By Tony Stafford
There are many good trainers out there, most of whom haven’t had the chance to prove it. I’ve had two brief words with one of them, asking Joseph (seems he prefers that to Joe) Tuite at Nottingham on Wednesday if Litigant runs in the November Handicap on Saturday, and again after the race suggesting he might be better even than Group class to which he gave me a funny look.
Joseph looks quite a serious type, as befits a family man and businessman who is either approaching or just past 50 years of age. I owe that degree of accuracy to Marcus Armytage, my one-time colleague on the Daily Telegraph, in whose diary column in June 2010 he told of Tuite’s quest for gaining his trainer’s licence aged 44.
Joseph was then in the middle of his required modules at the Northern Racing College, up the Bawtry Road near Doncaster while still in his six-year role as assistant trainer to Mick Channon. That followed spells with the Irishman’s riding as a jumps conditional jockey for John White and Jenny Pitman then acting as travelling head lad for the formidable Mrs P.
Marcus’s article suggested Joseph Tuite always felt he deserved a chance to train, and although he has only had the care of the brittle-legged Litigant for just over a year, he has collected two of the Calendar’s best-known handicaps from just three starts.
The trainer will admit he had decent material to work with. The one-time Andre Fabre-trained Sheikh Mohammed-bred colt had won two of his three races in France before being acquired on behalf of Alan Byrne by Seamus Durack, also an Irish-born but English-based former jump jockey for a modest 18,500gns, considering his ability.
Durack allowed him more than a year off, presumably to enable him to recover from training problems, and he quickly went through the ranks on the all-weather, running an eye-opening second at Kempton before clocking up a rapid hat-trick culminating in victory in the first All-Weather Championships Marathon race at Lingfield in April last year.
By the publication date of the Horses in Training volume for 2015 – comes out in time for Cheltenham each year, I know because I left my much-valued copy in a box for five minutes and found it missing when I got back there this year! – Litigant was down as in the care of Joseph Tuite at East Ilsley. Actually his yard a dozen miles away at Lambourn, but Litigant, off the track since April 2014, was being patiently and skilfully primed for a magum opus.
I remember noting Litigant’s name in the list of runners for the Betfred Ebor, Simply because he’d won the Lingfield race and Hughie Morrison had expended a fair bit of Cousin Khee’s winter training in trying to get Ray Tooth’s Cousin Khee into this year’s version of that race. He finished a creditable close fifth under Richard Hughes. Several of the 2014 field had pretty much disappeared from view and I had a lingering worry that Cousin Khee might also fall victim of a similar fate.
Despite his 400-plus day lay-off, Litigant was fit and fancied for York and under a fine ride from Oisin Murphy, came away for an emphatic 33-1 victory. As they say in racing, things didn’t go right for him in Ascot’s Stayers’ Championship race, but they certainly did on Saturday.
Suggesting that the racing establishment is a small church might be simplistic, but within a few minutes yesterday, lots of evidence to the contrary came my way. Having spoken for a few minutes with Hughie – yes Cousin Khee was in yesterday’s race – he went off to find some shelter from the renewed rain, another talented trainer Ian Williams came over to talk to me.
Oisin Murphy missed out on “his” ride this time, being claimed for the favourite Argus, who then scoped badly and was taken out of the race. Meanwhile George Baker got on, resuming his connection from the Durack days, and gave him a peach of a ride, winning by four and a half lengths giving 20lb to the retiring Hayley Turner and Buonarotti. Oisin’s availability was noted by Huighie and he came in late for the ride, but he got bogged down in traffic and only ran on into eighth, passing a dozen in the last two furlongs, when allowed a clear run down the outside.
Ian Williams mentioned Hughie and the fact that now he will have unconditional use of the famed Compton gallops he’ll clean up – no doubt reference to the fact that he’s leased them from new owner James Dyson. As such conversations go, he likened the utility of Compton to the old days at Lambourn when they use to gallop all the way round the famed Bowl and then up the hill.
Ian recalled one instance in his Pitman days when three Irish lads mistook Jenny P’s instructions and continued galloping either side of her ignoring her waving arms rather than stop. A similar episode is attributed by Marcus – funnily enough whom I first met at his father Roddy’s yard, in East Ilsley, where Hughie also trains. Joseph Tuite was a player in Marcus’s version of the Jenny gallop. Round in circles?
I only knew Lambourn when I had interests in horses with Rod Simpson in the early 1980’s and can still picture in my mind Tangognat coming round the Bowl. I can also still see Tangognat and Peter Scudamore jumping the last at Cheltenham on the way to one of their two from two wins together – on the wall in my office.
Rod took up two of my suggestions, employing first Simon Whitworth – now an important cog in the Charlie/Barry Hills stables – and also Dean Gallagher, whose father Tom was at the time travelling head lad to Jim Bolger, where Dean, not to mention Aidan O’Brien and Tony McCoy, started his career.
Ian Williams’ next titbit was of Dean’s eventual departure from Mrs P’s employ. After enduring yet another bollocking from the formidable lady, Dean said: “I’m ….ing fed up with preparing horses for your son to win on” – fair enough as he was easily the better jockey – and promptly got off his horse, handing over the reins before setting off to trudge back to the yard. Unfortunately, the grand gesture was somewhat spoiled when Dean realised his own saddle was still on the horse and he had to go back and take it off before leaving Weathercock House.
I told Ian that Dean often accompanies Aidan, for whom he is a key work rider, on trips to the UK, and he was with him for Alice Springs’ win in the sales race at Newmarket last month.
Litigant will go up at least 10lb for that brilliant win off 106, itself 7lb more than his 99 at the Ebor. If Joseph can keep the legs right, he’ll have too much pace for most of the rivals he tackles in the top stayers’ races next year. A great day for the small man, and it wasn’t too bad for Hughie and Raymond Tooth either, as Cousin Khee will now embark on his career over fences. He’s already won ten times on Flat, all-weather and hurdles, so maybe another four before the end of the season? What else to do but dream?
By way of a post-script, it was good to see the ever-cheerful Frankie McDonald, who rode a lot for the late Julia Tooth and then Paul Fitzsimons on several of Raymond’s horses coming into the track yesterday as I left it. I asked him what he’s doing and he said riding out at Barry Hills and driving George Baker. That would have been a nice ride back down south.