Last week, as I detailed the overwhelming power of the big yards in the UK and Ireland, on the flat and it seemed even more so over jumps, I should have conceded that there is always room for a talented upstart to pick up a piece of the pie, writes Tony Stafford.
He or she has to have at least one well-heeled and convinced supporter to crash the big boys’ party; but two young Newmarket jumps trainers showed at Cheltenham this past weekend that they are on the fast track to success.
Both are based in the least likely of hotbeds for training jumpers in the UK. Newmarket, for all the merits of the schooling facilities of the Links, just behind Newmarket golf club and across from the Cambridge Road polytrack gallop and thence the Rowley Mile, has fewer jumping trainers than ever. Maybe that will start to change.
Cast your minds back 14 hours to the last race of Cheltenham’s three-day Paddy Power Gold Cup meeting. The favourite, a 9/4 shot, was sent out by a young man who didn’t have his first jumps runners until earlier this year. He made a great start, collecting five wins between the beginning and end of the 2022-23 season in late April.
Another eight successes under NH Rules have followed this campaign and, in between, 13 have come off 50 runs from 25 individual horses in his first campaign on the flat.
Ben Brookhouse is the name and the winners have flowed ever since from the nicely compact and centrally situated Saville House stable, occupied to good effect for many years and still owned by Willie Musson.
Ben’s jewel in the crown as far as buying horses is concerned is his father Roger, a long-standing owner for the Pipe stable. Brookhouse senior has some well-regarded animals sprinkled around a few major Irish yards, notably with Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead.
But the decision was made for Ben to train all the UK runners and yesterday’s impressive second bumper win for Brechin Castle under Jack Quinlan was as decisive as it was noteworthy and eye-catching for both trainer and long-neglected jockey. It ran in Roger’s colours, too!
Jack Quinlan has been just about the only professional jump jockey to be based in Newmarket for several years. Many questioned his stubbornness in remaining close to his family, but the association with Brookhouse has coincided with a general wider appreciation of his qualities.
An Irish point-to-point winner, Brechin Castle was prepared by the champion of the Irish pointer ‘conditioning and selling-on lark’ in Colin Bowe. He upgraded an original €52k yearling buy to a €165k project, merely by winning a point by a length; but as they say, it’s how they do it.
Pointers that turn into bumper and then jumping stars can come from all types of background. Brechin Castle’s sire Shantou died as a 28-year-old: yes, I kid you not, when Brechin Castle was already three years old. His dam’s sire, dual Derby (French and Irish by seven and then four lengths for Henry Cecil) Old Vic was 25 hen he passed away in 2011. Plenty of proven breeding talent to go with Classic performance.
The trick with Irish point winners is to find the ones with a touch of speed. We saw it from Brechin Castle on his UK debut at Sedgefield last month when he stretched 19 lengths clear. Yesterday, he drew alongside a Paul Nicholls previous winner up the home straight and had a comfortable two-and-a-quarter lengths to spare at the line of this Listed contest.
Of Ben’s five National Hunt wins before the season change-over, one was Listed bumper horse Aslukgoes, and he won twice with veteran hunter chaser Espoir De Teillee, each time ridden by Fern O’Brien, Fergal’s daughter. He also had a juvenile hurdler and staying novice to complete the eclectic score.
The flat campaign continued to reflect both his versatility and the varied composition of his stable. When we talked at an Epsom evening meeting in the summer, he said how lucky he is to be able largely to buy what he likes when he goes to horse sales. “Sometimes, though, if when I got one home, Dad doesn’t want it, I’m stuck with it until I can find an owner!”
Among the dozen winners, there were a couple of smart two-year-olds, Ben clearly intent on making his name as a dual-purpose trainer. In that respect he is following the example of his latest employer, Ian Williams, to whom he was assistant trainer until branching out this year.
Amazingly, James Owen, the other ground-breaking Newmarket handler to show his credentials at Cheltenham, also only took out his training licence this season. Before that, he had been one of the most successful trainers of Arabian horses in the UK.
He is now fully committed to the new job, though, and recently moved into Green Ridge stables in the Hamilton Road. When I had a connection with horses trained in Daryll Holand’s Exning yard – at the time the late Shaun Keightley was in situ – James Owen stabled his horses in a smart, but small, much newer building just to the right of the entrance.
Gay Kelleway was next door. As I mentioned, Owen was the top trainer of Arabian horses and the old maxim that if you can train one type of horse, you should be able to make a go at others seems to be ringing true in his case.
Owen started even later in the year – after the 2022-23 season end – than Brookhouse, but when Burdett Road, owned by the Gredley family, bolted up in the Triumph Hurdle Trial that opened Saturday’s programme, it made a lot of people take notice of this young man, probably many for the first time.
Burdett Road isn’t the only horse to give a salute to Bill Gredley’s East End of London heritage, Burdett Road going from Mile End Road to Commercial Road [and where the editor plays football on a Saturday morning! - Ed.] For this most successful businessman and Classic-winning owner (User Friendly won two Oaks’s and the St Leger against the boys in 1992), Owen has seven among those to have run so far this year. I doubt that this speedy gelding will be the last to win a good jumps race for his talented trainer, who is already up to 22 for his initial season.
Burdett Road had been a nice three-year-old when trained by Michael Bell, winning the Golden Gates Stakes at Royal Ascot and two other races on the flat before running third in two Group 3 events. A 100-rated horse ought to make a decent hurdler if he stays and on Saturday Harry Cobden was at pains to give the Muhaarar gelding a chance to last out the trip on the testing Cheltenham track.
He sat an exaggerated last of nine and only when they came down the hill approaching the home turn did he make any sort of move. Still three lengths adrift at the final flight, Cobden only needed to clear the obstacle safely. That achieved, he sprinted up the hill for a six-and-a-half length success.
As was pointed out afterwards, none of the Irish we’ll see and fear next March was there - no doubt Mr Mullins is honing the skills of the latest batch of Auteuil acquisitions - but rarely do you see horses scoot up that hill on soft ground in that manner.
James Owen said afterwards he would look forward hopefully to good ground at the Festival next March to harness his speed.
As Nicky Henderson wisely averred yesterday after Jonbon’s authoritative return in the Shloer Chase, a lot can happen before then, but Ben Brookhouse and James Owen will both be picturing a repeat of this weekend’s spectaculars to warm the long winter nights.