Sunday 27 October 2019

Bryan Smart: Working Class Boy Done Good

Born to a working class family in Royston, Barnsley in South Yorkshire, Bryan Smart graduated from the showjumping circuit in the North of England to become first jockey to Jenny Pitman in Lambourn, Berkshire. Indeed, Smart rode Corbiere, or ‘Corky’, as he was known at home, to six victories in the early part of his career. Corbiere would, of course, go on to win the Grand National in 1983 but, by that stage, Smart had suffered a career-ending fall at Huntingdon.

Smart recovered and moved to the village of Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire in West Wales, where he operated a livery yard for four years. West Wales was, though, ‘too far away from the racecourses’ and, in 1986, Smart returned to Lambourn, where he took out a public training licence. After successfully training at Hill House Stables for many years, in 2002, Smart bought the historic Hambleton House – previously made famous by Sir Noel Murless, among others – in Sutton Bank, Thirsk in North Yorkshire.

Smart enjoyed his first Group One success with the three-year-old filly Sil Sila in the Prix de Diane Hermes at Chantilly in 1996, but had to wait two-and-a-half decades for his second, Tangerine Trees in the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp in 2011, and a further eight years for his third, Alpha Delphini in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 2019. He has won over £500,000 in total prize money just twice, once in 2007, when he saddled Unilateral to win the Firth of Clyde Stakes at Ayr, and again in 2009, when he saddled Distinctive to win the same contest. His most successful season numerically, though, came in 2011, when he recorded 69 wins – including four, high-profile victories for the aforementioned Tangerine Trees – from 489 runners, at a strike rate of 14%.

It would be fair to say that Smart has not come anywhere near that total since; indeed, at the time of writing, his prize money total for 2019, £158,537, is the lowest since the year before he moved to Hambleton House. Nevertheless, as Smart himself once said, ‘The racing world is full of ups and downs’, and he remains a top class trainer with an exceptional eye for a horse.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Gordon Elliott

Formerly a highly accomplished amateur rider, Gordon Elliott first took out a training licence in 2006/2007 and saddled his first winner, Arresting, in a handicap hurdle at Perth in June, 2006. However, Elliott really announced his arrival in the training ranks by saddling the 10-year-old Silver Birch, ridden by Robbie Power, to win the Grand National the following April. Of course, Elliot recently hit the headlines again, when saddling Tiger Roll, ridden by Davy Russell, to win the 2018 renewal of the world famous steeplechase, but the whole of his 11-year training career has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Based at Cullentra House Stables in County Meath, in eastern Ireland, Elliott had actually saddled five winners, including Silver Birch, on mainland Britain, before opening his account in his native land. Nevertheless, he trained his first Grade 1 winner, Jessies Dream, in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in December, 2010, and his first winners at the Cheltenham Festival, Chicago Grey in the National Hunt Chase and Carlito Brigante in the Coral Cup, in March, 2011.

The high-profile victory of Don Cossack in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2016 was an eighth success at the Cheltenham Festival but, in September that year, he was the major beneficiary of a split between Gigginstown House Stud, owned by Michael O’Leary, and Willie Mullins, which resulted in 60 horses being removed from the County Carlow trainer.

Elliot saddled six winners at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, edging out Willie Mullins on countback to become leading trainer for the first time, and a further eight at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, beating Mullins 8-7, to take a second trainers’ title. In early April, 2018, Elliott was €550,000 ahead of Mullins in the race for the Irish trainers’ championship and long odds-on to take the title for the first time.