Sunday 24 December 2017

Henry Candy: Needs Must

Henry Candy, 73, has been training at Kingston Warren, Wantage, Oxfordshire since 1974, but previously spent a year as working pupil with Tommy Smith in Sydney, a year as pupil assistant to Mick Bartholomew in Chantilly and seven years as assistant trainer to his father, Derrick.

In the early years of his career, Candy trained predominantly for owner breeders and achieved most of his success with middle-distance horses. Master Willie failed by three-quarters of a length to overhaul Henbit in the Derby in 1980, but returned to Epsom to win the Coronation Cup the following season, along with the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown. Described by Candy as “the best horse I have trained”, Time Charter won the Oaks at Epsom and the Dubai Champion Stakes at Newmarket in 1982, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot in 1983 an the Coronation Cup at Epsom in 1984. According to Timeform, she was ranked fourth in the list of post-war Oaks winners, behind Petite Etoile, Noblesse and Dunfermlime, with rating of 131.

However, later in his career, simple economics forced Candy to reinvent himself as a trainer of sprinters but, as he once said, “I thoroughly enjoy going to the sales trying to pick up things which no one else wants.” His first sprinter of note was Eveningperformance, who won seven races for the yard, including the Flying Five at Leopardstown, between 1994 and 1997. The Night Shift filly also finished third, beaten 2¾ lengths, in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp in 1995 and second, beaten a head, in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 1996.

In 2002, Candy won the Nunthorpe Stakes at York with Kyllachy and the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket with Airwave, whom he had acquired for just £12,000. Another bargain buy was Amour Propre, who cost just £1,500, but won five of his 17 starts, including three Group races, and earned just over £139,000 in total prize money between 2008 and 2011.

In 2010, Candy saddled Markab to winthe Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock and, more recently, Twilight Son to win the same race in 2015. In 2016, he trained two more Group 1 winners, Twilight Son in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot and Limato in the Prix de la Foret at Chantilly, earning over £1 million in prize money for the first time. Not bad for a man who once said, “If I had a horse worth £75,000 it would be gold. I wouldn’t dare take it on the gallops. But I’m quite happy messing around.” 

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Jonjo O’Neill: When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

For readers of a certain age, John Joseph “Jonjo” O’Neill will always be remembered as the jockey of Dawn Run, the only horse to complete the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double. Three months after winning the 1986 Gold Cup, though, Dawn Run was dead, having broken her neck in the French Champion Hurdle, and O’Neill had been diagnosed with cancer. Twenty years later, he reminisced, saying, “It was a terrible time, and when you get told something like that, all the good days disappear for a while. But thank God, we are still here all this time later to tell the story.”

Having recovered from cancer, the Ulsterman began his training career in Penrith, Cumbria, where he stayed for 10 years before being offered the chance to take over at Jackdaws Castle, the 400-acre training complex in Gloucestershire owned by John Patrick “J.P.” McManus. Jonjo O’Neill trained 100 winners in a season for the first time in 2001/02 and, in the interim, has reached that milestone on another six occasions, including 26 winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

Notable winners at the Cheltenham Festival included Witchita Lineman in the William Hill Trophy in 2009, who was given one of the best, if not the best, rides of his career by A.P. McCoy. Wichita Lineman was sent off favourite, at 5/1, made a series of jumping errors and, although rallying from the second last fence, looked to have no chance of overhauling Maljimar, who was matched at 1.06 on Betfair. But overhaul the flagging leader he did, getting up in the shadow of the post to win by a neck.

The following year, O’Neill provided A.P. McCoy with his first, and only, Grand National winner in the form of Don’t Push It. Sent off 10/1 joint favourite, Don’t Push It led at the final fence and stayed on well from the Elbow – a right-handed kink halfway up the run-in at Aintree – to beat Black Apalachi by 5 lengths. O’Neill described it as “one of the greatest afternoons in the life of myself, J.P. [McManus] and A.P. [McCoy] as we had all been trying to win the race for so many year.”

In 2012, the famous trio hit the headlines again, this time winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup – a race that featured Kauto Star and Long Run – with Synchronised. Jonjo O’Neill rode 885 winners as a jockey and has now saddled over 2,000 winners as a trainer; his son, Jonjo Jr, is now working full-time at Jackdaws Castle and riding as an amateur.

Thursday 14 December 2017

James Fanshawe: Just Champion

James Fanshawe is based at Pegasus Stables – formerly Falmouth Lodge, the stable yard built, but never used, by Victorian jockey Fred Archer – in Newmarket, Suffolk. He worked as assistant trainer to David Nicholson and Sir Michael Stoute before taking out a licence in his own right in 1990.

Fanshawe saddled his first winner, Black Sapphire, owned by Sheikh Mohammed and ridden by the late Walter Swinburn, in maiden stakes race at Salibsury in May that year. Less than two later, he’d not only saddled his first Group 1 winner, Environment Friend, in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown but, from a handful of National Hunt horses, also won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with Royal Gait in 1992.

After a flying start to his training career, Fanshawe had to wait a few years for his next winner at the highest level, Invermark in the Prix du Cadran at Longchamp in 1998. However, in the interim, he saddled numerous winners at Listed and Pattern level, including Bishop of Cashel in the Criterion de Maisons-Laffite in 1994 and Wandering Star in the E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine Park, Toronto, Canada in 1996.

Further Group 1 successes followed, with Arctic Owl in the Irish St. Leger at the Curragh in 2000 and Soviet Song – who, incidentally, beat subsequent Oaks winner Casual Look – in the Meon Valley Stud Fillies’ Mile at Ascot in 2002. Remarkably, Fanshawe also won the Champion Hurdle for a second time with Hors La Loi III in 2002.

In a dizzying season in 2004, Fanshawe saddled Soviet Song to win four more Group 1 races, including the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, and Frizzante in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. Those wins, plus another 39 in total, catapulted his earnings to over £1 million for the season for the one, and only, time. Soviet Song was named Cartier Older Horse of the Year in 2004 and returned to the July Course in 2015 to win the Falmouth Stalkes for a second time.

On June 18, 2011, Fanshawe completed a notable Royal Ascot double, courtesy of Deacon Blues in the Wokingham Stakes and Society Rock in the Golden Jubilee Stakes just 35 minutes later. Deacon Blues remained unbeaten for the rest of the season, winning four Group races, including the Qipco British Champion Sprint Stakes at Ascot, while Society Rock went on to win the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock the following season.

More recently, Fanshawe has continued to enjoy high-profile successes at home and abroad. The Tin Man, for example, won the Qipco Champion Sprint Stakes in 2016 and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2017. Owned by the Fred Archer Racing Partnership, the half-brother to Deacon Blues was named after the nickname by which Archer was known.

Sunday 3 December 2017

Kevin Ryan: Golden Boy

Kevin Ryan has occupied Hambleton Lodge, Hambleton, Thirsk, North Yorkshire since being granted his training licence in 1998. Formerly an accomplished conditional jockey, Ryan spent six years as head lad to Jack Berry and a further four as assistant trainer to Richard Fahey before branching out on his own.

He saddled his first winner as a trainer in July, 1998, when Komlucky won an apprentice handicap at Catterick. Less than a year later, he won his first Group race, the Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh, with Eastern Purple.

In 2002, Ryan acquired Halmahera, labelled a ‘nearly horse’ after finishing second twice in the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood and once in the Wokingham Stakes for previous trainer Ian Balding. Nevertheless, the 6-year-old started favourite for the notoriously competitive Portland Handicap at Doncaster that year and duly obliged, finishing strongly to win by a short head. Halmahera returned to Town Moor to win the same race again in 2003, and again in 2004. Following his unprecedented third consecutive success, Ryan said of his veteran sprinter, “I bought him three years ago for someone else for 40,000 guineas, which was a lot of money for me at that stage in my career”, adding, “…but he looks cheap now”.

In 2005, Ryan saddled his first winner at the highest level, Amadeus Wolf in Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket, and wasted little time in adding his second, Palace Episode in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, less than a month later. That season he amassed more than £1 million in total prize money for the first time. Further Group 1 success followed, with Desert Lord in the Prix De l’Abbaye de Longchamp in 2006.

In 2007, Ryan trained Advanced to win the Ayr Gold Cup – a race he has since won three more times, with our Jonathan in 2011, Captain Ramius in 2012 and Brando in 2016 – and saddled over 100 winners in a season for the first time. More recently, he has added to his Group 1 tally with Astaire in the Middle Park Stakes in 2013, The Grey Gatsby in the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly and the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown 2014 and Brando in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville in 2017.

All in all, Ryan, 51, has saddled 1,476 on the Flat, but we shouldn’t forget his occasional forays into National Hunt racing, which have produced 43 winners over the years. His 5-year-old Beyond The Clouds, for instance, is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles and reportedly heads to Aintree, where Graded company appears the next logical step.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Marco Botti: Keeping it in the Family

Marco Botti was born in Italy in 1976, the son of Alduino Botti, who, in partnership with his brother, Giuseppe, has been champion trainer in his native land more than 30 times. After a successful career as a jockey, he worked for his father and uncle as a coach, before emigrating to Britain, where he assisted Luca Cumani, Ed Dunlop and Saeed bin Suroor before setting up on his own at Green Ridge Stables, Newmarket in 2006.

He saddled his first winner, Ceremonial Jade, in a maiden stakes race at Beverley in June that year but, by the end of August, had already chalked up his first Pattern race winner, Sesmen in the Prestige Stakes at Goodwood. Botti made rapid progress through the training ranks and, in 2009, took his career to a new level with the victory of Gitano Hernando in the Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita Park, California.

Excelebration added another Group 1 win in the Prix de Moulin de Longchamp in 2011, as did Joshua Tree in the Canadian International Stakes at Woodbine, Toronto in 2012. Indeed, 2012 was a notable year for Botti; he saddled Jakalberry to win the American St. Leger at Arlington Park, Chicago for the first time August and, by the end of the season, had trained winners in a season in Britain for the first time.

In early 2013, Botti moved into new premises at Prestige Place, a custom-built, 97-box stable situated on paddocks formerly owned by the Kremlin Stud. Prestige Place was named after the aforementioned Prestige Stakes at Goodwood and, fittingly, the first winner from the new yard, Teophilip, was owned by Giuliano Manfredini, who also owned Ceremonial Jade. Later that year, Botti won the American St. Leger for a second time with Dandino, who went on to finish second in the Caulfield Cup and fifth in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington later in the season, and the Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp with Tac De Boistron. In fact, 2013 was his best season ever, numerically, with 89 winners.

In 2014, Botti earned over £1.5 million in total prize money for the first time, with victories for Euro Charline in the Beverley D. Stakes at Arlington Park and Tac De Boistron in the Prix Royal-Oak (again) the seasonal highlights. Since then, he has saddled just one winner at the highest level, Capla Temptress in the Natalma Stakes at Woodbine in 2017, but has nonetheless won a succession of Listed and Pattern races, no to mention valuable handicaps, such as the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket and the Old Newton Cup at Haydock.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Donald McCain: Phoenix from the Ashes

Donald McCain is, of course, the son of the late Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain, trainer of the illustrious Red Rum. McCain Jnr took over the reins at Bank House Stables in Cholmondley, Cheshire in 2006 and quickly established himself as the leading trainer in the North of England. However, following a mediocre season in 2014/15, when he saddled just 53 winners, he lost a significant number of his string when prominent owners Paul and Clare Rooney removed over 60 horses from his yard. At the time, Donald McCain said, “Dad would have had a very good way of dealing with the whole thing.”

Dad, of course, was an uninhibited, forthright character, famous for remarks such as “It was f****** magic, cock”, on live radio, following the success of Amberleigh House in the 2004 Grand National. McCain Jnr, on the other hand, wished his former patrons well and set about the task of building up his numbers to a respectable level. This he has done, to some extent and, while not attracting horses of the quality of former stable stars Peddlers Cross, Cinders And Ashes and Ballabriggs, continues to saddle winners at a lower level. The victory of Hills Of Dubai at Ayr in January took his total for 2017/18 to 80 winners, already equalling his total for 2016/17 and he has some decent prospects to look forward to the rest of the season.

Testify, for example, a 7-year-old gelding by Witness Box, has won all three starts over fences, including the Grade 2 Altcar Novices’ Chase at Haydock, and is 33/1 for both the RSA Chase and the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Fin And Game, a 6-year-old gelding by Oscar, is similarly unbeaten over hurdles and McCain has recruited several promising young horses from the point-to-point field.

At the start of the 2017/18 season, McCain expressed concern at the state of National Hunt racing in the North of England and made a clarion call to his fellow handlers, saying, “I get slightly frustrated sometimes with some of the northern trainers that they don’t get stuck in and take them [southern trainers] on and send them back down the motorway.” Unmistakably a chip off the old block, in deed, if not necessarily in word, Donald McCain Jnr has every reason for optimism at Bank House and can, hopefully, look forward to saddling many more winners.

Friday 3 November 2017

David Barron: Shrewd Operator

Thomas David Barron, usually known as David, is based in the village of Maunby, midway between Northallerton and Thirsk, in North Yorkshire. Barron, 72, has held a training licence since 1969 and is known as masterful trainer of sprinters. In fact, he has saddled the winner of all the major sprint handicaps, including the Great St. Wilfrid Stakes at Redcar, the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood (twice), the Portland Handicap at Doncaster (twice), the Victoria Cup at Ascot and the Ayr Gold Cup.

Perhaps his most famous horse was Coastal Bluff, a giant grey gelding who, in 1996, won the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood by 3 lengths and followed up, off a 13lb higher mark, in the Ayr Gold Cup seven weeks later. Barron is a shrewd operator, not averse to gambling, but on the latter occasion Coastal Bluff was the subject of a nationwide gamble, forcing his starting price down to 3/1 favourite, despite facing 27 rivals under 9st 10lb. William Hill spokesman David Hood said afterwards, “The race was the biggest gamble of the season so far, bar none. He was everybody’s banker. You will be hard pressed to find a punter anywhere in the country who wasn't on Coastal Bluff.”

The following season, Coastal Bluff dead-heated with Ya Malak in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York, a performance made all the more remarkable by the fact that his bit snapped shortly after leaving the stalls. In 1998, Coastal Bluff ran unplaced in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket and the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot and would have been retired if Barron had had his way. However, majority shareholder David Sharp opted for the Newmarket Autumn Sales to dissolve his partnership with Barron and Coastal Bluff was sold, controversially, for 17,000 guineas. A tearful Barron said, “This is a dreadful day. I just can’t afford to pay that sort of money to retire a horse, but I would have given my share to the other owner if he had promised not to race him again.”

Barron has won the Two Year Old Trophy at Redcar twice, with Dim Sums in 2000 and Wick Powell in 2016. More recently, his stable star was Pearl Secret, winner of seven of her 26 starts, including the Temple Stakes at Haydock in 2015, and over £242,000 in total prize money. Of course, Barron is not just a trainer of sprinters; other notable successes for the yard over a mile and beyond include the Lincoln at Doncaster, the Zetland Gold Cup at Redcar (twice) and the John Smith’s Cup at York.

Monday 30 October 2017

Nicky Henderson: Career Profile

Nicholas John Henderson, always known as Nicky, has the distinction of saddling the most winners ever at the Cheltenham Festival, with 58 victories to his credit. He has also won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship four times, including the 2016/17 season.

Henderson, 67, rode 75 winners as an amateur before joining Fred Winter as assistant trainer between 1974 and 1978. He set up as a trainer in his own right at Windsor House Stables, Lambourn in 1978, but didn’t send out his first Cheltenham Festival winner until 1985, when See You Then, ridden by Steve-Eccles, won the Champion Hurdle. Notoriously fragile and raced so infrequently that he was nicknamed “See You When”, See You Then went on to win the Champion Hurdle again in 1986 and 1987, making him the fourth horse in history to win the race in three consecutive years. Henderson described him as “the hurdler who put me on the Cheltenham map and was one of a kind”.

Trainer Nicky Henderson was, indeed, on the map, winning the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship for the first time in 1985/86 and again in 1986/87. In 1992, he moved to his current yard, at Seven Barrows, near Lambourn. Henderson was principal trainer of the late Queen Mother and also trained horses for the Queen, one of whom, Moonlit Path, was the cause of controversy back in 2009. Henderson was suspended for three months and fined a record £40,000 for administering the prohibited anti-bleeding drug tranexamic acid to the mare before a race at Huntingdon.

However, the suspension did little to tarnish his reputation and, in the interim, Henderson has been responsible for numerous high-profile horses including Bobs Worth, Long Run, Sprinter Sacre and, more recently, Altior, Buveur D’Air and Might Bite, to name but a few. Indeed, he was recognised in the New Year Honours in 2018, becoming a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO), which he described as a “very nice surprise”.

Hensderson has been trying to win the Grand National, without success, since his first runner in the race, Zongalero, finished second to Rubstic in 1979. Nevertheless, he’s won just about everything else and currently leads the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship – which he’s long odds-on to win again – by 16 winners and just over £116,000 in prize money, so his future success seems assured.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Karl Burke: Back in Business

Karl Burke took out a training licence in 1990 and saddled his first winner, Temporale, in a handicap hurdle at Towcester in October that year. He achieved his first major success with Daring Destiny in the Ayr Gold Cup in 1994 and, less than two years later, his first Group winner with the same horse in the Phoenix Sprint Stakes at Leopardstown.

In 1998, Burke moved to High Havens Stable in Newmarket and, in 1999, saddled 50 winners on the Flat for first time. The following year he bought his current yard, Spigot Lodge, in Middleham, North Yorkshire.

Burke saddled his first Group 1 winner, Lord Shanakil, in the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly in July, 2009. Less than a month later, he was “warned off” – that is, banned from entering premises, or contacting individuals, licensed by the Jockey Club – for twelve months for supplying “inside” information to Miles Rodgers, a high-profile owner and gambler who was already a disqualified person.

Consequently, his father-in-law, Alan Jarvis, took over the licence at Spigot Lodge. On completion of his ban, Burke opted to delay his return to the training ranks, saying, “I've got a few options myself, but one of the factors that has led me to decide not to reapply for my licence is that the current season is half-over now.”

Instead his wife, Elaine, whose original application for a training licence had been rejected by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) the previous November, on the grounds that Burke was still serving his punishment, took over the yard, which operated in her name until 2013. Burke said at the time, “Elaine is fully qualified and now that the ban has been served I should be able to help her out.”

On his return, Burke enjoyed further Group 1 successes with Odeliz in the Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville and the Premio Lydia Tessio at Campanelle in 2015, Quiet Reflection in the Commonwealth Cup at Ascot and the Sprint Cup at Haydock in 2016. Quiet Reflection was also named Cartier Sprinter of the Year, beating 2016 off competition from the likes of Mecca's Angel, Limato, and the Tin Man

More recently, Burke also saddled Unfortunately in the Prix Morny at Deauville and Laurens in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in 2017. Interviewed in March, 2018, Burke said of the latter, who is entered in the 1,000 Guineas in May, “Laurens has wintered really well and couldn’t look any better. I am very happy with her.”

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Luca Cumani: Down But Not Out

Born in Milan, Italy in 1949, Luca Cumani is the son of Sergio Cumani, a ten-time champion trainer in his native Italy, for whom he worked as assistant trainer before joining the late Sir Henry Cecil at Warren Place, Newmarket, in a similar capacity in 1974. Two years later, Cumani began training, in his own right, at the nearby Bedford House Stables and has been there ever since.

During a distinguished career, Cumani has saddled winners at the highest level all over the world. Highlights include winning the St. Leger, with Commanche Run in 1984, the Derby, with Kahyasi in 1988 and High Rise in 1989, and the Breeders’ Cup Mile with Cartier Horse of the Year Barathea in 1994. He also has the distinction of winning the Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster, also known as the “Fillies St. Leger”, five times.

Cumani was also instrumental in shaping the early career of fellow Milanese Lanfranco “Frankie” Dettori, who was sent to Bedford Lodge by his father, Gianfranco, in July, 1985 as a 14-year-old to become an apprentice jockey. After six months of pleading to come home, on a weekly basis, Dettori later recalled, “…after six months the trainer Luca Cumani asked my dad if I could stay as he saw potential. I began earning £12 a week.” Cumani provided Dettori with his first winner in Britain, Lizzy Hare, at Goodwood in 1987 and his first Group 1 winner, Markofdistinction in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot three years later.

Cumani has suffered dramatic splits from two leading patrons, the Aga Khan and Sheikh Obaid al Maktoum over the years. In 2000, after two failed drug tests, the Aga Khan accused Cumani of failing to ensure compliance with medication regulations and removed 30 horses, including three future Royal Ascot winners, from Bedford House. In 2015, Sheik Mohammed Obaid inexplicably removed all his horses – a total of 35, including recent King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Postponed – in a move described by Cumani as a “devastating blow”.

In 2017, Cumani saddled 38 winners and won £411,597 in total prize money, compared with 50 winners and £1,643,651 in 2015. However, when interviewed in 2016, the Newmarket stalwart remained pragmatic, saying, “We knew it was going to be tough. We are way down on winners because we just don’t have the numbers.” Nevertheless, Luca Cumani is renowned for his patience and shrewdness, so remains one to keep on the right side.

Friday 15 September 2017

Mick Channon: From Wiltshire to West Isley

Readers of a certain vintage will probably always remember Michael Roger “Mick” Channon as the former Southampton and England footballer famous for his whirling arm goal celebration. However, Channon last played professional football three decades ago and has since carved out a highly successful second career as a racehorse trainer.

He worked as assistant trainer to John Baker and Ken Cunningham-Brown before setting up on his own, with a string of ten horses, at Kingsdown Stables in Upper Lambourn, near Hungerford, Berkshire in 1990. He saddled his first winner, Golden Scissors, in a maiden stakes race at Beverley in March that year and finished his first season with a highly respectable 16 winners.

He steadily increased that number in the seasons that followed, but took his training career to another level in 1994, when he saddled his first Group winner, Great Deeds in the Ballyogan Stakes at the Curragh, and his first Group 1 winner, Piccolo in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York. Piccolo actually finished second, beaten 1½ lengths but, having been bumped by the first horse past the post, Blue Siren, in the closing stages, was awarded the race in the stewards’ room.

In 1999, Channon moved to the historic West Isley Stables, near Newbury and, in 2000, exceeded £1 million in total prize money for the first time. Highlights of that season included Cd Europe in the Coventry Stakes and Miletrian in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot and Tobougg in the Prix de la Salamandre at Longchamp and the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.

Over the years, Channon has handled many highly talented racehorses and won major races too numerous to mention individually, but his best horse ever was top middle-distance performer Youmzain. Between 2005 and 2010, the son of Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Sinndar won six of his 32 races, including two at the highest level, and finished runner-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe three times.

In August, 2008, while travelling back to West Isley from Doncaster Sales, Channon suffered serious injuries, including several broken bones and a punctured lung, in a single vehicle crash on the M1 motorway in Leicestershire. The driver of the vehicle, bloodstock agent Tim Corby, was killed in the crash.

In May 2012, Henrietta Knight, who trained at nearby West Lockinge Farm, near Wantage, Oxfordshire relinquished her National Hunt licence to spend more time with her husband, Terry Biddlecombe, who had suffered a stroke the previous October. Channon assumed control of most of her string and, unsurprisingly, enjoyed his most successful National Hunt seasons ever, in monetary terms, in 2013/14 and 2014/15, including winning the Haldon Gold Cup Chase at Exeter in 2013.

Saturday 2 September 2017

William Haggas: A Career Less Ordinary

William Haggas is the son of Yorkshire textile entrepreneur Brian Haggas but, having worked for his father for three months, he famously drove to Newmarket and begged the late Jeremy Hindley – who trained a horse for his father – for a job. Haggas has been in Newmarket ever since, working as assistant trainer to Sir Mark Prescott and the late John Winter for two years and four years, respectively, before obtaining a training licence, in his own right, in November 1986. He sent out his first winner, Tricky Note, from his base at Somerton Lodge on Fordham Road the following April.

In 1989, Haggas married Maureen, elder daughter of Lester Piggot. In 1996, at a time when he had just 40 horses in his yard, he saddled Shaamit to win the Derby. The Mtoto colt, who was making his three-year-old debut, was driven out by Michael Hills to beat the favourite, Dushyantor, trained by the late Henry Cecil and ridden by the late Pat Eddery, by 1¼ lengths. Haggas had to wait 15 years for his next Classic winner, Dancing Rain in the Oaks in 2011 but, in the meantime recorded many notable successes, at the highest level, at home and abroad. These included Count Dubois in the Gran Criterium at San Siro in 2000, Chorist in the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh in 2004 and Aqlaam in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp in 2009, to name but three.

More recent Group 1 successes include Rosdhu Queen in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket in 2012, Mukhadram in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown in 2014 and Rivet in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in 2016. All in all, William Haggas has saddled nearly 1,700 winners during his career and, in 2017, recorded his most successful campaign ever, in terms of number of winners and total prize money.

He is, quite rightly, one of the most respected trainers in Newmarket and, although his early season strike rate of 3-19 (16%) is nothing to shout about, the season is only just over a month old, as far as the trainers’ championship is concerned. Haggas’ three-year-olds are always worth keeping an eye on, so look out for the once-raced pair Al Muffrih, by Sea The Stars, and Allieyf, by New Approach, when the flat season proper gets underway. Both ran promisingly, under sympathetic handling, last season and are open to any amount of improvement.

Friday 1 September 2017

Colin Tizzard: Hitting the Big Time

Colin Tizzard started training at Venn Farm in Milborne Port, near Sherborne, Dorset in 1995. Initially, he bought two horses for his 16-year-old son, Joe, to ride in point-to-point races. Both won four races apiece in that first season and so began a training career that would, eventually, take Colin right to the top of the tree in National Hunt racing.

After three years in the point-to-point field, Joe Tizzard turned professional and, with 10 horses in his yard, Colin took out a full training licence in 1998, essentially to provide his son with a few more rides. Indeed, Joe was aboard Cue Card when, despite starting at odds of 40/1, he romped home by 8 lengths in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2010 to give the yard its first Cheltenham Festival winner. Joe was aboard again when Cue Card won the Ryanair Chase in 2014 but, ironically, it wasn’t until his surprise retirement shortly afterwards that the yard really started to take off.

In the summer of 2015, Colin Tizzard made the fateful decision to move his horses to a new purpose built yard on the top of a hill on the Tizzard farmland. Colin had previously remarked, “If this hill hadn’t been on the farm, I would never have trained. It wouldn’t have worked without this.” Inexplicably, the move had a profound effect on the fortunes of the stable.

In the 2015/16 season, Colin, with son Joe now working as his assistant trainer, saddled Cue Card to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton and the Betfred Bowl Chase at Aintree, Thistlecrack to win the World Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Liverpool Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree and Native River to win the Betfred Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree. Those successes, plus others, allowed him to break through the £1 million barrier for the first time.

Astonishingly, the 2016/17 proved even better, with 57 winners, nine of which were at the highest level and a total of just over £2 million prize money. Highlights included victories for Thistlecrack in the King George VI Chase at Kempton and for Native River in Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

Colin Tizzard is at a loss to explain his recent success, saying simply, “It’s the same food, same water, same gallops; it’s just a beautiful environment.” Whatever the reason, he’s certainly set himself an admirable target to aim for in this and coming seasons.

Thursday 17 August 2017

Alan King: The Master of Barbury Castle

Alan King advertises his services as a “dual-purpose” trainer. However, during the 2016/17 National Hunt season he saddled 104 winners and won £1.4 million in total prize money, while during the 2017 Flat season he saddled 19 winners and won £260,000 in total prize money, so the evidence suggests that he remains, predominantly, a National Hunt trainer.

Alan King was born in 1966 and is the son of a Lanarkshire farmer. King initially worked for trainer John Wilson at the historic Cree Lodge stables, in the shadow of Ayr racecourse, before joining the late David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson at Cotswold House in Condicote, Gloucestershire as a stable lad in 1985. He was promoted to assistant trainer the following year and stayed with Nicholson until his retirement in December 1999. In 1992, the pair moved to Jackdaws Castle, a purpose-built training centre in the heart of the Cotswolds and, from his new base, Nicholson won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship in 1993/94 and 1994/95.

King briefly took over as the licence holder at Jackdaws Castle in December 1999, saddling his first Grade 1 winner, Anzum, in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in the same month. However, Colin Smith, the owner of Jackdaws Castle at the time, invited Richard Phillips to replace King, which necessitated a move to Barbury Castle stables near Wroughton, Wiltshire. King and his wife, Rachel, moved into their new home on June 1, 2000 and have been there ever since.

King saddled his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Fork Lightning in the William Hill Handicap Chase, in 2004. He has subsequently sent out a further 14 Cheltenham Festival winners, including ‘championship’ race successes with My Way De Solzen in the 2006 Stayers’ Hurdle, Voy Por Ustedes in the 2007 Queen Mother Champion Chase and Katchit in the 2008 Champion Hurdle.

Another King-trained runner, Yanworth, started favourite for the Champion Hurdle in 2017, but could only finish seventh, beaten 14 lengths, behind Buveir D’Air. To add insult to injury, King was subsequently fined £2,000 after Yanworth tested positive for the anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone acetonide, which had not cleared his system on the day of the race.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Venetia Williams: Never Say Die

Nowadays, Venetia Williams is an established, and instantly recognisable, star of the training ranks. In her younger days, Venetia was an accomplished amateur jockey – although, by her own admission, “not at all good enough to be professional” – riding 10 winners between 1986 and 1988.

However, her riding career came to an abrupt end when, two weeks after being knocked unconscious during a fall from 200/1 outsider Marcolo at Becher’s Brook in the 1988 Grand National, she broke her neck in a novices’ hurdle at Worcester. Fortunately, she had fractured, but not displaced, her second cervical vertebra – the so-called “hangman’s bone” – so, despite two months in traction, she was, as she later recalled, “very lucky, lucky not to have died.”

Venetia spent the next seven years under the tutelage of John Edwards, Martin Pipe, Barry Hills (Dad of Charlie Hills) and the late Colin Hayes before taking out a training licence in her own right in 1995. She started from scratch, with just six horses in her yard at Aramstone, near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. Nevertheless, in April 1998 she acquired Teeton Mill, a nine-year-old grey gelding by Neltino, from Caroline Bailey, whom she trained to win five races including the Hennessy Gold Cup and the King George VI Chase later the same year. Teeton Mill started 7/2 second favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1999, but pulled up lame and never raced again.

Some years later, Venetia recalled, “He joined us in the April, but it was in his early autumn work that we realised he was something special and his rise was meteoric.”

Another of her early successes was Lady Rebecca, a diminutive mare who’d been sold as a yearling at the Doncaster Sales, but returned because she was a box-walker. A box-walker is a horse that tramps, because of boredom, stress or both, round and round its box. In any event, Lady Rebecca was resold for just 400 guineas, but went on to win the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham – at that time, still a Grade 1 contest – three years running in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

In a strange twist of fate, in 2009, 21 years after her one and only ride in – and dramatic exit from – the Grand National, Venetia Williams became only the second female trainer, after Jenny Pitman, to saddle the winner of the world famous steeplechase. Mom Mome, ridden by Liam Treadwell, who was having his first ride in the race, led after the last fence and drew clear on the run-in to beat Comply Or Die, the 2008 winner, by 12 lengths at odds of 100/1.

Saturday 5 August 2017

Hugo Palmer: No Tenderfoot

Hugo Palmer took out a licence to train racehorses, in his own right, at Kremlin Cottage Stables in Newmarket as recently as 2011 but, from small beginnings, has developed into a highly successful young trainer. Palmer, 37, worked for Patrick Chamings, Hughie Morrison and the first lady of Australian Racing, Gabriel Marie “Gai” Waterhouse, before branching out on his own.

He started with just 11 syndicated horses, but saddled his first winner, Steady The Buffs, in a maiden worth £2,331.36 to the winner at Brighton in May 2011. However, Palmer fondly remembers Making Eyes, an expensive Dansili filly who won five races, including two Listed races, between 2011 and 2013, and ‘ really got me going’ according to her trainer.

Palmer took a further step forward the following year, saddling his first Group winner, Aktabantay in the Solario Stakes at Goodwood in August. During his post-race interview, Palmer said ‘piss up’ live on Channel 4, attracting hundreds of complaints from viewers. However, he put his indiscretion down the fact that he’d worked in Australia for 15 months where, he said, “you wouldn’t be surprised to hear those words on the news.” In any event, Palmer didn’t have to wait long for further Group race success, saddling New Providence to win the Dick Poole Stakes at Salisbury just five days later.

In 2015, Palmer saddled his first Classic winner, Covert Love, in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh, a victory he later described as a “fairytale”. Ironically, the €40,000 connections paid to supplement Covert Love for the race was more than it would have cost to buy her outright. Having just been touched off in a blanket finish for the Yorskhire Oaks, Covert Love went on to win the Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp.

The following year, saddled his first English Classic winner, Galileo Gold in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket and went perilously close to saddling his second when Architecture finished second, beaten 1¾ lengths, behind Minding in the Oaks at Epsom. Nevertheless, Galileo Gold also became his first Royal Ascot winner, reversing Irish 2,000 Guineas form with Awtaad to win the St. James’s Palace Stakes. That season, Palmer accumulated over £2 million in prize money and finished in the top ten in the Trainers’ Championship for the first time.

Hugo Palmer subscribes to a similar philosophy as Gai Waterhouse when it comes to the frequency with which he runs he horses. He once asked, rhetorically, “What is the point in having a fit, strong and healthy horse that is galloping at 40mph up Newmarket Heath for absolutely nothing when I could take it to the racecourse and run it for prize money?”

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Eve Johnson Houghton: Like Father Like Daughter

Eve Johnson Houghton is, of course, the daughter of Fulke Johnson Houghton, from whom she took over the training licence at Woodbury Stables, the family training centre at Blewbury, on the outskirts of Didcot, Oxforshire, in 2007. Fulke Johnson Houghton saddled over 1,200 winners, including the likes of Habitat and Ile De Bourbon, in a 45-year career stretching from 1961 to 2006 and has been on hand to assist his daughter since his ‘retirement’. Apparently father and daughter don’t always see eye to eye, but Eve does concede that Johnson Houghton Snr is “brilliant” in the yard.

Eve Johnson Houghton was an accomplished amateur rider, winning the prestigious Ladies’ Diamond Race at Ascot – the most valuable race of its kind – twice. She subsequently worked alongside the late John Hills, eldest son of Barry Hills, for six years as secretary and assistant trainer. During her time at South Bank, Hills saddled Wind In Her Hair to finish second in the Oaks and Broadway Flyer to finish second in the St. Leger. Similarly, her time as assistant trainer to her father coincided with that of his last really top-class performer, Tout Seul, winner of the Dewhurst Stakes and third in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Eve made a bright start to her training career after taking over from her father, saddling 22 winners in her initial season, and has improved her total every season, bar one, since. In 2017, she trained 50 winners in a season for the first time.

One of the success stories of the 2017 season was Accidental Agent, a three-year-old colt bred by her mother Gaie and named after the autobiography of her grandfather Major John G. Goldsmith, who worked under the codename ‘Valentin’ for the Special Operations Executive during World War II. The Delegator colt progressed from winning an ordinary handicap on the Polytrack at Kempton in September to winning the value totescoop6 Challenge Cup at Ascot in October and finishing fourth in the hugely competitive Balmoral Handicap, back at the Berkshire track, on Champions Day, two weeks later.

Other horses who should continue to pay their way include Jake’s Hill, a four-year-old colt by Eclipse Stakes winner Mount Nelson who, according to his trainer “has a lot of scope” and “will be better with another winter under his belt”. Similarly, Eve believes that On To Victory, a four-year-old colt by 2,000 Guineas winner Rock of Gibraltar, “will be a lovely horse next year.”

Saturday 1 July 2017

David Elsworth: A Lifetime in Racing

Veteran trainer David Elsworth, 77, has been involved in horse racing, in one way or another, for 60 years. However, he is probably best known as the trainer of Desert Orchid, winner of the King George VI Chase (four times), the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Irish National. However, he also enjoyed many other notable successes, including Rhyme ‘N’ Reason in the 1988 Grand National and Barnbrook Again in the 1990 Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Elsworth won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship in 1987/88 and, in his heyday, trained 143 horses at Whitsbury, Hampshire on the edge of the New Forest. Having decided to concentrate his efforts on the Flat, he recorded his sole Classic success in the 1990 Irish 1,000 Guineas with In The Groove, who also won the Juddmonte International Stakes and the Champion Stakes that year, and the Coronation Cup the following year.

Far and away his most popular performer on the Flat, though, was Persian Punch, a giant, courageous chestnut who won the Henry II Stakes (twice), the Doncaster Cup, the Goodwood Cup (twice) and the Jockey Club Cup (three times) between 1997 and 2003. Persian Punch suffered a massive heart attack, collapsed and died in action at Ascot, as an 11-year-old, the following year, having won 20 races and over £1 million in prize money.

In 2006, David Elsworth moved from Whitsbury to Egerton House Stables in Newmarket. He said at the time, “I suppose some might be wanting to retire at my age, but what would I do if I did? I love what I do. I love being with my horses. I love the life.”

Although training on a smaller scale than was once the case, Elsworth has continued to be successful since the move. He saddled Snoqualmie Boy to win King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2006, Barshiba to win the Sandringham Handicap at the same meeting in 2007, and the same horse to win the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock Park in 2009 and 2010. More recently, he also won the Juddmonte International Stakes at with 50/1 outsider Arabian Queen, who held on gamely to beat Horse of the Year Golden Horn, who’d already won the Derby and the Coral-Eclipse and went on to win the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Not bad for a man who was once took a job as a market trader to make ends meet, eh?

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Nigel Twiston-Davies: The Hauntin’ Taste of Naunton

Nigel Twiston-Davies started training, as a permit holder, in 1981 and trained his first winner, Last Of The Foxes, at Hereford the following year. However, after eight seasons in which his saddled 11 winners, in total, his training career really took off when he gained a full training licence in 1989. Since then, he has sent out over 1,800 winners from his base at Grange Hill Farm in Naunton, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire but, more than once, has seriously considered winding up his training operation altogether.

On the first occasion, the victory of Bindaree in the 2002 Grand National – his second win in the race, following the success of Earth Summit in 1998 – provided the impetus to continue training rather than return to farming. On the second, a few years ago, the involvement of his sons, Sam and Willie – at the time aged 17 and 16, respectively – in the sport provided “a fresh incentive to go on and have more winners”. Sam, now 25, is the retained jockey of Paul Nicholls, while Willie, now 23, has retired from race riding and is “looking forward to what the future holds in bloodstock and eventually taking over from Dad”. It would appear, therefore, that any thoughts of early retirement have been set aside, permanently, by Twiston-Davies Snr.

Nigel Twiston-Davies endevours to compete with the likes of Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls for the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship, and had his second best season ever in 2016/17, in terms of number of winners and total prize money. He’s doing well in 2017/18, too, with 58 winners and just shy of £1.3 million in prize money, and currently lies third in the trainers’ table.

He’s had his fair share of Cheltenham Festival winners – 17 in total – notably Imperial Commander, winner of the Ryanair Chase in 2009 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2010, The New One in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in 2013 and, more recently, Ballandy in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Blaklion in the RSA Chase, both in 2016. Blaklion also finished fourth in the 2017 Grand National and, having already landed a gamble in the Becher Chase over the National fences early in the 2017/18 season, is 10/1 favourite to provide Twiston-Davies with his third winner of the Aintree marathon come April.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Charlie Hills: Blink and You’ll Miss Him

Charles, or ‘Charlie’, Hills is the son of former trainer Barry Hills and the brother of the twins, Michael and Richard Hills, both former jockeys. Having worked as assistant to his father for eight years, Charlie took over the training licence at Faringdon Place in Lambourn, Berkshire in 2011.

Charlie made a dream start to his training career, saddling a winner with his first runner, Blaise Chorus, in a maiden at Kempton in August of the same year. A month later, he trained his first Group winner, Ransom Note in the Group 2 Nayef Joel Stakes at Newmarket and, less than two years later, his first Classic winner, Just The Judge, in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Charlie Hills has developed a fine reputation for handling sprinters, so it’s probably no coincidence that two of the best horses he has trained, so far, have been progressive young speedsters. In 2015, he trained Muharrar, a three-year-old colt by Oasis Dream, to win the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, the July Cup at Newmarket, the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville and British Champions Sprint Stakes back at Ascot on Champions Day. Muharrar – described by his trainer as “the best I’ve trained” – became the first three-year-old sprinter to win four races at the highest level in a single season and, in so doing, achieved a Timeform Rating of 132.

In 2017, Battaash, a three-year-old colt by the excellent young sire Dark Angel, emerged as a new sprinting star. Battaash smashed the course record time when sweeping his rivals aside in the Sprint Stakes at Sandown in July and was equally impressive when following up in King George Stakes at Goodwood the following month. Following the latter performance, winning jockey Jim Crowley said, “I never felt like I was in trouble at any stage. He has so much natural speed. I don't think I've ridden a better sprinter.”

Battaash could keep on at one pace to finish fourth, beaten 5¼ lengths, behind Marsha in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York but, back on soft ground, took his revenge in no uncertain terms at Chantilly in October. Sent off favourite for the Prix de l’Abbaye, Battaash made just about all the running to win, unchallenged, by 4 lengths. Battaash achieved a Timeform Rating of 136 to top the Timeform Global Rankings for 2017 alongside Champion Stakes winner Cracksman. Battaash has reportedly wintered well and is already in light exercise ahead of his intended reappearance in the Temple Stakes at Haydock in May, all being well.

Monday 5 June 2017

David Simcock: Onward and Upward

Nowadays, David Simcock has over a hundred horses in his yard at Trillium Place, Newmarket and, in 2017, saddled 64 winners and amassed over £1 million in total prize money for the fourth season in a row. His highlights that year included Bless Him in the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot, Breton Rock in the Qatar Lennox Stakes at Goodwood and Lightning Spear in the Grosvenor Sport Celebration Mile Stakes, also at Goodwood. Simcock has also made an excellent start to 2018, saddling 10 winners from 67 runners, so far, and collecting just over £125,000 in total prize money.

However, winners have not always come quite so easily for the 45-year-old, who learnt his trade with Ian Balding (father of Andrew Balding), Major Dick Hern and Luca Cumani before taking out a training licence, in his own right, in 2004. In his first three seasons, he saddled a total of just 23 winners but, thereafter, his numbers started to steadily improve. In 2009, he trained 44 winners and exceeded £500,000 in total prize money for the first time, thanks in large part to the 3-year-old Darley Sun, runaway winner of the Cesarewitch at Newmarket.

However, his breakthrough year was 2010, when he saddled his first Group winner, Bushman in the Investec Diomed Stakes at Epsom and his first Group 1 winner, Dream Ahead in the Darley Prix Morny at Deauville. Indeed, Dream Ahead also won the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket later that season and, in 2011, was named Cartier Sprinter of the Year after winning the Darley July Cup at Newmarket, Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock and Qatar Prix de la Foret at Longchamp.

Simcock has never been afraid to campaign his horses internationally and landed his first Grade 1 success in North America with I’m A Dreamer in the Beverley D. Stakes at Arlington Park, Chicago in 2011. Three years later, in 2014, he landed a memorable double with Sheikhzayedroad in the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes and Trade Storm in the Ricoh Woodbine Miles Stakes at Woodbine, Toronto on the same day in September.

Just over a month later, Ryan had his biggest payday ever, at least so far, when Madame Chiang won the Qipco Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes at Ascot. The following season, he saddled his first winner at Royal Ascot, Balios, in the King Edward VII Stakes and, the one after, won both the Doncaster Cup and the Qipco Long Distance Series Cup at Ascot with the aforementioned Sheikhzayedroad.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Warren Greatrex: Hard Work Pays Off

Warren Greatrex started his racing career as a teenager with David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson and worked for Bryan Smart and Oliver Sherwood, among others, before succeeding Carl Llewelyn as salaried trainer to owner Malcolm Denmark at Weathercock House, Upper Lambourn in 2009. Three years later, he rented nearby Uplands – once the base of legendary National Hunt trainer Fred Winter – from former trainer Charlie Egerton and moved in with a string of just over 20 horses. Greatrex said at the time, “It is a bit daunting and I know it's going to take a lot of hard work, but I’m not frightened of rolling my sleeves up.”

Greatrex saddled his first Grade 1 winner, Cole Harden, in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015. Under a bold ride from Gavin Sheehan, the 6-year-old made every yard of the running and stayed on strongly to beat the favourite, Saphir Du Rheu, by 3¼ lengths, leaving his trainer fighting back tears. That season, Greatrex amassed over £500,000 in total prize money for the first time.

After a series of breathing operations, Cole Harden returned to the Cheltenham Festival in 2016, but could only finish fourth of 12, beaten 31 lengths, behind Thistlecrack in the Ryanair World Hurdle. Nevertheless, the following month Greatrex saddled his second Grade 1 winner, One Track Mind, in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle, at Punchestown. Interviewed during the 2015/16 season, Greatrex said, “I started with 10 horses. We have 75 now, so something has gone right.”

More recently, the stable star at Uplands has been La Bague Au Roi, the winner of 10 races for the yard including, most recently, the Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot in 2018. The Doctor Dino mare could only finish seventh of 16, beaten 16½ lengths, behind Let’s Dance in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on her only previous visit to the Cheltenham Festival in 2017. Nevertheless, Greatrex said of her, “She is more talented than Cole Harden. He won his races by being very tough and he would grind them into the ground. She has got a lot more class.” She reported runs in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle or the Sun Bet Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018, but Greatrex added, “Whichever race she runs in she will run very well.”
Greatrex has a number of potential Cheltenham Festival contenders, including Keeper Hill, who fell on his most recent outing at Musselburgh, but has reportedly schooled well since and is likely to contest the National Hunt Chase, rather than the RSA Chase.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

David Pipe: Well Schooled in the Art of Training

According to George Herbert, “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters” and those words may resonate with David Pipe, son of Martin Pipe, the most successful National Hunt trainer in the history of British horse racing. During a career lasting over four decades, Martin sent out a record 4,180 winners and won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship fifteen times. He also developed revolutionary, indeed often controversial, methods of racehorse training, which David inherited when he took over the training licence at Pond House in Nicholashayne, Devon in 2006.

In his younger days, David worked alongside Michael Dickinson, Criquette Head-Maarek and Joey Ramsden – all hugely successful trainers – before setting himself up as a point-to-point trainer. In six seasons at Purchase Farm, just a mile away from Pond House, he saddled 164 winners.

When he took over from his father, success came quickly. His first runner, Standin Obligation, won a novices’ chase at Kelso – 400 miles away from Nicholashayne in the Scottish Borders – at odds of 1/6 and was quickly followed by Wee Dinns in a handicap hurdle later on the same card and Papillon De Iena in a handicap chase at Exeter that same evening.

An across-the-card treble on his first day in charge was, like his father, a hard act to follow, but David maintained the tempo throughout his debut season. In fact, he trained 134 winners, including his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Gaspara – who was, fittingly, owned by his father – that year and finished third in the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship with £1.6 million in prize money.

In his second season, 2007/08, David saddled two more winners at the Cheltenham Festival, An Accordion in the Festival Trophy Handicap Chase and Our Vic in the Ryanair Chase. Just over three weeks later, he gained his biggest ever success when Comply Or Die forged clear from the famous Elbow on the run-in at Aintree to win the Grand National by 4 lengths.

Fast forward a decade or so and David Pipe has saddled over 1,000 winners, including Madison Du Berlais, a surprise winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2008, and 14 winners at the Cheltenham Festival. His most recent successes at Prestbury Park include Un Temps Pour Tout, winner of the Ultima Hcap Chase in both 2016 and 2017. Under the watchful eye of his father – who, at 72, still occupies the position of assistant trainer at Pond House – David has saddled a winner at every National Hunt racecourse in the country.

Friday 21 April 2017

Brian Meehan: Part of the Furniture

Born in Limerick in 1967, Brian Meehan worked for the Irish National Stud before joining Richard Hannon as assistant trainer in 1987. Five years later, he set up his own training business in Lambourn with a string of just eight horses.

He made a bright start to his training career, winning his first Listed race with Amaretto Bay in the National Stakes at Sandown in May, 1995, and his first Pattern race with Tumbleweed Ridge in the Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury the following October. He had to wait a little while for his first Group 1 winner, Tomba, in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp three years later but, by that time, was firmly established in the training ranks.

In 2005, Meehan earned over £1 million in total prize money for the first time. Highlights of that season included wins for Johnny The Fish in the £300,000 St Leger Yearling Stakes at Doncaster, Donna Blini in the Sky Bet Cheveley Park Stakes and David Junior in the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes, both at Newmarket.

Evidently, his efforts did not go unnoticed because, in 1996, Meehan was recruited by the Sangster Family to take over Manton House Stables – a state-of-the-art training facility surrounded by one of the finest country estates in Britain – near Marlborough, Wiltshire. Remarkably, in March, just weeks after moving in, Meehan saddled David Junior to win the Dubai Duty Free, worth nearly £1.75 million to the winner, at Nad Al Sheba in the United Arab Emirates. In July, David Junior also won the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and, in November, Red Rocks won the John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs, Kentucky to round off a memorable first year at Manton.

Other notable winners have included Crowded House in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in 2008, Arcano in the Darley Prix Morny at Deauville in 2009, Dangerous Midge in the Emirates Airlines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs and Most Improved in the St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
In early 2015, Paul Clarke bought the Manton Estate from the Sangster Family and, thereafter, Meehan leased his 90-box training facility from the new owner. However, in October, 2017, he announced that he would buying his yard and gallops. He said, “I’ve been a fixture here for years; now I’ll be a very much more permanent fixture. I’m here for the duration.” Meehan has been building up the number of horses in his yard, without sacrificing quality, in recent times and will have a string of about 90 for 2018.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Amanda Perrett: Boss Lady

Amanda Perrett, née Harwood, is the daughter of Guy Harwood – trainer of 1986 European Horse of the Year Dancing Brave, to name but one – and took over the training licence at Coombelands Stables in Pulborough, West Sussex when he retired in 1996. Amanda is married to former jockey Mark Perrett, who was closely associated with her father throughout his riding career and rode many winners for Stan Mellor and Martin Pipe. Perrett now fills the role of assistant trainer.

Prior to taking out a training licence, Amanda was an accomplished amateur jockey, riding 54 winners under Rules and another 40 in the point-to-point sphere. She also had the distinction of being the first female jockey to ride in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, finishing eighth, beaten 21 lengths, on Vagador, trained by her father, in 1990.

Amanda saddled her first winner as a trainer, Hoofprints, in a median auction maiden stakes race at Lingfield in October, 1996, back in the days of the original Equitrack all-weather surface. She trained her first Group winner, Indian Ridge, in the Earl of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket in April, 2000. In fact, Indian Ridge was far and away the best horse she trained for a few years, winning eight races, including Group 1 successes in the Emirates Prix du Moulin de Longchamp and the Prix de la Foret, also at the Paris course, in 2000.

That same year, Amanda also won the Tote Chester Cup with Bangalore, the Tote International Stakes with Tillerman and the Tote Ebor. She reached her zenith two years later, finishing the 2002 Flat season with 60 winners and nearly £807,000 in total prize money. Highlights that year included victories for Bangalore in the Foster’s Lager Northumberland Plate at Newcastle, Tillerman in the Celebration Mile at Goodwood and Welsh Diva in the Premio Sergio Cumani at San Siro, Italy.

Tungsten Strike was another good moneyspinner for the yard, winning eight races, including the World Bet Exchange Henry II Stakes at Sandown and the Woodcote Stud Sagaro Stakes at Ascot, between 2004 and 2008, and earning just over £287,000 in win and place prize money.

More recently, Amanda has enjoyed further high profile successes with Astronereus, in John Smith’s Silver Cup at York and Zhui Feng, in the £200,000 Tattersalls Millions Median Auction Trophy at Newmarket, in 2015 and the same two horses, in the Al Raayan Stakes at Newbury in 2016 and the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot in 2017, respectively.

Thursday 9 March 2017

Dean Ivory: Welcome to the Real World

Dean Ivory enjoyed his best season ever, monetarily, in 2017, earning £903,291 in total prize money. He also trained his first Group 1 winner, Librisa Breeze, in the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot.

Librisa Breeze had also contested the same race the previous year, after displaying an astonishing turn of foot to win the totescoop6 Challenge Cup, over 7 furlongs, at Ascot two weeks earlier. At that time, Ivory – who had trained Sirius Prospect to finish third in the Champion Sprint Stakes in 2012 and Tropics to finish second in 2014 – said of Librisa Breeze, “This might just be the one. I always thought he was going to be a real good horse, but what’s surprised me about him is the speed and how he finishes off his races.”

On his first attempt, on good going, Librisa Breeze could only finish a never dangerous sixth, beaten 3¼ lengths, behind The Tin Man. However, back on soft going, he reversed the form in no uncertain terms, keeping on stoutly under pressure to beat Tasleet by 1¼ lengths, with Caravaggio third, Cartier Sprinter of the Year Harry’s Angel fourth and The Tin Man only fifth, beaten 3½ lengths.

Dean Ivory is based at Harper Lodge Farm, a private training establishment covering 115 acres in Radlett, between St. Alban’s and Borehamwood in Hertfordshire. Ivory Jnr. took out a training licence in 2002, when his father, Ken, retired to Spain. However, his previous experience of owning a moderate horse called Ivory’s Grab Hire – named after his transportation company – provided an insight into his future career. He later remarked, “Relationships with owners are important to me because as an owner, I learnt that this personal liaison makes so much difference.”

Ivory, 45, saddled his first major winner, Miss George, in the Fleur De Lys Fillies’ Stakes at Lingfield in 2004, but really started to climb the training ranks from 2011 onwards, courtesy of the aforementioned Sirius Prospect and Tropics, who won seven races at Listed or Pattern level between them. More recently, Librisa Breeze and Lancelot Du Lac, winner of the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood in 2017, have continued to fly the flag for the yard. On the yard celebrated its 400th winner when Hello Girl hacked up, at odds on, in a novice auction stakes race at Wolverhampton. At the last count, Ivory had saddled 421 winners and earned nearly £2,750,000 in total prize money.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Sue Smith: National Treasure

Not to be confused with Suzy Smith, who trains in Lewes, East Sussex, Sue Smith is married to former showjumper Harvey Smith and is based at Bingley, West Yorkshire. Harvey Smith already owned Craiglands Farm at High Eldwick when Sue, originally from Sussex, moved north to join him in 1990. She once said of her training base, “It’s not the poshest place on earth, but they are warm, well-fed and happy horses.” 

Sue originally trained horses under permit, as a hobby, but saddled her first winner, African Safari, in the Hurst Park Novices’ Chase at Ascot in November 1990. Coincidentally, one of his two rivals that day was Amrullah, who ran in 74 races without ever winning one and was dismissed by Timeform as “thoroughly irresolute”; more on him another day. Sue took out a full training licence in 1991 and, since then, has established herself as one of the leading trainers in the north of England.
Her first winner at the Cheltenham Festival was Mister McGoldrick, who won the Racing Post Plate in 2008 by 13 lengths, unchallenged, at 66/1. However, it was another 66/1 chance, Auroras Encore, who was to provide here with the biggest success of her career when he won the 2013 Grand National. Ridden by Ryan Mania, who was having his first ride in the race, the 11-year-old lead over the last fence and was driven out to beat Cappa Bleu by 9 lengths. In so doing, he made Sue Smith just the third female in history – after Jenny Pitman and Venetia Williams – to train a Grand National winner.

Victory in the world famous race was in contrast to some earlier disappointments or, indeed, tragedies for the yard. Two decades earlier, in 1993, Kildimo had been well fancied for the “Grand National That Never Was”, in 2002, The Last Fling fell, fatally, at the Canal Turn on the second circuit and, in 2003, Goeguenard also lost his life after blundering badly at the open ditch.

Auroras Encore was pulled up on his attempt at a famous double in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr, just two weeks after his Aintree victory. He reappeared the following Boxing Day, but finished well beaten in the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby and, a month later, sustained a career-ending injury when finishing down the field in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster. He was found to have fractured his third metacarpal, or cannon bone but, having had screws inserted to support the bone, made a full recovery. Sue Smith said, philosophically, “These things happen. I just want him home to have a happy retirement.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Lucy Wadham: Mixing it with the Best

Nowadays, Lucy Wadham is an established Flat and National Hunt Trainer, but her involvement in racing began on the point-to-point circuit, where she spent 10 highly successful years riding and training, under permit, while still pursuing a career as BBC journalist. Indeed, she saddled her first winner under Rules, Fort Hall, in a novices’ hunter chase at Huntingdon in May, 1990. Fort Hall collected the princely sum of £1,510 in winning prize money for his troubles.

Lucy subsequently moved to her current yard at Moulton Paddocks in Newmarket, Suffolk and took out a full training licence in 1997. After a modest start – her highest total in her first six seasons as a licensed trainer was 14 – Lucy enjoyed her first high-profile success with The Dark Lord in the Lombard Properties Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, 2004.

Her best horse in the early years of her career was United, one of several horses that she and her husband, Justin, bought in Germany. Indeed, the Desert King filly provided the yard with its first Grade 1 winner in the Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle at Punchestown in April, 2005, drawing clear in the closing stages to win by 12 lengths. United was due to run in the Prix Alain Du Breil - Course de Haies d’Été at Auteil two months later, but suffered a deep digital flexor tendon injury and missed not only the race, but the rest of the season. She never quite hit the same heights again, but did manage to win five more races for the yard, including the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell in 2007 and the Warfield Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot in 2009.

More recently, Le Reve won the Betfred Masters Chase at Sandown two years running in 2015 and 2016 and had the distinction of being the first runner for the yard in the Grand National at Aintree in 2016. He didn’t run with much distinction, though, eventually finishing eleventh of 16 finishers, beaten 76¼ lengths, behind the winner Rule The World.

Lucy didn’t saddle a runner on the Flat until 2003 and didn’t saddle another until 2008, but opened her account in that sphere in convincing style when Enforce, ridden by William Buick, won the Listed Conqueror Stakes at Newbury in May that year. Since then, Lucy has won several more Listed and Pattern races on the Flat, including the Warwickshire Oaks with Cassique Lady in 2009, the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket with Dorcas Lane and the Dick Hern Fillies’ Stakes at Haydock with Crystal Gal in 2011 and the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock with Lady Tiana in 2015.

Thursday 12 January 2017

Archie Watson: Lambourn Wunderkind

The first thing to say about Archie Watson is that, at the time of writing, exactly two months into 2018, he is the leading Flat trainer in Britain, with 15 winners and £130,493 in total prize money. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, after Watson saddled 56 winners and amassed £458,985 in total prize money in an extraordinary first full season with a training licence in 2017.

Towards the end of 2017, he told At The Races, “The all-weather really suits my horses. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the way we train, but it benefits strong travelling types that like to sit close to the lead and I have quite a few of them.” In 2018, so far, he has a strike rate of 28% overall on the all-weather, which includes a dismal 0-9 on the Fibresand at Southwell, so he seems to have a point.

Highlights of his fledgling career, so far, have been wins for Absolute Blast in the Betfred Mobile Magnolia Stakes at Kempton in April and Petite Jack in the Betway Quebec Stakes at Lingfield in December. Brandon Castle, a 5-year-old gelding by Dylan Thomas, whom he acquired from North Yorkshire trainer Simon West in July, also paid his way, winning five handicaps before a rather ambitious tilt at the Prix Royal-Oak at Saint-Cloud in October. Corinthian Knight could only finish fourth behind Declaration on his trip to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in November, but collected the best part of £10,000 for his trouble. The 3-year-old son of Society Rock was clearly none the worse for his exertions, either, winning both starts so far in 2018.

Watson, 28, bought Saxon House Stables, in Upper Lambourn, Berkshire – once the base of the celebrated Fulke Walwyn – in 2016. He said at the time, “We have bought the yard which gives us a sense of prominence and shows we mean business. Hopefully we will be here for years to come.”

Watson also said on his website, “I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some of the foremost names in the industry both at home and abroad and now intend to put that experience to good use in launching my own training career. The “foremost names” to which he refers include Simon Callaghan, son of former Newmarket trainer Neville, at Santa Anita Park, California, Alec Laird, for whom he ran a satellite yard in Durban, South Africa for two seasons and William Haggas, to whom he was assistant trainer at Somerville Lodge, Newmarket.