Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Ed Dunlop: Tragedy to Triumph

Ed Dunlop
Edward Alexander Leeper Dunlop, usually known as “Ed”, is the son of John Dunlop, who saddled the winners of 10 British Classics in a 47-year-career as a trainer prior to his retirement in 2012. Dunlop Jnr. began his career in racing as pupil assistant to Nicky Henderson and subsequently spent three years as assistant trainer to Alex Scott before taking over the role of trainer to Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum at Gainsborough Stables in Newmarket under tragic circumstances. In September, 1994, Scott was shot and killed by a resentful stud groom, William O’Brien, and Dunlop was catapulted into the limelight.

He hit the ground running, though, saddling his first winner, Lynton Lad, in a small conditions stakes race at Yarmouth, within a month of taking over the training licence. He finished his first full season, 1995, with a respectable 17 winners and just under £183,000 in total prize money.

However, by the end of the following season, he’d saddled not just one Group 1 winner, but two. His first success at the highest level came with Ta Rib, owned by Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, in the Dubai Poule D’essai Des Pouliches at Longchamp in May, 1996, and the second with Iktamal, owned by Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum, in the Haydock Park Sprint Cup the following September.

Dunlop progressed through the training ranks until, in 2001, he enjoyed his most successful season ever, numerically, thanks to a string of high-profile victories. His flag-bearer that season was Lailani, who won the Kildangan Stud Irish Oaks at the Curragh, Vodafone Nassau Stakes at Goodwood and the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park, New York.

However, the horse that really made his name was Ouija Board, who won 10 of her 22 races between 2003 and 2006, including seven Group 1 wins. Her winning tally included the Vodafone Oaks, the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (twice) and the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin. During her career, Dunlop said of her, “Having her outweighs everything. She’s changed my career, changed my life, changed [owner] Lord Derby’s life.”

Having moved to La Grange Stables on Fordham Road, Newmarket at the end of 2008, Dunlop enjoyed further success at the highest level with Snow Fairy. Between 2010 and 2012, the Intikhab filly won six Group 1 races, including the Investec Oaks, the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup at Kyoto, Japan (twice), the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin and the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Olly Murphy: Jack of all trades

Formerly assistant trainer to Gordon Elliott, with whom he spent four years, Olly Murphy was still only 25 years old when he took out a combined training licence, in his own right, in 2017. Nevertheless, within a week of taking up the reins at Warren Chase Stables in Wilmcote, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, he had saddled two runners, and two winners. Dove Mountain, a six-year-old formerly trained by his mother, Anabel Murphy (née King), opened his account by winning a mile-and-a-quarter handicap at Brighton in July 4 and Gold Class, an eight-year-old and hitherto long-standing maiden over hurdles, doubled his tally by winning a lady amateur riders’ handicap at Market Rasen, under Bryony Frost, on July 9.

Obviously, it was always going to be difficult to maintain the flying start to his training career. Nevertheless, at the end of the 2017 Flat season, Murphy had saddled three winners from 23 runners, at a strike rate of 13% and, at the end of the 2017/18 National Hunt season, 47 winners from 250 runners, at a strike rate of 19%. Indeed, the latter season notably included victory Hunters Call in the Grade Three Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot in December, 2017. The seven-year-old, ridden by Jack Kennedy, collected £85,425, which is the biggest single prize Murphy has won to date.

In subsequent seasons, Murphy has continued to saddle a limited number of runners on the Flat, predominantly on synthetic, or all-weather, surfaces, but his main focus has been on the National Hunt sphere. All told, in just over two years, Murphy has saddled a total of 158 winners under National Hunt Rules and amassed £1.29 million in win and place prize money. Other highlights of his fledgling training career, so far, have included winning the Listed Matchbook Time To Move Over Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton with Itchy Feet in October, 2018 and the Core Spreads Sussex Champion Hurdle at Plumpton with Fielsole in April, 2019. In between times, he also saddled Thomas Darby and Itchy Feet to finish second and third in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival; the former finished lame and the latter broke blood vessels but, collectively, the pair won £37,762.50 for their efforts.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Stuart Edmunds: In it for the long haul

Stuart Edmunds has been based at Fences Farm in Tyringham, near Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire for the better part of four decades. He was previously assistant trainer to former Renee Robeson (née de Rothschild) before taking over the training licence following her death, at the age of 87, in 2015. Edmunds holds a combined licence, but it would be fair to say that his focus is on National Hunt racing and, despite operating just a small string, of thirty or so horses, has achieved some noteworthy success in that sphere.

In 2015-16, his first full season in charge, Edmunds saddled 16 winners from 93 runners, at a strike rate of 17%, and collected nearly£187,000 in win and place prize money. Highlights included victories for juvenile hurdler Wolf Of Windlesham in the Grade Two JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham and the bet365 Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, which collectively netted over £48,000 in prize money. The 2016-17 season was less productive, yielding just nine winners from 77 runners, but they did include Edmunds’ first and, so far, only Cheltenham Festival winner, Domesday Book in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.

Nevertheless, Edmunds bounced back in 2017-18, saddling 23 winners from 121 runners – the highest seasonal tally of his short career – and collecting nearly £250,000 in prize money. It was a similar story in 2018-19, with 19 winners from 121 runners and just over £250,000 in prize money and, at the time of writing, Edmunds is enjoying decent form, with six winners from 41 runners and nearly £72,000 in prize money in 2019/20 so far.

In recent seasons, Edmunds’ most successful horses have been Maria’s Benefit and Queenohearts who, coincidentally, are both mares. Between January, 2017 and December, 2018, Maria’s Benefit won eight of her 13 starts, notably including the Grade Two Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster in 2018, and just over £100,000 in prize money. Queenohearts, now a six-year-old, has won four of her seven starts, including three victories at Listed and Grade Two level and amassed nearly £47,000 in prize money.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Kerry Lee: Like Father, Like Daughter

Kerry Lee
It's important to consider a trainer's credentials when you're considering Grand National 2020 horses to follow, and Kerry Lee is a good example of someone who had in the past, had her eye on this very prize. Kerry Lee is the daughter of former trainer Richard Lee, who retired, after a 29-year-career, in 2015. Kerry assisted with the running of The Bell House, the family stables in Byton, Herefordshire, close to the Welsh border, from a young age, but took over the licence in her own right at the start of the 2015/16 National Hunt season.

She trained her first winner as a trainer, Jayo Time, in handicap chase at Uttoxeter in September, 2015, but enjoyed her first major success with Mountainous in the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow the following January. The race had been postponed two weeks earlier but, in hock-deep ground, Mountainous went clear over the final two fences and was driven out on the run-in to beat Firebird Flyer by an ever-dwindling 2½ lengths. “I think it’s absolutely beautiful ground,” joked Lee afterwards.

In so doing, Mountainous not only became the first horse since Bonanza Boy in 1989 to win the CoralWelsh Grand National twice, but completed a notable family double, having won the race for Richard Lee on his first attempt in 2013. At the time, Lee Snr. said of him, “From the moment he came into our yard as a 5-year-old, I said he was a Welsh Grand National horse.”

Winning the Coral Welsh National Grand National within six months of taking over the training licence was an achievement, in itself, but Kerry enjoyed the purplest of purple patches in the spring of 2016. Exactly seven days after Mountainous’ victory, she saddled Russe Blanc to win the Betfred Classic Chase at Warwick and, less than a month later, Top Gamble to win the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.

Another week later, she achieved further high-profile success with Bishops Road in the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock and, not finished yet, rounded off a memorable campaign with wins for Kylemore Lough in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase – her first Grade 1 success – and Top Gamble in the Normans Grove Chase in the space of 48 hours at Fairyhouse in March. At the end of her “rookie” season, Kerry had saddled 23 winners from 110 runners, at a strike rate of 21%, and earned £377,508 in total prize money. She sets lofty goals for herself as her aspirations to win the Aintree Grand National are well known.

Asked about her phenomenal run of Saturday successes, Kerry said, “People say that new trainers usually target smaller races, earlier in the week, but you’ve got to be a little bit bold, and that’s the way I am.”

Friday, 28 February 2020

Horse Trainers with the knack for winning

Being a horse trainer can be a tough old slog. It's not simply a matter of turning up on the day. The very best trainers know exactly how to select and get the best out of their horses, through an almost forensic approach to racing. Dietary factors (much like their fellow humans – lots of fibre!), exercise plans and old fashioned TLC to avoid injury are all required to get the very best performance out of a horse. Then of course there are differences in approach based on the flat, or jumps, the going, and keeping track of the financial side of things is no mean feat either. It's all geared towards that one specific task of being a winner of Gordon Elliot proportions rather than an 'also ran' over the course of a season.

And make no mistake, winning any race of far from a formality and with that in mind, when as a punter, you manage to latch onto a horse trainer that knows his or her stuff, it can very much lead your betting bank in the right direction. While many punters limit their examination of a potential bet to the horses and jockeys involved, others pay keen attention to the trainer, an such factors as 'how well their horses perform first time out', 'at what betting odds they tend to excel at' (short prices vs outsider bets win rate etc) and so on. There is often a fine line between winning and losing and as such it pays (quite literally) to take into consideration as many relevant factors as possible before placing your bet. Some trainers are especially hard to bet against and oppose on the big occasion, such as Cheltenham or the Grand National.

Willie Mullins for example is a win machine at the Cheltenham Festival with a staggering 61 successes (and seven winners last year). Punters betting on his selections will have certainly made a pretty penny or two over the years. The Mullin's trained winner of the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Al Boum Photo is going for the double this year, and is currently 7/2 joint favourite along with Nicky Henderson's Santini. Even at relatively short odds, it's important to find good value bets, so is worth checking various bookmakers in order to choose where to bet on Cheltenham. Henderson and Mullins both have an exemplary record at the Festival and so it's no surprise that the betting public favour their horses to stand out from the rest of the field. The same applies to all big races and events, such as the Grand National and Royal Ascot. Don't overlook past form of not only the horses, but trainers too, when placing your bets.

If you ever take the time to delve into the data, it's actually quite surprising how few truly 'successful' trainers like Willie Mullins there actually are. That's in part due to the expenses and infrastructure needed to reach that point. The life of a small trainer on the other hand is not often an easy one, or one with many magic moments where everything just falls into place. On the other hand, when you're at the top of your game, like Michael Appleby on the flat, and in national hunt racing Dan Skelton (who has an impressive 40% place rate from over 3000 runs this season), you have the ingredients, know-how and track record for how to stay top of the pile. Even when all is equal between two horses, that trainer influence can very often be the deciding factor in winning or losing.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Jenny Pitman

Jenny Pitman
Nowadays, Jennifer Susan “Jenny” Pitman OBE is best known as a novelist and, more recently, as a member of the disciplinary panel and licensing committee at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). However, “Mrs P”, as she was affectionately – and, sometimes, less affectionately – known, has the distinction of being the first woman to train the winner of the Grand National.

Reflecting on the history victory of Corbiere in 1983, Jenny wrote in her autobiography, “I could hardly bear to watch, but I couldn’t turn away either.” Ridden by Ben de Haan, Corbiere jumped brilliantly throughout the 4 mile 3½ furlong-contest and, despite the desperate, last gasp challenge of Greasepaint, crossed the line three-quarters of a length in front.

Jenny saddled another Grand National “winner”, Esha Ness, in 1993, but he was called home by the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan as the winner of “the National that surely isn’t”. The Jockey Club was forced to declare the race void after the majority of the jockeys, including John White on Esha Ness, failed to realise a false start had been called. Jenny did, however, win a second Grand National with Royal Athlete, ridden by Jason Titley, in 1995.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Seamus Mullins: Never Underestimate the Power of a Cousin

Seamus Mullins
If his surname seems familiar, Seamus Mullins is, in fact, a cousin of perennial Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins. Seamus began his career in racing as assistant trainer to the late Toby Balding in 1981. He subsequently joined Jim Old and the late Jimmy Fitzgerald, trainer of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Forgive’N Forget, before setting up his own point-to-point training business in 1985. Seamus was also an accomplished amateur rider, famously winning the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on Boreceva, trained by Toby Balding, in 1989.

He started training with just one horse, a venerable maiden point-to-pointer, but gradually built up his business over the next few years. In 1991, he moved to Hatherden Stables, near Andover, Hampshire and took out his first public training licence in 1991. Seamus saddled his first official winner as a trainer, The Mrs – a mare formerly trained by his uncle, the late Paddy Mullins – in a novices’ hurdle at Nottingham in November, 1992.

However, in the early days, Seamus found winners hard to come by. In 1995, he moved to Wilsford Stables – part of the Lake Estate, owned by the Bailey family – in Amesbury, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, but it wasn’t until the 1997/98 National Hunt season that he reached double figures. In fact, that season he saddled 17 winners and earned just under £89,000 in total prize money.

It’s fair to say that Seamus hasn’t made too many headlines over the years, but he has trained or two “Saturday” horses, as Paul Nicholls likes to call them. In 2004, he saddled Kentford Grebe to win the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle Final at Newbury and See You Sometime to win the Noel Novices’ Chase at Windsor. Two years later, See You Sometime also won the Cotswold Chase at Wincanton and the United Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot and, two years after that, Strawberry won the Mares Only Novices’ Chase Final at Newbury.

More recently, his best horse has been Chesterfield, a Pivotal gelding he “inherited” from John Ferguson, when the latter handed in his training licence to become chief executive and racing manager to Godolphin. In April, 2017, Chesterfield won the valuable Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle on Grand National Day at Aintree and completed a notable double for conditional jockey Daniel Sansom when following up in the QTS Champion Hurdle at Ayr two weeks later. In fact, Seamus is already enjoying his most successful season ever, numerically, in 2017/18, having saddled 28 winners and earned over £200,000 in total prize money for the second year running.