Friday 23 March 2018

Tom Dascombe: Lord of the Manor

tom dascombe
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

Oliver Sherwood horse trainers
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
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

evan williams horse trainers
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.