Arguably the two highest profile chases of the season thus far have gone to one of the most successful racing teams of recent years.
Menorah’s victory in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, made it a fabulous double for owners Diana and Grahame Whateley, along with trainer Philip Hobbs. Wishfull Thinking had kicked the winter off in style with a facile victory in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree.
Those famous blue silks, invariably worn by Richard Johnson, have been dominant in recent campaigns, thanks in the main to Menorah, Captain Chris, and Wishfull Thinking. A string of Graded wins have come their way including a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, an Arkle Chase and a Game Spirit Chase. Older statesmen they may be, but the last few weeks have certainly shown that their talents still shine bright.
For owners Diana and Grahame the aim remains to continue their incredible success in a sport that has become an obsession. Aided by one the best trainers in the business and by bloodstock agent Aiden Murphy, they appear to have every chance.
It was meeting Murphy that led to ownership, and Grahame once said: "We're the size we are because of Aiden. We often look back to the days we went to Cheltenham as spectators and we never dreamt we would be where we are now.”
The owners clearly value the no-nonsense approach of trainer Philip Hobbs. In a piece by Alastair Down a few years ago Grahame said: “With Philip there’s no razzmatazz. I’m not a fool, and I can't emphasise enough how straight-down-the-line honest Philip is.”
That kind of working relationship instils crucial trust, which enables the owner to have total confidence in the trainer’s decision making. That’s not to say that someone who has become incredibly successful in business would not be involved in decisions around the placement of his pride and joys. Captain Chris’ surprise entry in the Arkle of 2011 came after major pre-race analysis prompted by the Midlands property magnate.
Grahame Whateley has worked his way ferociously from the families’ humble beginnings. His grandad worked down the mines at Mansfield in North Nottinghamshire. The grandson has built a property empire, enabling the couple the opportunity to throw themselves passionately into their greatest love.
He started the business buying up suitable sites for petrol stations and selling them on, while at the same time farming. Always a lover of country life, both feel most at home at Cheltenham Races. The Whateley’s became members at their favourite course over 25 years ago
Diana, a farmer’s daughter with a deep-rooted love of the country once said: “It's fantastically exciting to go to see a runner at the major meetings such as Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown. I love all the characters you come across. It amazes me how many people follow our horses and take an interest in them - the letters, emails and phone calls you get can be quite tear-jerking. I feel like we’re going to World Championships, or the Olympic Games. It is a real privilege to have a horse good enough to go there. We feel very, very lucky.”
Of course luck cannot always be on your side. Captain Chris came within a whisker of winning the King George in 2012. Menorah came similarly close to winning the Betfred Bowl at Aintree in 2013. Such fine lines are often the difference between success and glorious failure.
But already this season the old warriors look set to make this winter a wonderful one. For a man who’s had such a great career in business, he will be only too aware that planning for the future is just as important as enjoying the present. The likes of Sausalito Sunrise and Rock The Kasbah are set to ensure that the future is similarly bright and prosperous.