Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Hughie Morrison: Success Breeds Success

Hughie Morrison
Granted that his late father, James, the second Lord Margadale, bred and owned Oaks winners Juliette Marny and Scintillate, it’s probably no surprise that Hughie Morrison became a racehorse trainer. In fact, despite initially pursuing a career outside racing, he later observed, “I was always craving an involvement in racing; I just felt one was expected to do something more…proper.”

That involvement began with Paul Cole, for whom he worked, unpaid, as assistant trainer for two years. In September, 1996, he bought Summerdown Stables in East Isley, Berkshire from Simon Sherwood and started training, with just eight horses, the following spring. Two decades or so later, Morrison, 57, is still at Summerdown and has saddled over 800 winners.

Ironically, Morrison recorded his first major success with Frenchman’s Creek, whom he also bred, in William Hill National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2002. He also fondly remembers Tom Paddington, bred by his second wife, Mary, who broke down over hurdles at Newbury in 1999, but won on his reappearance at the Berkshire course in 2002 after 1,351 days off. “You can’t buy that sort of pleasure”, Morrison recalled.

More recently, Morrison has enjoyed numerous high-profile victories on the Flat, including Group 1 successes for Pastoral Pursuits in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket and Alcazar in the Prix Royal at Longchamp in 2005 and Sakhee’s Secret in the Darley July Cup, again, two years later. He has saddled six Royal Ascot winners, including a double, with Sagramor in the Britannia Stakes and Pisco Sour in the Tercentenary Stakes, in 2011. The most poignant, however, was Waverley in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes in 2003. Morrison said of him, “He belonged to my father, who had died only two months earlier. It was a very emotional time for all the family.”

In May, 2017, Morrison was charged by the British Horseracing Authority after his 4-year-old filly Our Little Sister tested positive for the prohibited anabolic steroid nandrolone laurate after finishing last of nine, beaten 19 lengths, in an otherwise unremarkable handicap at Wolverhampton the previous January. He took the unprecedented step of offering a £10,000 reward to clear his name, claiming that the horse had been maliciously injected.

At a subsequent independent disciplinary hearing, Morrison conceded that he was in breach of the strict liability rule, but claimed that deliberately doping Our Little Sister – who had a handicap rating of just 52 and was retired from racing a maiden after nine starts – would have been “professional suicide”. In any event, he was found “not to blame” and fined the minimum £1,000.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Trainers: Grand National and Cheltenham Greats

With the festival season almost upon us, it's as good a time as any to take a look at trainers known for their ability to master the big occasions. Of course it's only days now until the Cheltenham Festival begins so it'd be remiss of me if I didn't highlight the horse trainers with a stellar record at the event. Cheltenham is a broad challenge when compared to the Grand National on account of the number of races involved in this prestigeous four day festival of racing. The real jewel in the crown of this showcase of high quality racing is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, held on the final day of the festival. The most successful Cheltham Festival trainer is Willie Mullins with 61 winners, closely followed by Nicky Henderson with 60, and Paul Nicholls with 43.

How does this data translate to both betting odds and where to place your money during the 2019 event you may ask. Well, the more information you're armed with the better in my book, especially when you're on the look out for betting opportunities. At time of writing, current favourite with bookmakers for the 15th March Gold Cup is Presenting Percy at 10/3, followed by 2nd favourite Clans Des Obeaux at 4-1 and Native River at 5-1. The Colin Tizzard trained Native River was last years winner, so a repeat would be somethng special. Clans Des Obeaux is trained by the aforementioned Paul Nichols so if trainer pedigree factors into how you place your bets, this could be a good choice. They're perhaps a little short for an each way / place bet, but if you're going for a win bet these three are all decent options.

Hot on the heels of Cheltenham comes the one and only Grand National. It's thought that close to £300 million will be bet on the Grand National this year with TV audiences into the hundreds of millions. Crazy numbers. Even those typically not interested in betting, tend to enjoy a flutter on the Grand National and due to the size of the field, there are plenty of big priced Grand National betting opportunities to be had. Perhaps the comically named Splash of Ginge holds appeal for you at 100-1 or Rathlin Rose at similar betting odds. Current favourite is last years winner, Tiger Roll at 12-1 and Rathvinden at around the name odds. The field size also makes an each way / place bet a more realistic option for punters.

Much like Cheltenham, some trainers of course have much more pedigree in the Grand National than others. The Grand National is more of a precise, yet unpredictable, event in some ways. It's a single race focus rather than the broader stroke of looking at Cheltenham Festival wins. The most successful Grand National trainer of all time is Nigel Twiston-Davies with 106 runners and 9 wins, followed by Jonjo ONeill with 67 and 5 wins, David Pipe with 66 runners and 3 wins and Willie Mullins with 2 wins from 57 runners. Mullins will have his fingers crossed during this year's Grand National as he trains Rathvinden, a horse in with a real chance in the race.