Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Peter Bowen: Founder of a Dynasty

Peter Bowens
It’s fair to say that, in recent years, Peter Bowen has been rather overshadowed by the exploits of his three sons, Mickey, Sean and James. In 2015, Sean became the youngest ever Champion Conditional Jockey at the age of 17, in April 2017, Mickey, 21, saddled Dineur to win the Fox Hunters’ Chase at Aintree, making him the youngest trainer to do so and in January 2018, James, 16, became the youngest jockey ever to win the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

A former point-to-point trainer, Peter Bowen, took out a full training licence at his yard in Little Newcastle, near Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire in 1995. He saddled his first winner, Iffee – incidentally, ridden by an 18-year-old Richard Johnson, claiming 5lb – in a handicap chase at Sedgefield in October that year. Indeed, Iffee was to prove something of a money spinner for the yard, winning five more times before the end of the 1995/96 season. Another notable success in those early days was Stately Home, beaten three times in selling hurdles in 1995/96, but the winner of nine steeplechases in 1996/97, including the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown.

For readers of a certain age, though, Peter Bowen is probably still best remembered as the trainer of Always Waining, the only horse to win the Topham Chase – run over 2 miles 5 furlongs on the Grand National Course at Aintree – three times. Always Waining finished a fading fourth in the race on his first attempt, as an 8-year-old, in 2009, but returned to win it in 2010, 2011 and 2012, beating 80 rivals and amassing nearly £169,000 in prize money in the process.

Bowen had his biggest payday ever when, in 2008, 33/1 chance Snoopy Loopy took advantage of a stumble on landing by Kauto Star at the final fence to win the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Other high-profile winners over the years have included 40/1 chance Al Co in the Coral Scottish Grand National in 2014 and, more recently, Henllan Harri in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in 2017.

Bowen has yet to train a winner at the Cheltenham Festival, but went close to winning the ‘Blue Riband’ event of National Hunt racing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Take The Stand in 2005. The 9-year-old was sent off at 25/1 and, although outpaced by the winner, Kicking King, in the closing stages, stuck on well to finish clear second.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Bryan Smart: Working Class Boy Done Good

Born to a working class family in Royston, Barnsley in South Yorkshire, Bryan Smart graduated from the showjumping circuit in the North of England to become first jockey to Jenny Pitman in Lambourn, Berkshire. Indeed, Smart rode Corbiere, or ‘Corky’, as he was known at home, to six victories in the early part of his career. Corbiere would, of course, go on to win the Grand National in 1983 but, by that stage, Smart had suffered a career-ending fall at Huntingdon.

Smart recovered and moved to the village of Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire in West Wales, where he operated a livery yard for four years. West Wales was, though, ‘too far away from the racecourses’ and, in 1986, Smart returned to Lambourn, where he took out a public training licence. After successfully training at Hill House Stables for many years, in 2002, Smart bought the historic Hambleton House – previously made famous by Sir Noel Murless, among others – in Sutton Bank, Thirsk in North Yorkshire.

Smart enjoyed his first Group One success with the three-year-old filly Sil Sila in the Prix de Diane Hermes at Chantilly in 1996, but had to wait two-and-a-half decades for his second, Tangerine Trees in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp in 2011, and a further eight years for his third, Alpha Delphini in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 2019. He has won over £500,000 in total prize money just twice, once in 2007, when he saddled Unilateral to win the Firth of Clyde Stakes at Ayr, and again in 2009, when he saddled Distinctive to win the same contest. His most successful season numerically, though, came in 2011, when he recorded 69 wins – including four, high-profile victories for the aforementioned Tangerine Trees – from 489 runners, at a strike rate of 14%.

It would be fair to say that Smart has not come anywhere near that total since; indeed, at the time of writing, his prize money total for 2019, £158,537, is the lowest since the year before he moved to Hambleton House. Nevertheless, as Smart himself once said, ‘The racing world is full of ups and downs’, and he remains a top class trainer with an exceptional eye for a horse.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Gordon Elliott

Gordon Elliot
Formerly a highly accomplished amateur rider, Gordon Elliott first took out a training licence in 2006/2007 and saddled his first winner, Arresting, in a handicap hurdle at Perth in June, 2006. However, Elliott really announced his arrival in the training ranks by saddling the 10-year-old Silver Birch, ridden by Robbie Power, to win the Grand National the following April. Of course, Elliot recently hit the headlines again, when saddling Tiger Roll, ridden by Davy Russell, to win the 2018 renewal of the world famous steeplechase, but the whole of his 11-year training career has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Based at Cullentra House Stables in County Meath, in eastern Ireland, Elliott had actually saddled five winners, including Silver Birch, on mainland Britain, before opening his account in his native land. Nevertheless, he trained his first Grade 1 winner, Jessies Dream, in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in December, 2010, and his first winners at the Cheltenham Festival, Chicago Grey in the National Hunt Chase and Carlito Brigante in the Coral Cup, in March, 2011.

The high-profile victory of Don Cossack in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2016 was an eighth success at the Cheltenham Festival but, in September that year, he was the major beneficiary of a split between Gigginstown House Stud, owned by Michael O’Leary, and Willie Mullins, which resulted in 60 horses being removed from the County Carlow trainer.

Elliot saddled six winners at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, edging out Willie Mullins on countback to become leading trainer for the first time, and a further eight at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, beating Mullins 8-7, to take a second trainers’ title. In early April, 2018, Elliott was €550,000 ahead of Mullins in the race for the Irish trainers’ championship and long odds-on to take the title for the first time.