Thursday, 6 May 2021

Tom George: Building for the Future

At the time of writing, Tom George lies in a highly respectable eighth place in the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship, having saddled 41 winners and amassed over £642,000 in total prize money. However, as Adrian Heskin said, when replacing Paddy Brennan as stable jockey to George at the start of the 2016/17 season, “Tom has a lot of young horses. He’s invested a lot of money over the past year, so he has a lot of novices coming through. There are a couple of really exciting ones that could be anything.”

Having worked with Arthur Moore, Gavin Pritchard-Gordon, the late Michael Jarvis, Francois Doumen and Martin Pipe before becoming a trainer in his own right, George saddled his first winner, Newton Point, at Worcester in 1993. Since then he has sent out over 500 winners from his training establishment Down Farm in Slad, near Stroud, Gloucester.

His first winner at the Cheltenham Festival was Galileo – who was one of a crop of horses imported from Poland – in the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle in 2002. George said at the time, “This is the sort of day everybody dreams about”. He also enjoyed success with the front-running grey, Nacarat, whose exploits at Kempton, in particular, he believes helped to raise his profile. Nacarat won what is now the Betbright Chase at the Sunley-on-Thames track as an 8-year-old in 2009 and again, as an 11-year-old, in 2012.

Other notable horses from the yard include Saint Are, who finished second, behind Many Clouds, in the Grand National in 2015 and fourth, behind One For Arthur, in 2017. The 12-year-old is being trained for the great race once again this season but, because of a change in the rules by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), will not be going hunter chasing beforehand, as was originally planned.

In terms of prospects for the Cheltenham Festival in 2018, George is likely to send Summerville Boy, winner of the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January, straight to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, for which the 6-year-old is a top-priced 20/1. He has also expressed himself satisfied with the performance of The Worlds End, who has yet to trouble the judge in three starts on unsuitably soft going, and is hopeful of an improved performance in the Stayers’ Hurdle, for which the gelding is a 25/1 chance, in places.

Monday, 5 April 2021

Girl Power in the Grand National!

As you well know from the trainer biographies on the site, female trainers have had a fair amount of success over the years. Who can forget Jenny Pitman breaking down barriers (not literally, that would be cheating!) with Grand National success with Corbiere in 1983. Buoyed by that success she went back for seconds, with a further Grand National win in 1995 with Royal Athlete. It's amazing what seeing success can do for others, and over the years both Venetia Williams and Sue Smith have both since walked in those same Grand National winning footsteps.

But what's the story of female jockeys in the Grand National specifically? Well Katie Walsh had a few thoughts for Betway on that very topic. It's strange to think how slowly society can be at coming around to ideas that decades on seem like they've surely always been that way. It wasn't until the late 70s that changes to the law opened the door for female jockeys in the Grand National, the very first of whom was Charlotte Brew. Geraldine Rees, in those early days, was the first woman to complete the race.

To-date Katie Walsh has set the highest standard by achieving of 3rd place in the Grand National. Such huge strides have been made over a relatively short time period, and with 16 women jockeys so far playing their part in the race (with three female jockeys competing this year alone), their performances and prominence in the event is going from strength to strength. Progress.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Jedd O’Keeffe: Staying Power

Jedd O'Keeffe
John Eamon Declan Dunderdale O’Keefe, known universally as Jedd, is in the enviable position of training Sam Spinner, who is currently 5/1 favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018. Bought for 12,000 guineas as a 3-year-old, the son of Black Sam Bellamy has won five of his seven races over hurdles including, most recently, the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, and amassed over £142,000 in total prize money. O’Keefe said recently, “It’s very exciting for all of us in a small stable to have a real star, and I’m really grateful it’s happening as it is.”

Of course, O’Keeffe is no stranger to the winners’ enclosure, having saddled 148 winners on the Flat and 36 winners over Jumps in his career to date but, with a few obvious exceptions, has lacked the firepower to make much of an impact at the major meetings. Sam Spinner aside, the highlights of his career, so far, were the victories of Shared Equity in the Coral Sprint Trophy at York in 2015, More Mischief in the Betfred Mobile/EBF Hoppings Stakes at Newcastle in June, 2017 and Lord Yeats in the Betfred Fred Archer Stakes at Newmarket the following month.

O’Keefe served an eight-year apprentice, as pupil assistant, travelling head lad and assistant trainer to Micky Hammond, before applying for a training licence in his own right. He moved into Highbeck Lodge and Stables, which is part of the Brecongill Estate, in Coverdale, in the extreme east of the Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire in 2000. At that time he had just three horses – the minimum number allowed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) – but saddled his first winner, Route Sixty Six, in a novices’ hurdle at Musselburgh the following January. From small beginnings, by honest, old-fashioned hard work, O’Keefe gradually increased his number of horses in training, to an average of 20 or so over the last decade.

In 2011, O’Keefe underwent an intensive course of treatment for throat cancer and although he recovered, his business very nearly did not. He later recalled, “Though I’d finished the treatment, I was still very ill, and needed staff to cover. With the cost of all that, and the financial crisis, we felt we couldn’t go any further, and rang the owners to say we were giving up.” Thankfully, he did not and now, with Sam Spinner just one of 45 horses in his yard, can hopefully look forward to a happy, healthy and profitable future.