The sight of JP McManus green and gold colours, hurtling around tracks such as Ludlow and Hexham, remains a little scarce and somewhat unusual.
One of Ireland’s most influential owners is recognised for his team of horses with Jonjo O’Neill and Nicky Henderson, and their victories during prestigious meetings at Aintree, Kempton or Cheltenham. Yet in recent years, McManus has called upon an array of British trainers, and those famous silks can now ‘pop-up’ at venues throughout the UK.
One trainer who has followed in his father’s footsteps, in building a working relationship with McManus, is North Yorkshire based Ben Haslam. He took over from his father, Patrick Haslam, at Castle Hill Stables back in 2010. The Middleham yard is home to around 40 horses, trained for both the Flat and Jumps. Haslam was only 25 when taking over from his father, yet had managed to gather a fair amount of valuable experience before taking over the main job.
He moved to Middleham as a youngster, and when not at school was able to ride out for his father. He had a brief spell as an amateur, riding a handful of winners, but appeared focused on a career as a trainer. On leaving school he took the decision to travel in search of racing experience, heading to South Africa to work with top trainer Joey Ramsden.
A crucial part of his development came when gaining a scholarship with Sheikh Mohammed. The Darley Flying Start scholarship would allow him to travel around the globe, experiencing all aspects of the thoroughbred industry. Much was learnt at the likes of the Curragh, Kentucky and Dubai, and when returning to England he was fortunate enough to spend time with Sir Michael Stoute at Newmarket.
Finishing his course in 2006, he returned home and began work as assistant to his father. In 2010, he took over the reins, taking out his full training licence. A relatively small yard, Castle Hill Stables stands next to the castle in the historic racing town of Middleham. It’s a beautiful part of Yorkshire, and a terrific place to train racehorses. Renovated in 2009, the yard has 35 boxes, a couple of barns and that all important horse walker, used for ‘warming-up’ and ‘warming-down’.
Middleham’s famous training centre is a stone’s throw away, providing extensive facilities including a multitude of all-weather and grass gallops, along with an impressive schooling ground. The facilities are used by more than a dozen local handlers.
It was back in 2014 that Haslam’s association with JP McManus began, though the Irishman had first sent horses to the yard back in 2006, when Monsieur arrived to be trained by Haslam Snr. A former Henderson inmate, Prince Of Pirates, along with Ever So Much, were Ben’s first in the famous green and gold. Though the former failed to regain the spark of his early career, Ever So Much has become a huge hit, winning seven times, including two of his last four outings.
The latest batch of McManus stock to arrive also has the potential to bring success to the yard. Dursey Sound won at Hexham on only his second start for Haslam. Held up at the back by Richie McLernon for much of the contest, he travelled powerfully into the race looking the likely winner, before being cajoled into doing just enough to win. He certainly looks capable of further success on the northern circuit.
Saint Charles arrived from Nicky Henderson’s yard, and duly won over fences at Southwell on his first outing for Haslam. He’s run well on a couple of occasions since, and is due out again today. He’s sure to pick up more prizes during the coming season.
The Doorman is another to arrive at the yard in recent weeks. He’d lost his way in Ireland, but is undoubtedly a talented sort. By King’s Theatre out of an Anshan mare, he had strong point to point form before switching to rules. He’s sure to win races, and may start at Ludlow today.
Haslam may have a small crop of horses over the jumps, but with a strike rate of around 33% so far this season, he’s worth a watch in the coming weeks. It’s an exciting time for the Yorkshire trainer, with the prospect of more green and gold capturing prizes in unexpected places.