Royal Ascot 2019: Accidental Agent - 'Extraordinary' war hero who inspired favourite

John Goldsmith - The 'accidental agent'
Royal Ascot 2019
Dates: Tuesday 18 to Saturday 22 June Coverage: BBC Radio 5 Live; results and reports on BBC Sport website
Queen Anne Stakes: Tuesday, 16:25 BST

It's not just in Portsmouth and on the beaches of Normandy that the courage of World War Two heroes is being honoured in front of the Queen this summer.

At Royal Ascot, the wartime activities of Major John Goldsmith DSO MC will be recalled as the five-year-old Accidental Agent goes for a repeat success in Tuesday's Queen Anne Stakes, the first of 30 races staged over the fixture's five days.

Accidental Agent is named after the highly-decorated member of Winston Churchill's enemy-sabotaging Special Operations Executive (SOE), who died in 1972.

Bred and owned by his daughter Gaie Johnson Houghton, the horse is trained by his granddaughter Eve.

Goldsmith, a colourful pre-war racehorse trainer brought up in Paris and consequently an impeccable French speaker, became 'The Accidental Agent' - the title of a book he wrote about his experiences - when recruited by the SOE and parachuted in behind enemy lines in France after being denied a place in the regular army.

"He was extraordinary," Eve Johnson Houghton told BBC Sport.

"There are so many amazing stories; my favourite is when he'd been captured by the Gestapo and locked in a high-up hotel room in Paris, but still managed to escape through a window, edging round the building, despite being terrified of heights - that was brave.

"My mother met someone at a party who said she'd read this wonderful book about John Goldsmith and was going to name her horse after him, and my mother thought, 'I don't think you are - I am' and that's where the idea for the name came from."

Eve Johnson Houghton
Eve Johnson Houghton trains 75 horses at her Oxfordshire yard

There is much of her grandfather's grit and determination to be seen in Johnson Houghton, as well as some of the formidable style inherited from her paternal grandmother Helen, who trained horses during the 1950s and early 1960s, despite women not being permitted by the sport's then-regulator, the Jockey Club, to hold licences until 1966.

It meant that a series of male assistants were credited with her successes including Charles Jerdein for Gilles De Retz, which sprang a major surprise in the 2000 Guineas of 1956.

She died in 2012, aged 102, and was hailed as a pioneer for female equality.

For her part, Eve Johnson Houghton claims to be "quite good at saying what I think if I need to" and one day at Salisbury she famously silenced a group of rowdy male racegoers in the stands.

However, perhaps it's been in reviving the family business, based on the edge of long-established down-land gallops close to Didcot, Oxfordshire, that she has had to be at her toughest.

When taking over from her father Fulke in 2007, the once-powerful string had dwindled to just 17, but today it is burgeoning again, a 75-horse operation.

The Queen Anne Stakes success of Accidental Agent and jockey Charles Bishop was the biggest to date, giving his trainer - and rider - a first victory at Group One-race level and at Royal Ascot.

Accidental Agent
Accidental Agent has five career wins and earned more than £600,000 in prize money

However, while the form of most of the runners in the race thrived during the remainder of the flat racing season, that of the 33-1 winner did not. He beat just one horse in his two subsequent races, leading to murmurs from sceptics of the F-word - 'fluke' - about the Ascot win.

Yet Accidental Agent, the son of stallion Delegator, got the 2019 campaign off to a good start with an encouraging third place in the prestigious Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

"I think that we've maybe got a point to prove after what happened last year following the Queen Anne," said the trainer, "but he's come out and been third in a Group One, so hopefully he's starting to prove that point.

"After the final run at Newmarket, we gave him a bone scan, and the vets said he lit it up [with leg issues] like a Christmas tree - I think that had been building since Ascot, though he didn't show any lameness at all.

"He had an operation around December-ish, and wasn't ridden until the end of February-early March, but as soon as the operation was done, he was so much sweeter in his box so he'd definitely been feeling some pain.

"I told everyone he'd 'need the run' in the Lockinge, which he did, but I thought he was coming to win the race before getting a bit tired. We were thrilled.

"I think I've got him better than I had him last year. He seems really happy with himself; he's moving well and all set - though I'm sure everyone else will tell you the same about their runners."

The first five in the Lockinge Stakes - Mustashry, Laurens, Accidental Agent, Romanised and Le Brivido - are all scheduled to ride in the Queen Anne Stakes, a race named in honour of Royal Ascot's 18th century founder.

The last time there was a back-to-back winner (1907), neither John Goldsmith nor Helen Johnson Houghton was even born; success for Accidental Agent would provide a further memorable chapter in the raciest of stories.

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