The Story So Far..................
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
SINCE this column last appeared in November things haven't exactly been quiet in my life. Since my third child, Dessie Henry Hughes, was born last week things haven't been quiet at all. I have a new baby, a new yard and a new home - and I'm very much looking forward to the meaty part of my first full year as a trainer.
For my wife, Lizzie, and I, it has been a topsy-turvy time. You will have read in the column last year about my move from Danebury to Weathercock House in Lambourn. At that point I was still driving every day to and from our old family home in Wiltshire to the stables. I became a commuter.
The problem was we needed to sell our house. The selling process proved to be much more difficult than I expected. I honestly never realised it takes so long to get things like that done. We set about the process of buying the place nearly six months ago but only managed to get the contract signed and sealed last Friday. That was an enormous relief.
The name Weathercock House will be familiar to you. It's a yard steeped in jump racing history, but there is absolutely no reason why it can't have as much success with Flat horses.
You generally find yards are either lucky or unlucky. Weathercock House has always been a very lucky and successful yard, from the time of Jenny and Mark Pitman on to Carl Llewellyn and Warren Greatrex. Horses tend to be healthy and happy here. In fact, our very first runner from Weathercock House, Duchess Of Marmite, was a winner. That sealed the feeling in my mind this will be a lucky place for the Hughes family - a family that has become bigger following the arrival of little Dessie.
First and foremost, the last few months have been hard for Lizzie. She had to move house while pregnant, her husband is getting considerably fatter and, now I'm training, she has had to spend more time with me in the last six months than the whole of our 14 years of marriage.
The horses I started training with last year were there to get me going. That's exactly what they did and we won plenty of races with them, enjoying a great run of success through the winter. I had showed people I could train. I felt the pressure was off.
However, not only did I then want to give some of those horses a break in order for them to be available through the summer, one or two of them were not quite right due to a niggly cough in the yard. Fortunately, we sat tight and resumed this past week with 3 winners.
A lot of my older horses are either cheap buys or hand-me-downs I've inherited because other people didn't want them. We've been able to win with quite a few of those horses already and I'm pleased about that. Some horses we have managed to improve. Some we haven't. However, with less than 20 older horses I now need to place them quite strategically.
Most of my string is made up of babies, of which just one has run so far. That's because only a handful of my two-year-olds could be described as precocious. That was a deliberate move. When I went to the sales I felt I had to buy horses who could be around for a while. I didn't want to simply have loads of winners in April and May and then be left with animals who had no real future. I'll therefore be disappointed if most of them don't have careers as three-year-olds.
Just because I rode lots of juvenile winners doesn't mean I'm going to be training lots of juvenile winners. With the two-year-olds we're starting from scratch. It's up to me how their careers pan out.
In favour of the horses is where they are being trained.
The last time I was based in Lambourn was in 1994 and 1995 when I worked for Mick Channon. At that time the gallops were quite poor. We only had the one main grass gallop, which is still there today and riding better than ever. However, the all-weather gallops were substandard. That's not the case any more. Since Jockey Club Estates took control, the facilities have been taken to a whole new level with a great variety of gallops available to trainers. Moreover, those facilities are maintained extremely well, so trainers here are very lucky.
I do want to stress, though, that this particular Lambourn trainer is a realist. When I was a jockey, particularly in those championship-chasing years, people became accustomed to me having winners all the time. That isn't going to happen now. This is a whole new ball game for me.
I know full well I'm starting from the bottom - but I'm starting from a super yard and I'm very fortunate to have been sent some lovely horses. For more reasons than one, I'm extremely excited.
IN THE NEWS
CHESTER puts on its biggest meeting of the year next week when, for the first time, the track will be guaranteeing connections a £400 payday through a new appearance money scheme. It's a generous move from a generous track but I wish they had not done it.
The problem with racing at Chester is also the thing that makes it most special - its unique layout.
It is so easy to find trouble in running on the Roodee, in part because races are often full of horses who have no chance of winning. Their owners are attracted to Chester because the executive already does such a fine job. The prize-money is tremendous and owners are looked after really well.
It can, though, be a difficult place to win. Consider the Chester sprint races. In so many events over five or six furlongs the horses drawn on the outside end up being non runners. For horses stuck out wide it's tough. For all horses life could become more tricky if the fields are swelled by runners who should not really be taking part.