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.

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