Wednesday 12 December 2018

Charlie Mann

Born in Dumfries in 1958, Charlie Mann was a highly competent National Hunt jockey, riding 149 winners, mainly for Jenny Pitman Nicky Henderson, in a 15-year career, before forcibly retired through injury. He later admitted, “I never wanted to train horses and after breaking my neck in 1989, I tried various other things and discovered fairly quickly I was not qualified for any of them. For three or four years I tried to scratch a living via a trading company.”

Man subsequently spent a year as assistant trainer to Cath Walwyn, widow of the legendary Fulke Walwyn, before taking out a training licence in his own right in August 1993. Mann famously trained, and rode, It’s a Snip, the winner of the Velka Pardubicka – the famous cross-country steeplechase – at Pardubice in the Czech Republic in October 1995. Less than a week later, he saddled his first high-profile winner on home soil, General Rusty, ridden by Richard Dunwoody in the Charisma Gold Cup at Kempton.

In 1998, Mann bought Whitcoombe Stables, situated at the foot of the Mandown Gallops in Upper Lambourn, near Hungerford, Berkshire. The following year, he saddled his first Grade 1 winner, Celibate, in the BMW Chase at Punchestown.

In 2000/01, Mann enjoyed success in several major televised races, including victories for Moral Support in the Tote John Hughes Chase at Chepstow and Regal Holly in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Ascot, to name but two. In the season as a whole, he saddled 43 winners, making it his second most successful ever, numerically.

His best seasonal tally, numerically, came in 2008/09, the year in which he saddled his second Grade 1 winner, Air Force One, in the Ellier Developments Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown. Other highlights included a notable double for Katies Tuitor in the totescoop6 Summer Hurdle Handicap and 32Red Online Casino Handicap Hurdle, both at Market Rasen, and the victory of Gauvain in the Kilbrittain Castle Novices’ Chase at Sandown. All in all, that season Mann saddled 63 winners and earned just under £641,000 in total prize money.

In 2012, after 14 years at Whitcoombe House Stables, Mann sold the establishment to fellow trainer Jonathan Portman and relocated to a new, purpose-built yard at Neardown Stables, less than a mile away across Upper Lambourn. At that point, he pruned the deadwood from his string and although he has found winners harder to come by in recent years his career total still stands at over 800.

Monday 12 November 2018

Harry Whittington: How do you Like Them Apples?

Harry Whittington is based at Hill Barn Stables in Sparsholt Firs, near Wantage, Oxfordshire, where he has held a training licence since 2010. However, Whittington cut his teeth under experienced breeze-up consigner Malcolm Bastard before setting up his own pre-training business at Hill Barn Stables, which he subsequently operated as a satellite yard for Upper Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson.

Whittington officially saddled his first winner, Mount Benger, in a hunters’ chase at Huntingdon in February, 2011, but his training career began in earnest in September, 2012, when he launched Harry Whittington Racing with just five horses. In the 2012/13 season, he saddled just 15 runners, but recorded three winners, the undisputed highlight of which was the debutant Dubai Kiss, who belied his 50/1 starting price to easily win a National Hunt Flat Race at Newbury in February.

Whittington saddled his first Grade 1 winner, Arzal, in the Merseyrail Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree – a race in which Sizing John, the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2017, could finish only third, beaten 24 lengths – in April, 2016. In fact, the 2015/16 season was the best, so far, in his short career, with 21 winners and £215,762 in total prize money. By contrast, the yard spent much of the 2016/17 in the doldrums, with just 13 winners from 118 runners, at a strike rate of just 11%, and just £105, 152 in total prize money.
Of course, any trainer is only ever as good as the horses in his charge and, in 2017/18, Whittington has bounced back and is well on the way to having his best season ever, numerically and monetarily. At the time of writing, on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival in March, 2018, he has already saddled 25 winners – that is, two more than ever before – and earned £189,890 in total prize money.

Vinnie Lewis, who was raised 14lb in the weights for winning by 14 lengths, eased down, on his previous start at Sedgefield, won the Sussex National at Plumpton in January. However, his stable star is, undoubtedly, Saint Calvados, whom he acquired from Venetia Williams on Boxing Day, 2017. The progressive 5-year-old is 3-3 over fences and, not for the first time, jumped like an old hand when strolling clear for an impressive 22-length victory in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick on his most recent start in February. Saint Calvados is due to run in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, for which he is 3/1 second favourite, at the Cheltenham Festival this very afternoon.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Horse Trainers and the Grand National - The Story of the Stats

Let's take a brief time out from the individual horse trainer bios for a moment and instead take a look at trainers in relation to their performance in the Grand National. We can then look to how this might translate into their prospects in the fast approaching 2019 race.

 When taking a look at trainers in relation to their Grand National record, it makes sense to start with the prolific Paul Nicholls on account that he's had an impressive 60 runners in the Grand National. That being the case he's only had one winner (and six placed) in this prestigious event so doesn't exactly have an enviable record. A trainer like Nigel Twiston-Davies has a little more substance to his Grand National credentials, with 41 runners and two winners (and three places).

In truth, no trainer in modern times has truly taken the Grand National by the scruff of the neck. There are just too many variables and participants to develop any level of consistency in the event no matter what they throw at it. Of course 'back in the day' things were different, Vincent O’Brien trained three successive winners - Early Mist (1953), Royal Tan (1954) and Quare Times (1955). All different horses too! If we're operating a pure numbers game, Fred Rimell and George Dockeray both hold the accolade of training four winners a piece, with Rimell winning with ESB (1956), Nicolaus Silver (1961), Gay Trip (1970) and Rag Trade (1976) and Dockeray with Lottery (1839), Jerry (1840), Gaylad (1842) and Miss Mowbray (1852). Ginger McCain won four times too, but with two horses, Red Rum (in 1973, 74 and 77) and Amberleigh House (2004).

So where does this leave us with the Grand National 2019 in mind? Well, in going by the stats we can say that George Elliot with a win and a place from just 13 runners, appears to have a more precise approach to the Grand National than some. Buoyed from last year's win on Tiger Roll - owned by Gigginstown House Stud (no strangers to winning) - I very much doubt they'll be able to resist the opportunity to for their horse to become the first back to back winner since Red Rum.

Willie Mullins is one to watch in 2019 too. It's been something of a slow burn for Mullins since he managed to win the Grand National with Hedgehunter in 2005, however many have an eye on Total Recall for the 2019 Aintree Grand National race. A Ladbrokes Gold Cup Trophy win in 2017 may provide a little confidence, and although his 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup effort suggests that he wasn't the finished article on the day, 2019 could be his year.

Last but not least, the aforementioned Nigel Twiston-Davies will be looking to make it win number three too (to add to his 1998 and 2002 wins). His entry, Blaklion, was favoured to do well in the 2018 race and was very unfortunate to fall at the first. We do have the 2017 win in the Becher Chase to offer a bit of reassurance. It's a demonstration that he's more than capable over the Aintree course and its jumps.

Sunday 14 October 2018

Ron Boss: A Welshman in Newmarket

I was lucky enough to celebrate 35 years in racing last year and one man I remember fondly from the early days of my ‘career’ is former Newmarket trainer Ron Boss. Ron hails from Barry, in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, as do I. Coincidentally, the gentleman who introduced me to racing all those years ago, Bruce Barnes, knew Ron personally, so I had the pleasure of speaking to him few times during, and after, his career.

A quiet, unassuming man, Ron is probably best remembered, if remembered at all, for saddling Olywyn to win the Irish Oaks in 1977. Thought good enough to contest the Criterium des Pouliches at Longchamp as a two-year-old, the Relko filly lined up at the Curragh a maiden after nine races, having been beaten in the Pretty Polly Stakes, the Warwick Oaks, the Oaks proper, the Lancashire Oaks and a maiden race at Bath, at long odds-on, just for good measure.

However, Ron clearly knew the time of day because, forcefully ridden by John ‘Kipper’ Lynch, Olwyn was never headed and held on to win in a blanket finish with Sassabunda and Nanticious. Ron later recalled, “I thought after Epsom that we had the best staying filly even though she only had one pace. She was a long-striding filly and I knew the course at Epsom didn’t suit her, but that the track at The Curragh would.” 

Ron enjoyed two victories at Royal Ascot, Cramond in the 1976 Queen Mary Stakes and Emboss in the 1977 Norfolk Stakes and won the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket two years running with Mon Tresor in 1988 and Balla Cove in 1989. He retired back to Barry in 1997 after 25 years at Phoenix Lodge Stables in Newmarket and later described the victory of Captain’s Wings – who was backed from 50/1 to 13/2 – in the 1978 Lincoln as one of his “best highlights”.

Saturday 29 September 2018

The Most Successful Grand National and Cheltenham Horse Trainers

We've showcased a whole host of UK horse trainers on and detailed the trials and tribulations of many a prominent trainer in the process, some from days gone by such  and others firmly in the fray as we speak. Of those in the here and now in 2018  Mark Johnston and Richard Fahey have excelled over the flat, with the former already hitting the 200 wins mark this year. Dan Skelton over the jumps already has amassed 361 wins and (lucky!) 777 places from 1818 runs. So we've certainly established that there are some big hitters in the horse trainer world.

Just as important though, is how well trainers perform in the big events and festivals. Much in the same way that athletes are remembered for their perfomances in World Championships and the Olympics, jockeys, horses and indeed horse trainers make the biggest impact and carve out a place in racing history based on their successes in the Grand National, Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot and so on. Take the legend of racing Red Rum, who made a name for himself on account of his three stunning Grand National victories in 1973, 1974 and 1977, rewarding many of those following Grand National tips. The impact of this accolade certainly boosted the reputation of jockey Brian Fletcher at the time too, as well as trainer Ginger McCain. McCain's son Donald Jnr (no relation to the orange terror in the Whitehouse!) trained the 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs. Racing success can often be a family affair.

So which trainers have excelled in more recent years during UK captivating racing festivals? Truth be told there has been quite an even spread of trainer successes in recent years over the big events. The Cheltenham Gold Cup has seen some stand out performances though, by horses trained by a couple of well known trainers. Best Mate, ridden by Jim Culloty, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He was trained by Oxford graduate and National Hunt specialist Henrietta Catherine Knight. Knight impressed in several other races at Cheltenham over the years. Another standout is  horse trainer Paul Nicholls, with Gold Cup wins from 2007 and 2009. Impressively the Gold Cup wins came via two different horses, Kauto Star (in 2007 and 2009) and Denman in 2008. Nicholls also trained Neptune Collonges, the winner of the 2012 Grand National cementing him as one of the greatest trainers of his generation.

Ginger McCain aside, in truth it's not an easy task to single out horse trainers in recent decades,who dominated the Aintree Grand National. That said, I'd say that a special mention has to go to Tim Forster, who experienced much success in the event for over the period of 15 years. He trained winners Well To Do in 1970, Ben Nevis in 1980 and Last Suspect in 1985. That level of longevity in such a competitive event is a rare achievement by any standard!

Monday 24 September 2018

Michael Bell: No Woman, No Cry

After leaving the army, Martin Bell worked as assistant trainer to Mercy Rimmell and Paul Cole before taking out a training licence, in his own right, at Fitzroy House in Newmarket, Suffolk in 1989. His first Group winner, Pass The Peace in the Fred Darling Stakes at Newmarket, was originally bought for 9,000 guineas by his father, Brian, and subsequently sold to Sheikh Mohammed. The proceeds from the sale allowed Bell to buy Fitzroy House, which he had previously rented.

In the last three decades, Bell has trained in the region of 1,400 winners and amassed over £24 million in total prize money. However, he is probably best known for his two Classic winners, Motivator in the Derby in 2005 and Sariska in the Oaks in 2009. Sariska followed up in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh the following month and, in between times, Bell also saddled Art Connossieur to win the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.

However, his most memorable winner, he said, was Hoh Magic in the Prix Morny at Deauville in 1994. The two-year-old filly, by Cadeux Genereux, ran on well inside the final furlong to win by 1½ lengths and record the first Group 1 vicotory for the yard. Bell later recalled, fondly, “Deauville is a special place and a very big day in the racing calendar”.

More recently, Bell enjoyed further success with Margot Did in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 2011 – making Hayley Turner the first female jockey ever to ride two Group 1 winners – and back-to-back victories by Wigmore Hall in the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Canada in 2011 and 2012. In June 2013, though, after an unproductive summer in which Bell saddled just 16 winners at a strike rate of 9%, he and Hayley Turner parted company after 13 years together. Bell said at the time, “Hayley is a great girl and I will continue to use her, but she has been with me for 13 years and sometimes you just need to freshen things up.”

In recent seasons, the Duke Of Marmalade gelding Big Orange has become the standard bearer for the yard, winning the Goodwood Cup two years running in 2015 and 2016 and taking his form to a new level when holding on gamely to beat subsequent Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe fourth Order Of St George by a short head in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 2017.

Friday 7 September 2018

Tony Carroll: Shrewd Dude

Formerly stable jockey to the late Pat Taylor and Stan Mellor, Tony Carroll first took out a public training licence in August 1995 and saddled his first winner, Queen Of Shannon, in an apprentice selling handicap at Windsor in August 1996. Carroll was initially based at Inkberrow in Worcestershire, where he spent the first ten years of his training career.

In those early years, the majority of his horses were, at best, modest. He enjoyed success with Cerulean Rose in the Zuhair Stakes at Goodwood, worth £10,725 to the winner, in July, 2003. However, his string was better typified by the likes of Macaw-Bay, who won three ordinary hurdle races between October 1999 and May 2000, Firestone, who won a couple of similar races in the spring of 2002 and Moving Earth, who won four races over hurdles and fences between 2003 and 2005.

In response to increased demand, Carroll subsequently moved to larger premises at Wixford, near Stratford-upon-Avon. He enjoyed the biggest payday of his career, at that point, when Forthright won the John Smith’s Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh in February 2007, but has enjoyed all his major successes since moving back to Worcestershire in 2006.

At that point, he took charge of purpose-built yard at Cropthorne Stud, near Pershore, and has continued to send out a steady stream of winners every since. He saddled his first Listed race winner on the Flat, Djarvo, in the Prix La Fleche at Maisons-Laffite in June 2011 and his first Listed race winner over Jumps, Le Bacardy, in the Scotty Brand Handicap Chase at Ayr in April, 2014. Two months later, Caspian Prince gave Carroll the biggest win of his career, so far, when holding on by a short head in the Investec Corporate Banking “Dash” at Epsom and repeated the dose when winning the Meydan Sobha at Meydan in the United Arab Emirates the following February.

Another excellent money-spinner for the yard has been Boom The Groom, now a 7-year-old, who has won six of his 55 starts – all handicaps – on turf, Polytrack and Tapeta and earned the best part of £200,000 in win and place prize money. The Kodiac gelding hasn’t won since holding off Duke Of Firenze by a head in the valuable Symphony Group Stakes at York in August 2016, but his handicap mark has consequently dropped to 95, 7lb lower than at York, so he remains one to keep an eye on in sprint handicaps, especially those in which he’s likely to have a decent pace to aim at.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Clive Cox: A Lesson in Perseverance

Nowadays, Clive Cox is best known as the trainer of Harry Angel, winner of the Darley July Cup at Newmarket and the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock, not to mention the Cartier Sprinter Award, in 2017. He is firmly established at Beechwood Farm Stables in Lambourn, near Hungerford, Berkshire, which he has rented from John Francome since May, 2000, but winners haven’t always come easy to the Somersetian.

His first winner as a trainer, Good For The Roses, in a maiden hurdle at Newton Abbot in March 1991 was also his last as a jockey. Cox enjoyed a successful as a National Hunt jockey, riding 100 winners, although he later admitted, “There isn’t any part of my upper body that hasn’t been rearranged.” He rode once in the Grand National, parting company with the favourite, Sacred Path, at the first fence in 1988.

His initial attempt at training was no more successful and after a year in Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire he gave up and became assistant trainer to Mikey Heaton-Ellis at nearby Barbury Castle in 1992. When Heaton-Ellis died, at the age of just 41, in1999, Cox took over the licence. Once again, he wasn’t exactly on overnight success and it wasn’t until 2002 that he broke double-figures for a season.

However, his breakthrough year came in 2003, when he recorded his first major success with New Seeker in Tote International Stakes at Ascot. New Seeker won the same race again two years later, when it was staged at Newbury while Ascot was redeveloped, as well as the Dubai Duty Free Cup at the same course later that season. In 2007, Cox saddled his first Pattern race winner, Beacon Lodge, in the Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury and hasn’t looked back since.
He has gained a reputation for his eye at the sales and has produced relatively cheaply-bought horses to win major races time after time. His first Group 1 winner, Gilt Edge Girl in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp in 2010, was bought for just 17,000 guineas. Reckless Abandon, who won the Darley Prix Morny at Deauville and the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket in 2012, cost just 24,000 guineas, while Lethal Force, who won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Darley July Cup at Newmarket in 2013, cost just 8,500 guineas.

In 2016, Cox had his most successful season ever thanks, in large part, to the Group 1 victories of Profitable in the King’s Stand Stakes and My Dream Boat in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes with the space of 24 hours at Royal Ascot. He finished the year with 65 winners and over £1.5 million in total prize money for the first time.

Monday 23 July 2018

Micky Hammond: Two Careers in One

Former jump jockey Micky Hammond first started training at Tupgill Stables in Middleham, North Yorkshire in 1990. Reflecting on those early days, he once said,
“I had no yard, no horses and no owners, but all three arrived like magic”, later adding,
“I had a lot of confidence and I expected success.”

His confidence was not misplaced, either. He saddled his first winner under National Hunt Rules, Palmers Pride, in the autumn of 1990 and finished his “rookie” season with a record 31 winners and just over £100,000 in total prize money. Hammond continued his progress through the training ranks, saddling 35 winners in 1991/92 and 51 winners in 1992/93, which was the most successful season, numerically, of his training career to date. He couldn’t better that total, but subsequently saddled 45, 42, 34, and 47 winners, respectively, in the next four seasons.

By the time he moved to his new yard at Oakwood Stables, Middleham in 1997, he was firmly established as one of the top ten horse trainers in the country. Indeed, he achieved his first major success with Deep Water in the Glenlivet Anniversary 4-y-o Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April 1998 and his second with Heidi III in the Pertemps Great Yorkshire Chase in January 2001.

However, it was while Hammond was training at the peak of his powers that his marriage to Sky Sports presenter Alex Hammond broke down irrevocably. In April 2001, he abruptly retired from training, at the age of just 38, and handed over Oakwood Stables to his former head lad, Andrew Crook, together with about half his horses. Hammond said at the time, “I’m a bit stale and ready for a change. I enjoyed riding while I was doing it and enjoyed training while I was doing that, but I get to a stage where I press the self-destruct button.”

He didn’t stay retired for very long, because just over a year later he was lured back to training by the owners of Oakwood Stables, Sunstar Racing. Hammond said, “I always intended to return …with just two winners to go for my 500, I had to do it.” After negotiating what he called the “low time of my life”, Hammond effectively started from scratch in 2001/02, but has since successfully rebuilt his business. In 2015/16, he enjoyed his most successful season ever, monetarily, with over £313,000 in total prize money.

Monday 16 July 2018

Michael Appleby: The Sandman

Michael “Mick” Appleby – not to be confused with Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby – was conditional jockey to John “Mad Manners” and head lad to Roger Curtis and Andrews Balding before launching his training career in 2010. Appleby is a Southwell specialist, having been crowned champion trainer at the Nottinghamshire track from Danethorpe Stables, near Newark-on-Trent in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and again in 2017 from Langham Racing Stables, near Oakham, Rutland. At the last count, Appleby had saddled 103 winners from 653 runners at Southwell over the last five years and earned just shy of £645,000 in total prize money.

After training just three winners in his first season, Appleby improved his total to 15 in 2011, 40 in 2012 – the year in which he saddled Art Scholar to win the Betfred November Handicap at Doncaster – and 61 in 2013. In 2014, he won the William Hill Scottish Sprint Cup at Musselburgh with Demora and his first Group race, the Betfred TV Chipchase Stakes at Newcastle, with Danzeno. Collectively, those two victories alone contributed over £96,000 to his seasonal total of £694,000, which took him beyond £500,000 in a season for the first time.

After several successful years at Danethorpe Stables, which he rented, Appleby bought a 75-acre site in Oakham in rural Leicestershire and invested a six-figure sum in transforming the former polo yard into a state-of-the art training complex. He moved his string to his new premises in early 2017 but, despite losing out on a few winners as a result, still had his second best season ever, with 91 winners and over £740,000 in total prize money. Danzeno, once again, made a significant contribution, winning the totescoop6 Heritage Handicap at Ascot, worth £62,250 to the winner.

In early 2018, Arena Racing Company (ARC), which owns Southwell, canvassed industry professionals for their opinions on the possibility of replacing the existing Fibresand surface. Tapeta, the synthetic surface developed by Michael Dickinson, was apparently the first choice of ARC, but Appleby said, “They should make it a dirt course. You could run Group 1 races on it and you could also use it for preparing horses for the big dirt races abroad. I hope they consider it, but if it isn’t going to be dirt then I hope they put Fibresand back.” He added, “It seems odd to me that they’re putting up floodlights at Southwell and considering racing on Tapeta there. That’s what they have at Wolverhampton.”

Friday 22 June 2018

Jamie Osborne: Still Believing

Jamie Osborne has been training in Upper Lambourn, near Hungerford, Berkshire since 2000 but, in his younger days, was a confident, even cocksure, National Hunt jockey. He earned the derogatory nickname “Pompous Pilot” and was famously slapped in the face by Jenny Pitman after deliberately hampering her horse Run To Form in a novices’ hurdle at Ayr in 1990. Nevertheless, he rode nearly 1,000 winners – including 12 at the Cheltenham Festival – for the likes of Nicky Henderson, Oliver Sherwood, Charlie Egerton and Henrietta Knight.

His new career started brightly, too, with 10 winners in 2000, rising to 31 in 2001, the year in which he saddled his first Royal Ascot winner, Irony, ridden by the late Pat Eddery, in the Coventry Stakes. Osborne has subsequently trained three more, Drawnfromthepast in the Windsor Castle Stakes and Enjoy The Moment in the Queen Alexandra Stakes in 2007 and Field Of Dream in the Royal Hunt Cup in 2014.

In 2002, Osborne was fined £4,000 by the Jockey Club after admitting bringing racing into disrepute by making unguarded remarks to Paul Kenyon, an undercover reporter for the BBC. Osborne was secretly filmed saying, “We’ll cheat. We don’t mind cheating”, but insisted the remarks were taken out of context.

The fine did little to damage his reputation, though, and in 2003 he saddled his first Group winner and his first Group 1 winner, courtesy of Milk It Mick in the Somerville Tattersall Stakes and the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket within the space of two weeks in October.

Osborne, 50, now runs two yards, one at either end of Upper Lambourn, and has capacity for 80 horses. In January, 2018, he admitted to “living the dream” when he saddled Toast Of New York in the Pegasus World Cup – the most valuable race in the world, with a first prize of $7 million – at Gulfstream Park, Florida.

Prior to winning a small conditions stakes race at Lingfield the previous December, Toast Of New York had been off the course for 1130 days since just missing out in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park, California in November, 2014. Toast Of New York was soon struggling and eventually finish last of the twelve runners, beaten 50 lengths, behind the hot favourite Gun Runner. Nevertheless, a defiant Osborne said afterwards, “I know I look slightly silly bringing him here now, but I still believe wholeheartedly that he is capable of competing at this level.

Thursday 21 June 2018

Buying Money

Retired trainer Barry Hills, who landed a touch or two in his time, once said, “Never bet odds-on. If you could buy money they would sell it at a shop down the road.” However, every once in a while, a horse comes along that consistently stands head and shoulders above it rivals and wins with such regularity that it inevitably starts favourite, often at long odds-on. Backing horses of this calibre is as close as it comes to “buying money” in the sport of horse racing.

Frankel, for example, who retired unbeaten in October, 2012, and topped the World Thoroughbred Rankings from May, 2011 onwards, started favourite for every one of his 14 races, which included ten at Group One, or “championship”, level. In fact, with the exception of his debut, in a maiden stakes race at Newmarket in August, 2010, for which he was sent off 7/4 favourite, he started odds-on for all his races. The shortest price at which he was returned was 1/20, when very easily beating three rivals – one of which was his pacemaker, Bullet Train – in the Qipco Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in August, 2012. I suspect he popped up a time or two (or three!) in OLBG's horse racing tips.

Sea The Stars, Cartier Horse of the Year in 2009, won eight of his nine career starts, including a sequence of six Group One wins during his three-year-old campaign, yet surprising started favourite on just five occasions. However, he did start odds-on to win his last four starts, in the Coral-Eclipse, the Juddmonte International Stakes, the Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes and the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Big Buck’s, four-time winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, ran up a winning sequence of 18 consecutive races between 2008/09 and 2012/13. The sequence began when he was put back over hurdles after unseating his rider at the final fence in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup, but in his next 18 starts he started favourite, at odds-on, 15 times. The shortest price at which he ever started was 1/12, when beating three rivals in a canter in the Sportingbet Long Distance Hurdle in December, 2012.

Triple Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq won 23 of his 26 completed starts over hurdles, including 13 Grade One races, between 1996/97 and 2001/02. He started favourite on all bar his debut in a novice hurdle at Punchestown in November, 1996 – we he went off 6/4 second favourite and was beaten a head – and was odds-on on 23 occasions. Indeed, in his last 22 races, the only times he started at odds-against were in the Champion Hurdle in 1998 and 2002. The shortest price at which he ever started was 1/10, when not extended to beat two rivals in the December Festival Hurdle in December, 1998.

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Christian Williams: Man of Steel

At the time of writing, Christian Williams may be well into his second season as a trainer under his own name, but is still probably best known for his exploits as a jockey. In a 14-year career, Williams rode 339 winners, many of them trained by Paul Nicholls – and made more than one improbable comeback following serious falls – before forcibly retired by reoccurring injuries in March, 2014.

At that point, Williams hadn’t ridden for nearly a year, but had already started working for owner Dai Walters at his stables, The Hollies, on the outskirts of Cardiff. Initially, Williams assisted Paul Morgan, the trainer in residence at The Hollies, with the pre-training of his young horses. However, Paul Morgan left The Hollies, amicably, in 2017 and Williams took over the licence.

He said at the time, “I started work with Mr Walters four years ago and the natural progression now is to take out a licence. We have a state-of-the-art facility, which enables myself and the staff to maximise the potential of horses in our care.”

In his first season as a trainer in his own right, Williams sent out just seven runners, but saddled his first winner, Juge Et Parti, in a National Hunt Flat Race at Bangor in April, 2017. Limited Reserve also finished a close second in a valuable handicap hurdle at Haydock, contributing £9,883 to Williams’ £14,700 in win and place prize money.

By the start of the 2017/18 season, Williams was ready for the next step in his fledgling career and relocated to a new yard in the seaside village of Ogmore-by-Sea in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, where he is now assisted by his brother Nicky. Williams said, “I've always wanted to train from home with my brother…It will be great to work with Nicky, who rode more than 100 point-to-point winners, and we've got a lot to offer.”

So far, in 2017/18 Williams has saddled 8 winners from 54 runners, at a strike rate of 15%, and earned £108,204 in total prize money. His stable flag-bearer, Limited Reserve, has made the highest contribution, financially, winning the Betfair Exchange Hurdle at Haydock in November and following up in the Betfred Supports Jack Berry House Handicap Hurdle, also at the Merseyside course. However, Hedgeinator, also syndicated to All Stars Sports Racing, has won three of his seven steeplechases and is the next best money-spinner in the yard.

Thursday 7 June 2018

Jim Goldie: Perennial Evergreen

Jim Goldie, sometimes known as “Jovial Jim” because of his genial nature, is based at Libohill Farm Stables, Uplawmoor, Renfrewshire, in the Central Lowlands of Scotland.
Goldie took out a full training licence in 1994 and saddled his first winner, Red Tempest, in a novices’ claiming hurdle at Perth in September that year.

His flagship horse in the early part of his career, though, was Orientor, whom he bought for 12,000 guineas in Doncaster St. Leger Yearling Sales in 1999. In 2001, as a 3-year-old, the Inchinor colt won three times, including the William Hill Trophy Showcase Handicap at York and the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Sprint at Ascot. Later in his career, he also won the Kronenburg 1664 Chipchase Stakes at Newcastle in 2003 and the Champagne Laurent-Perrier Sprint Stakes at Sandown in 2004.

Goldie is a dual purpose trainer and, in his lengthy career, has managed one or two spectacular successes over jumps. In 2007, he saddled 66/1 outsider Lampion Du Bost to win the Grand Sefton Chase at Aintree and, in 2008, silenced his doubters by winning the same race again with Endless Power.

He has also done well with horses acquired from other trainers, one notable example being Hawkeyethenoo, a “castoff” from Michael Easterby. Hawkeyethenoo won the Victoria Cup at Ascot in 2011 and the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood in 2012, as well as finishing second, beaten just three-quarters of a length, behind Maarek in the Qipco British Champion Sprint Stakes at Ascot later the same year.

Goldie also trained Jack Dexter, apparently named after one of his grandsons, to win three Listed races and the Betfred Chipchase Stakes at Newcastle – a race he’d also won with his sire, Orientor, ten years earlier – in 2013 and 2014. Sadly, Jack Dexter fractured a cannonbone at Ripon in August, 2017, but Goldie paid tribute to him, saying, “We’re all gutted. He was part of the family and had been here since we bred him. He was a great horse – nearly as good as you get.”

In the last five seasons, Goldie has saddled over 500 runners at Ayr, resulting in 48 winners but, even at his favourite stamping ground, he was surprised to saddle the first four home in a 6-furlong handicap in July, 2017. Cheeni stayed on strongly to lead close home, beating Goninodaethat by a head, with Insurplus a further 1¼ lengths away in third and Sea Of Green, the shortest-priced of the quartet, a similar distance back in fourth. Goldie quipped afterwards, “We’ve had a 1-2-3 before, a few years back, but never a 1-2-3-4. I’m really kicking myself I didn’t do a tricast.”

Saturday 26 May 2018

Tim Vaughan: Patience is Power

Tim Vaughan, a former chartered surveyor and, perhaps more pertinently, a former champion point-to-point rider, made a sluggish start to his training career. He saddled his first winner, Lonesome Man, in a novices’ handicap chase at Aintree in June, 2005 but, by the end of the 2006/07, his second season, had managed just two wins from 44 runners. In 2017, he gave an inkling of the shape of things to come by saddling 14 winners, but it wasn’t until he moved to Pant Wilkin Stables in Aberthin, near Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan in 2008 that he began his meteoric rise through the training ranks.

Vaughan saddled his first major winner, Helens Vision, in the Gerry Feilden Hurdle at Newbury in November that year, finishing the 2008/09 season with 55 winners and nearly £327,000 in total prize money. Remarkably, he fared better still in 2009/10, saddling 88 winners and earning nearly £448,000 in total prize money. In 2010/11, he exceeded £500,000 in total prize for the first time and did so again in 2011/12. In fact, in 2011/12, trainer Tim Vaughan saddled 102 winners and, at the age of 32, became the youngest of the current crop of National Hunt trainers to record 100 winners in a season.

He saddled his first Grade 1 winner, Saint Are, in the John Smith’s Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April, 2011 and within a month had saddled his second, Spirit Of Adjisa, in the Cathal Ryan Memorial Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. In between times, he also won the Coral Scottish Grand National, worth over £100,000 to the winner, with Beshabar.

More recently, Vaughan has adopted a more patient approach, investing heavily in traditional National Hunt store horses or, in other words, young, untested horses bred specifically for jumping. He started to see the fruits of his labours in 2016/17, when he saddled 71 National Hunt winners and earned just over £478,000 in total prize money, over £200,000 more than the previous season.

One notable omission from his impressive CV until fairly recently was a winner, of any kind, at Cheltenham. Thankfully, he finally laid that bogey to rest with the victory of Master Dancer in a handicap hurdle on the Old Course in October, 2017. He said afterwards, “Knowing my record at Cheltenham it’s a bit of a surprise! It’s long overdue, but I’m delighted and it’s great for the staff at home as well.”

Sunday 6 May 2018

Gay Kelleway: Queen for a Day

It’s just over thirty years since Gay Kelleway became the first, and only, female jockey to win a race at Royal Ascot. Gay, 53, remembers the occasion well, so well in fact, that her current training establishment, Queen Alexandra Stables, in the village of Exning, near Newmarket, Suffolk, is named after the race she won on Sprowston Boy all those years ago.

After a successful riding career, Gay took out a training licence in 1992 and saddled her first winner, Aberfoyle, in a handicap hurdle at Lingfield the following January. After brief spells at Charnwood Stables and, temporarily, at Eve Lodge Stables in Newmarket, Gay moved to the modern, but remote, Whitcombe Manor Stables in the heart of the Dorset countryside, where she remained until 1998. At that time, Gay took what appeared to be the next logical step when she moved her 40-strong string to Lingfield Park Racecourse, where she became the first resident trainer at the track.

Gay has long talked about relocating to France but, despite having placed her current historic yard on the market more than once in recent years, is apparently now “on the lookout for a 50-box yard here to have all the horses under one roof.” In the meantime, in 2017, with numbers on the increase, she expanded her Exning operation into nearby Newmarket by taking a barn at Red House Hill Stables on Hamilton Road to house an additional 12 horses.

Like her father, the late Paul Kelleway, Gay is a colourful, outspoken character. Unfortunately, she has also inherited the family trait of handling mainly modest horses, with the occasional sensational success thrown in. A recent example of the latter is Lightscameraction, 20/1 winner of the 3-Year-Old Sprint All-Weather Championships – worth £93, 375 to the winner – at Lingfield in 2015. Earlier in her career, Gay trained Vortex – an £18,000 ‘castoff’ from Michael Stoute – to win 17 of his 74 races for the yard and over £334,000 in win and place prize money between 2002 and 2008. In his penultimate season, as an 8-year-old, the Danehill gelding finished third in the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot under 9st 10lb at odds of 50/1.

All in all, in training career lasting just over 25 years, Gay has saddled roughly 600 winners. She has 30 horses in training at Queen Alexandra Stables, so three winners from 10 runners so far in 2018 is a perfectly reasonable rate of return from such a small string.
Once billed as “one of the most exciting and talented trainers of modern times”, Gay Kelleway should continue to keep her male counterparts on their toes.

Sunday 29 April 2018

Ben Pauling: Engineering a Bright Future

Former “Young Engineer of the Year” Ben Pauling is a fairly recent addition to the horse trainers’ roster, having begun his training career at the start of the 2013/14 season. Nevertheless, Pauling comes from a family of racehorse trainers – his father, and grandfather trained their own horses under permit – and spent six years as assistant to reigning Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson at Seven Barrows, Lambourn.

When betting on horses, pedigree matters a great deal, because some trainers have much more of a winning reputation than others. It's when placing a bet it's certainly a good sign to have confidence in the horse, the jockey, but also the trainer it's received in the run up to the race. With the racing pedigree of Pauling, coming from a family of trainers, you feel like your bet is off to a good start, even before the race begins.

Pauling moved to Bourton Hill Farm, near Bourton-On-The-Water, in the heart of Gloucestershire in 2013 and saddled his first winner, Raven’s Tower, at Plumpton in November of that year. The Cotswold Brewing Company, which sponsors the racing yard, brewed a new beer, called Raven’s Tower, to commemorate the feat.

Pauling trained another eight winners, for a total of nine, in his first season and has improved on that number, year-on-year, ever since. In fact, in three subsequent seasons he saddled 20, 26 and 32 winners, respectively and, at the time of writing, has already saddled 28 winners in the 2017/18. Of course, his 2015/16 total included his first Grade 1 winner, Barters Hill, in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury, while his 2016/17 total included his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Willoughby Court, in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. The latter, who’s already a Grade 2 winner over fences in 2017/18, made all and kept on gamely in the closing stages to hold the hitherto unbeaten Neon Wolf by a head.

In four years, Pauling has seen Bourton Hill Farm expand from 20 boxes to over 70, most, if not all, of which are full. By his own admission, many of his string were bought as ‘store’ horses – that is, stoutly bred, slow-maturing types – and, as Pauling tells his owners, “if they’re not ready, they’re not ready”. What that does mean, of course, is that he has plenty for which to look forward, in the 2017/18 season and beyond.

As testament to his ambition, Pauling has also signed up Daryl Jacob as stable jockey for the 2017/18 season. Jacob already has a retainer with owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, who have first call on his services, but will ride for Pauling whenever available. Pauling said of the appointment, “It’s huge having Daryl Jacob on board. Nico de Boinville and David Bass have done a great job for me the last few years but they have stables they’re attached to and I needed someone that was committed to me more often than not.”

Friday 6 April 2018

Richard Fahey: Keeping It Simple

Nearly three decades ago, Richard Fahey shared the 1988/89 conditional jockeys’ championship with Derek Byrne and Stuart Turner, but said later, “I wasn’t good enough, so I gave it up before it gave me up.”

In 1993, Fahey began his training career at Manor Farm in Butterwick near Malton, North Yorkshire in premises rented from former National Hunt Champion Trainer Peter Easterby. From modest beginnings, his career really started to take off when, in 2002, he won the Cork & Orrery Stakes – now the Diamond Jubilee Stakes – at Royal Ascot with Superior Premium.

Three years later, Fahey bought his current yard, Musley Bank, which at the time was a rather dilapidated 80-box affair, from Colin Tinkler, with a view to turning it into one of the best training establishments in the country. In his second full year at Musley Bank, in 2006, he amassed over £1 million in prize money for the first time. Four years later, in 2010, saddled his first Group 1 winner, Wootton Bassett in the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp amassed over £2 million in prize money for the first time.

Further success at the highest level followed, with victories for Mayson in the July Cup at Newmarket in 2012 and Garswood in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville in 2014. In 2015, Fahey equalled the British record for winners on the Flat in a calendar year, 235, set by Richard Hannon Snr. two seasons previously. More recently, he saddled Ribchester to win the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville in 2016 and the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Prix Du Moulin at Chantilly in 2017. Ribchester earned a Timeform Rating of 129, making her officially the fourth best older horse in Europe.

When interviewed in 2011, Fahey said, “In ten years’ time I will be 55 and I’ve told Vicki [his wife] that she can train the horses while I put my feet up.” However, having renewed his previously hugely effective partnership with former stable jockey Paul Hanagan last season, after the latter lost his job as retained rider to Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, it’s unlikely that Fahey will be reaching for his pipe and slippers any time soon. At the time of writing, he’s saddled just four winners, but also 47 placed horses, from 66 runners in 2018, but the yard doesn’t really get going until the start of the Flat season proper, in March, so Fahey has plenty of time to surpass his 2017 total.

Thursday 5 April 2018

Charlie Appleby: True Blue

Charlie Appleby was appointed as a trainer for Godolphin – the global thoroughbred operation founded by the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in 1992 – in controversial circumstances in 2013. In April that year, his former boss at Moulton Paddocks in Newmarket, Mahmood Al Zarooni, was banned from racing for eight years after admitting administering anabolic steroids to 11 horses in his care and Appleby was asked to fill the breach on a temporary basis. Sheikh Mohammed said of Al Zarooni, “I was shocked. They gave him eight years; I gave him lifetime. Finished.”

Appleby had previously worked for Godolphin for 15 years, as head lad and assistant trainer, first to Saeed bin Suroor and then to Mahmood Al Zarooni. He saddled his first winner as a trainer, Expressly, in a maiden fillies’ stakes race at Ascot less than a week after being granted a training licence by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). Three days later, he saddled his first Group winner, Cap O’Rushes, in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood and, in November, 2013, achieved the biggest win of his career when Outstrip won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita Park, California.

The following season, 2014, he saddled his first domestic Group 1 winner, Charming Thought, in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. He also trained over 100 winners and earned over £1 million in total prize money for the first time. In 2015, Appleby celebrated his first Royal Ascot winner, Space Age, in the King V Stakes and trained over 150 winners and earned over £2 million in total prize money for the first time.

In 2016, Appleby saddled just 70 winners, but they included Tryster in the Jebel Hatta at Meydan, Hawkbill in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and Wuheida in the Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly – all Group 1 victories – not to mention a host of other high-profile successes, including the Lincoln at Doncaster, the Victoria Cup at Ascot and the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle. In 2017, Wuheida added to her winning tally in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar, California, collecting the best part of £900,000 in prize money in the process.

More recently, Appleby has been making hay at his Marmoom Stables in Dubai, where he spends the British winter, winning 10 valuable handicap, Listed and Pattern races, each worth £60,000, or more, at Meydan in the first quarter of 2018. He’s also started well domestically, with 11 winners from 32 runners, at a strike rate of 34%, so far.

Tuesday 3 April 2018

Jeremy Scott: Good Vibes

Jeremy Scott is a National Hunt trainer based at High Holworthy Farm in Brompton Regis, near Dulverton, Somerset. Scott first took out a public training licence in 2007, but for the previous 15 years he and his wife, Camilla, had successfully trained point-to-pointers under permit.

Officially, his first winner under Rules was County Derry in a hunters’ chase at Stratford on May 14, 2001, but his first winner as a professional, licensed trainer was Gone To Lunch in a novices’ hurdle at Uttoxeter on June 7, 2007. The following season, Gone To Lunch also gave him his first major success, in the GPG Novices’ Chase at Newbury, under A.P. McCoy. All in all, Gone To Lunch won eight of his 34 starts over regulation hurdles and fences between 2007 and 2012 and earned just over £223,000 in win and place prize money.

Scott saddled his first Grade 1 winner, Melodic Rendezvous, in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January, 2013. In fact, the 2012/13 was his best ever, numerically, with 30 wins, including three from Melodic Rendezvous, three from Quaddick Lake, whom he acquired from Ashley Farrant in July, 2012, and five from On The Bridge, who officially improved by 25lb between August and November.

Melodic Rendezvous continued to fly the flag for the yard for the next couple of seasons, winning the Plymouth Novices’ Hurdle at Exeter and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in 2013, followed the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock and the Kingwell Hurdle, also at Wincanton, in 2014. Melodic Rendezvous also ran in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2014, but was never travelling and trailed in seventh of eight finishers, beaten 19 lengths, behind Jezki.

Melodic Rendezvous was retired, as an 11-year-old, after finishing last of seven in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in November, 2017. He won eight of his 31 starts and earned just over £270,000 in win and place prize money. Scott said of stable star, “He was always a bit of an underdog, fighting against the big stables… He always ran above his ability because he was so tough and one season he was absolutely brilliant.”

More recently, Scott appears to have discovered another real money-spinner in the form of Unison who, while not in same class as Melodic Rendezvous, has recorded 10 victories since joining the yard from Peter Makin in February, 2016. The son of Jeremy – the sire, not the trainer – put up a career-best performance to win a handicap hurdle at Taunton in February, 2018. Scott said afterwards, “He’s in the form of his life at the moment, and if we had a yard full like him it would be happy days indeed!”

Sunday 1 April 2018

Charlie Longsdon: Yet to Taste Festival Success

Charlie Longsdon began his training career at Cotswold Stud, Sezincote, near Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire in 2006. However, prior to setting up on his own, Longsdon worked for Oliver Sherwood, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Kim Bailey and Nicky Henderson. During his five years as assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson, he won the Alex Scott Memorial Fund Assistant Trainers’ Scholarship, which allowed him to work for Todd Pletcher in the United States for a few months in 2004, the year in which the Texan won his first Eclipse Award as Champion Trainer.

Early in his own training career, Longsdon said, “I'm very lucky and spoiled that I've got a very good CV. I've been with people at the top of their game. Anyone looking at that would know I should be able to train.” 

One of the early successes for the yard was the victory of Songe in the Blue Square Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock in January, 2009, which Longsdon described as “a real thrill for all of us”. Other notable winners included Up To Something in DBS Spring Sales Bumper at Newbury in March, 2012 and Paintball in the Paddy Power Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle at Sandown just a week later.

In the summer of 2015, Longsdon moved to a new, purpose-built yard at Hull Farm in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. In 2015/16, he saddled 62 National Hunt winners and amassed £624,143 in prize money and, in 2016/17, when he was joined by former Champion Conditional Jockey Marcus Foley as assistant trainer, increased his prize money total to £723,415. All in all, Longsdon has trained over 500 winners, including 50 or more in the last six seasons running, and amassed over £3 million in prize money. He saddled his landmark 500th winner at Worcester in October, 2017, when Aunty Ann was pushed out by amateur rider Jordan Nailor to win the Richard Wright Memorial Handicap Chase.

Longsdon still has an affiliation with the United States and, in 2016 and 2017, was represented in the American Grand National. For the uninitiated, the Grand National Hurdle Stakes is, despite the name, a steeplechase run over 2 miles 5 furlongs at Far Hills, New Jersey. Longsdon saddled Far Rise to finish third in 2016 and Hammersly Lake to finish fifth in 2017, for the same owner, Robert Aplin.

After 50-odd runners at the Cheltenham Festival, Longsdon is still without a winner.

Friday 23 March 2018

Tom Dascombe: Lord of the Manor

Tom Dascombe began his career in racing as conditional jockey to Martin Pipe but, having ridden just eight winners in three seasons at Pond House, left to join Ron Hodges at nearby Cedar Lodge. He subsequently rode out his ‘claim’ but, having ridden just nine winners in the preceding three seasons, he finally decided to call it a day after finishing tailed off on Sex Bomb for the late Jimmy Neville in a novices’ hurdle at Fontwell in October 2001. He finished his riding career with 96 winners.

Dascombe subsequently worked as assistant trainer to Ralph Beckett, Mike de Kock in Dubai and John Jenkins before taking out a training licence, in his own right, in late 2005. From his initial base in Lambourn, he made a highly successful start to his training career, saddling his first winner, Principal Witness, at Lingfield in January, 2006 and finishing the season with 10 winners.

In 2008, Dascombe saddled 42 winners, including his first two Group winners, Classic Blade in the TNT July Stakes and Ole Ole in the Weatherbys Superlative Stakes, with the space of 24 hours at the Newmarket July Meeting. His emerging talent did not go unnoticed because, the following season, he was invited by former England footballer Michael Owen and Betfair co-founder Andrew Black to fill the vacancy left by Nicky Vaughan at Manor House Stables, near Malpas, Cheshire. Dascombe celebrated the move by saddling a winner with his first runner, Mondovi, a 5-year-old mare owned by footballers Kieron Dyer and Craig Bellamy, at Wolverhampton in September that year.

Dascombe saddled his first winners at Royal Ascot in 2011, with Rhythm Of Light in the Sandringham Handicap and Brown Panther in the King George VI Stakes. Rhythm Of Light went on to win the International Istanbul Trophy at Veliendie, Turkey and the Goldikova Stakes at Santa Anita the following season.

Brown Panther, bred and owned by Michael Owen, went on to finish second, beaten 3 lengths, behind Masked Marvel in the Ladbrokes St. Leger at Doncaster in 2011 and was to become the flagbearer for the yard in the seasons that followed. The Shirocco colt won the Goodwood Cup in 2013, the Irish St. Leger at the Curragh in 2014 – the first Group 1 victory for Dascombe – and the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan in 2015, before his untimely death later that year. Defending his crown in the Irish St. Leger, Brown Panther weakened quickly after halfway, having shattered a bone in his hind leg, and had to be put down. Michael Owen described his death as “the saddest day of my life”.

Friday 16 March 2018

Oliver Sherwood: Renaissance Man

Nowadays, Oliver Sherwood is probably best known as the trainer of Many Clouds, winner of 10 races, including the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2014 and the Grand National in 2015. Sherwood had trained his first winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup, Arctic Call, 24 years earlier, but following Many Clouds’ 3¼-length defeat of Houblon Des Obeaux at Newbury he said, tearfully, “There’s been a few bare patches in the last 10 years. You lose confidence sometimes when things are not going right, but any trainer will tell you, you’re only as good as the soldiers you go to war with.”

Many Clouds’ subsequent victory in the Grand National has been well chronicled, as has his untimely death, due to severe pulmonary haemorrhage, at Cheltenham less than two years later. Sherwood paid tribute to the horse that, almost single-handedly, put him back in the big time, saying, “We've got to look forward and not look back. He’s been the horse of a lifetime and I always said he would die for you and he's died for me and the team today doing what he does best.”

Sherwood first took out a training licence in his own right in 1984, but had previously worked as pupil assistant to Gavin Pritchard in Newmarket and assistant trainer to Arthur Moore in Co. Kildare and Fred Winter in Lambourn. During six years under the tutelage of Winter at his famous Uplands yard, Sherwood pursued a parallel career as a highly competent amateur rider. He became champion amateur in 1979/80 and rode a total of 96 winners, including three at the Cheltenham Festival.

Sherwood subsequently bought nearby Rhonehurst Stables and saddled his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, The West Awake, in the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle in 1987. Fast forward three decades or so and Sherwood has saddled over 1,000 winners, including five more at the Cheltenham Festival. Aside from high-profile victories in the Hennessy Gold Cup (twice) and the Grand National, he has won the Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham (three times), the Challow Hurdle at Newbury (three times) and the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.

According to former trainer Henrietta Knight, Sherwood “has a great eye for future National Hunt horses”, and he himself admits, “I love buying the unraced store horse and bringing them along slowly. That’s the way I was brought up and it’s what I know best.”

His training methods may not be as fashionable as they once were but Sherwood, 62, remains as competitive as ever and still harbours a desire to return to the top ten National Hunt trainers in the country.

Saturday 10 March 2018

Anthony Honeyball: One Step at a Time

Anthony Honeyball comes from good racing stock. His father, John, trained subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, The Dikler – a strapping, 17.2 hand horse, famously sent back to the hunting field by Captain Tim Forster after proving too difficult to train – to win his first point-to-point at Crowell.

Honeyball Jnr. rode as an amateur for Richard Barber, one of the most successful trainers in the history of point-to-point racing, and as conditional jockey to Paul Nicholls, for whom he rode 45 winners, before embarking on his training career in 2006. Initially based at his parents’ farm in Somerset, he subsequently rented a yard from Richard Barber in Seaborough, Dorset, before moving to nearby Potwell Farm Stables, near Beaminster, in 2012.

Honeyball has recorded his two biggest wins ever, in monetary terms, with the same horse, Regal Encore, owned by J.P. McManus, in the Lavazza Jolie Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot in 2016 and the Keltbray Swinley Chase over the same course and distance in 2018. Coincidentally, Regal Encore beat the same horse, Minella Daddy, trained by Peter Bowen, by a similar margin on both occasions.

Honeyball saddled his first Graded winner, Fountains Windfall, in the Gaskells Handicap Hurdle at Aintree in 2017 and added a second, Midnight Tune, in the Weatherbys General Stud Book Jane Seymour Mares' Novices’ Hurdle in 2018. Fountains Windfall was sent over fences in 2017/18, winning twice, and was a short as 7/1 for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. However, the 8-year-old was killed in a freak accident during a routine schooling session a few days before his intended preparatory run at Warwick in February. A shocked Honeyball said, “He either had a momentary lapse of concentration and fell funny or it’s possible he had a heart attack or a seizure.”

At the time of writing, in March, 2018, Honeyball is already having his best season ever, numerically and monetarily. So far, his string of 35 horses has won 33 races and amassed just over £360,000 in prize money. In fact, since the middle of November, Honeyball has sent out five doubles and a treble but, as he explained, “It has taken 10 years of blood, sweat and tears along with my wife [and assistant trainer] Rachael to climb the ladder this far, but we’re not in a position yet where we couldn’t slip back down. We buy our horses and we have properly grafted.”

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Harry Fry: “When the student is ready, the master appears”

Harry Fry, 31, was pupil assistant to Paul Nicholls for four years and assistant trainer to Richard Barber, at Nicholls’ satellite stable in Seaborough, near Bridport, Dorset, before taking out a training licence in October 2012. Fry was famously credited with preparing Rock On Ruby, the winner of the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival the previous March, although Nicholls’ name appeared on the roll of honour.

Fry had to wait a little while for a Grade 1 winner in his own right, when Bitofapuzzle won the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final at Fairyhouse in 2015. However, more recently, his stable standard bearer, Unowhatimeanharry, has won ten of his 13 starts for the yard, including the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in 2016 and the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown in 2017, to take his tally to four Grade 1 wins.

All in all, Fry has saddled 254 winners in his short career, including 41, so far, in 2017/18. He has steadily increased his total number of winners and total prize money, year-on-year, since 2012/13. In 2016/17, just his fifth season in charge, he finished thirteenth in the Trainers’ Championship, with 67 winners and over £1 million in prize money for the first time.

As far as the Cheltenham Festival in 2018 is concerned, Fry has recently stated that If The Cap Fits, a comfortable winner of all three starts over hurdles, misses his intended engagement in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle because of a gluteal muscle tear. Fry hopes that the 6-year-old Milan gelding will recover in time to defend his 100% record over the smaller obstacles at the Aintree Grand National Meeting.

In brighter news, Melrose Boy, also owned by Paul and Clare Rooney, remains on course for the Coral Cup or the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle and can be backed at 25/1 for either race. The 5-year-old has already won a 19-runner handicap hurdle over 2 miles 5 furlongs on the Old Course at Cheltenham and lost little caste in defeat when third, off his revised mark, in the valuable Betfred Heroes Handicap Hurdle, over 2 miles 7½ furlongs, at Sandown in February. His experience of large fields, not to mention his proven stamina, could make him an ideal candidate for the Coral Cup, in particular, if the ground doesn’t dry out too much.

Sunday 4 March 2018

Evan Williams: Back From The Brink

Farmer-turned-trainer Evan Williams is now firmly established at his yard at Aberogwrn Farm, Llancarfan, near Cowbridge, in the Vale of Glamorgan, but the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 nearly put paid to his operation altogether. Following the outbreak, Williams bit the bullet, sold all his beef cattle at a loss and invested in a string of Irish point-to-point horses. Twelve months later, he was champion point-to-point trainer. He later recalled, “It was a case of sink or swim, really. When you have nothing, there’s only one way to go.”

Williams took out a full training licence in 2003 and, in December that year, saddled 40/1 chance Sunray to win the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. However, it was the victories of State Of Play in the Handicap Chase at the Aintree Grand National Meeting and the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in 2006 that brought Williams to the attention of the wider racing public.

Readers may recall that, in 2008, the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival was abandoned due to high winds. Well, it was on the packed, 10-race card the following day that Williams trained his first, and only, winner at the Cheltenham Festival. High Chimes, ridden by Williams’ assistant trainer, James Tudor – also, coincidentally, the reigning champion point-to-point jockey – made mistakes, but won the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase. Williams said later, “I did not really appreciate the High Chimes win as much as I should have and did not appreciate how difficult it is to get a horse good enough to win at The Festival”.

In the years that followed, State Of Play was to become the flag bearer for the yard, finishing in the first four in three consecutive Grand Nationals, in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Indeed, Williams also saddled Cappa Bleu to finish fourth in the Grand National in 2012 and second the following year, to give him the enviable, or unenviable, record of having a horse placed in the race five years running.

Williams recognises that it is total prize money, not total number of wins, by which success is measured. Having saddled 51 winners and won £598,389 in 2016/17, at the time of writing, he has already amassed £634,429 in 2017/18, despite saddling just 42 winners. Court Minstrel won the Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow for the second time in his career in October, John Constable, winner of the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in the summer, is being aimed at conditions hurdles, including the Champion Hurdle, and novice chaser Report To Base has resumed his previous progress, so Williams has plenty of cause for optimism.

Friday 23 February 2018

Jeremy Noseda: Always Something Else to Learn

After completing his A-levels, Jeremy Noseda apparently turned down five university places, including one at Cambridge, opting instead for a lengthy apprenticeship with the late John Dunlop, John Gosden, Hilal Ibrahim and Saeed bin Suroor. Noseda was offered, and declined, an opportunity to start training, in his own right, for Sheikh Mohammed in Chantilly, France. He later recalled, “It was a very generous gesture, but he wanted to set me up in France. I am English through and through and this country is where I always wanted to train,”

Noseda opted, instead for independence, setting up on his own in California in late 1996. However, in August, 1997 he bought Shalfleet Stables, Newmarket from the late Paul Kelleway and started training in Britain the following year. He saddled his first winner, Nautical Warning, at the first time of asking in a lowly apprentices’ handicap at Lingfield in January, 1998. By the end of the year, Noseda had already saddled his first Group winner, Wannabe Grand, in the Shadwell Stud Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.

He trained his first Royal Ascot winner, Just James, in the Coventry Stakes in 2002 and, the following season, completed a notable juvenile double with Carry On Katie in the Sky Bet Cheveley Park Stakes and Balmont in the Shadwell Stud Middle Park Stakes at the Cambridgeshire Meeting at Newmarket. He saddled his first Breeders’ Cup winner, Wilko, in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park, Texas in 2004 and, two years later saddled his first Classic winner, Araafa, in the Irish St. Leger in 2006. Later that same season, Noseda always won the St. Leger at Doncaster with Sixties Icon.

Subsequent highlights have been Soldier’s Tale in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot and Simply Perfect in the UAE Hydra Properties Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket
in 2007, Fleeting Spirit in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket in 2009, Sans Frontieres in the Irish Field St. Leger at the Curragh in 2010 and Western Aristocrat in the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park, New York in 2011.

However, throughout his career, Noseda has delivered the goods in numerous prestigious races including valuable handicaps such as the Royal Hunt Cup and Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot. Indeed, in 2010, he saddled Laddies Poker Two, a 5-year-old owned by Derrrick Smith, Michael Tabor and John Magnier, to land a gamble of biblical proportions in the Wokingham Stakes. Returning from an absence of 610 days, Laddies Poker Two was backed from 25/1 at the start of the week to 9/2 favourite and, having travelled well throughout, won by 2½ lengths, breaking the course record in the process.

Thursday 15 February 2018

Mark Johnston: Talented and Characterful

“Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character”, or so said the late John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. One man who clearly has both, in spades, is racehorse trainer Mark Johnston.

In October 2017, Johnston became just the third British trainer ever, under either code, to train 4,000 winners. Only Richard Hannon Snr and Martin Pipe (Father of David Pipe)  have trained more and, if fate decrees, it’s odds-on that Johnston will become the most successful trainer, numerically, in the history of British racing during the 2018 Flat season.

The victory of the two-year-old, Corsica, at Ayr in October 2009 made him the first British Flat trainer to saddle over 200 winners in a season and he has since repeated the feat six times. He also has the distinction of having trained at least 100 winners for the last 24 seasons in a row.

Mark Johnston is a qualified veterinary surgeon which, he says, allows him to cut out all the ‘pseudo-science and quackery’ that he believes afflicts the horse racing industry. Johnston worked in veterinary practice for three years before buying his first training yard, near Louth, Lincolnshire, in 1986. He was granted a training licence the following year and saddled his first winner, Hinari Video, at Carlisle that summer. Johnston later recalled how he and his wife, Deidre “were so elated we sat and stared at the teletext racing results all evening.”

In 1998, Johnston bought Kingsley House in Middleham, North Yorkshire, which he subsequently developed into Kingsley Park, a major training complex covering 270 acres. Notable horses that he has trained over the years include Mister Baileys, winner of the 2,000 Guineas in 1994, Attraction, winner of the 1,000 Guineas in 2004, Shamardal, winner of the Dewhurst Stakes and Cartier Two-Year-Old Colt in 2004 and, of course, Double Trigger, winner of 14 races, including the Ascot Gold Cup, the Doncaster Cup (three times) and the Goodwood Cup (three times), between 1995 and 1998.

Johnston has some strong, and controversial, views on the way horse racing is presented to the general public. In 2010, he told the BBC, “We tend to market it [horse racing] purely as a betting industry. The two industries are mutually dependent, but you have to market the sport as a sport. We should concentrate on that first and let the betting follow.” In 2016, he also told the Racing Post that ITV “should get rid of all coverage of betting” from its terrestrial broadcasts of horse racing.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

Milton Bradley: Proper Old School

John Milton Bradley, known for most of his life as Milton, to avoid confusion with his father, John Senior, isn’t exactly what you’d call a household name. Nevertheless, Bradley, 82, hit the racing headlines as recently as December 12, 2017, when, after 153 days without a winner, he saddled Indian Affair, Compton Prince and Temple Road for a 1,121/1 treble at Lingfield. He was quoted at the time, saying, “You die when you retire. Don’t rest out, wear out.”

Bradley began his training career in unlicensed, unregulated horse racing, also known as “flapping”, in the years following World War II, travelling as far afield as the Scottish Borders to gain experience. When he was finally granted a training permit, followed by a training licence in 1969, he specialised in jumpers, notably training Grey Dolphin to win 10 steeplechases during the 1978/79 season.

His first winner on the Flat was Offa’s Mead, bought for £100, who graduated from a lowly selling stakes race at Beverley to win 15 more races, including the Bovis Stakes at Ascot. Improving supposedly poor quality horses, particularly sprinters, has since become a trademark of Mead Farm in Sedbury, Gloucestershire, where Bradley trains. Bradely is a self-confessed fan of sprinters, firstly because of their initial price tag and secondly because, in his own words, “once you have them up and ready you can run them again and again.”

Perhaps his most famous association was with The Tatling, who won 18 of his 176 races, including the King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot and the King George at Goodwood. In 2003, Milton Bradley famously obtained his first passport ever, at the age of 68, so that he could personally drive The Tatling to Longchamp to compete in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp.The 6-year-old kept on to take third in the last strides, 1¼ lengths behind the winner, Patevellian, at odds of 40/1. The Tatling was retired after winning his last race at Wolverhampton on December 13, 2011, less than three weeks short of his 15th birthday. Bradley said of him, “He’s one of those horses that you drop on by mistake and spend the rest of your life looking for another half as good.”

Milton Bradley is not, in fact, the oldest trainer; that honour belongs to Michael “Spittin’ Mick” Easterby, 86, but jockey Franny Norton – no spring chicken himself – summed Bradley up, saying, “You think he’d say, ‘That’s it’, and put his feet up, but that’s not him.”

Saturday 3 February 2018

Andrew Balding: Born to Train

If anyone was born to be a racehorse trainer it was, surely, Andrew Balding. He is, of course, the son of Ian Balding, who trained the Mill Reef – winner of the Derby, the Coral-Eclipse, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1971 – and the nephew of the late Toby Balding, who trained winners of the Champion Hurdle, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National.

Balding Jnr began his training career as assistant to his uncle and subsequently to his father, before taking over the licence at Park House stables at Kingsclere, Berkshire in his own right in 2003. Six months later, his sister, Clare, who was on anchor duty for the BBC at Epsom, was reduced to tears when Casual Look held on to beat the favourite, Yesterday, by a neck in the Oaks to give the fledgling trainer his first Classic winner.

Following the race, Andrew, Ian and Clare stood together in stunned silence until the redoubtable Clare eventually told viewers, “I’m sorry. The Balding family aren’t [sic] very communicative at the moment. We’ll be back to you in a minute.”

After a dream start, further success at the highest level proved elusive, although Phoenix Reach progressed into a top-class international performer, winning the Canadian International at Woodbine at three, the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin at four and the Dubai Sheema Classic at Nad Al Sheba at five. Bonfire, owned by the Highclere Stud, started second favourite for the Derby in 2012, but could only finish sixth of nine, beaten 13½ lengths, behind the winner, Camelot.

More recently, Balding won the Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington, Australia with Side Glance in 2013 and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood and the E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine with Here Comes When and Blond Me, respectively, in 2017. Aside from the two Group 1 wins in 2017, domestic Group 2 wins by Beat The Bank, Blond Me and Montaly contributed to his best ever season, in terms of prize money, with £2,830,527 banked.

The 2018 season is still in its infancy, at least as far as the trainers’ table is concerned, but Andrew Balding has already saddled 8 winners from 37 runners at a strike rate around 22%. His typical seasonal total, of 100+ winners, looks well within his compass, once again, by the end of the current campaign.

Saturday 27 January 2018

Emma Lavelle: Exciting Times Ahead

Emma Lavelle spent five years as assistant trainer to the late Toby Balding and a season with Claude R. “Shug” McGaughey at Belmont Park, New York, before taking out a training licence, in her own right, at the tender age of 25. One reason for doing so, she said, “…was I could have done something else if it didn’t work out.”

One of her early claims to fame was saddling Self Defense, a 6-year-old novice having just his fifth start over hurdles, to finish a never-nearer fourth, at 100/1, in the Champion Hurdle in 2003. Other notable winners Emma sent out from her previous base, in Hatherden, near Andover, Hampshire, included Crackaway Jack in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle in 2008 and Pause and Clause in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in 2010.

In the early summer of 2016, Emma and her husband, former jump jockey Barry Fenton, who now fills the role of assistant trainer, moved into the Bonita Racing Stables, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, following the retirement of former occupant Peter Makin. At the time, Emma said, “We’ve always rented our present place and this was a fantastic yard that came on the market, so it’s very exciting times”.

Her initial optimism was not misplaced, because in 2016/17 she saddled a total of 35 winners – compared with 19 in the last of her 17 seasons at Hatherden – and amassed £373,745 in total prize money. She’s enjoyed a good start to 2017/18, too, with 24 winners and £279,987 in total prize money, with the Cheltenham Festival and the Aintree Grand National Meeting still to come.

Speaking of the Cheltenham Festival, one likely contender is Enniscoffey Oscar, who won the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices' Hurdle at Doncaster. The stoutly bred 6-year-old apparently wants “decent ground”, but prior to his latest victory Emma said, “If he runs well at Doncaster, he probably deserves a crack at one of the novice races at Cheltenham but I thought he would be an ideal horse for the Coral Cup. They will go so fast in that; you really will need to see it out.”

Prestbury Park in March is also on the agenda for Paisley Park, a half-brother to Enniscoffey Oscar, despite being beaten in a novices’ hurdle at Doncaster in February. Paisley Park had previously been beaten just a length by the hitherto unbeaten Mr. Whipped in the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick. Emma remarked afterwards, “Paisley Park is a lovely horse. He was just probably slightly too green. They went quick down the back and he has never jumped that fast before in his life. He galloped his little heart out down the home straight.” She added, “If I said what would be the ideal race to run him in, it would be the Albert Bartlett”.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Philip Hobbs: 2,500 Winners & Counting

Having ridden 160 winners during a 10-year career as a professional jump jockey, famously started his training career in 1985 with half a dozen horses he kept in a cowshed. Nevertheless, his first runner as a trainer was a winner and his Sandhill Racing Stables in Bilbrook, near Minehead, Somerset has subsequently sent out over 2,500 winners. Hobbs sets himself the target of 100 winners and £1 million in prize money each season, something he achieved with plenty to spare in 2016/17. In fact, aided by reigning Champion Jockey Richard Johnson, who’s been first jockey at Sandhill Racing Stables for 17 years, Hobbs has been in the top half a dozen National Hunt trainers in the country for the past two decades.

Philip Hobbs has saddled many notable winners during his career, but perhaps the most famous was Rooster Booster, a grey gelding by Riverwise, who gained his biggest successes in the yellow-and-black colours of Terry Warner. Originally trained by his owner, Richard Mitchell, for whom he’d won a maiden hurdle at Taunton, Rooster Booster joined Philip Hobbs in April 2000, but didn’t win his first race for the yard until two years later. That win, in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2002, was followed by five more the following season, culminating in an impressive, 11-length victory over Westender in the Champion Hurdle in 2003.

In truth, with 18 Cheltenham Festival winners to his name, there are few Festival races in which Hobbs hasn’t tasted success although, of the so-called ‘championship’ races, the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup remain elusive. Last season, Hobbs named subsequent Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil as his best hope of a Cheltenham winner at an early stage and, although his stable star has run poorly on both starts in 2017/18, he has plenty of fresh talent in his yard.

Potential ‘dark’ horses for 2017/18 include Duke Des Champs, who missed 2016/17 because of a tendon injury, Jerrysback, an impressive winner of both starts over hurdles and Musical Slave, who ran well in a ‘bumper’ on his debut at Punchestown last April and may have needed the run when well beaten on his reappearance at Market Rasen in November. At the time of writing, Philip Hobbs is only 13th in the trainers’ table, with 45 winners from 311 runners, at a strike rate of about 15% but, if previous seasons are anything to go by, followers of the yard should enjoy a profitable spring.

Monday 15 January 2018

John Gosden: An Embarrassment of Riches

John Gosden OBE has been ensconced at Clarehaven Stables on Bury Road, Newmarket since 2006, but his career as a racehorse trainer, which stretches back to 1979, has taken him all over the world. He started as assistant to Vincent O’Brien, then Sir Noel Murless, then Tommy Doyle and has previously trained, in his own right, in California, in Manton, Wiltshire and at Stanley House Stables, a.k.a. Godolphin Stables, in Newmarket.

Gosden, 66, has trained over 3,000 winners worldwide, including over 600 winners in the United States, but said, in 2013, “I am done with roaming. This house has been very lucky. We have built the business up, done well and last year was my most successful year.”

Indeed, in 2012 Gosden won the Flat Trainers’ Championship for the first time, amassing £3.7 million in prize money, courtesy of horses such as The Fugue, winner of the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, and Nathaniel, winner of the Coral-Eclipse. He won it again in 2015, thanks in large part to the exploits of Cartier Horse of the Year Golden Horn, who won the Derby, the Coral-Eclipse, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe before finishing second, beaten half a length, in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on his final start.

Although unable to match the performance of Aidan O’Brien – who saddled a world record 27 Group 1 winners in a calendar year – in 2017, Gosden was fortunate to train another Cartier Horse of the Year, Enable, and the Cartier Champion 3-Year-Old Colt, Cracksman, in the same season. The former, who is a daughter of Nathaniel, won all five starts at Group 1 level, including the Oaks and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, while the latter won the Great Voltigeur Stakes and the Prix Niel before an impressive 7-length win in the Champion Stakes on his final start of the season. In so doing, he became the first Group 1 winner sired by Frankel.

Both Enable – who is rated just 2lb inferior to some of the best fillies since World War II by Timeform – and Cracksman remain in training in 2018, so jockey Frankie Dettori, who rode both horses last season, will inevitably have the unenviable task of choosing between them. One thing is certain, though; ‘Johnny G’, as Matt Chapman fatefully called John Gosden during the Oaks presentation, has plenty to look forward to in 2018.

Friday 5 January 2018

Dan Skelton: Champion Trainer in Waiting

A quick look at the National Hunt Trainers Championship for 2017/18 reveals that Dan Skelton is currently in fourth place, with 130 winners and just over £1,166,000 in prize money. Not bad for a man who didn’t start training, in his own right, until the 2013/14 season.

Of course, Skelton is the eldest son of former British equestrian, Nick, whom he acknowledges “has been an inspiration”, and learned his trade as assistant to multiple champion trainer Paul Nicholls. Nicholls arranged for several horses to be sent to him at Lodge Hill, Warwickshire, but Skelton Jnr hit the ground running as a National Hunt trainer, saddling 16 winners by early February in his first season, and hasn’t looked back since.

In the 2015/16 season, he saddled over 100 winners – including his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Superb Story, in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle – and amassed over £1 million in prize money for the first time. He bettered both totals in 2016/17 and started the 2017/18 campaign in the best possible way with a double at Warwick on the opening day. However, he did say at the start of the season that the championship was “not within immediate reach”, although he is obviously keen to cement his position among the leading trainers in the country.

Skelton stated that his main aim is to feel that the yard is at least as strong, if not stronger, in the novice hurdle and novice chase division, year-on-year. Among the horses he highlighted at the start of the season were Aintree My Dream, who he believes will be one of his better novice chasers, Bedrock, who he believes will take high rank in the novice hurdle division and Champion Hurdle hopeful Ch’Tibello, who he admits to being “very excited about.”

Skelton has employed his younger brother, Harry, as stable jockey and Tom Messenger, a former professional National Hunt jockey, who retired from race riding in May 2016, aged just 30, as assistant trainer. Lodge Hill, formerly a working livestock farm, has been converted into a purpose built equestrian facility, with 74 boxes and modern training facilities, including a state-of-the-art all-weather gallop. Granted such foundations, not to mention the hard work and ambition of Skelton himself, the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship must surely not be out of reach for long.