Nigel Bunter puts Barbury Castle Estate up for sale - future of International Horse Trials and Alan King Racing in the balance
The Barbury Castle Estate - owned by Nigel Bunter - is for sale. The estate - on the Marlborough Downs just north of the town - is home to leading racehorse trainer Alan King and to the annual Barbury International Horse Trials, which is one of the country's premier eventing competitions.
It will be the second time that Alan King has had the ownership of his yard and the gallops change. There will also be some uncertainty about the future of the Barbury leg of the Event Rider Matsers competition. The venues for the 2017 series are due to be announced next month.
The sale was to go public on Wednesday, but the Racing Post has published the news with a report saying that Alan King was 'not panicking' over the sale but acknowledged: "It is an uncertain time, but life is uncertain."
Apart from the racing stables with its famous gallops, the estate of about 2,000 acres has extensive farmland - both arable (about 900 acres) and sheep (up to 1,000 head) - woodland and downland as well as the Iron Age Barbury Castle site, which is a scheduled ancient monument.
It was said that while Nigel Bunter was interested in racing horses, his wife Penny was keener on riding them.
Nigel Bunter has said: "Penny and I have decided the time is right for us to downsize, but we are definitely not lost to racing or eventing."
Alan King, who specialises in training for National Hunt races, moved to the Barbury yard in June 2000. He is one of Britain's most successful trainers. Over the years he has had fifteen winners at the Cheltenham Festival and fifteen at the Aintree Festival. Last year saw Smad Place win the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury with King's stable jockey Wayne Hutchinson on board.
The Estate also includes the Barbury Racecourse - this was turned over to arable farming in 1962 due to national pressures to grow more food within Britain. In 1992 the racecourse was re-launched and has been holding point-to-points ever since.
The International Horse Trials are the local eventing competition for the many riders who are based around Marlborough - inlcuding Andrew Nicholson (Lockeridge), Sir Mark Todd (Badgerstown), the Jonelle and Tim Price (Mildenhall), Jock Paget and many more. The cross country course has been designed by Captain Mark Phillips and built by the Willis Brothers - a Wiltshire firm.
For the past ten years years the four-day trials have had the Cirencester company St James's Place Wealth Management as their title sponsor. It is a sponsorship that St James's Place's chief executive, David Bellamy, describes as a 'collaboration'.
The Barbury horse trials were the venue for the third leg of this year's inaugural series of CIC3* Event Rider Masters contests - bringing to the sport big prize money, live television coverage and some of the pizzazz more usually associated with a Formula One Grand Prix.
The horse trials are major logistical exercise with temporary stabling for a thousand horses and with arrangements for security, safety, medical and veterinary provision, water, power and loos - not to mention the complexity of programming so many competitions and classes running in parallel.
The Horse Trials began in July 2005 as a one-day event. Then the three star 'International Advanced (CIC)' competition was won by William Fox-Pitt riding Ballincoola. Andrew Nicholson was sixth on Lord Killinghurst - he also won a section of the Novice event riding Nereo. In July this year, Nicholson and Nereo won the Event Rider Masters three star at Barbury. Nicholson has won the premier competition at Barbury five years running.
In 2006 the trials grew from a one-day event and added 'International' to their title. That year saw the first appearance there of Laura Collett (in the Open Novice class) and an entry by Mrs Jonelle Price with Mazetto, who withdrew before the cross country.
Nigel Bunter had worked for Ford Motors for 20 years before he started the mobile telephone company Cellular Operations. He sold the company to Vodafone in 2003.
At that time, Count Konrad Goess-Saurau wanted to sell the Barbury Castle Estate and Nigel Bunter had racehorses training with Alan King at the Barbury yard. King introduced Bunter to the Count and the deal was done.
Nigel Bunter, who had lived in the area for twenty years, has said of buying Barbury: "It was a dream come true."
The sale is being handled by Knight Frank and will be featured in the issue of Country Life which is published next week.