Jumping venture could not have gone better for John Dance

There is no question John Dance has had some good fortune when it comes to racehorse ownership – but he is determined to enjoy the ride with Bravemansgame after going through the full experience with Laurens.

A stockbroker by trade, his company Vertem is known to racegoers through its sponsorship of major races both on the Flat and over jumps.

Dance was lucky enough to own Laurens relatively early in his foray into the sport, and he readily admits he will struggle to find another remotely as good as the six-times Group One winner.

However, just the second National Hunt horse he has owned is now among the favourites for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – and has already won a Grade One at Newbury into the bargain.

John Dance gives Laurens a sweet in her box at Karl Burke’s yard in Leyburn
John Dance gives Laurens a sweet in her box at Karl Burke’s yard in Leyburn (Nick Robson/PA)

“To be fair I was always a Flat person, because a combination of the form analysis I did was more consistent on the Flat and I just found the Flat a bit more exhilarating from an athletic point of view,” said Dance.

“It was probably Laurens’ fault that we became involved in National Hunt. When you have a horse like her and she gets tucked away for the winter you end up wishing your life away waiting for the next season to start.

“We got into it a little bit just to keep us mentally occupied through the winter – and it’s worked out all right!

“Bravemansgame was on a list that Paul Nicholls, Tom Malone (bloodstock adviser) and Megan Nicholls were really interested in, along with Jeremy Pass who we bought. I had in my mind how much I’d be willing to spend, but he went flying by that with no signs of stopping.”

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Nicholls and Malone went to £370,000 at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival Sale, but Dance wanted someone to share the experience with. Step forward Bryan Drew, who has tasted glory at Cheltenham before through his horses with David Pipe.

“Tom and Paul still bought the horse and came back to me and said ‘we know you’re interested, if you want half we might have somebody else who wants half as well’. I had a little think and it went ahead, so the partnership with Bryan was formed,” explained Dance.

“The reasons for getting involved with Paul were two-fold – we didn’t want it on our doorstop as we were with Laurens, as we thought we were too involved so we thought it was a good idea to have one at the other end of the country, out of sight out of mind from an interfering perspective.

“Also we wanted to make new contacts, like Bryan Drew. It’s paid off so far.”

When you spend that sort of money on a horse you expect to be competing in the upper echelons – but racing is littered with examples of big-money purchases who failed to make the grade.

“Everyone was pretty adamant that while it is a cliché, whatever he did before he went chasing would be a bonus, everything about him just suggests he will be better over fences,” said Dance.

“You shouldn’t think you are ever buying a Grade One chaser, however much they cost, but we certainly didn’t think he’d be a Grade One hurdler. Because of the long-term outlook we had for him this is all very much a bonus.

“He’s a big guy, he’s got a long stride and in some respects a bit like Laurens in that he’s a relentless galloper. I think what surprised Paul at Newbury is that he’s not built to show that turn of foot.

“To show it after the last, in that grade of race, was really quite explosive. He was winning anyway but that turn of foot – against what looked some good rivals on paper – was what caught us out a bit.

Bravemansgame (in Bryan Drew's silks) winning at Newbury in November
Bravemansgame (in Bryan Drew’s silks) winning at Newbury in November (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“The Irish challenge will be strong, so much so that we aren’t favourite any more, but we know how the ante-post markets work with recency bias. I’m delighted to be honest, it eases the pressure a bit.

“Being the favourite adds a degree of substance to a reputation, but when you aren’t favourite you aren’t expected by the majority to win. There’s no reason why, but I always find they run better when you aren’t favourite.”

Dance knows just how fortunate he was to have owned a superstar like Laurens and that the likelihood anything he is involved in down the years is highly unlikely to match her exploits. What he hopes to have gained, though, is a sense of perspective regarding how to treat everything racing can throw his way.

“Having had Laurens she sets a pretty high benchmark so while on one hand you want to repeat it and it could be a disappointment if you don’t repeat it, the other side of the coin is we have experienced those highs – she won six Group Ones,” he said.

“This horse has won a Grade One already so we should be able to handle the pressure, we’re not in the position of wondering whether we will ever win one.

“Laurens will make the whole experience with Bravemansgame more enjoyable. She won Group Ones at two, three and four, but we felt pressure when she ran. This time around we’re determined to enjoy it.

“If we’re lucky enough to win another Group One on the Flat, it is very very unlikely the same horse will win six. Our aim is just to win a Listed race!”

Dance cannot be accused of helping the sport either, as his high-profile sponsorships at Doncaster and Newcastle attest.

“We sponsor the Group One at Doncaster (Vertem Futurity Trophy) and the Eider Chase at Newcastle. I’m a believer in you make your own luck, but we’ve been lucky, very lucky. It’s better to be lucky than smart, though!” he said.

During Cheltenham week, that is not a bad mantra to cling to.

Bravemansgame rises to Challow challenge

Bravemansgame continued his surge up the ranks with a very impressive victory in the MansionBet Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.

Several very good horses have won the Grade One down the years – including subsequent Gold Cup winner Denman, trained just like Bravemansgame by Paul Nicholls.

An easy winner over course and distance last time out, the five-year-old faced a different calibre of opponent this time – but Harry Cobden was keen to make it a real test from the outset.

The 5-2 joint-favourite was soon in an early lead – with Does He Know, who was helping to keep him honest, a casualty down the back straight when he ran out on the approach to a hurdle.

Star Gate, Evan Williams’ fellow market leader, and Alan King’s The Glancing Queen both appeared to be going well three out – but every time they looked close enough to challenge, Cobden let out a bit more rein in front.

On the approach to the last it became obvious the winner was in front, and he pulled an impressive 10 lengths clear of Star Gate.

The winner has shortened to 6-1 from 12s for the Ballymore with Betfair, while the same firm make him 16-1 favourite for the Albert Bartlett.

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Nicholls was completing a treble on the card and needs just one more winner to reach his century for the season, before New Year’s Day.

“Denman won the Challow,” he said.

“He is the same sort of big, scopey horse that will make a chaser.

“This one has probably got a little more boot than Denman had. He is a hard horse to follow, but he is going the right way. He has got it all. It just shows you that now he has grown up he doesn’t mind that ground.

“He will go to the Ballymore. It is just whether we give him one run beforehand or not – we will see.

“I won’t run  him on trials day. If we did (run again) we will look for a soft race as part of his preparation, or we would go straight there.

“He will get three miles in time, but we don’t need to do that at the moment because he’s got plenty of speed – but the Supreme would be far too sharp for him. The Ballymore is the obvious race to run him in.”

Nicholls had not won this race since Denman almost 15 years ago, in a renewal re-routed to Cheltenham that winter, so it was no surprise his name kept on cropping up.

“It is hard to draw comparisons with Denman, because he was a superstar, but at the same stage of his career he is heading that way,” he added.

“I really could see him being a lovely chaser. He is a relentless galloper that jumps well and does everything nicely. He will definitely be a better chaser.

“He wasn’t cheap, but if you look at all those horse that have been winning at Leopardstown the last few days they have all cost fortunes. If you want good horses you have got to be prepared to pay for them.

Bravemansgame clears the last in style
Bravemansgame clears the last in style (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Tom Malone (bloodstock agent) and I liked him as an individual at the sales. He was a big, scopey chasing type of horse that I would call ‘my sort of horse’ that just needed time. He is a lovely horse.

“Harry loves him and he is a very nice horse. Those novice hurdles are hard to win, and Denman got beat there (as a novice hurdler at the Cheltenham Festival).

“The Irish will have some good horses to run in it, but it is exciting to go to Cheltenham with him.”

Cobden said: “That is the best novice we have got. He travels, he jumps and he does everything right. He is straightforward. He is not lazy, and he just makes my job very easy.

“To be fair we didn’t go that quick, but we quickened up well. He is probably not as slow as I thought he was. I wouldn’t call him an idle horse, but he doesn’t do loads in front.

“The last three he has come down to each hurdle and pricked his ears. He has come out of my hands at the second last. He gives himself a chance.

“I think he goes well left-handed. Cheltenham is obviously undulating, but all the others have got to do it as well.

“He is probably, looking at it now, my best chance of getting a winner at the Festival I would say. In the decent Graded races, and I know it’s early doors, he would be the best chance I have going into it.”