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.