Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Hughie Morrison: Success Breeds Success

Hughie Morrison
Granted that his late father, James, the second Lord Margadale, bred and owned Oaks winners Juliette Marny and Scintillate, it’s probably no surprise that Hughie Morrison became a racehorse trainer. In fact, despite initially pursuing a career outside racing, he later observed, “I was always craving an involvement in racing; I just felt one was expected to do something more…proper.”

That involvement began with Paul Cole, for whom he worked, unpaid, as assistant trainer for two years. In September, 1996, he bought Summerdown Stables in East Isley, Berkshire from Simon Sherwood and started training, with just eight horses, the following spring. Two decades or so later, Morrison, 57, is still at Summerdown and has saddled over 800 winners.

Ironically, Morrison recorded his first major success with Frenchman’s Creek, whom he also bred, in William Hill National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2002. He also fondly remembers Tom Paddington, bred by his second wife, Mary, who broke down over hurdles at Newbury in 1999, but won on his reappearance at the Berkshire course in 2002 after 1,351 days off. “You can’t buy that sort of pleasure”, Morrison recalled.

More recently, Morrison has enjoyed numerous high-profile victories on the Flat, including Group 1 successes for Pastoral Pursuits in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket and Alcazar in the Prix Royal at Longchamp in 2005 and Sakhee’s Secret in the Darley July Cup, again, two years later. He has saddled six Royal Ascot winners, including a double, with Sagramor in the Britannia Stakes and Pisco Sour in the Tercentenary Stakes, in 2011. The most poignant, however, was Waverley in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes in 2003. Morrison said of him, “He belonged to my father, who had died only two months earlier. It was a very emotional time for all the family.”

In May, 2017, Morrison was charged by the British Horseracing Authority after his 4-year-old filly Our Little Sister tested positive for the prohibited anabolic steroid nandrolone laurate after finishing last of nine, beaten 19 lengths, in an otherwise unremarkable handicap at Wolverhampton the previous January. He took the unprecedented step of offering a £10,000 reward to clear his name, claiming that the horse had been maliciously injected.

At a subsequent independent disciplinary hearing, Morrison conceded that he was in breach of the strict liability rule, but claimed that deliberately doping Our Little Sister – who had a handicap rating of just 52 and was retired from racing a maiden after nine starts – would have been “professional suicide”. In any event, he was found “not to blame” and fined the minimum £1,000.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Roger Varian: From strength to strength

Formerly a moderately successful conditional jockey for Josh Gifford, Roger Varian became assistant trainer to Michael Jarvis at Kremlin House Stables, on Fordham Road, Newmarket, after a shattered wrist, sustained in a fall during secondment to Jack Fisher in Maryland, USA, brought his riding career in horse racing to an end. Ten years later, in February, 2011, Jarvis – who had had a heart valve replaced and was suffering from prostate cancer – retired due to ill health and handed the yard over to Varian.

Jarvis was, undoubtedly, a hard act to follow, but Varian made a fine start to his career, remarkably saddling 16 winners from his first 64 runners, at a strike rate of 25%. Varian remained at Kremlin House for the first six years of his training career, notably saddling Kingston Hill to win his first domestic Group One race, the Racing Post Trophy – now the Vertem Futurity Trophy – in 2013 and his first Classic, the St. Leger Stakes, in 2014.

By that stage, though, Varian had made his mark internationally; he had already won the Group One Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp in 2011 and Grade One Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes at Belmont Park in 2012 with Nahrain and the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh in 2012. His success at the highest level continued, with victories for Belardo in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in 2014 and Lockinge Stakes in 2016 and a memorable hat-trick for Postponed in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Cup at Epsom and the International Stakes at York in 2016.

In 2017, moved to Carlburg Stables, formerly occupied by Clive Brittain, on the nearby Bury Road and enjoyed his most successful season ever, numerically, with 109 winners. In recent seasons, Defoe, owned Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum – who transferred his string to Varian from the now-retired Luca Cumani in 2015 – has been the flag-bearer for the yard. The Dalakhani gelding has won nine of his 19 races including, in 2019, the Group One Coronation Cup at Epsom, and £739,613 in win and place prize money.

All told, Varian has saddled over 800 winners, including 17 at Group One or Grade One level. Still only 40, with the backing of powerful owners, also including Hamdan Al Maktoum and Cheveley Park Stud, and with hundreds of horses in training, his continued success seems assured.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

David O’Meara: Simplicity Personified

David O'Meara horse trainer
As a jockey, David O’Meara rode for respected figures such as Michael Hourigan, Philip Hobbs and Peter Easterby. Consequently, he believes that “simplicity and routine” are the hallmarks of any successful training establishment.

Following the end of his 10-year riding career, O’Meara completed all the courses necessary to become a trainer and, after a brief flirtation with property development, took over the training licence from James Hetherton at Arthington Barn Stables in Nawton, North Yorkshire in June 2010. He saddled his first winner, Simple Jim, ridden by Silvestre De Sousa, in a lowly 0-60 handicap at Redcar the same month and finished the season with a respectable total of 25 winners.

Since then, it’s fair to say that his rise through the training ranks has been nothing short of meteoric. In 2011, O’Meara saddled 48 winners, including his first success at Group level, Blue Bajan in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown. In 2012, he saddled 69 winners, including Penitent in the bet365 Mile at Sandown and the Nayef Joel Stakes at Newmarket. In 2013, he saddled 100 winners in a season for the first time and has repeated that feat every season since.

O’Meara has developed a reputation for improving horses joining him from other yards. Indeed, his first Group 1 winner, G Force, in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock in 2014, was a 25,000 guineas castoff from Richard Hannon Snr.. Other notable winners include Amazing Maria, a one-time Classic hope for previous trainer Ed Dunlop, whom O’Meara saddled to win the Falmouth Stakes as a four-year-old in 2015 and Suedois, acquired from French trainer Christian Baillet as a five-year-old in 2016, who won the Shadwell Turf Miles Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky in 2017.

In August 2015, it was rumoured that O’Meara was taking over from Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle, but he scotched the speculation, saying, “I have never been approached by anyone at Coolmore regarding Ballydoyle. There is no substance to the rumour.” Nevertheless, in January 2016 he did move, to Willow Farm, a multi-million pound training facility in Upper Helmsley on the outskirts of York, to accommodate his growing number of horses.

Possible ‘dark’ horses to look out for in 2018 include the three-year-old colts Consequences and Safrani. The former, by Dandy Man, was found wanting in Listed and Pattern company last season, but signed off with an easy win in a small conditions race at Newmarket, while the latter, by the excellent young sire Lope De Vega, was well beaten, at 66/1, in a valuable maiden at York in August, but was subsequently gelded.