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”.