First Column of 2018

First Column of 2018

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

This is my first column of 2018 but I'm pleased to say we're already on a roll and enjoying a good start to a year I hope continues as it has begun.

We managed to fire in a few more winners after I handed over to Sam Twiston-Davies in November, following which we had an intentionally quiet winter.

Last autumn we sold a lot of horses and managed to get good prices for them. These were animals I felt would have needed to re-handicap themselves in order to win again. Once they went off to their new homes we were only able to have a handful of runners over the cold months, but in the last few weeks many more horses have been leaving Weathercock House as runners and returning home as winners – or as seconds or thirds.

Seconditis still seems to follow us around. We have had 11 winners so far this year but also 13 seconds and 12 thirds. Given how many of our horses are coming close to winning without getting their heads in front, you could ask, am I putting them in the right races?

I'm confident that I am. It has been obvious to me some of these horses have gone to the racecourse as only the second likeliest winner. Had I waited a week or two the same horse might have ended up with two or three to beat. I'm never afraid of one horse and I think if you're first or second anywhere it shows you were in the correct race.

The numbers obviously change with each result but we're operating at approaching 50 per cent of all runners finishing in the first three, which is solid. However, the make-up of those runners has changed since 2017.At the moment we have around 80 horses in training. Last year we had a lot of three-year-olds and older horses, but, as I said, many of them were sold on. It has been a case of weeding out the old and bringing in the new. That means whereas only a third of the yard last year were juveniles, this year we're back to over half the string being babies.

Even within that two-year-old squad we have changed things slightly by seeking to have more sharp, early sorts than in the past.

When I started training I was building a base, so I needed horses who could be around for a couple of seasons. You learn as you go along and now I can take a somewhat different approach. For that reason we have amassed a few horses who cost under £20,000. Their peak performance time is likely to be in their opening year on the track and they will be campaigned accordingly.

Anyone who read the column last autumn will know how excited I was about Glendevon, who earned quotes for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas when romping to victory at Kempton. Sadly, he isn't in the Guineas field, about which I'm gutted. I know, though, we have done the right thing in swerving Newmarket.

The plan was to take him to the Craven Stakes but he just didn't come to hand in time. We regrouped and had been looking towards Goodwood on Saturday but the ground there is too soft. I may now have to run him in a novice race at Chelmsford on Thursday to see if his Irish 2,000 Guineas entry remains justified.

I still have no doubt he is a good horse. He is one of the best I've got, so I'm not ashamed to say I'm minding him.

Another horse I like is Soghan, who was driven out by Shane Kelly to win a 2m handicap at Kempton last month. We got him for 35,000gns at the horses-in-training sale. Prior to Kempton he had won his maiden easily for us before being touched off by a nose in a 1m4f handicap at the same venue. He now goes to Ascot on Friday evening.

Like Soghan, Golden Wolf has also been acquitting himself honourably and ran a cracking race to finish second to Royal Line, an unexposed John Gosden four-year-old, in the Grand Met. Our boy wouldn't have come off the bridle had the winner not been there and he'll now go back to Epsom for the 1m4f handicap on Derby day.

I do think I have a few other nice horses but, quite honestly, at this stage I don't want to jinx any of them by putting their names to paper!

It would be lovely if some of those horses raced in the colours of leading owner Jaber Abdullah, who has kindly become involved in the yard.

I had a lot of success for Jaber as a jockey, winning the Falmouth Stakes on Music Show and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud aboard Youmzain – who, of course, so nearly won us the Arc as well.

Jaber took a few of those horses I picked up on spec at the sales and then bought some more at the breeze-ups. We had our first winner for him at Brighton on Wednesday in the shape of a nice filly called Fayrouz Rose.

We also ran two of Jaber's two-year-olds this week in the same novice auction at Kempton, where Um Shama and Wolf Hunter shaped nicely to be second and fourth. They are sure to win races.

As we embark on the core part of the year there is lots for us to be excited about. If there is an ambition it is that somewhere along the line we have our first Group-race success. It won't be easy but it's a realistic target.

Ground is a worry for our Angel

The ground is a huge question mark against Paco's Angel at Goodwood, where she runs in the Listed Matchbook Is Commission Free Conqueror Stakes (3.50).

We know she much prefers a quick surface, and we also know she isn't going to get that given all the rain they've had at Goodwood, but we are limited in where we can run her as there aren't too many Listed races for fillies over a mile.

She did win her maiden on good to soft ground, which gives us hope, and I wasn't too disappointed by her finishing eighth at Kempton last time as her previous all-weather run hadn't been great, either. We really just needed to get an outing into her.

Also at Goodwood we have Rustang in the 1m2f handicap (5.35). He has been consistent since we put him into handicap company and we hope that can continue.

He was fresh when getting home in front under Jamie Spencer at Chelmsford, but he couldn't do any more than win. We took the hood off him then as he had been so good at home. This time it goes back on.

A little light bulb switched on inside him when he was walking around the parade ring and he ended up racing keenly. A lot happens to horses at Goodwood, not least because they have to be boxed up to the racecourse, which can put them on edge, so I'm hoping the hood will help Shane [Kelly] in the race.

Our third runner is Stanley, who moves up in trip again for Doncaster's 1m6½f handicap (7.50).

I took him out of a race at Salisbury as the ground was too heavy. On his most recent start he was just run out of a win at Kempton. He will be better on grass and over this distance.

It looks like Gustav's Guineas to me

The best place to start when looking at the Qipco 2,000 Guineas is usually Aidan O'Brien – and this year I reckon you can start and finish with the horse he has at the top of the betting.

Quite simply, my view is Gustav Klimt has the most gears in the field. I loved the way he picked up to win the Superlative Stakes and getting a run into him at Leopardstown last month should have put him spot on.

Everything can be exaggerated on the Rowley Mile, which has to be borne in mind when assessing the claims of Masar.

The things you can get away with while racing from the front at Newmarket are criminal. I remember winning a Craven in that way on Kool Kompany, a horse who didn't even really stay a mile.

The thing with the Craven is because it's a trial a lot of trainers don't want their jockey to make the running or their horse to race freely. That means you can take advantage by jumping out and kicking on at the Bushes, after which you can be gone and away.

Masar finished miles clear but, while he is probably a good colt, I'm sure he must have been flattered to an extent. However, with Charlie Appleby on fire at the moment, it might well be worth taking my opinion with a pinch of salt!

Saxon Warrior is a fine, big colt, but he looks more like a Derby horse to me, and I imagine they are using the Guineas as a prep run before Epsom.

Also worth a mention is Expert Eye. I expect him to come on for his performance at Newbury, where I thought he put up a nice introduction, but he would be a first Classic winner for Acclamation and I think the odds are stacked against him.

The Qipco 1,000 Guineas looks wide open. The one who appeals most is the Karl Burke-trained Laurens. She showed a super attitude to win the Fillies' Mile over the course and distance and is probably overpriced.

Change was needed and change was made at Windsor

In one of my columns last summer I ripped into Windsor over the way it treated owners, particularly in terms of the food they were offered. I'm not complaining now.

Credit where credit is due. Windsor has made massive improvements, so much so I can say it was a pleasure to have runners at the meeting on Monday.

Whereas before owners had to go to one place to be fed and another to be watered, now there is a single modern, airy room overlooking the racecourse and parade ring. The food used to be appalling but now there is tasty finger food to enjoy and drinks are served behind the bar by adults who know what they're doing. The team at Windsor deserve a big round of applause.

Praise is also due to Newbury, which has done a wonderful job with its new owners' and trainers' room by the paddock.

Even so, to Newbury and Windsor, I would say please, please, look at the super prize-money Chelmsford keeps putting on. If Chelmsford can manage it, considering the crowds they get compared to yours, then surely so can you.

I have said it before, but it's worth repeating, as a sport we need to look after owners.

Trainers, jockeys and agents all get paid. It's the owners who are forking out the money. Many of them never even get to the track, so when they do have a runner it's so important they have an enjoyable day, win or lose, because prize-money is hardly ever going to cover their costs.

Hughesie's Hottie

Stanley has been making lovely progress and I hope that can continue at Doncaster on Saturday evening (7.50).