Tuesday 1 January 2019

Congratulations to Richard Johnson OBE, Some Terrific 6yos and Our Own Winners from 2018. Here’s To Many More in 2019

The whole of racing must have been delighted on the announcement that Richard Johnson is to receive an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List. He is a terrific ambassador for our sport, a role model for all aspiring jockeys and one of the most genuine and nicest people you’ll ever meet. We have had more winners ridden by him than by any other jockey and it never ceases to amaze me how he can be unceasingly polite, friendly and positive to every owner, no matter how minor. He has ridden a couple of winners for our Racing Club at Martin Keighley’s and each time he has been kissed senseless while enduring endless selfies being taken with him. Top rider : top bloke.

One of the real pleasures of being an owner is the way in which you get to know so many friends, their families and their wider racing network. I always try to follow the horses that our owners have with other trainers and it gave me real pleasure over Christmas to see the successes of John Finch with Doitforthevillage at Paul Henderson’s, Jamie Wadge and Shaun Beach with Suggestion at Phil Kirby’s and then Ged Shields with Kemboy and Willie Mullins. As always in racing, so many stories around these various horses: Paul Henderson is a maestro at sourcing reasonably-priced horses in Ireland, getting them on to the right mark and then reaping the rewards; Phil and Pippa Kirby, from their base near Bedale, are steadily climbing through the ranks and it was wonderful to watch their star mare, Lady Buttons, win for the 11th time at Doncaster last Saturday. All grass-roots yards need a stable star, and they have got one with her.

And then of course, Kemboy – only a 6yo but he romped home in the Savills Chase with his emphatic victory shortening his odds for the Cheltenham Gold Cup from 40/1 to 6/1. Ged and Brenda Shields had arranged a super weekend for themselves at Newbury when Kemboy was due to run in the Ladbrokes Trophy, and were devastated when the stormy weather and rough crossing for the ferry forced the horse to miss the race. I phoned Ged just after the race at Leopardstown and he was absolutely thrilled, and kept saying a single word: “Wow!” Delighted for all the connections in the syndicate, organised by Supreme Racing. If Kemboy makes it to the Cheltenham Festival in either the Gold Cup or the Ryanair, it would be the highlight of the week for me – unless one of our own horses manages to get there.

Two other 6yos made a big impact as well over Christmas: Clan Des Obeaux, under a magnificent ride from young Harry Cobden, duly won the King George VI Chase at Kempton and looks a real star; and then when my wife and I were at Chepstow we enjoyed watching Elegant Escape win the Welsh Grand National, having come 2nd in the Ladbrokes Trophy (the race Kemboy should have won) at Newbury. We had a chat with Tom O’Brien just before the race, then another one when he came back. He was ecstatic and it’s a real pleasure to watch Tom winning races such as this, particularly as he’s having his best-ever season. He has also ridden many winners for us and is one of the most sympathetic riders around – a real horseman.

A year ago today, Acey Milan won the 4yo Listed Bumper at Cheltenham for us, and that kicked off the year in the best possible way. Six other horses won through the year: Dr Dunraven and Lord Condi (Martin Keighley), Melekhov (Philip Hobbs), Scented Lily (Charlie Longsdon), Sojourn (Anthony Honeyball) and Sunday Prospect (Karl Burke). Another horse in which I have an involvement, Nobby (Alan King) also won twice, including my first-ever win at a Point-to-Point, namely the Barbary Castle International. We were lucky enough to visit his breeder, Ray Bailey, fairly soon after Nobby was born, and fell in love with him straight away. Before you ask, he’s named after Nobby Styles, the footballer.

Winners Galore in 2018 …. Hoping for More in 2019

The New Foals – Stars for 2021+
There is something adorable about foals. Not only are they such beautiful creatures, but it is the sense of renewal as young horses enter your life to replace those who have retired and moved on. We managed to buy three this year, and they are loving their life in the Condicote paddocks at Martin’s yard. Most of the shares in these foals are now taken, but there are still a few left so if you would like to be involved in “future stars”, please let me know. For many grass-roots National Hunt owners this is one of the few ways of getting involved at a reasonable price, with the enormous hikes in sales prices of the established stallions. Indeed, just before Christmas I noticed that Envoy Allen had won for his unusual NH owners, Cheveley Park Stud, for Gordon Elliott (cost a cool £400,000 at Cheltenham’s February sale) and while at Chepstow I watched Ask For Glory winning his bumper on debut (a mere £280,000). The startling sums being paid never cease to amaze me.

From today I am switching to only one blog a month, but will continue to lobby for improvements in the total owner experience, not least because I’m going to promote the Racehorse Syndicates Association and help them with their press releases. Lots of improvements are still required if owners are going to be brought into the sport and retained.

Finally, very best wishes for 2019: may it be happy, healthy and successful, with lots of winners if you’re an owner.

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