Ffos Las took a fair amount of stick after the Betway West Wales National, but I’m pretty sure Rebecca Curtis didn't complain.
The Pembrokeshire trainer saddled the winner Bob Ford who relished the stamina sapping conditions. His five career wins have come on soft or heavy ground, three of those now at Ffos Las and two at Chepstow. On this occasion he was ridden by Paul Townend, who’s become quite a feature on Curtis trained horses of late.
She was understandably thrilled with the win and said: “He got on so well with Paul there. He gave him an absolute master ride. The trouble is, if he can't make the running he goes and sulks. He’s not a quick horse so when he's dropped back in trip he doesn't get his own way. But over a longer trip he was able to have a nice lead.”
The race itself saw only two horses finish. And that would have been one had Callum Whillans not given Gorgehous Lliege a breather before jumping the last. Many of the runners were struggling a good mile out and several had pulled-up before turning for home. Ffos Las heavy ground clearly takes some getting through, and the course have serious work to do with better drainage surely high on the agenda.
It’s a great shame that the result was rather lost in the after-race furore. The track has been a godsend to Welsh trainers such as Curtis. Her stables at Fforest Farm near the village of Newport, though set on the glorious Pembrokeshire coast, is a good distance from any racecourse bar Ffos Las. Chepstow, Ludlow, Worcester and Cheltenham are all on the radar, but none can be said to be on the doorstep.
This may be a logistic inconvenience, but it appears to have little effect on the stables success. The winners continue to flow and the quality of horses in the yard shows no sign of diminishing. It’s a couple of years now since At Fishers Cross burst onto the scene. He remains one of the stable stars, but a series of physical issues have prevented him from putting his best hoof forward. He does tend to hit top form at the Festival, and Curtis will be hoping to get him there in the best possible shape to contest the World Hurdle once again.
She started training on her father’s dairy farm in 2008 and is the second youngest of seven children, with her siblings still living in and around Newport. In previous interviews she speaks of ‘becoming a bit more robust having so many siblings,’ she says, “I was always quite strong-willed, whether that’s from being in a big family, I don’t know. I’m very ambitious. I think you have to be to be successful in anything you do.”
Curtis was the only one in the family to take after her half-Russian mother in her love of horses. Riding from the age of four she reached national standard at showjumping. She then decided that horse racing was a more realistic career path. She’d had a spell with her neighbour Peter Bowen, before going to America to gain further experience with trainers Richard Mandella and Dan Hendricks. “I spent five years working in yards in California. I knew once I set up here I’d be here for life, so as I was young I wanted to see the world a bit. It’s nice to see different ideas and how other people do it.”
In an idyllic setting on the west coast of Wales she has around 40 horses. All weather gallops and a schooling arena are standard facilities, but how many stables can boast of having their own private beach?
Currently on 31 winners and closing in on last season’s total, the yard has had a great recent spell with a new partnership developing. Paul Townend has been travelling over from Ireland to ride with instant success and rave reviews. A double at Bangor the other day continued the terrific spell. Tea For Three was one of those, when winning a hunters’ chase in fine style. The other victory was gained on the exciting novice hurdler Beast Of Burden. A huge son of Flemensfirth, he’s a relentless galloper who looks sure to make into a terrific chaser.
Another horse with a bright future is Foryourinformation, who came third in the Betway Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las on ‘Bob Ford’ day. He’s a lovely big son of Kayf Tara, and another likely to find success over the larger obstacles.
The likes of At Fishers Cross, Tea For Three and more recently O’Faolains Boy have certainly helped to put Rebecca Curtis on the map. But the future remains bright on the west coast of Wales. With the welcome assistance of a talented Irishman the next few months could be pretty exciting.