When trainer Jim Best saddled up Mangonel in the handicap hurdle at Uttoxeter this afternoon he was hoping the mare would provide further justification for his decision to abandon flat racing and concentrate on an expanded team of jump horses. It didn't quite pan out that way as she was unable to build on two wide margin successes earlier this month and could finish only fifth.
But already, Mangonel, a horse named after a type of medieval catapult, has demonstrated that Bestâ€™s reputation for improving horses he's picked up from other yards is well founded. Mangonel had previously been trained by Stuart Howe in Devon, but, following a move to the Sussex Downs over the summer, she won her first two races for Best by a combined total of 48 lengths. "I hoped we could improve her a bit and that's how it's worked out. We targeted a race at Kempton that we have won three times before with different horses."
Best trains with his brother Tom on the old Lewes racecourse. Last month they decided to move on their flat horses, and concentrate solely on National Hunt racing, even though the year had been reasonably successful, with 10 winners. In the seven years they've been training, as well as establishing their reputation for improving horses, the Bests have become known as something of a gambling yard, which has not always been of benefit to them.
"We did land a few gambles and that's what the owners wanted, but you did end up with a lot of horses that, being blunt, aren't much good," Best explained. "One owner suddenly sent us nine horses and that's a lot to deal with when you're quite a small yard. I didn't feel any more that I wanted the reputation of being just â€˜a gambling yardâ€™ and what weâ€™re trying to do now is improve the quality of the horses weâ€™ve got.
The thing with flat racing is that you can spend a lot of money on a horse who turns out to be no good, and it's all a lot more competitive, too. So we made the call to get rid of the horses and try and turn things round. In a month we moved on 19 flat horses and we've only got around 25 jumpers left now. I'm convinced it was the right decision, though."
Early indications are that this was a sound move, as the stable has had four winners from six runners in the past two weeks since making the change. One of those, juvenile hurdler School For Scandal, is another import. He was bought from Mark Johnston's yard for Â£30,000 back in April, after spending last winter on the all-weather tracks. A summer of schooling over hurdles paid immediate dividends on Wednesday with victory first time out at Wetherby.
It was suggested after the race to the trainer that this was the sort of horse he might have preferred to get handicapped rather than winning with straight away. Best said, "Get him rated 85 and you might be able to win three or four handicaps before they get to you. But it's exciting to have a horse like him in the yard who might just be a Saturday horse, and that's the sort of horse we want to be training now."
If Best carries on in this vein of form, he'll soon have plenty more like School For Scandal, and will be a potential future recruit to the list of â€˜under the radarâ€™ trainers Matt likes so much.