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Eight juicy tidbits (most of which you definitely didn’t know) about Bill Lickle
Get to know the three-time champion owner:
Find out why they used to call him 'Mr. Foxfield,'
plus hear how he narrowly escaped Castro's revolution (and lived to tell about it)
William C. Lickle passed away on Thursday, August 19, 2021. We're re-releasing this piece, originally published in April of 2020, in his memory.
Mr. Lickle's obituary can be read HERE.

((***Editor's note: The dates were correct when this story was released on
April 25, 2020.))
By Betsy Burke Parker
From championship golf to championing causes, William Cauffiel Lickle was never one to do things halfway. (Tod Marks photo)

The Wilmington, Delaware native wasn’t born into racing but he taught himself handicapping as a boy, becoming a student of form at Delaware Park with his mother and her girlfriends. He dovetailed the skill into a wildly popular bookmaking business at prep school.

It got him in big trouble in 10th grade. Lickle reluctantly admits the transgression some 74 years later, but he retained an ardor for racing that took him from his first runner in 1974 to claiming racing’s most coveted award, the Eclipse in 1996. In three short decades, Lickle earned six National Steeplechase Association titles, won every top prize in American steeplechasing and won some of the best-known races on the flat.

He’s been away from the sport for 15 years, but Lickle, 90, remembers that it was one wild ride.

“We rode the crest of the wave for a while,” Lickle says, explaining his abrupt departure after the ’05 season. “It was simple, really. I’d won every race I wanted to win, and more. A lot of our friends were gone. We wanted to travel. It was time.

“I don’t regret anything. We made such good friends, and enjoyed (jump racing) as a sport. It’s not like the flat track – we did both, and I have to say, we (liked) steeplechase so much more.”

Lickle and his wife, Renee, married 70 years in November, currently split time between Delaware and their place in Palm Beach, Florida. It’s on a spit of land overlooking the Intercoastal Waterway at the Everglades Club two blocks from the Atlantic. It gives Lickle plenty of time to work on his golf game – he was intercollegiate champion at the University of Virginia and still loves to play, and they’re both involved in the local arts in both places.

Lickle recaptures the magic of the meteoric rise in steeplechasing that’s left the three-time leader – 1991, 1992 and 1997 – still fifth all-time leading owner in the sport, with more than $3.22 million in earnings.  He's got a lot to say, and a lot of surprises.
How he got involved in racing is a little embarrassing.
My aunt foxhunted, and my wife’s family had horses, but I was never really rode.
I did go to the races all the time as a little guy, though, since my mother used to love to go to Delaware Park with her girlfriends. It was the crème de la crème back then.

I’d watch the races, read the form, look at the horses and pick the winner. I got real good at it, so when I went off to prep school, I decided I’d open a bookmaking operation.
So one day in 10th grade, I finally got caught. The dean told me he was going to throw me out of school and told me to call my parents to pick me up.

Before I did that, I had to tell him – I had to, you know – that my biggest customer was one of the senior professors on staff.

He looked at me and decided to let it go.
He had a knack of sniffing out the action. Sometimes good, other times, bad. Hear how he and Renee barely missed being blown up during Fidel Castro's 1953 Cuban revolución.
We were on vacation in Havana Cuba (the summer of 1953.) That’s where the action was. Cuba was vibrant, and beautiful.

I opened the trunk of the car we’d hired to take us to the beach. Under my swim trunks was a machine gun. We’d seen tanks in the streets as we drove out of the capital city, and there were whispers of trouble afoot.

Headed back to the city center, our driver panicked, flipping the car into a sugar cane field. It rolled over and over.

I was covered in broken glass, and Renee was badly hurt.
I had to pay for gasoline to put in the ambulance so it could take us to the American hospital. Gun-toting rebels beginning to gather on the street corners to support Castro's government overthrow. (It was late on July 23, 1953, Dia de la Revolución.)

We checked out of our hotel – changed clothes because ours were all torn and bloody. I got us a 4 a.m. limo to the airport and (eventually) got us a private jet out. We put our good old American dollars to good use, and basically bought our way out, since the airport was closed.

I feel like we got a pretty good deal really. I never actually had to pay the hotel bill, because a tank blew the lobby up later that morning.” (Freudy Photo from 1974, above)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He got involved with neighbor and friend Duncan Patterson to add timber to the mix in 1980.
Duncan Patterson (Tod Marks photo) trained timber horses for Lickle more than 25 years. “We won at least one race for him every year,” Patterson recalls the great run the two Wilmington neighbors had. “He was great to train for, a great winner and a great loser.

“(His wife, Renee) wasn’t as visible as her husband, but she was always involved and always supportive.

“Winterthur was their home meet – he helped found it, so he was always wanting a horse to run at Winterthur. The course is just three miles from (our houses.)

“Bill Lickle was really a great host. We’d go up and stay at his house in Saratoga a week or two every year for 30 years in a row. My liver couldn’t take any more than that.”
Even more memorable was their partnership with an athletic Florida-bred son of Dickens Hill. Victorian Hill was gorgeous, Elliot says. (Douglas Lees photo, at Foxfield Races)

“I watched (then-owner) Arthur McCashin loose school this big bay horse,” Elliot offered the unraced gelding to Lickle, who says he “trusted Janet if she told me she’d found me a nice horse.”

Victorian Hill won his first start for Lickle – on the turf at Fair Hill, and his first three tries over fences – at Atlantic City, Virginia Fall and at Fair Hill’s fall meet. He fell in the 3-year-old hurdle stake at Colonial Cup next out; it was the only fall he recorded in an extensive, nine-year career.
Victorian Hill was consistent, winning 18 of 65 starts, in the frame 40 times, earning more than $750,000 lifetime.

The horse did have one issue – a nervous stomach, Elliot says. She recounts a nightmare emergency trip to New Bolton, his owner away on business overseas as the champion struggled to survive on the operating table.

“Vic was prone to colic. Mild, you know,” Elliot easily managed it at home, she says, but that autumn day in 1991, it was acute. “I wasn’t sure he’d even make it.

“The New Bolton crew weren’t even sure he’d live through the surgery, much less race again, much less at the (top level.) They took out half his large colon.”

“The horse was a real fighter,” Lickle remembers Vic’s determination that day, and in the slow months of recovery that followed.

Victorian Hill not only survived, he thrived. He was placed in the handicap at Atlanta the next April, just a few months post-surgery, and the Gwathmey before winning his second-straight Iroquois weight-for-age in May. He went on to finish second in two consecutive Grand National hurdle stakes, and win four in a row at Foxfield to cap the career before retiring at 11.
Winners circle photo of the Lickles, Victorian Hill and jockey Sean Clancy at Foxfield in September of 1993.
Douglas Lees photo
Maryland Hunt Cup was one of the races Lickle aimed to win. Young Dubliner came through.
Young Dubliner filtered through three of Lickle’s trainers’ barns, starting with Ricky Hendriks and moving to Janet Elliot’s, but it was Kathy Neilson that produced Young Dubliner’s championship season.

The Irish import jumped for fun, Neilson recalls, to win the 2001 steeplethon at International Gold Cup then gave an eye-popping performance to win the 2002 Maryland Hunt Cup in his first try in the four-mile classic.

Brian Moran was aboard, and their winning time – 8:25 3/5 – is still the record mark. He claimed that year's NSA timber championship. (Douglas Lees photo from Fence 13)
The Lickle Stable Top runners
Victorian Hill: Currently sixth all-time leading NSA earner with 18 wins from 65 starts (including point-to-points) and more than $750,000 in earnings. He set four course records.
Playing favorites
As with many top ‘chasers, Victorian Hill was a course specialist; he adored Charlottesville’s Foxfield racecourse nearly as much as his owner loved the University of Virginia. “Jeff Teter told me once the reason Vic won at Foxfield so many times (four – 1993-’95) is that he’s one of the few horses that can really ‘run downhill,’ I mean, accelerate on that steep grade that takes you from the end of the homestretch all the way on the backside of the course,” Lickle repeats Teter’s reasoning. “Most horses brace when they go downhill. Jeff said Vic would extend his stride.”

(Douglas Lees photo from Foxfield in 1993)
Dynasty
Victorian Hill’s dam, Victorian Lace, produced two other foals to race, including distaff hurdler Gemini’s Gem, who herself went on to found a steeplechase dynasty. Dam of nine winners from 10 foals, her produce included winning hurdlers Three Carat, Sparkled, Rare Mix, Brilliant Match, Birth Sign and One Giant Step. Hurdle-winning daughter Effervescent in turn produced hurdle stakes winner Italian Wedding.
Correggio: 1996 Eclipse Award winner; grade 1 winner of $258,880
Hudson Bay: Set Saratoga track mark; grade 2 winner of $232,685
Master McGrath: Grade 1 winner of $331,355
Trebizond: Won two legs of the hurdle “Triple Crown” – Keeneland and Belmont (Pimlico canceled due to weather); earnings of $223,088
Green Highlander: 1992 NSA novice hurdle champion; set course mark at Saratoga on the turf
Young Dubliner: 2002 NSA timber champ, 2002 Maryland Hunt Cup winner
Where's Pepo: 1996 NSA timber champ
Sintra: Won the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland and the grade 1 Test at Saratoga; earnings of $378,606. Sold for $700,000 in foal to Topsider at Keeneland November
Tide: Multiple graded stakes-placed, she won the listed Budweiser Breeder's Cup at Fairmount Park in 1986. Sold for $500,000 in foal to Apalachee at Keeneland November
Bill Lickle and jockey Jeff Teter at the 1991 Carolina Cup Races. Teter and Victorian Hill finished second that year in the Carolina Cup.
Catherine French photo from the NSA Archives
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