, and enjoyed some superb sales-ring results with her foals. In 2003 he sold an Alflora store out of her for 200,000gns, a remarkable sum at the time.

Yet it was Proud Sun who did most to put Pike in the spotlight. A winner at Haldon (Exeter) on debut under Ian Dowrick, Proud Sun won his next three point-to-points under Mike Felton, a partnership that later won hunters’ chases at Aintree (twice) over the Mildmay fences and Stratford’s John Corbet Cup (now the Champion Novices’ Hunters’ Chase).

Sean Mulcaire subsequently gained the ride and finished fourth on Proud Sun in the 1996 Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase, but Mick Fitzgerald was called up the following month to ride the horse in a handicap chase at Cheltenham. They won and Pike opted to target Sandown’s famous Whitbread Gold Cup. Despite being 16lb out of the handicap Proud Sun beat all but one of the 17 runners, Aidan O’Brien’s Life Of A Lord.

Little more than a month later Proud Sun won Stratford’s Horse & Hound Cup (Champion Hunters’ Chase) and the following January he dead-heated in a men’s open race at Larkhill with the dual Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase winner Fantus. Tragically he died a month later when falling in a hunters’ chase at Wetherby. He was sent off the 4/9 favourite, while the great Teeton Mill, who won the race, was a 3/1 chance.

Paying tribute to Pike, Felton said: “Stewart had endured a torrid time with his illness for a number of years, which was so sad for a man of such energy and vitality.

“He was a very good trainer who would drive his horses for miles and miles to gallop them, and he had a great eye for a mare, and how to breed from a mare. He was a stockman, who knew how to keep animals healthy and well, be they cows or horses.

“After I finished chasing championships, I rode regularly for him and we struck up a good friendship and had a lot of fun. Ironically, Proud Sun was my denouement, because we fell in a race at Kempton and Stewart jocked me off. I packed up riding at the end of that season, feeling a little ruffled, but it was his prerogative and I had to accept it. We stayed friends and despite the way it ended I will always remember him as a great man to ride for.”

Alan Walter, whose father was Pike’s vet, rode regularly for the yard and won a number of races on the homebred Sidbury Hill. He said of his friend: “Stewart rode a few winners on his foundation mare Watermark before farming commitments took over. He was great fun, good company, hard working and hard playing. We all miss him.”

Pike leaves his wife Monique, son and daughter Christopher and Georgie, and grandchildren Emily, Oliver, William and Ellisa.