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”.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

The Most Successful Grand National and Cheltenham Horse Trainers

We've showcased a whole host of UK horse trainers on and detailed the trials and tribulations of many a prominent trainer in the process, some from days gone by such  and others firmly in the fray as we speak. Of those in the here and now in 2018  Mark Johnston and Richard Fahey have excelled over the flat, with the former already hitting the 200 wins mark this year. Dan Skelton over the jumps already has amassed 361 wins and (lucky!) 777 places from 1818 runs. So we've certainly established that there are some big hitters in the horse trainer world.

Just as important though, is how well trainers perform in the big events and festivals. Much in the same way that athletes are remembered for their perfomances in World Championships and the Olympics, jockeys, horses and indeed horse trainers make the biggest impact and carve out a place in racing history based on their successes in the Grand National, Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot and so on. Take the legend of racing Red Rum, who made a name for himself on account of his three stunning Grand National victories in 1973, 1974 and 1977, rewarding many of those following Grand National tips. The impact of this accolade certainly boosted the reputation of jockey Brian Fletcher at the time too, as well as trainer Ginger McCain. McCain's son Donald Jnr (no relation to the orange terror in the Whitehouse!) trained the 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs. Racing success can often be a family affair.

So which trainers have excelled in more recent years during UK captivating racing festivals? Truth be told there has been quite an even spread of trainer successes in recent years over the big events. The Cheltenham Gold Cup has seen some stand out performances though, by horses trained by a couple of well known trainers. Best Mate, ridden by Jim Culloty, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He was trained by Oxford graduate and National Hunt specialist Henrietta Catherine Knight. Knight impressed in several other races at Cheltenham over the years. Another standout is  horse trainer Paul Nicholls, with Gold Cup wins from 2007 and 2009. Impressively the Gold Cup wins came via two different horses, Kauto Star (in 2007 and 2009) and Denman in 2008. Nicholls also trained Neptune Collonges, the winner of the 2012 Grand National cementing him as one of the greatest trainers of his generation.

Ginger McCain aside, in truth it's not an easy task to single out horse trainers in recent decades,who dominated the Aintree Grand National. That said, I'd say that a special mention has to go to Tim Forster, who experienced much success in the event for over the period of 15 years. He trained winners Well To Do in 1970, Ben Nevis in 1980 and Last Suspect in 1985. That level of longevity in such a competitive event is a rare achievement by any standard!

Monday, 24 September 2018

Michael Bell: No Woman, No Cry

Michael Bell
After leaving the army, Martin Bell worked as assistant trainer to Mercy Rimmell and Paul Cole before taking out a training licence, in his own right, at Fitzroy House in Newmarket, Suffolk in 1989. His first Group winner, Pass The Peace in the Fred Darling Stakes at Newmarket, was originally bought for 9,000 guineas by his father, Brian, and subsequently sold to Sheikh Mohammed. The proceeds from the sale allowed Bell to buy Fitzroy House, which he had previously rented.

In the last three decades, Bell has trained in the region of 1,400 winners and amassed over £24 million in total prize money. However, he is probably best known for his two Classic winners, Motivator in the Derby in 2005 and Sariska in the Oaks in 2009. Sariska followed up in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh the following month and, in between times, Bell also saddled Art Connossieur to win the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.

However, his most memorable winner, he said, was Hoh Magic in the Prix Morny at Deauville in 1994. The two-year-old filly, by Cadeux Genereux, ran on well inside the final furlong to win by 1½ lengths and record the first Group 1 vicotory for the yard. Bell later recalled, fondly, “Deauville is a special place and a very big day in the racing calendar”.

More recently, Bell enjoyed further success with Margot Did in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 2011 – making Hayley Turner the first female jockey ever to ride two Group 1 winners – and back-to-back victories by Wigmore Hall in the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Canada in 2011 and 2012. In June 2013, though, after an unproductive summer in which Bell saddled just 16 winners at a strike rate of 9%, he and Hayley Turner parted company after 13 years together. Bell said at the time, “Hayley is a great girl and I will continue to use her, but she has been with me for 13 years and sometimes you just need to freshen things up.”

In recent seasons, the Duke Of Marmalade gelding Big Orange has become the standard bearer for the yard, winning the Goodwood Cup two years running in 2015 and 2016 and taking his form to a new level when holding on gamely to beat subsequent Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe fourth Order Of St George by a short head in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 2017.