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.