Monday, August 22, 2016
For Flat trainers the shopping season has started again. With the yearling sales merry-go-round turning we are beginning to stock up with the young horses who will be representing Weathercock House next year and beyond. That means I'm going to be busier than usual - and so are my neighbours Jamie and Judy McGee.
They were important to us last year and will be important again this year - although, in truth, we make the most of their services throughout the year. That's because Jamie is a horse breaker and pre-trainer, while his McGee Equine business also provides a rest and recuperation facility for older horses.
We know each other well and lived together for a year and a half when young lads. Jamie served his time with Dad as a conditional jockey and went on to ride over 100 winners for, among others, Kim Bailey and Charlie Mann. As we both had the same grounding off Dad I know he knows what's right and what's wrong.
Different trainers have different ways of doing things, not necessarily better or worse ways, just different ways.
When we buy a yearling the horse does not come directly to us, for a number of reasons.
My view is yearlings don't need to be in training in August or September. For me, October is early enough. Not bringing in the yearlings straightaway reduces the risk of bugs and infection coming into a racing yard at a busy time of the season, while not breaking them in here reduces the risk of injuries to my staff.
For those reasons we use Jamie and Judy, and also Jane Allison, who provides the same services and does an excellent job over in Broad Hinton. They know exactly what I want and have delivered every time. Between the two of them they share all my yearlings.
The only difference between the two is their location. It's probably no more than 300 yards around the corner from Weathercock House into Jamie's operation, which means he actually rides into our yard many of the yearlings he has prepared for us. I also pop over to his place two or three times a week.
By the time Jamie or Jane send me a horse I can be certain that horse will be a good ride. Neither of them would ever dream of sending me an animal they didn't believe to be a safe conveyance. There is, though, no fixed rule for how long the process should take. Some horses might take a week before they will accept a rider, some might take three. It just depends on their nature.
Jamie, who by nature is incredibly positive and enthusiastic, is also great with my owners.
Some of the yearlings are bought on spec, so the new owners are often desperate to see their acquisition. It's reassuring for me to know they can go to Jamie's yard and will be as well looked after as if they were in my own living room. He knows what owners want and expect.
In addition, Jamie also looks after some of our injured horses. If an animal is having box rest, perhaps after suffering a fracture, you would much rather that horse was able recuperate in as quiet and relaxing an environment as possible. It's exactly the same as hospital patients benefiting from some peace. For that reason, when we have a horse in that situation we often call on Jamie and ask him to look after the horse during the rehabilitation stage. It's like sending the horse to an equine version of The Priory.
Sometimes a horse with an issue will simply pop next door. Jamie has a water treadmill that is great means of treatment. We walk some of our injured horses around to Jamie's, they use the treadmill and then walk them back. It works perfectly.
Jamie and Jane are also both very much pre-trainers, not people who want to be trainers. That's important because I like my horses to return to the yard nice and round, not at a stage where they're just one piece of work off being ready to run.
Trainers often talk about the importance of their team. I'm the same and when we say it we absolutely mean it. Sometimes, however, the team extends beyond your own staff members. Jamie and Jane have a superb understanding of horses. It makes sense to take advantage of their expertise. We're now entering the time of year when we take advantage of it most.
Patience paid off with Postponed
It was a brilliant training performance from Roger Varian to get Postponed to York for the Juddmonte International and it was great to see such a super horse winning another top race.
I have quickly come to know how frustrating it can be when your horses are wrong. It must be even worse when one of those horses is so high-profile.
Plenty of people would have taken the decision to risk Postponed in the King George given he was odds-on favourite for one of the year's biggest events. However, Roger and Sheikh Mohammed Obaid kept their cool and took the brave decision by swerving the race. You don't want to be pressing a horse who is under a cloud. That's when you do damage. In those circumstances you have to treat a horse with kid gloves.