The Lambourn Valley, situated in the north-east corner of Berkshire, is recognised as one of the major racehorse training centres in the country. Daily comments on all Lambourn runners, direct from the trainers for free. Latest horse racing news from Lambourn, the Valley of the Racehorse.
Team captains Sir Anthony McCoy and Bob Champion MBE invite teams of two to join them for a two-day Ryder Cup Style golf classic for their respective charities – The Injured Jockeys Fund and The Bob Champion Cancer Trust – in the glorious surroundings of the exclusive Desert Springs Resort & Golf Club betwen Tuesday 17–Friday 20 September 2019.
Tony is joined by John Francome MBE as vice-captain and Bob’s vice is Carl Llewellyn. Players are invited for a three-night stay at the exclusive Desert Springs Resort & Golf Club, full board and accommodation, with a two-day Ryder Cup style tournament. There will be a Gala Dinner with guest speaker too.
To view the full itinerary and prices click here to view the website.
Toby Lawes, the lucky man who has been the regular work-rider of the mighty Altior during his role as Nicky Henderson’s assistant, will embark on his own training career this year and cannot wait to get started.
Lawes, who has spent five years at Henderson’s famous Seven Barrows base, is due to take over from David Arbuthnot at Andrew Wates’s Henfold House Stables – a premises from where the late Terry Casey trained the 1996 Grand National hero Rough Quest.
Having grown up in the pony club, hunting and eventing spheres, Lawes started riding in point-to-points when he was 16, but jokes his limited success at that ignited his passion for training.
He spent school, university and Christmas holidays getting as much experience as he could, and enjoyed spells with James Eustace, Chris Wall, Neil King, Sarah Humphrey and John Ferguson before joining Henderson for a golden run, which has yielded two jumps championships along with many big-race triumphs.
The 27-year-old has had the pleasure of partnering 2017 King George VI Chase hero Might Bite and the indomitable Altior – a world record-holder having won 19 races in a row over jumps – on Henderson’s Lambourn slopes and has loved every minute of it.
“It’s been the best five years of my life, every part of it has been fantastic, working with the most amazing trainer and team of staff, the most wonderful bunch of horses and most brilliant and kind owners,” he said.
“You look forward to getting out of bed every morning just to go and ride Altior and Might Bite. There’s something so special about them and never before have I been around horses of that calibre. To get to ride them every day blew my mind and I had to pinch myself every day.
“The most amazing thing about Nicky is his wonderful patience with horses; he really allows a horse to come to its own and he’s such a brilliant judge at knowing when that is. That’s one of the key things I’ll take from there.
“I’ve been so lucky to learn from Nicky, Corky [Browne], Charlie [Morlock] and everyone at Seven Barrows. I went there thinking I half-knew what I was doing, but I soon realised the scale of everything. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in the last five years.”
Lawes is halfway through his training modules and hopes to have his licence in place for the autumn.
He might, however, have to supply a finder’s fee for another Henderson protege, explaining: “A few people got the idea in their heads that I could start training this year, so I thought about it and how could I do it.
“This job came up and Nico de Boinville rang me and said, ‘You’ve got to go for this. It’ll be the most amazing job’.”
Arbuthnot, one of the few trainers to win races at the Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot, will soon vacate Wates’s Surrey yard having been angered by the handling of a doping case.
Lawes continued: “Andrew will have about ten horses there and I’ve got space for a few more.
“It’ll be mainly jumpers because that’s certainly Andrew’s big passion, but I’d love a couple of Flat horses if someone wanted them with me.
“I probably won’t have runners until the autumn, end of October, as Andrew’s horses are all on their summer holidays now.”
They say the best way to achieve success is to try, try and try again and Afaak proved that motto correct by landing a big-field Royal Ascot handicap at the third attempt.
Having finished seventh in the Britannia as a three-year-old and a two-and-a-quarter-length second in the Royal Hunt Cup last year, Afaak managed to go one better in the same race 12 months later to score under Jim Crowley by the narrowest of margins.
Sent off at 20-1 in a race that often confuses punters, Afaak was ridden prominently on his return from a 263-day absence and held on gamely to deny the fast-finishing Clon Coulis in the final stride by a nose.
Trainer Charlie Hills, who endured a tough Tuesday when his well-fancied duo Battaash and Phoenix Of Spain were beaten, had this race in mind for Afaak since the start of the year, but the five-year-old’s preparation had been far from ideal.
“It wasn’t the plan to come here first time out as we wanted to give him a run a couple of weeks ago, but he just didn’t look right,” explained Hills. “He was gelded over the winter and never thrived at all. He still looks quite wintry in his coat.
“He would do a couple of really nice pieces of work, but the next time we would work him he wouldn’t look as good.”
Afaak’s class was never in doubt and, given that he stays further than a mile, confidence was high when he struck the front firmly on the bridle.
Hills added: “He was second in the race last year, we knew he definitely had the ability to run a good race and he has run off higher marks, so that was in our favour.
“Angus [Gold, racing manager] and I have always thought a mile and a quarter was in his compass and the race actually worked out perfectly for us – Jim gave him a great ride. He loves having room in his races and the fact the race split into two groups for him worked well.”
Jamie Osborne won with Field Of Dream five years ago and is sounding pretty confident of bagging another success with Raising Sand, who will appreciate any rain that falls before post time.
The seven-year-old was seventh in the cavalry charge a year ago but that was on quick ground and his trainer is expecting a better showing given the forecast.
He said: “A lot of stars have to align to win a Hunt Cup. We’ve done it once and hit the crossbar a few times but this year it looks as if we’ve been dealt a decent hand. Raising Sand ran a great prep in the Victoria Cup and has come out of it well. A few weeks ago we were thinking we were wasting our time as he really needs cut in the ground to show his best but the weather has gone in our favour.”
He added: “James Tate’s horse could be a Group horse in a handicap but the others look pretty exposed and, while you can never be confident in a race like this, I think we go there with a very strong chance.”
As a two-year-old Phoenix Of Spain was very good. As a three-year-old he could be much more than that. He seeks to hammer home that point when venturing to Royal Ascot with the chance to stamp himself king of the Classic milers.
On two autumn afternoons at Doncaster the Charlie Hills-trained Acomb Stakes winner found himself faced against a rival too strong. On a spring afternoon at the Curragh he dished out a drubbing to both those rivals – Too Darn Hot and Magna Grecia – in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
Having largely been held up in his juvenile outings, the son of Lope De Vega made all at the Curragh and did so wonderfully well, powering clear for a three-length defeat of Too Darn Hot under Jamie Spencer.
Back-to-back Group 1 victories is now his mission as he reopposes Too Darn Hot and Curragh fourth Skardu in a race that also features three runners trained by Aidan O’Brien.
Hills said: “If he runs the race he ran in Ireland he’ll be hard to beat but we can’t be sure how hard a race he had because to run to 120 first time out is pretty massive. However, although we haven’t tested him since the Curragh, he has done everything we’ve asked him to do.
“He has the most amazing temperament. Nothing fazes him. He is bomb proof. He is also such a strong galloper and he has the biggest stride. He can gallop all day long at his relentless pace. I’m sure he will get a mile and a quarter one day but we don’t want to do that just yet.”
Albert ‘Corky’ Browne, Nicky Henderson’s legendary head lad since the Lambourn icon started training in 1978, has called time on his illustrious career.
Widely regarded as a genius with horses’ tendons and limbs, Browne served his apprenticeship in Ireland before moving to Britain in 1963. In 1964, he started working for another of Lambourn’s favourite sons Fred Winter, a towering figure as a jockey then trainer in jump racing.
Winter’s Uplands base – now home to Warren Greatrex – was the sport’s dominant force then and Browne’s hands graced the talented legs of household greats Bula, Crisp, Lanzarote and Pendil in that golden era, although he experienced one of his toughest days on track when exciting chaser Killiney – thought by many to be better than Pendil and a Gold Cup winner in waiting – broke a shoulder at Ascot.
When Henderson started training, Browne’s door was the first he knocked on and that imperishable and fruitful partnership has endured ever since.
The understated 77-year-old has helped Henderson cram five champion trainer titles, a record seven Champion Hurdle crowns and two Gold Cups on to his CV and said: “It’s about time. I feel it’s the right time – to leave it to the young chaps, but I’ll miss it.
“In the last year I’d gone down to Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but I’ll be up to watch some schooling and see them work – Nicky’s told me to come up.
“It’s been a massive part of my life; 41 years I’ve been with Nicky and I’ve enjoyed every year, month and day.”
Browne, who has also seen six Champion Chases and three King Georges won during his time with the Seven Barrows maestro, added: “The whole lot was special and things got bigger and bigger until it became the empire it is now. You’d never dream it would become this big, but it did – more than 3,000 winners.
“It started off with First Bout in the Triumph and See You Then in the Champion Hurdle, which got the ball rolling at Cheltenham and we’ve never looked back since – it’s an incredible record.”
Browne, who unsurprisingly finds it tricky to nominate a favourite or best horse, promised wife Diane they would get married if Winter’s Anglo captured the 1966 Grand National, but was not hedging when having “a shilling each-way on him at 50-1”.
“There were so many great ones it’s hard to pick, but I had a soft spot for the likes of My Tent Or Yours,” he continued. “He got beat in some big ones but gave everything and was as honest as hell. Those things are part of the ups and downs of racing though.
“And how could I pick the best? See You Then was a three-time Champion Hurdle winner, which is hard to beat, but we’ve had other winners of that, lots of Champion Chases and a couple of Gold Cups, so it’s difficult to pick.”
As well as being an equine ace, Browne has mentored Henderson proteges Charlie Longsdon, Jamie Snowden, Tom Symonds and Ben Pauling among others, along with many more stable staff and young riders.
“Some of the boys at the yard have asked if they can ring me and I said, ‘Of course, you can, I’m just down the road’,” he said. “But they’ll be all right, it’s a good team there.
“I’ll miss them, but have just given them a warning not to let me down at Cheltenham; to keep the results coming in March!”
Jumps trainer Charlie Longsdon is one of many to have benefited from the wisdom of Corky Browne and pays tribute
I worked with Corky for five years at Nicky’s and he ran the show and has done since day one. He’s won a lot of recognition and quite rightly so as he’s a legend in the Lambourn area.
He’s been a great person to learn off and there’s no doubt I learned more off him in those five years than anyone else in my career, in terms of horse management and looking at their legs.
He knew the horses inside out and picked up on any slight change in soundness rapidly.
He’s been a stalwart of the Seven Barrows team and has played a huge part in its success, but he’s also overseen and educated a lot of people, from Harry and Ed Dunlop and Charlie Vigors before me, and then Jamie Snowden, Tom Symonds and Ben Pauling.
There’ll be loads more who have come through and Corky’s straightened a fair few of us up. We probably weren’t the best before him, but a lot of good people have come out of his and Nicky’s academy.
You learn plenty off the trainer but it’s the head lad where the real education is and having someone of Corky’s stature and knowledge was brilliant.
I still ring him now – I think we all do – and I left more than ten years ago! The show will go on, but it will be a different show.
Phoenix Of Spain upstaged his old rivals Too Darn Hot and Magna Grecia to take the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas in emphatic fashion at the Curragh.
The Charlie Hills-trained colt had finished second to each of the market principals on his last two starts of 2018, and went to the Classic without a previous run this season, having missed the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket after scoping dirty.
However, he showed he was ready to run for his life in a race that had been hyped as a clash between the big two.
Jamie Spencer had Phoenix Of Spain (16-1) smartly away and soon in a good position. Skardu and Emaraaty Ana were also to the fore, with Newmarket victor Magna Grecia and Mohawk close up.
Too Darn Hot and Frankie Dettori loomed ominously large in the centre of the course just under three furlongs out, with Magna Grecia weakening out of contention not long afterwards.
Too Darn Hot put in a strong challenge, but Phoenix Of Spain was up to the task and kept on strongly to win by three lengths.
Half a length away was Decrypt, who snatched third place from Skardu.
Sky Bet make Phoenix Of Spain for the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. Racing PR Manager Michael Shinners said: “That was an impressive performance and he looks to have emerged as the best of the three-year-old colts over a mile. He deserves his place at the head of the market.”
Hills said: “It was very impressive. We were slightly concerned with the draw in one and were really conscious to get a good start. We just didn’t want to get stuck on the rail in behind a few. Luckily he jumped good. The plan wasn’t really to make the running, but Jamie gave him an absolute peach and he’s some horse.
“To sustain that gallop all the way through and he just keeps lengthening. He’s a big horse and whatever he did last year was a bonus. He’s got a hell of a future ahead of him.
“We had a setback in January which put us back three or four weeks and it’s always hard chasing a horse to get ready for an English Guineas. We did get him there, but unfortunately we had a dirty scope prior to the race so we couldn’t run.
“We had given him a racecourse gallop at Newmarket on Craven week and the week after that he scoped dirty – who knows, it might have been a blessing in disguise. He had some fantastic form last year when he was beaten by Too Darn Hot and Magna Grecia.
“At Doncaster (Vertem Futurity Trophy) things didn’t work out for us. Unfortunately we just got too far back and if we had ridden him a little bit more like today I think he would nearly have won that race.”
He added: “I had my first Classic winner here with Just The Judge (Irish 1,000 Guineas) back in 2013. That was a tremendous thrill and this is very special as well.
“It’s so great for the owners, Ann (Plummer) and Tony (Wechsler), who have put so much into the sport over recent years and deserve every success they get.
“We’ll obviously enjoy today and then sit back down in a couple of days and prepare him for Ascot and the St James’s Palace. After that we’re really looking forward to stepping him up to a mile and a quarter. He has an Eclipse entry as well.”
John Gosden was delighted with Too Darn Hot’s performance so soon after his seasonal debut at York – a run that had come following a delayed start to the season that meant he missed the Greenham and the Guineas at Newmarket.
The Newmarket trainer said: “He ran a good race and I’m very happy with him. It was a big ask coming back nine days after the Dante, but he ran a solid race. The St James’s Palace is the target for him now.”
Skardu could also go to Royal Ascot after backing up his fourth at Newmarket with a creditable fourth place, one ahead spot ahead of Magna Grecia.
His trainer William Haggas felt a stronger pace would have suited his colt better.
“I’m not making any excuses, but he could have done with a better gallop early. He was just a bit too handy and I think he’s better coming off a fast pace,” said Haggas.
“He just ran out of gas at the end, but I thought the winner was impressive. He did nothing wrong and galloped strongly to the line.”
When asked if he would go to Ascot, he said: “I would hope so. He’s got a bit of improving to do.
“I thought he’d improve from his 2000 Guineas run, although I suppose he did beat Magna Grecia if you look at it literally.”
Battaash is set to return to action in Saturday’s Group 2 Armstrong Aggregates Temple Stakes at Haydock with his trainer Charlie Hills believing he has found the key to getting the explosive sprinter back to his brilliant best.
Much anticipation greeted Battaash’s return in this corresponding race last year but he scrambled home by just a head from 16-1 shot Washington DC, leaving connections underwhelmed with the performance and hoping for better.
Battaash went on to be beaten in three of his four subsequent starts, having been sent off favourite or second favourite each time, with his performances often marked by fractiousness and difficulties on the way to the start or in the stalls themselves.
However, the Battaash of 2018 does not compare to the one Hills has on his hands this year, in the trainer’s view, with the five-year-old behaving well in his training at home and pleasing with his outward appearance and his performances on the gallops.
“I was never 100 per cent happy with him last year,” Hills said on Sunday. “He didn’t look at his best in his coat at any point but he still won a couple and showed up really well in his other races, so it was far from a bad season.
“When he’s at his best he’s very good – and he showed that at times last season – but it might be that he just lacked an edge. He’s training well now and putting his efforts in the right direction, so we’re really looking forward to getting him back on Saturday.”
As a three-year-old Battaash produced a sequence of stunning performances in the familiar silks of owner Hamdan Al Maktoum, drawing comparisons with the owner’s other great five-furlong sprinter Dayjur by landing the Group 2 King George Stakes at Goodwood and the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp.
Yet apart from blitzing his rivals for a second time at Glorious Goodwood under Jim Crowley, Battaash failed to scale the same heights last season leaving Hills to ponder if the previous season had left its mark.
He said: “As a three-year-old he took on the older horses and had a hard season and that might have affected him a bit more than we realised. It can happen with horses that they almost miss a season and then come back the next year as good as, if not better, than before.
“We’ve been very fortunate that Dane O’Neill [second rider for Sheikh Hamdan] has been in to ride him in a lot of his work this spring and Jim came in to sit on him for his last piece and that’s put him spot on. Jim’s very happy with him, as am I.”
A back-to-form Battaash is a tantalising prospect in a sprint division already containing stars like Blue Point, who defeated Battaash in last year’s King’s Stand Stakes, Kachy and Mabs Cross, who conceded a 7lb Group 1 penalty to her rivals in the Group 3 Palace House Stakes at Newmarket last time.
The last two mentioned are also possible contenders for Saturday’s Temple Stakes, and Hills added: “I think there are some really nice horses in the sprint division this year and they’re not going to be easy to win. It’s going to be a tough ask at Haydock but I’m really very happy with him. Kachy is a proper horse and is race fit and we’re just coming out at the start of our season, which you have to remember.
“But we know Battaash is a talented horse and we hope he can have a good year, starting with Haydock at the weekend.”
British racing’s finances have been dealt a huge blow with the news that income from the levy – the sport’s central funding system – has fallen unexpectedly by around £15 million in the latest financial year, the Racing Post understands.
The news could mean that Levy Board expenditure on areas such as prize-money will face cuts later this year. That bombshell comes against the background of the sport facing falling income from media rights caused by betting shop closures due to the government’s crackdown on FOBTs. The effect of that change has been estimated at between £40m and £60m a year.
Bookmakers pay a percentage of their gross profits on bets on British horseracing to the levy, which the government reformed in 2017 to extend to operators based overseas who had previously not contributed.
Having fallen below £50m, the newly reformed levy brought in £95m in its first year, higher even than the forecasts of £85m. However, it is understood that in the 2018-19 financial year that figure has fallen to around £80m.
It is believed the main impact came towards the end of the levy year, which runs from April 1 to March 31, with a high percentage of winning favourites.
Bookmaker promotions around the Cheltenham Festival and results on the track will also have had a major effect on the yield, but the sport’s leadership will be concerned that this is a structural change rather than a one-off event.
This week Sky Bet’s parent company The Stars Group said the bookmaker’s revenues had been hit by unfavourable results at the festival, with betting net-win margin at a record low of five per cent in the first quarter of the year compared to an average of around nine per cent.
Punters enjoyed a golden period during the meeting, from Altior winning Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase to Paisley Park’s success in the Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday, with favourites landing seven of the eight races. The well-backed Frodon was the only non-favourite to oblige in that run.
The equine flu crisis, which shut down racing for six days in February, will also have had an impact.
In March it was announced that prize-money for 2019 was to be boosted by a one-off injection of £6.5m from the Levy Board to fill the hole expected to be left in racecourse coffers by falling media rights income this year.
The extra financial support was mainly to be targeted at the middle to lower tiers of British racing and came after some courses, most notably those under the Arena Racing Company (Arc) umbrella, had signalled their intention to cut prize-money in 2019 in response to the threat of falling income, a move which in Arc’s case led to trainer and owner boycotts.
It remains to be seen whether that extra support will be threatened by this latest news.
When the government reformed the levy it said it would consider extending the system to bets placed on foreign racing, a move which could bring in a further £15m to £20m. However, ministers have said they would need to see racing make self-help efforts and also evidence of hardship before that change was made.
Many in the sport would also like to move towards a levy model based more on turnover to mitigate against bookmakers using the sport as a loss leader.
Groom Chris ‘CJ’ Jerdin, a central character to the epic tale of ill-fated Grand National hero Many Clouds, has brought an end to his 50-year career in the sport.
Originally from Stockport near Manchester, Jerdin was on the smaller side as a child so a job in racing seemed a sensible fit and in 1969 a role was found with Dougie Marks, a successful trainer in Lambourn.
After around eight years with Marks, where he looked after Abernant and Palace House winner Shiny Tenth, he linked up with legendary champion trainer Fulke Walwyn, caring for Peterhof and Rose Ravine among others.
He joined Oliver Sherwood, trainer of the 2015 Aintree winner Many Clouds, in the early 1990s.
“I’m 65, retirement age, and I’ve done everything I wanted to do in racing,” he said. “I’ve been to the top, looked after a Grand National winner and won’t do another horse like that, so it’s a good time to go out.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of the 50 years. I’ve met some great characters, some dodgy ones, and for a lad from Stockport to mix with royalty has been brilliant – the only two of the royal family I didn’t meet were Princess Margaret and Prince Philip.”
Jerdin, universally known as CJ, regards Marks, a huge character with a more serious side when required, as a father figure.
“The only horse I’d sat on before coming to Lambourn was a donkey on Blackpool beach,” recalled the popular figure, who stopped riding out just before the arrival of Trevor Hemmings’s star at Sherwood’s Rhonehurst base.
It is no surprise the triumph of Many Clouds in the National was his finest hour in the sport, despite that memorable Aintree afternoon not going entirely to plan.
“It has to be that,” he added. “He was a nervous horse at the start and if you said ‘boo’ he’d jump six foot in the air. He didn’t like blacksmiths, but he wasn’t like that at the end.
“One lad, who I won’t name, rode him once and said he was slow and no good, but then he went to Wetherby and won by 12 lengths on his debut before finishing ninth in the Champion Bumper in 2012, which was a high-class race.”
Many Clouds was a natural over fences – “when you saw him school it was knock-your-socks-off stuff” – and won the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup, but disappointed in that season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup before his date with destiny on Merseyside.
“I was ill going to Aintree,” Jerdin continued. “Can you imagine if I hadn’t taken him though? I’m still getting cards now from people I don’t know.
“A National winner changes your life – he’s changed so many people’s lives – but I wasn’t nervous because I expected him to be pulled up after his Cheltenham run.
“Guy Anstey, who worked for Warren [Greatrex], started saying, ‘You’re going to win this’.
“All hell broke loose then.”
Jerdin, an old-school operator who has maintained calling Sherwood guv’nor in the modern era, went from that high to the cruellest of lows when Many Clouds – by then the people’s horse – lost his life immediately after beating King George VI Chase winner Thistlecrack in the 2017 Cotswold Chase.
“I told people in the pub that Thistlecrack hadn’t met as good a jumper as Clouds, who would get him at it,” he said.
“I’d have retired when he retired and his death hurt me big time. I was numb and coming home in an empty box that night was terrible.
“The biggest thing I miss was the pleasure he gave to people when they came to see him. I was so proud when they came and he touched a lot of people, which the guv’nor must take a lot of credit for because he made him so accessible.”
Also the groom of fellow Sherwood star Large Action, Jerdin, unsurprisingly, has few regrets.
“I’ll do a bit of travelling and help a friend with some landscaping, but I wouldn’t change anything in my career,” he said. “It’s been fantastic and, thanks to Clouds, the last ten years have been the best.”
He’s a legend in Lambourn – Sherwood
Oliver Sherwood pays tribute to long-serving employee Chris ‘CJ’ Jerdin
CJ has been with me since 1990 and looked after Large Action – he is a man who got on with his job. He’s a legend in Lambourn and I know he was hoping to retire the same time Many Clouds did, which obviously didn’t happen.
His death knocked CJ – as it did everybody – for six. It took the stuffing out of him, but he bounced back and was a very good judge of a horse, when he was riding and to look at. He picked out Clouds as soon as he arrived.
He looked after good horses at Fulke and Cath Walwyn’s when they trained before he joined me and was one of those old-school stable lads who knew their job and were taught it properly.
He loves Lambourn and I’m not sure what he’ll do now, but we wish him the very best. He will be sorely missed, although his favourite toy at the yard was the leaf blower to tidy up. He had that in his hand morning, noon and night and we won’t miss that!