Monday, 12 November 2018

Harry Whittington: How do you Like Them Apples?

Harry Whittington
Harry Whittington is based at Hill Barn Stables in Sparsholt Firs, near Wantage, Oxfordshire, where he has held a training licence since 2010. However, Whittington cut his teeth under experienced breeze-up consigner Malcolm Bastard before setting up his own pre-training business at Hill Barn Stables, which he subsequently operated as a satellite yard for Upper Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson.

Whittington officially saddled his first winner, Mount Benger, in a hunters’ chase at Huntingdon in February, 2011, but his training career began in earnest in September, 2012, when he launched Harry Whittington Racing with just five horses. In the 2012/13 season, he saddled just 15 runners, but recorded three winners, the undisputed highlight of which was the debutant Dubai Kiss, who belied his 50/1 starting price to easily win a National Hunt Flat Race at Newbury in February.

Whittington saddled his first Grade 1 winner, Arzal, in the Merseyrail Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree – a race in which Sizing John, the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2017, could finish only third, beaten 24 lengths – in April, 2016. In fact, the 2015/16 season was the best, so far, in his short career, with 21 winners and £215,762 in total prize money. By contrast, the yard spent much of the 2016/17 in the doldrums, with just 13 winners from 118 runners, at a strike rate of just 11%, and just £105, 152 in total prize money.
Of course, any trainer is only ever as good as the horses in his charge and, in 2017/18, Whittington has bounced back and is well on the way to having his best season ever, numerically and monetarily. At the time of writing, on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival in March, 2018, he has already saddled 25 winners – that is, two more than ever before – and earned £189,890 in total prize money.

Vinnie Lewis, who was raised 14lb in the weights for winning by 14 lengths, eased down, on his previous start at Sedgefield, won the Sussex National at Plumpton in January. However, his stable star is, undoubtedly, Saint Calvados, whom he acquired from Venetia Williams on Boxing Day, 2017. The progressive 5-year-old is 3-3 over fences and, not for the first time, jumped like an old hand when strolling clear for an impressive 22-length victory in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick on his most recent start in February. Saint Calvados is due to run in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, for which he is 3/1 second favourite, at the Cheltenham Festival this very afternoon.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Horse Trainers and the Grand National - The Story of the Stats

Let's take a brief time out from the individual horse trainer bios for a moment and instead take a look at trainers in relation to their performance in the Grand National. We can then look to how this might translate into their prospects in the fast approaching 2019 race.

 When taking a look at trainers in relation to their Grand National record, it makes sense to start with the prolific Paul Nicholls on account that he's had an impressive 60 runners in the Grand National. That being the case he's only had one winner (and six placed) in this prestigious event so doesn't exactly have an enviable record. A trainer like Nigel Twiston-Davies has a little more substance to his Grand National credentials, with 41 runners and two winners (and three places).

In truth, no trainer in modern times has truly taken the Grand National by the scruff of the neck. There are just too many variables and participants to develop any level of consistency in the event no matter what they throw at it. Of course 'back in the day' things were different, Vincent O’Brien trained three successive winners - Early Mist (1953), Royal Tan (1954) and Quare Times (1955). All different horses too! If we're operating a pure numbers game, Fred Rimell and George Dockeray both hold the accolade of training four winners a piece, with Rimell winning with ESB (1956), Nicolaus Silver (1961), Gay Trip (1970) and Rag Trade (1976) and Dockeray with Lottery (1839), Jerry (1840), Gaylad (1842) and Miss Mowbray (1852). Ginger McCain won four times too, but with two horses, Red Rum (in 1973, 74 and 77) and Amberleigh House (2004).

So where does this leave us with the Grand National 2019 in mind? Well, in going by the stats we can say that George Elliot with a win and a place from just 13 runners, appears to have a more precise approach to the Grand National than some. Buoyed from last year's win on Tiger Roll - owned by Gigginstown House Stud (no strangers to winning) - I very much doubt they'll be able to resist the opportunity to for their horse to become the first back to back winner since Red Rum.

Willie Mullins is one to watch in 2019 too. It's been something of a slow burn for Mullins since he managed to win the Grand National with Hedgehunter in 2005, however many have an eye on Total Recall for the 2019 Aintree Grand National race. A Ladbrokes Gold Cup Trophy win in 2017 may provide a little confidence, and although his 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup effort suggests that he wasn't the finished article on the day, 2019 could be his year.

Last but not least, the aforementioned Nigel Twiston-Davies will be looking to make it win number three too (to add to his 1998 and 2002 wins). His entry, Blaklion, was favoured to do well in the 2018 race and was very unfortunate to fall at the first. We do have the 2017 win in the Becher Chase to offer a bit of reassurance. It's a demonstration that he's more than capable over the Aintree course and its jumps.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Ron Boss: A Welshman in Newmarket

ron boss
I was lucky enough to celebrate 35 years in racing last year and one man I remember fondly from the early days of my ‘career’ is former Newmarket trainer Ron Boss. Ron hails from Barry, in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, as do I. Coincidentally, the gentleman who introduced me to racing all those years ago, Bruce Barnes, knew Ron personally, so I had the pleasure of speaking to him few times during, and after, his career.

A quiet, unassuming man, Ron is probably best remembered, if remembered at all, for saddling Olywyn to win the Irish Oaks in 1977. Thought good enough to contest the Criterium des Pouliches at Longchamp as a two-year-old, the Relko filly lined up at the Curragh a maiden after nine races, having been beaten in the Pretty Polly Stakes, the Warwick Oaks, the Oaks proper, the Lancashire Oaks and a maiden race at Bath, at long odds-on, just for good measure.

However, Ron clearly knew the time of day because, forcefully ridden by the late John ‘Kipper’ Lynch, Olwyn was never headed and held on to win in a blanket finish with Sassabunda and Nanticious. Ron later recalled, “I thought after Epsom that we had the best staying filly even though she only had one pace. She was a long-striding filly and I knew the course at Epsom didn’t suit her, but that the track at The Curragh would.” 

Ron enjoyed two victories at Royal Ascot, Cramond in the 1976 Queen Mary Stakes and Emboss in the 1977 Norfolk Stakes and won the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket two years running with Mon Tresor in 1988 and Balla Cove in 1989. He retired back to Barry in 1997 after 25 years at Phoenix Lodge Stables in Newmarket and later described the victory of Captain’s Wings – who was backed from 50/1 to 13/2 – in the 1978 Lincoln as one of his “best highlights”.