Tuesday 15 December 2015

Cheltenham – Owners, Trainers and their CLANS (Charmingly Large, Active Networks of Supporters)

The racing village is in many ways a huge network of multiple constituencies of enthusiasts, whether they be racegoers, punters, socialisers, pundits, owners or trainers. Cheltenham Racecourse is an ever powerful magnet which draws all this network together, even at one of its lesser meetings such as last weekend’s International, where the crowd is probably a third of that seen at the Paddy Power and the Festival. However, the OfO network had a great time, not least because of the excellent performances by three of our trainers, Martin Keighley, Philip Hobbs and Anthony Honeyball.

One of the most pleasant aspects of being an owner is the way in which you are automatically drawn in to the race-going CLAN, and that was definitely in evidence over the Friday and Saturday of the meeting. Martin and Belinda Keighley always receive a heartwarmingly enthusiastic reception from the crowd, and none more so after they experienced the highs but also terrible lows of racing on the first day. Their horse Hayjack, owned by James Hayman-Joyce whose son Simon is involved in one of our horses, Thady Quil, fell at the fence in the home straight and, alas, lost his life. One race later, Solstice Star put in an exuberant performance, bagging a four-timer and triggering the release of all sorts of emotions. I was in the paddock with another of our owners, Paul Davis, and we immediately gave Belinda a huge hug as the terrible low turned into a huge high. What we didn’t know was that it was captured on Channel 4 Racing and texts quickly followed asking us whose partner (other than our own) we were hugging. Fortunately my wife, when she was a lawyer, specialised in crime rather than divorce! We were then swept along by all the owners into the winners’ circle and on for champagne afterwards. The CLAN was definitely in action.

On the second day, Philip Hobbs’ wonderful season continued with a superb training performance to have the first and second in the top race of the meeting, the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. Dickie Johnson managed to diet down to 10st for the ride on Village Vic, who ran the field ragged. That also included our own horse, Shantou Magic, who just couldn’t go the pace that Village Vic set, and our jockey, Will Kennedy, did the right thing and looked after him on ground that was softer than he really likes. He is now going off for a bit of R&R with Claire Hart, and won’t run again until the spring. Claire and her point-to-point connections are another part of the CLAN, and it is lovely that several of our owners who have now met Claire are hacking out with her and, indeed, one of them is setting a goal of taking part in a point-to-point. This owner had also linked up with another keen supporter of Owners for Owners, Tim Dykes, and their horse, Cappielow Park, ran in the same race as Solstice Star.

Peace & Co, for Nicky Henderson, ran far too keenly and his Champion Hurdle ambitions are on hold for a while. It was interesting, though, that the winner of the International Hurdle, Old Guard, is also owned by a CLAN, as a number of Paul Nicholls’ biggest owners have joined forces to buy top horses together. Looking at the recent autumn yearling sales on the Flat, that is also becoming an increasingly important CLAN, with mega buyers worldwide working together to pick up the choicest bloodstock, even though at eye-wateringly high prices. At a slightly lesser level on price (but still far too high), the Tattersalls NH Sale was held on Friday night and again it was strongly evident how the network of agents and top owners are working together to concentrate the firepower of best horses into a small number of rich men’s hands. Good for certain owners and trainers, but demotivating for others.

Finally in the last race of the meeting, Anthony Honeyball had his first ever Cheltenham winner, landing a three-timer with the game mare Lily Waugh. This was a valuable race, and tees her up now for a chance in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival. The win also put a huge amount of value on to her. A number of our owners are actively involved in Anthony’s yard and we were delighted to be with Lily Waugh’s fan club, both at lunchtime in the Tattersalls Pavillion and before / after the race. You couldn’t help but laugh at grown men praying on the paddock turf for a great performance from their mare …. which is exactly what they got. This CLAN of owners really entered into the spirit of having a runner and a winner at Cheltenham. Heart-warming!

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