James Horton is enjoying a fine first season in the training ranks and is now targeting Royal Ascot success with some of his thriving string.
Sir Michael Stoute’s former assistant was head-hunted by owners John and Jess Dance to lead an ambitious operation from the historic Manor House Farm stables in Middleham and although the redevelopment of the historic training base is not set to be complete until early next year, Horton has wasted little time since swapping Newmarket for Middleham, sending out seven winners at a strike-rate of 28 per cent.
Horton got off the mark with a treble at Redcar on Easter Monday and one of the winners on that occasion, Asjad, was hitting the headlines once again when plundering a competitive handicap at York on Sunday.
A trip to the Royal meeting is next on the agenda, with the handler confident the Berkshire track will play to his strengths.
“The Wokingham is the plan next,” said Horton.
“I think Ascot will suit him, I think he wants a level track. I probably shouldn’t have run him at Newmarket, he hated the track and I probably brought him back a bit quick after Redcar. So he’ll have a nice bit of time now between York and the Wokingham and that will be plan A.”
Another horse involved in the Redcar treble was Phantom Flight, who in perfect symmetry was not only Horton’s first-ever runner, but then became his first winner. He has since followed up at Haydock, but the handler is waiting for the handicapper’s assessment before making too many future plans.
He continued: “We’ll wait and see what the handicapper does and that will guide us a bit to what our next step is. He’s a horse that has done nothing wrong at home and has improved every time he has gone to the track.”
Horton is targeting Group One success at Ascot with Sam Maximus, placed in the Group Two July Stakes when trained by Tom Dascombe as a two-year-old, and third on reappearance in the Carnarvon Stakes at Newbury.
“He was only just up to a race when we ran him, he kind of needed a race to bring him forwards,” he explained.
“I thought he ran really well and he just got tired in the last half-furlong, he had a real good blow and I think he should step forward from that.
“He’s in the Commonwealth Cup and the two that finished in front of him at Newbury will probably run in it. They were match-fit and we went there half expecting to blow up, so I’d like to think he could get closer to them with another effort and the plan is to run him at Ascot and go from there.
“The programme for three-year-old sprinters kind of maps itself out. We’ll then see if he can mix it with the best sprinters or maybe have to go back and find a little Listed race somewhere”
The trainer also provided an update on Encourageable, the highly-regarded Profitable colt, who appeared in Sandown’s Heron Stakes last week.
Sent off at 25-1 for the Listed contest, the three-year-old struggled to make any real impression and Horton has since discovered an issue that means he can forgive and forget the outing.
He said: “His form is really good, he really baffled me with the way he ran at Sandown because I know he is better than that.
“But he scoped dirty afterwards and subsequently had a temperature and has been under the weather, so I think it is safe to put a line through Sandown.
“We’ll get him right and I think there are some nice races for him.”