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?”