Monday, 7 June 2021

Joint Racehorse Trainers’ Licences Embraced in British Isles


 One of the quirks of training racehorses is, until very recently in the UK and Ireland, one person alone has held the licence to do it at a set of stables. Officially, those individuals are responsible for their equine charges but of course there is a whole team at the bigger yards supporting them.

The fact that both British and Irish horse racing authorities have now allowed joint training licences, like those elsewhere in other countries including Australia, reflects a changing attitude within the industry. It is also wider recognition of what goes into getting thoroughbreds ready for the track.

Just because a trainer can share the burden and responsibility doesn’t automatically mean that they should or will. However, handlers are beginning to see the benefits of joint licences and embrace the concept particularly on the Flat in Britain.

When a high-profile stable such as the John Gosden yard in Newmarket does this, that makes people sit up and take notice. This is one of the high-profile training facilities in a real equine hub, but the licence now reads John and Thady Gosden as father and son team up.



 In principle, this can be seen as the beginning of the process that sees the torch passed from one generation to the next. However, in practice, there remains a number of top class thoroughbred racehorses in the yard including the likes of Lord North, Mishriff and Stradivarius.

Checking the free horse racing tips for tomorrow and seeing a famous trainer name next to a fancied runner can make or break your decision whether to take a punt or not. In the case of Team Gosden, the joint venture between them ensures some continuity.

Their approach contrasts sharply with the O’Brien family in Ireland. Father Aidan remains master of all he surveys at Ballydoyle and focuses on the Flat thanks to the continuing support of owner-breeders Coolmore. Eldest son Joseph, meanwhile, has horses that run both on the level and over jumps.


 

Younger O’Brien sibling Donnacha saddled a Classic winner in France inside his first year as a trainer. The family has decided to divide its resources and conquer horse racing in the Emerald Isle rather than concentrate all the power in Ballydoyle. 

There is uptake in Ireland, however, with Eddie Harty and son Patrick going for a joint licence and already training their first winner together at Punchestown. Other British stables doing likewise this year include another father-son duo Simon and Ed Crisford. 

Victorious horses at Group level in their Newmarket stables since they started sharing a licence include Goodwood Celebration Mile winner Century Dream and sprinter A’Ali. There is also a similar arrangement in a yard at Lambourn, another real UK equine hub. 

William Muir, put on the map by the exploits of Pyledriver at Royal Ascot last season, now jointly holds a licence with Chris Grassick. This sharing of the load may well become the norm in the years to come.

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Simon Crisford: Making headlines


Formerly Newmarket correspondent at the Racing Post, Simon Crisford became a familiar, and respected, figure in British racing thanks to his 12-year tenure as racing manager to Godolphin. However, in early 2014, in the wake of a doping scandal – which saw former Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni ‘warned off’ for eight years after admitting administering anabolic steroids to horses in his charge – Crisford resigned his long-standing role. He immediately moved to a new position, doing consultancy work for Sheikh Mohammed but, having completed the relevant British Horseracing Authority training modules, set up as a trainer in his own right later that year.


Initially renting boxes from Clive Brittain at Carlburg Stables, on the Bury Road in Newmarket, Crisford made an extraordinarily successful start to his training career. In 2015, he saddled 22 winners from 85 runners, at a very healthy strike of 26%; the highlight of his debut season was winning his first Pattern race, the Group Three Solario Stakes at Sandown, with First Selection.



In 2016, Crisford increased his seasonal tally to 32 winners and, in 2017, following his relocation to Kremlin House Stables, on the nearby Fordham Road, increased it again to 43 winners. In 2018, he won a handful of Listed and Pattern races, notably the Group Two Prix Daniel Wilderstein at Longchamp with Ostilio, and recorded his first Royal Ascot success, courtesy of the same horse in the Britannia Stakes. All told, Crisford saddled 70 winners from 337 runners, at a strike rate of 21%, and amassed £1.02 million in prize money, making 2018 by far his most successful season, numerically and financially, so far.



In 2019, his continued success warranted another move, across Newmarket, to the state-of the-art Gainsborough Stables on the Hamilton Road. At the time of writing, Crisford has maintained a similar strike rate from his new base, sending out 48 winners from 242 runners so far. His most successful horse of the year, so far, has been the two-year-old colt A’Ali, who has won three of his five starts, all at Group Two level, and is on course for a crack at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita.


Thursday, 6 May 2021

Tom George: Building for the Future



At the time of writing, Tom George lies in a highly respectable eighth place in the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship, having saddled 41 winners and amassed over £642,000 in total prize money. However, as Adrian Heskin said, when replacing Paddy Brennan as stable jockey to George at the start of the 2016/17 season, “Tom has a lot of young horses. He’s invested a lot of money over the past year, so he has a lot of novices coming through. There are a couple of really exciting ones that could be anything.”

Having worked with Arthur Moore, Gavin Pritchard-Gordon, the late Michael Jarvis, Francois Doumen and Martin Pipe before becoming a trainer in his own right, George saddled his first winner, Newton Point, at Worcester in 1993. Since then he has sent out over 500 winners from his training establishment Down Farm in Slad, near Stroud, Gloucester.

His first winner at the Cheltenham Festival was Galileo – who was one of a crop of horses imported from Poland – in the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle in 2002. George said at the time, “This is the sort of day everybody dreams about”. He also enjoyed success with the front-running grey, Nacarat, whose exploits at Kempton, in particular, he believes helped to raise his profile. Nacarat won what is now the Betbright Chase at the Sunley-on-Thames track as an 8-year-old in 2009 and again, as an 11-year-old, in 2012.

Other notable horses from the yard include Saint Are, who finished second, behind Many Clouds, in the Grand National in 2015 and fourth, behind One For Arthur, in 2017. The 12-year-old is being trained for the great race once again this season but, because of a change in the rules by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), will not be going hunter chasing beforehand, as was originally planned.

In terms of prospects for the Cheltenham Festival in 2018, George is likely to send Summerville Boy, winner of the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January, straight to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, for which the 6-year-old is a top-priced 20/1. He has also expressed himself satisfied with the performance of The Worlds End, who has yet to trouble the judge in three starts on unsuitably soft going, and is hopeful of an improved performance in the Stayers’ Hurdle, for which the gelding is a 25/1 chance, in places.

Monday, 5 April 2021

Girl Power in the Grand National!




As you well know from the trainer biographies on the site, female trainers have had a fair amount of success over the years. Who can forget Jenny Pitman breaking down barriers (not literally, that would be cheating!) with Grand National success with Corbiere in 1983. Buoyed by that success she went back for seconds, with a further Grand National win in 1995 with Royal Athlete. It's amazing what seeing success can do for others, and over the years both Venetia Williams and Sue Smith have both since walked in those same Grand National winning footsteps.

But what's the story of female jockeys in the Grand National specifically? Well Katie Walsh had a few thoughts for Betway on that very topic. It's strange to think how slowly society can be at coming around to ideas that decades on seem like they've surely always been that way. It wasn't until the late 70s that changes to the law opened the door for female jockeys in the Grand National, the very first of whom was Charlotte Brew. Geraldine Rees, in those early days, was the first woman to complete the race.

To-date Katie Walsh has set the highest standard by achieving of 3rd place in the Grand National. Such huge strides have been made over a relatively short time period, and with 16 women jockeys so far playing their part in the race (with three female jockeys competing this year alone), their performances and prominence in the event is going from strength to strength. Progress.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Jedd O’Keeffe: Staying Power


Jedd O'Keeffe
John Eamon Declan Dunderdale O’Keefe, known universally as Jedd, is in the enviable position of training Sam Spinner, who is currently 5/1 favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018. Bought for 12,000 guineas as a 3-year-old, the son of Black Sam Bellamy has won five of his seven races over hurdles including, most recently, the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, and amassed over £142,000 in total prize money. O’Keefe said recently, “It’s very exciting for all of us in a small stable to have a real star, and I’m really grateful it’s happening as it is.”

Of course, O’Keeffe is no stranger to the winners’ enclosure, having saddled 148 winners on the Flat and 36 winners over Jumps in his career to date but, with a few obvious exceptions, has lacked the firepower to make much of an impact at the major meetings. Sam Spinner aside, the highlights of his career, so far, were the victories of Shared Equity in the Coral Sprint Trophy at York in 2015, More Mischief in the Betfred Mobile/EBF Hoppings Stakes at Newcastle in June, 2017 and Lord Yeats in the Betfred Fred Archer Stakes at Newmarket the following month.

O’Keefe served an eight-year apprentice, as pupil assistant, travelling head lad and assistant trainer to Micky Hammond, before applying for a training licence in his own right. He moved into Highbeck Lodge and Stables, which is part of the Brecongill Estate, in Coverdale, in the extreme east of the Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire in 2000. At that time he had just three horses – the minimum number allowed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) – but saddled his first winner, Route Sixty Six, in a novices’ hurdle at Musselburgh the following January. From small beginnings, by honest, old-fashioned hard work, O’Keefe gradually increased his number of horses in training, to an average of 20 or so over the last decade.

In 2011, O’Keefe underwent an intensive course of treatment for throat cancer and although he recovered, his business very nearly did not. He later recalled, “Though I’d finished the treatment, I was still very ill, and needed staff to cover. With the cost of all that, and the financial crisis, we felt we couldn’t go any further, and rang the owners to say we were giving up.” Thankfully, he did not and now, with Sam Spinner just one of 45 horses in his yard, can hopefully look forward to a happy, healthy and profitable future.

Monday, 15 March 2021

Who will win the Prestbury Cup in 2021?

If there's one racing event that really grabs the interest of racing fans, it's the prestigious Cheltenham Festival. The same applies for trainers too of course, with the Prestbury Cup being a prime example of how competitive racing can get, not just between individuals, but between nations too. Ireland have ruled the roost in recent years when it's come to picking up the Prestbury Cup, but what will the story of 2021 be? As a fun way of getting into the Cheltenham Festival spirit West Ham players representing both Ireland and Great Britain duke it out in a jovial Betway racing quiz presided over by none other then Richard Hoiles.



Thursday, 11 March 2021

Roger Charlton: A Marathon not a sprint


Veteran trainer Roger Charlton has been based at historic Beckhampton Stables, near Marlborough, Wiltshire since 1978. Initially employed as assistant trainer to Jeremy Tree, Charlton spent 12 years in that role before finally taking charge of the yard in 1990, after his predecessor was forced to retire, due to ill-health, at the end of the 1989 season.



Remarkably, in his first season in charge, Charlton saddled Sanglamore, owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah, to win the Prix du Jockey Club, otherwise known as the ‘French Derby’, at Chantilly and, three days later, saddled Quest For Fame, in the same ownership, to win the Derby at Epsom. Of course, winning two of the most prestigious and valuable races in Europe within the space of 72 hours can hardly be described as a ‘flash in the pan’ but, subsequently, in the best part of three decades, Charlton has yet to train another Classic winner.



He does, however, have no fewer than 17 Group One victories to his name. Aside from Sanglamore, who also won the Prix d’Isphan, back at Chantilly, as a four-year-old in 1991, other notable achievements in the first half of his career included winning the Sprint Cup at Haydock twice, with Tamarisk in 1998 and Tante Rose in 2004, and Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp twice, with Patavellian in 2003 and Avonbridge in 2005.



More recently, in 2013, Al Kazeem flew the flag for the yard, winning the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh, Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and Coral-Eclipse at Sandown on successive starts. Indeed, the Dubawi colt proved he was no back number when winning the Tattersalls Gold Cup again, as a seven-year-old, in 2015. More recently still, in 2017, Decorated Knight had an equally productive campaign, winning the Jebel Hatta at Meydan, Tattersalls Gold Cup and Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.



Listed and Pattern races aside, Charlton also has an enviable record in so-called ‘heritage’ handicaps, including the Stewards’ Cup and the Totesport Mile, both at Goodwood, which he has won three times apiece. He was also won the Cambridgeshire and the Bunbury Cup, both at Newmarket, twice, and the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot twice, among other high-profile successes.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Grand National Festival Possible Next Destination for Nicholls Novice Chaser



No racehorse trainer boasts a better recent record in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase than Ditcheat maestro Paul Nicholls. Over the last 15 years, he has saddled four winners and six placed horses in the Aintree Grade 1 for stayers.

Equine legends Bick Buck’s, admittedly best known for his exploits over hurdles, and Silviniaco Conti are among those to triumph for Nicholls in the Mildmay. This year’s Ditcheat contender Next Destination has quite a legacy to live up to, then.

His is an interesting story. During his younger days and earlier career, Next Destination was trained by Willie Mullins over in Ireland. Progressing from the point-to-point field into bumpers, he made-up into a top-class novice hurdler during the 2017-18 National Hunt season.




 Next Destination landed Grade 1 races at Naas and the Punchestown Festival, either side of a fine third behind Samcro at Cheltenham. Injuries then contrived to keep him off the track for 920 days.

Owner Malcolm Denmark concluded a change was a good as a rest and, during his two-and-a-half years on the sidelines, Next Destination moved across the Irish Sea from the Mullins yard to Nicholls’s care.

Now it was about making up for lost time. Before being belatedly sent chasing, Next Destination blew away the cobwebs with a run in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on his return to action and chased home the well-weighted mare Roksana, herself a previous Cheltenham Festival heroine.

Rising nine years old, fences finally beckoned for Next Destination. He made a winning debut over the larger obstacles in the John Francome Novices’ Chase during the Winter Carnival at Newbury and then followed-up under a penalty in the Hampton around Warwick.



 After passing those staying tests, Next Destination holds entries at the Cheltenham Festival but Nicholls stable jockey Harry Cobden raised running in the Mildmay as an alternative target. “The three-mile race at Aintree might suit him,” he said.

“One thing I do know is this – the be all and end all is not Cheltenham in Paul’s mind. Aintree is on the cards.”

With feedback like that from the man riding him, it’s no wonder that Next Destination features among Grand National day 2 tips & predictions for the Mildmay. Running him at both of the UK’s end-of-season jumps festivals is not out of the question either.

Nicholls has plenty of options for Next Destination this spring. While his entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham looks precautionary, given how well he has taken to fences, choosing between the Festival Novices’ Chase (best known as the RSA) and the National Hunt Chase or skipping both and going straight to Aintree seems to be the choice.

Topofthegame represented the stable in both the RSA and Mildmay Novices’ Chase in 2019, winning the former and just being bested by Lostintranslation in the latter. Next Destination remains a horse of obvious interest after overcoming his problems and lengthy absence, and looks like he has a big shout in staying novice events over fences this spring.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Rebecca Curtis: Starting Again


Rebecca Curtis first took out a public training licence at Fforest Farm, near Newport, Pembrokeshire in West Wales in 2008. A former national level showjumper, Curtis served her apprenticeship with local trainer Peter Bowen, based in nearby Little Newcastle, and U.S. trainers Richard Mandella and Dan Hendricks, based in California, before setting up on her own.



Starting with just a handful of horses, Curtis saddled her first winner, Mango Catcher, in a handicap chase at Chepstow on April 5, 2008. The eight-year-old was, in fact, her one and only winner of the 2007/08, but she increased her winning tally to eight in 2009/10 and 25 in 2010/11. In 2012/13, Curtis enjoyed her most successful season, numerically and financially, so far, with 49 winners from 210 runners, at a strike rate of 23%, and £562,663 in total prize money.



Curtis saddled her first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Teaforthree – who would subsequently finish third in the Grand National the following year – in the National Hunt Chase in 2012. Further success at the Cheltenham Festival followed, courtesy of At Fishers Cross – owned by J.P. McManus who, at one point, had half a dozen horses in the yard – in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2013, O’Faolain’s Boy in the RSA Chase 2014 and Irish Cavalier in the Centenary Novices' Handicap Chase in 2015.



In the summer of 2017, Curtis split from her long-term partner, bloodstock agent Gearoid Costelloe, who had been instrumental in sourcing young, untried horses which, in turn, had helped to establish the reputation of the yard. By her own admission, Curtis endured ‘an awful season’, in which she lost half of the horses in the yard and made only limited impact, saddling just nine winners in total in 2017/18. The one highlight in that ‘transitional’ season was the victory of Joe Farrell, ridden by Adam Wedge, in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in 2018; Joe Farrell remains Curtis’ one and only runner ever at the Scottish venue but, nonetheless, collected £122,442, or the biggest single prize of her training career.



Having vowed to ‘start again’, Curtis is still in the process of restoring the yard to its former glory but, at the time of writing, her horses are generally in decent form. In 2019/20 so far, Curtis has saddled 12 winners from 25 runners, at a strike rate of 48%, and won £62,364 in win and place prize money.