Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Olly Murphy: Jack of all trades

Formerly assistant trainer to Gordon Elliott, with whom he spent four years, Olly Murphy was still only 25 years old when he took out a combined training licence, in his own right, in 2017. Nevertheless, within a week of taking up the reins at Warren Chase Stables in Wilmcote, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, he had saddled two runners, and two winners. Dove Mountain, a six-year-old formerly trained by his mother, Anabel Murphy (née King), opened his account by winning a mile-and-a-quarter handicap at Brighton in July 4 and Gold Class, an eight-year-old and hitherto long-standing maiden over hurdles, doubled his tally by winning a lady amateur riders’ handicap at Market Rasen, under Bryony Frost, on July 9.

Obviously, it was always going to be difficult to maintain the flying start to his training career. Nevertheless, at the end of the 2017 Flat season, Murphy had saddled three winners from 23 runners, at a strike rate of 13% and, at the end of the 2017/18 National Hunt season, 47 winners from 250 runners, at a strike rate of 19%. Indeed, the latter season notably included victory Hunters Call in the Grade Three Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot in December, 2017. The seven-year-old, ridden by Jack Kennedy, collected £85,425, which is the biggest single prize Murphy has won to date.

In subsequent seasons, Murphy has continued to saddle a limited number of runners on the Flat, predominantly on synthetic, or all-weather, surfaces, but his main focus has been on the National Hunt sphere. All told, in just over two years, Murphy has saddled a total of 158 winners under National Hunt Rules and amassed £1.29 million in win and place prize money. Other highlights of his fledgling training career, so far, have included winning the Listed Matchbook Time To Move Over Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton with Itchy Feet in October, 2018 and the Core Spreads Sussex Champion Hurdle at Plumpton with Fielsole in April, 2019. In between times, he also saddled Thomas Darby and Itchy Feet to finish second and third in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival; the former finished lame and the latter broke blood vessels but, collectively, the pair won £37,762.50 for their efforts.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Stuart Edmunds: In it for the long haul

Stuart Edmunds has been based at Fences Farm in Tyringham, near Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire for the better part of four decades. He was previously assistant trainer to former Renee Robeson (née de Rothschild) before taking over the training licence following her death, at the age of 87, in 2015. Edmunds holds a combined licence, but it would be fair to say that his focus is on National Hunt racing and, despite operating just a small string, of thirty or so horses, has achieved some noteworthy success in that sphere.

In 2015-16, his first full season in charge, Edmunds saddled 16 winners from 93 runners, at a strike rate of 17%, and collected nearly£187,000 in win and place prize money. Highlights included victories for juvenile hurdler Wolf Of Windlesham in the Grade Two JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham and the bet365 Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, which collectively netted over £48,000 in prize money. The 2016-17 season was less productive, yielding just nine winners from 77 runners, but they did include Edmunds’ first and, so far, only Cheltenham Festival winner, Domesday Book in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.

Nevertheless, Edmunds bounced back in 2017-18, saddling 23 winners from 121 runners – the highest seasonal tally of his short career – and collecting nearly £250,000 in prize money. It was a similar story in 2018-19, with 19 winners from 121 runners and just over £250,000 in prize money and, at the time of writing, Edmunds is enjoying decent form, with six winners from 41 runners and nearly £72,000 in prize money in 2019/20 so far.

In recent seasons, Edmunds’ most successful horses have been Maria’s Benefit and Queenohearts who, coincidentally, are both mares. Between January, 2017 and December, 2018, Maria’s Benefit won eight of her 13 starts, notably including the Grade Two Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster in 2018, and just over £100,000 in prize money. Queenohearts, now a six-year-old, has won four of her seven starts, including three victories at Listed and Grade Two level and amassed nearly £47,000 in prize money.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Kerry Lee: Like Father, Like Daughter

Kerry Lee
It's important to consider a trainer's credentials when you're considering Grand National 2020 horses to follow, and Kerry Lee is a good example of someone who had in the past, had her eye on this very prize. Kerry Lee is the daughter of former trainer Richard Lee, who retired, after a 29-year-career, in 2015. Kerry assisted with the running of The Bell House, the family stables in Byton, Herefordshire, close to the Welsh border, from a young age, but took over the licence in her own right at the start of the 2015/16 National Hunt season.

She trained her first winner as a trainer, Jayo Time, in handicap chase at Uttoxeter in September, 2015, but enjoyed her first major success with Mountainous in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow the following January. The race had been postponed two weeks earlier but, in hock-deep ground, Mountainous went clear over the final two fences and was driven out on the run-in to beat Firebird Flyer by an ever-dwindling 2½ lengths. “I think it’s absolutely beautiful ground,” joked Lee afterwards.

In so doing, Mountainous not only became the first horse since Bonanza Boy in 1989 to win the CoralWelsh Grand National twice, but completed a notable family double, having won the race for Richard Lee on his first attempt in 2013. At the time, Lee Snr. said of him, “From the moment he came into our yard as a 5-year-old, I said he was a Welsh Grand National horse.”

Winning the Coral Welsh National Grand National within six months of taking over the training licence was an achievement, in itself, but Kerry enjoyed the purplest of purple patches in the spring of 2016. Exactly seven days after Mountainous’ victory, she saddled Russe Blanc to win the Betfred Classic Chase at Warwick and, less than a month later, Top Gamble to win the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.

Another week later, she achieved further high-profile success with Bishops Road in the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock and, not finished yet, rounded off a memorable campaign with wins for Kylemore Lough in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase – her first Grade 1 success – and Top Gamble in the Normans Grove Chase in the space of 48 hours at Fairyhouse in March. At the end of her “rookie” season, Kerry had saddled 23 winners from 110 runners, at a strike rate of 21%, and earned £377,508 in total prize money. She sets lofty goals for herself as her aspirations to win the Aintree Grand National are well known.

Asked about her phenomenal run of Saturday successes, Kerry said, “People say that new trainers usually target smaller races, earlier in the week, but you’ve got to be a little bit bold, and that’s the way I am.”