It’s probably fair to say that the last couple of seasons have proved slightly disappointing for Tim Vaughan and his South Wales team.
His first serious campaign of 2008-2009 yielded a terrific strike rate of 17% and total prize money of £326,000. The following three seasons were virtually identical in terms of percentage winners, though prize money rose to a high of £574,000 in the 2010-11 campaign, thanks in no small part to the Scottish Grand National success of Beshabar.
Contrast those wonderfully successful times with 11% and 9% strike rates in the past two seasons, yielding prize money of £244,000 and £277,000 respectively, and it’s clear to see that success has proved much harder to find. Of course, that level of winnings is not to be sniffed at, and around 40 winners a term is far from disastrous. Nevertheless, Vaughan will be hoping that his strong start to the latest campaign is a sign of things to come.
His yard is somewhat renowned for being fast ‘out-the-blocks’, with decent late-summer ground often suiting Vaughan’s stable. Canton Prince is a perfect example, having already struck three times since getting his season underway in August. The five-year-old gelding is by Shantou, and could make into an exciting novice hurdler over staying trips.
Vaughan has been at Pant Wilkin Stables, near Aberthin in the picturesque Vale of Glamorgan for the past seven years. Just 12 miles from Cardiff, the yard is handily placed near the M4 for access across the border to England, with tracks such as Chepstow, Cheltenham and Worcester in easy reach.
Vaughan’s association with Champion Jockey Richard Johnson has proved the foundation of the stables success over the years. Having such an outstanding talent as part of the set-up, not only on the track, but also at the yard working the horses, is a priceless commodity for such an outfit. At this time of year, Vaughan can call on Johnson to partner many of his horses, before the Champ joins the powerful Hobbs team on a regular basis throughout the winter.
Vaughan also has a talented claimer among his team in Alan Johns. Already on a career best 13 winners for this campaign, at an impressive 19% strike rate, his performance aboard Winter Walk at Newton Abbot just over a week ago portrayed star quality. Held up in last place for the marathon hurdle event, he crept into contention on the final circuit, before timing his challenge to perfection approaching the second last flight. This stylish jockey’s judgement of pace, and strength in a finish, will undoubtedly see him prove a huge success over the coming years.
And he couldn’t be working in a better environment than at Pant Wilkin Stables. It’s an impressive training facility, with all ‘mod cons’ geared towards getting the best from the equine talent to hand. And that equine talent promises much for the winter ahead. Vaughan has a number of youngsters that look set to move the yard forward, and nothing attracts future owners more than a successful, thriving stable.
Debece is one such youngster likely to prove a hit in the coming months. He was hugely impressive at Kempton in May on his first outing over hurdles, when ridden by Johns, and is certainly bred for the game, being closely related to Cheltenham Festival winner Don Poli. He’s a powerful looking sort, and you’d expect that Vaughan cannot wait to get him back on a racecourse. That could be as soon as next week at Southwell.
I’ve already mentioned Winter Walk and Canton Prince earlier in the piece. Both are young progressive types, the latter having won his last three starts, whilst Winter Walk will hopefully make up for lost time having returned from a spell on the injury list. Both should make exciting chasers in time.
Today the yard sends newcomer Aqalim over fences for the first time at Bangor. Previously with John Ferguson, he was a classy staying hurdler, and should appreciate the better ground that he will hopefully encounter today. Whether he takes to fences is questionable, and it could prove an interesting ride for Richard Johnson this afternoon. If he does adapt to the larger obstacles, Aqalim could prove a major hit for the yard, especially on that all important sounder surface.
For Tim Vaughan and his team, the coming period will give clues to just how successful a season this is going to be. The ‘big guns’ will soon be stepping into the arena, and only then will the South Wales yard know if they have the ammunition to bring about the much needed upturn in fortunes. The early signs are positive.