The turf

Horse racing’s invisible heroes

23 July 2022

9:00 AM

23 July 2022

9:00 AM

President George W. Bush used to quote his fellow Texan Robert Strauss who famously declared: ‘You can fool some of the people some of the time, and those are the ones you need to concentrate on.’ Listening to the economic arguments of most of the candidates for the Tory leadership last week, they clearly take a similar view. If it’s honesty you want, stick to horse racing.

In Newbury’s baking heat last Saturday, Grocer Jack, an expensive 700,000-guinea purchase from Germany for Prince Faisal bin Khaled, led all the way at a sometimes extravagant pace to win the Listed bet365 Stakes by nine lengths in the hands of Tom Marquand. Afterwards trainer William Haggas’s wife Maureen declared: ‘The performance was amazing. I thought he had carted Tom and would fall in a big hole. He likes to be in front but he isn’t that quick out of the gates so you’ve almost got to get him going and then he gets going too well.’ Grocer Jack’s rider was equally candid, saying of the horse’s rather disappointing run previously at Chantilly: ‘I got him all wrong in France. He was slowly away and I dropped him in thinking I’d get him to relax but he never did.’ Both Tom and Maureen paid warm tribute to one of those key figures in racing who play a crucial role but rarely get any recognition for it. Grocer Jack is a keen, headstrong type who needs the lid kept on him as he is brought up to full fitness and the man who has been doing that so skilfully is his Ukrainian work-rider Sergiy Barvinko.

Tom Marquand and his pocket dynamo partner Hollie Doyle have been matching wins all season. Both were on 44 as that day started although Hollie went one up after a Newbury double. Do they keep a chalkboard in the kitchen to keep them both on their mettle, I asked Tom. ‘Most nights we don’t even get home in time to check,’ was the reply. ‘But we both recognise we are in a privileged position, able to enjoy ourselves. Things are going well but obviously that’s not always going to be the case. We’ll just keep our foot on the accelerator as long as we can.’

Equally honest after his success in winning the 6f Group Three Hackwood Stakes with Minzaal, winner of the Gimcrack back in 2020, was Lambourn trainer Owen Burrows. At Ascot in the Platinum Jubilee he had chosen to fit cheekpieces on the yard’s best sprinter and for the first time ever he failed to make the frame. So the headgear was dropped. ‘We’d be geniuses if we could turn back time. We did a few things wrong. We tried cheekpieces and it didn’t work. We went back to what we knew and it was a good performance today.’

Minzaal’s success was a popular one: few trainers are more deserving of some good luck. After many years as an assistant to Sir Michael Stoute, Owen Burrows set up in 2016 in Lambourn as a private trainer to Hamdan al Maktoum and when Hamdan died last year, and his Shadwell Estate operation slimmed down, Burrows was among the hardest hit. Two years ago he had 80 classy animals at Hamdan’s Kingswood House Stables. Before Christmas he relocated to a smaller Lambourn yard and started again as a public trainer with 30 horses, declaring: ‘I’m not too far up myself to think I am too good to pick up a shovel.’ Soon, to general delight, came spectacular success with the best Shadwell horse he had retained: Hukum triumphed in the Coronation Cup to give Burrows his first Group One. But alas that evening came the news that Hukum had picked up an injury requiring three screws in a leg: ‘One moment I was floating home from Epsom and then bang!’ In fact Owen Burrows has been operating very successfully, with ten victories from his 34 runners, a remarkable strike rate of 29 per cent. A week before he won with Minzaal, Anmaat had triumphed in the John Smith’s Cup at York and there was a two-year-old winner at Ascot in between.

One of Hollie Doyle’s two Newbury winners was in the feature race of the day, the Wetherbys Super Sprint, a race over five furlongs for two-year-olds which is never won by the blueblood yards full of Dubawi and Sea The Stars offspring because it is restricted to horses purchased as yearlings or two-year-olds at public auctions for less than £63,000. Weights are allocated with contestants carrying 1lb less for every £5,000 below that £63,000. Few yards are as adept at turning out two-year-old speedsters as Archie Watson’s Lambourn base and fittingly his winner Eddie’s Hope is owned by the multi-member Middleham Park Racing syndicate. A horse described by his trainer as ‘very quick’, Eddie’s Boy clearly takes things in his stride. So laid back is he that when Archie Watson checked on his wellbeing with his lad after arriving at the course, he was told: ‘He’s asleep.’

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments