In only his second season as a trainer, Robert Stephens continues to impress and once again hit the headlines yesterday when having to shell-out £31,000 to hang on to his novice hurdle seller winner Quebec.
The four-year-old came from France and is clearly thought highly of by the Welsh trainer. Thrown in at the deep end when trailing home in a strong juvenile hurdle at Sandown in December, the gelding by Dansili had been trained by Andre Fabre and could prove to be a fair sort on a sounder surface.
Stephens now has seven winners for the season from just over 40 runs. With less than 20 horses in training, a return of over £50,000 in prize money is a terrific effort. Formerly a conditional jockey with trainer Philip Hobbs, he was forced to retire after a bad fall at Uttoxeter.
He took up a post as trainee assistant to Sir Mark Prescott and that led to a job as assistant trainer to William Haggas. He took out his full licence in June 2013. His first decent success came with his bumper runner Modus who won a listed race at Cheltenham in January 2014. He went on to perform well at the Festival that year and did even better last week when runner-up in the Champion Bumper finishing strongly behind Pipe’s impressive winner Moon Racer.
Beltor had become very much the stable star when winning the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle. Previously trained by his old boss Sir Mark Prescott on the Flat, he was a smooth winner on his debut over hurdles at Ludlow and followed up in impressive fashion at Kempton, beating decent sorts in All Yours and Bivouac. A horse with a great future, he was unable to hit the target at Cheltenham, but could well be suited by a flatter track. A trip to Aintree would clearly look a strong possibility.
Stephens clearly learnt plenty from his time with Hobbs, Prescott and Haggas. When interviewed last year he spoke of his preparation for training: “The biggest influence it has had working for the three of them is it gave me so much confidence to go and train on my own, and just do the right thing by the horse. I suppose one thing that might stick out, is all three trainers were very good at placing their horses in the right race, and that is something I have tried to replicate in my training.”
Its early days for Stephens but this winter has been extremely encouraging and he looks to be yet another young trainer with a very bright future.