Tag Archive for: Bill Gredley

Monday Musings: Gredley’s Derby Prospect

Thirty-three years ago this week, James Fanshawe, age 30 and only a year into his career as a trainer having previously been assistant to (Sir) Michael Stoute, was preparing for the Dante Stakes at York, writes Tony Stafford. His charge, a late-developing colt running in the colours of Bill Gredley, was 20/1 shot Environment Friend. The distinctive grey stormed home in the Classic trial under George Duffield by an eye-opening five lengths.

He was unable to carry that form into the Derby, finishing 11th of 13 behind Generous, but then solidified his reputation by beating his elders in the Eclipse Stakes as a 28/1 shot next time out. Strangely, kept in training for the next four years he failed to win again, mostly with Fanshawe and then in at least two more yards in between – N C Wright and G Rimmer – before ending his active time with Clive Brittain.

In those 25 unsuccessful races – although with some nice placed efforts which brought his prize tally close to £400k – he contested 17 Group 1 races. No mistaking Bill’s ambition.

But then when you started out in the middle of the depression in 1933 in Poplar, East London, you either sank or swam. Bill Gredley swam to the extent that his family-owned Unex Group can point to major developments often close to his two homes: Stratford, adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Park, and in Cambridge, a few miles from his adopted base of Newmarket.

For a 91-year-old, he is admirably sprightly both in mind and body and an amusing episode is usually played out when Bill comes into the dining room at the Tattersalls Newmarket sales. My pal John Hancock, still keen to get his insurance hat on after the sudden disappearance of his most recent alliance – taken over by a bigger, less sensitive outfit – is ready for their customary exchange.

“How old are you, Bill?”

When he answers, John has to concede he was born a little later the same year and the master of Stetchworth Park Stud, breeder of Environment Friend and most notably dual Oaks winner User Friendly, almost skips out of the room, his competitive spirit to the fore as usual.

Now much of the contact to trainers with the Gredley Family’s horses as they presently are billed falls on son Tim, who has a varied experience in the saddle. He was a top show jumper, in a winning GB Nations Cup team having previously retired from the sport; rode a winner of the Newmarket Town Plate (almost four miles) for Nicky Henderson, and lots of point-to-point winners too.

User Friendly came along the year after Environment Friend. She was trained by Clive Brittain and not only won the Oaks and Irish Oaks, but also went on to collect the Yorkshire version that August and then saw off the colts in the St Leger, all with Duffield on board.

She just failed to complete the set in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a neck behind Subotica, but that could hardly be adjudged a failure. Behind in fourth was St Jovite, the 12-length Irish Derby and six-length King George hero for Virginia Kraft Payson/Jim Bolger; Peter Chapple-Hyam’s Dr Devious, winner of that year’s Derby over St Jovite whom he also beat narrowly in the Irish Champion Stakes; and Arcangues, stable companion of the Andre Fabre-trained winner and later the 133/1 victor of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Phew!

Amid the cluster of Group-designated spring trials, especially for the Derby, one downgraded race stands out as possibly deserving of being restored to its former Group 3 status at least. It was five years ago that Anthony Van Dyck collected the Lingfield Derby Trial en route to success at Epsom for Aidan O’Brien, and the Irish supremo usually sends a couple to establish their suitability for the similar twists and cambers of Epsom three weeks later.

Saturday’s line-up contained the requisite Ballydoyle pair, and they finished second and fourth behind the Gredley-owned and Fanshawe-trained Ambiente Friendly. Ryan Moore was in the leading trio from the start and wrestled the awkward-looking Illinois into the straight at the head of the field.

Meanwhile Callum Shepherd had buried Ambiente Friendly in the middle of the pack, but as Illinois and Ryan edged wide, he came even wider. It took just a nominal shake of the reins for Ambiente Friendly to take control and, several strides before the line, Shepherd was pulling him up.

Still the margin was four-and-a-half lengths with more than three after Illinois back to third in the 11-horse field. If Callum had wished, it could have been nearer six and it’s slightly a shame that he didn’t.

On the day, raced on good, good to firm in places ground on the Round Course, it was the only time below Racing Post standard. Additionally, it was just 0.14sec slower than Night-Shirt on midsummer firm ground back in 1990, earlier even than the exploits of Environment Friend and User Friendly, achieved in setting the course record.

Former jockey and now Sky Sports Racing pundit Freddy Tylicki has the distinction of having made the successful bid for the son of Gleneagles at 80k when he went through the ring at the 2023 Craven Breeze-up sale – so not a home-bred then.

Of the trials we’ve seen so far for the Derby, none has been as impressive as this one. A winner on debut as a juvenile, Ambiente Friendly reappeared for the season when fourth to Jayarebe in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket last month.

Jayarebe disappointed at Chester last week, but his run was another of those where a horse sits outside a leader half a length back on a turning track and seems to get fed up with the idea. It certainly looked that way to me as Ryan controlled the pace on Capulet, going on to win with Jayarebe only third. I don’t think we should condemn him on that.

The twelve horses entered for the Dante Stakes will need to run to a good level to impress in the way Ambiente Friendly has from first run to second. His time was comfortably the best in the race for the past decade, and if the weather stays fair until Epsom, you’d have no fears of ground, trip or hills and cambers about this horse.

Fanshawe has had a wealth of high-class horses through his care, not least two Champion Hurdle winners in Royal Gait and Hors La Loi. He was also closely involved in the training of Stoute’s 1988 winner of that race, Kribensis, when assistant to the master trainer. There is no doubt that Ambiente Friendly represents both the owners’ and trainer’s best chance of winning the Derby, for which he is now an 8/1 chance, third only behind restored favourite City Of Troy (3/1) and Arabian Crown (7/2).

While there was all the excitement going on at Lingfield, I preferred to go to watch one of my favourite handicaps over at Ascot, the Victoria Cup, and with all 21 runners coming in a single group towards the stands side, it had an element of fairness not always associated with the straight track there.

I’d been in contact with Charlie Fellowes earlier and he reckoned his new recruit The Wizard Of Eye had shown so much speed at home he worried it would stay the seven furlongs. Held up at the back by Tom Marquand, who must have had a magic wand rather a whip, so adept was he in finding the gaps, he wended his way to get up on the line. Don’t be shocked if we see him in graded sprints, probably stopping off at the Wokingham on the way at the Royal meeting.

If Jayarebe hadn’t come up to expectations last week, another of Sam Sangster’s spectacularly successful yearling buys certainly did. The Showcasing filly Kathmandu went to Longchamp for the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas), set a fast pace and was only caught on the line, losing out by a head.

The 45/1 chance, trained by Brian Meehan, had been third last time in the Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket when a 40/1 shot. She picked up more than £100k for second place, double her purchase price. Sam owns the filly in conjunction with Ed Babington and they can expect to make a huge profit at the sales even if she doesn’t win anything more. No doubt the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot is on the agenda.

In the colts’ Classic half an hour later Roger Teal’s Dancing Gemini came fast but half a length too late to catch Metropolitan. The St James’s Palace Stakes is his obvious target.


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Monday Musings: Two Young Guns

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.

- TS

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