Tuesday 27 December 2016

Robert Cowell: Feel the Need…The Need for Speed!

Robert Cowell, 49, started training from his current base, at the privately owned Bottisham Heath Stud at Six Mile Bottom, Newmarket, Suffolk in 1997. However, he had previously served a lengthy apprenticeship with Gavin Pritchard-Gordon, David Nicholson, Jack Berry, John Hammond in France and Neil Drysdale in America. He was also a competent amateur jockey, riding 10 winners on both sides of the English Channel.

Cowell first took out a public training licence at Hollywood Park, California in 1996, but later explained, “I was training for a few people with only a handful of horses, the majority of which were claiming class and of average ability.” After returning to Britain the following year, he saddled his first winner, Mary Cornwallis, in a 5-furlong handicap at Lingfield in January, 1998.

Cowell didn’t saddle his first Listed winner, Biniou in the Prix Contessina at Fontainebleuau, until 2007 but, by then, had already developed a reputation for rekindling the enthusiasm of out-of-form horses, especially sprinters. In fact, he later reflected on the early days of his career, saying, “When we first began training the sprinter type was more affordable. Trying to buy a horse with useful sprinting form that may have lost its way was what we were looking at.”

Cowell had to wait until 2011, 14 full seasons after he moved to Newmarket, for his first winner at the highest level, Prohibit in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2011, but the victory was particularly satisfying. Acquired as a “castoff” from John Gosden in January, 2010, Prohibit graduated from the handicap ranks to become a bona fide Group 1 contender. Cowell later said of him, “I owe Prohibit a lot because he put me on the map, gave my family and the owners our biggest day at that stage at Royal Ascot. Once you have won at that level you crave it again.”

Win at that level Cowell certainly did, saddling Jwala to win the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 2013 and Goldream to win the King’s Stand Stakes and the Qatar Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp in 2015. Other high-profile winners for the yard in recent years have included Kingsgate Native in the Betfred Temple Stakes at Haydock in 2013, Intrinsic in the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood in 2014 and Outback Traveller in the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2016.

Saturday 10 December 2016

David Dennis: New Kid on the Block

David Dennis is a fairly recent addition to the training ranks, having taken out licence in 2013, but he ran a pre-training yard and spent a decade as a professional National Hunt jockey before setting up on his own. Highlights of his riding career included Kingsmark, winner of the Edward Hanmer Memorial Chase at Haydock three years running in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and Brewster, winner of the stanjames.com Challow Hurdle at Newbury in 2004.

Lowlights, on the other hand, included his ride on Jardin de Beaulieu in the Arkle Challenge Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival in 2002, in the days before remounting became a fruitless exercise. The 100/1 outsider was tailed off when turning a somersault at the second last fence, but was caught by a groundsman, who offered Dennis a leg up. However, the well-meaning, but heavy-handed, attempt to reunite the partnership succeeded only in tossing the jockey clean over the horse and back onto the Prestbury Park turf, from whence he had arisen just moments previously.

Nevertheless, Dennis survived the trials and tribulations of a National Hunt jockey until 2011 and, two years later, started training at Tyne Hill Stables, Hanley Swan, near Worcester. He saddled his first winner as a trainer, Princess Caetani, in a mile-and-a-half handicap at Chepstow in September 2013.

His one and, so far, only major success came at Newbury in November, 2016, when Roman Flight, ridden by Noel Fehily, won the bet365 Open Handicap Chase, worth just over £31,000 to the winner. All in all, Roman Flight won eight races over hurdles and fences for his owners, the Favourites Racing Syndicate.

Other notable horses that Dennis has handled in his short career include Maller Tree, who won twice in two days at Fakenham and Wetherby in 2014 and twice in three days at Newton Abbott and Huntingdon in 2015. In the 2014/15 season, Dennis also saddled Marju’s Quest to complete a hat-trick of wins at Worcester (twice) and Taunton. More recently, the Kayf Tara gelding Final Nudge won three steeplechases for the yard in 2016/17 and finished third in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in 2017/18.

In March 2017, to coincide with the Cheltenham Festival, Dennis celebrated the opening of a new, 60-box yard and other facilities at Tyre Hill Stables. So far, he has saddled 129 winners, 21 on the Flat and 108 over Jumps, and earned just short of £1 million in total prize money.

Friday 2 December 2016

Henry Daly: No Drama

Henry Daly worked as assistant trainer to Paul Cole and Kim Bailey before joining the late Captain Tim Forster at Letcombe Bassett in the Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire in 1991. When Forster moved to Downton Hall Stables, near Ludlow, Shropshire in 1994, Daly went with him. He later admitted that familiarity with the yard stood him in good stead when Forster retired in 1998 and he took over the training licence.

Indeed, Daly saddled his first winner, Don Fayruz, who was part-owned by Forster, in a novices’ hurdle at Wincanton in October, 1998, and his first Grade 1 winner, Behrajan, in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown the following January. In fact, Behrajan was his most successful horse in the early years of his training career, winning five of his 12 races over hurdles and six of his 17 races over fences – including the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby, the Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot and the Pillar Property Chase Cheltenham – between 1998 and 2003.

Coincidentally, Behrajan also finished fifth, beaten 14½ lengths, behind Best Mate in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2003, the year in which Daly saddled two of his three winners, at least so far, at the Cheltenham Festival. Young Spartacus, ridden by Richard Johnson, won the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup and Palarshan, ridden by Mark Bradburne, won the Grand Annual Chase 24 hours later.

Daly has subsequently trained two more Grade 1 winners, Hand Inn Hand in the Ascot Chase in 2004 and Mighty Man in the Long Walk Hurdle, also at Ascot, in 2006. The latter also won the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in 2005 and the Liverpool Hurdle, also at the Merseyside course in 2006 and 2007.

In late 2017, Daly created confusion when he doubly declared Crucial Role for one handicap hurdle at Haydock on Saturday, December 30 and another at Uttoxeter on Sunday, December 31. Crucial Role took up his first preference at Uttoxeter and was withdrawn from the Haydock race, but was reported “dead” by the British Horseracing Authority. Daly later explained, sheepishly, “Unfortunately, I pressed the wrong button this morning and they’ve changed it after I called them.” Crucial Role could only finish second at Uttoxeter, but won next time out at Ludlow and remains alive and well.

Interestingly, in nearly two decades as a trainer, Daly, 51, has never saddled 50 winners in a season. The closest he came to that figure was 43, way back in 2003/04, but he has trained 564 winners in total and, in 2017/18, is operating at his highest strike rate ever (23%), for a level stakes profit of 52.25 points.

Monday 14 November 2016

Jamie Snowden: Captain of His Own Destiny

Formerly a captain in the King's Royal Hussars, Snowden worked as pupil assistant to Paul Nicholls and assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson, before setting up on his own in a rented yard in Ebbesbourne Wake, Wiltshire in 2008.

His first three seasons yielded a total of 15 winners and £108,639 in total prize money but, following a move to his current base at Folly House in Lambourn, Berkshire his first runner, Knighton Combe, won the Britannia English Summer National at Uttoxeter – worth £22,608 to the winner – in June, 2011. He finished the 2011/12 season with 19 winners and £127,016 in total prize money. Two seasons later, he saddled his first and only winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Present View, in the Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase in 2014.

At the time of writing, Jamie Snowden has saddled 27 winners in the 2017/18 National Hunt season and amassed £214,568 in total prize money, already ahead – or, in terms of prize money, well ahead – of the corresponding totals for 2016/17, from far fewer runners. According to his website, his aim this season is to find a horse of the calibre of Present View and, with this in mind, he has increased his string from 35 to 45 horses for the 2017/18 season.

Perhaps the most interesting new recruits are those from the point-to-point field, namely Kalahari Queen, Grange Ranger and Scorpion Sid. Kalahari Queen, a 5-year-old mare by Kalanisi, the sire of Katchit, described as a “smashing mare with size and scope” has already won two of her four starts over hurdles. Scorpion Sid, a 6-year-old gelding by Scorpion, described as a “proper winter horse” has won comfortably on both starts over hurdles, despite his future lying over fences. Grange Ranger, a 6-year-old gelding by Kalansi, looked an unlucky loser on his sole point start last May and is one to note whenever and wherever he makes his debut under Rules.

Double Treasure, in the same ownership as Present View, clearly benefited from a wind operation over the summer, winning his first three starts on good and good to soft going before finishing in mid-division in the BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase, on soft going, at Cheltenham in November. He’s officially improved 31lb since September but, while the handicapper may have caught up with him, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares back on a sound surface.

Friday 11 November 2016

Philip Kirby: The Nomadic Way

Born in Lancashire in 1979, Philip Kirby is the son of celebrated greyhound trainer Geoff Kirby. Kirby Jnr. initially joined Ferdy Murphy in 1997 and, in the briefest of riding careers, rode The Tollah to an 18-length victory in an amateur riders’ handicap chase at Sedgefield in November, 1999.

He subsequently trained and worked as a blacksmith for the next six years, earning enough money to try his hand at training point-to-pointers. In his first season, with just four horses, he saddled seven winners and was the leading hunter chase trainer in the country. He later recalled, “It was brilliant and I cracked on and got my licence on the back of that. I wanted to start straight away.”

Kirby was initially based at Dibble Bridge Stables in Castleton, near Whitby, North Yorkshire and rented a further ten boxes from Keith Reveley at Groundhills Farm in nearby Saltburn-on-Sea. He saddled his first winner as a licensed trainer, Amazing King, in a juvenile novices’ handicap at Musselburgh in February, 2008. He later said of the King Charlemagne gelding, “We could take him anywhere and he would always do his running.”

At the start 2013, Kirby moved his string Sharp Hill Farm Stables in Middleham, previously occupied by Kate Walton, and commuted from the family home in Castleton every day. Kirby recorded his first major success in October, 2013, when 20/1 chance Lady Heidi was driven out by Silvestre De Sousa to win the Silver Tankard Stakes at Pontefract. In fact, 2013 was by far his most successful season, numerically and monetarily, on the Flat.

Lady Heidi aside, five victories for Just Paul, four for Platinum and three for Dr. Irv contributed to a total of 32 winners for the season and just under £210,000 in win and place prize money. The 2012/13 National Hunt season was also his most successful, so far, at that point of his career, with 25 winners and over £120,000 in total prize money.

However, Kirby found being away from his family increasingly difficult and, in 2014, left Middleham and returned to his previous arrangement. In April, 2016, he moved again, to Green Oaks – a purpose-built, 52-box yard in East Appleton, near Richmond, North Yorkshire – and, the following season, saddled his first high-profile winner, Lady Buttons in the Yorton Stallions Mares' Novices' Chase at Bangor, from his new, permanent base. At the time of writing, Kirby features in the current list of “Hot Trainers” in the Racing Post, having trained 7 winners from 25 runners, at a strike rate of 28%, in the last 14 days.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Lucinda Russell: Scotland’s First Lady

Lucinda Russell trains at Arlay House Stables in Milnahort, Kinross and is best known for saddling One For Arthur to win the Grand National in 2017. One For Arthur had finished a staying on fifth, beaten 3 lengths, in the Betfred Becher Chase over 3 miles 2 furlongs on the Grand National Course and won the Betfred Classic Handicap Chase over 3 miles 5 furlongs on his previous two starts, so was fancied for the National proper. An excited Russell admitted beforehand, “I’m just looking forward to the day – I feel a bit sick just talking about it.”

She needn’t have worried. Having travelled and jumped well, One For Arthur made good headway after the third last fence, overhauled the favourite, Blaklion, between the last two fences and stayed on strongly to beat Cause Of Causes by 4½ lengths. In so doing, One For Arthur – apparently named after Arthur Guinness, founder of the eponymous brewery – became just the second horse trained in Scotland to win the National and made Russell just the fourth female to train a National winner. She said afterwards, “He jumped fantastically and Derek [Fox, jockey, having his first ride in the National] gave him a great ride. He has done us proud, done Scotland proud and done everyone at the yard proud.”

Russell, 51, started training in 1995 and saddled a winner with her first ever runner, Fiveleigh Builds, at Perth, just 30 minutes’ away up the M90, in September of that year. She later recalled, “After about ten years finding my way in the sport and with fourteen horses in the yard, I met Scu and he moved up here and joined me.” “Scu”, of course, is Peter Scudamore MBE, former eight-time National Hunt Champion Jockey, who is her assistant trainer and partner. All in all, Russell has saddled over 600 winners, including nine at graded level, and she and Scudamore have formed the most successful partnership in the history of National Hunt racing north of the border.

Russell trained her first winner at the Cheltenham Festival in 2012, when Brindisi Breeze – described by his trainer as “a nutter” – stayed on well under Campbell Gillies to win the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle by 2 lengths from Boston Bob. Tragically, just over three months later, both horse and jockey were dead. Brindisi Breeze jumped out of his paddock and was killed instantly after colliding with a tanker and Campbell Gillies died after an accident while on holiday in Corfu, the day before his 22nd birthday.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Neil Mulholland: “Jump racing is a great game, nothing better”

By his own admission, Neil Mulholland has “a bit of fun training some horses for the Flat”, but is, predominantly, a National Hunt trainer. He took out his first full training licence in 2008, when he replaced his former employer, Paul Keane, at Larkinglass Farm, near Shaftesbury, Dorset.

By far his best horse in those early years was Midnight Chase, who won 11 races, including the Argento Chase at Cheltenham in 2012, and finished fifth of 13, beaten 19 lengths, behind Long Run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011. Following his retirement, Mulholland said, “I owe him an awful lot, but the main thing is he has retired safe and sound.”

In 2012, Mulholland moved his string to Conkwell Grange Stables, a purpose-built yard in Limpley Stoke, near Bath, Somerset. In 2012/13 he saddled 19 winners under National Hunt Rules and has steadily improved his total, year-on-year, culminating with 108 winners in 2016/17.

However, life as a trainer has not always been plain sailing for Mulholland. In Novermber, 2014, he saddled The Young Master, an impressive, 7-length winner of the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton, only for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to lodge an objection. The objection, on the grounds that the horse was not qualified to run in the race, having run just twice over fences, instead of the prerequisite three times, was upheld. The Young Master was disqualified and Mulholland was fined £250 after being found to be in breach of Rule (C)37.

He said afterwards, “I wasn’t the only one at fault. There were something like 1,500 non-qualified entries made last year, but [racing administrators] Weatherbys changed their [computer] system in September. It failed and I’ve had to pay the price.” To add insult to injury, The Young Master was raised 14lb in the weights for ‘winning’ at Wincanton.

In March, 2015, Mulholland saddled his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, when Druids Nephew, ridden by Barry Geraghty, won the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase by 3¾ lengths. The King’s Theatre gelding started 10/1 fourth favourite for the Grand National on the strength of that performance but, having taken the lead at Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit at Aintree, fell at the fifth last fence.

One horse heading to the Cheltenham Festival in 2018 is Kalondra, who finished tailed off in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time, but on ground “a touch too soft for him to be seen to best effect”, according to his trainer. The 7-year-old has subsequently been dropped 2lb in the weights and can be backed at 16/1 for the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, which Mulholland described as his “logical target”.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Ian Williams: Entraîneur Réticent

Ian Williams is the son of the late Billy Williams, who saddled Tom’s Little Al to win the Mercedes-Benz Handicap Chase, now the Betbright Chase, at Kempton in 1984. However, Ian was reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps and, by his own admission, “fell” into training in his own right after working as assistant trainer to Jenny Pitman for three years. That said, he also spent six months with Martin Pipe and four years with Francois Doumen, so he wasn’t a complete hayseed when he sent up on his own, near Oxford, in August, 1996.

Shortly afterwards, Williams met Patrick Kelly, once described as “a very shrewd Irish demolition man”, but nonetheless ambitious, visionary and passionate about horse racing.
With Kelly as landlord and Williams as tenant, the pair developed Dominion Racing Stables, a modern, self-contained training complex in Alvechurch, near Birmingham where Williams has spent most of his 21-year career.

Having worked closely with Francois Doumen, Williams has an intimate knowledge of the French racing scene. Indeed, he saddled his first Grade 1 winner, Batman Senora, in the Prix la Haye Jousselin (Chase) at Auteuil in November 2003.

He also achieved success at the highest level, domestically, with Brewster in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury in 2004 and Wayward Prince in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in 2010. In 2016, Williams saddled his first and, so far, only winner at the Cheltenham Festival, when Ballyalton rallied well after being headed at the final fence to win the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase by half a length. Later that year, he also reached the milestone of 1,000 winners, when the aptly-named Appy Days won a ‘bumper’ at Lingfield.

Of course, Ian Williams is a dual purpose trainer. In fact, he has the distinction of saddling a winner at every single racecourse in the country, a task made easier, but by no means easy, by the fact that he trains in the heart of the Midlands. His notable successes on the Flat, at home and abroad, include Bulwark in the Chester Cup in 2008 and Sir Maximilian in the Meydan Sprint in 2015, to name but two.

In the 2016/17 National Hunt season, Williams saddled 46 winners and amassed £450,398 in total prize money, while in the 2017 Flat season he saddled 51 winners and amassed £617,338 in total prize money. All in all, he has over 90 horses in training at Dominion Racing Stables, including the once-raced Zoffany gelding The Statesman, who hacked up on his hurdling debut at Ludlow in October. The 4-year-old has no fancy entries at this stage, but remains one to keep an eye on in the future.