Tag Archive for: Queens Gamble

Derham happy to miss Cheltenham and wait with Givemefive

Harry Derham has confirmed Givemefive will not take up his engagements at the Cheltenham Festival following his brave effort in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle on Saturday.

Despite holding entries for both the JCB Triumph Hurdle and Boodles Fred Winter, the young handler had always suggested a run at National Hunt flagship meeting was unlikely.

And having left it all on the track when narrowly denied by Kalif Du Berlais at Kempton, Derham has firmly ruled out a trip to Prestbury Park for his talented juvenile.

Givemefive (left) went down fighting against the talented Kalif Du Berlais (right)
Givemefive (left) went down fighting against the talented Kalif Du Berlais (right) (Steven Paston/PA)

He said: “He obviously ran really well and we were very pleased with him.

“It looked to me like he was beaten by a good one and we’re not going to go to Cheltenham. That race has took a fair bit out of him, I haven’t cantered him since and he’s still quite quiet. We will make another plan.

“I wasn’t really tempted (to go to Cheltenham) to be honest. He can’t win the Triumph and he would need to be fresh and well-handicapped to win the Boodles and we’re probably neither. It didn’t tempt me that much and I want to win races, I don’t want to go to Cheltenham to take part.”

Givemefive is owned by Major-winning golfers Graeme McDowell and Brooks Koepka, with McDowell enjoying his first visit to watch the four-year-old in his Grade Two assignment.

Graeme McDowell (left) and Brooks Koepka on the golf course
Graeme McDowell (left) and Brooks Koepka on the golf course (Kieran Cleeves/Mike Egerton/PA)

The Northern Irishman may not have experienced the victory which would have capped off his visit to Sunbury, but left having fully relished watching his charge in action.

“Graeme said he had a great time and the race got the heart racing,” added Derham.

“It obviously wasn’t the result we dreamt of but he ran a fantastic race and on the day just wasn’t quite good enough.

Of his next outing, the trainer continued: “We could go to Fairyhouse (for the juvenile Grade Two), but we will just see how he is in the next few weeks. I haven’t cantered him since his run, but as long as he is all right I would be quite keen to go there – he should have had enough time to recover.

“His owners have always said to just do the right thing by the horse, so we will let him recover from Kempton and then we will make a plan.”

Also missing the Festival is Derham’s star mare Queens Gamble.

The six-year-old – who was twice a bumper winner at Cheltenham when trained by Oliver Sherwood – was as short as 10-1 for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle after winning her first three outings over timber, but will now miss the remainder of the season.

Queens Gamble after winning at Kempton
Queens Gamble after winning at Kempton (PA)

“Her leg scanned clean, but there was a little bit of heat in there on Monday,” explained Derham.

“She is very fortunate to be owned by very good and understanding owners who don’t want to push her and will give her a chance.

“She will be back in the autumn with no problems at all.”

Queens Gamble outclasses Taunton rivals

Queens Gamble continued her march to the Cheltenham Festival by successfully stepping up to Listed class in the Byerley Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Taunton.

Seriously impressive when winning her first two bumper starts at Cheltenham last season, the five-year-old subsequently found Dysart Enos too strong in a Listed event at Market Rasen before finishing down the field in the Champion Bumper at the Festival.

She won a maiden hurdle at Warwick in the spring on her final start for the retiring Oliver Sherwood and made a winning reappearance for Harry Derham, for whom Sherwood now acts as assistant, at Kempton last month.

Queens Gamble was a 5-6 favourite to maintain her unbeaten record over obstacles in Somerset and while Casa No Mento looked to have her in real trouble halfway up the home straight, the market leader responded to the urgings of her regular partner Jonathan Burke to get on top after the final flight, with two and three-quarter lengths separating the pair at the line.

Derham said: “She did everything right, we thought she’d do that and we’re very pleased that she has, so job done.

“Johnny (Burke) was never really worried. Last season I think she was a little bit more forward going, but she’s very relaxed and very professional nowadays and he said every time he squeezed her she was just there and ready to go.

“She’s a good mare and Nigel’s (Twiston-Davies, trainer of runner-up) is obviously a good mare too. They’ve pulled well clear, which is always a good sign.”

Harry Derham was delighted with Queens Gamble's performance
Harry Derham was delighted with Queens Gamble’s performance (Simon Marper/PA)

Paddy Power left Queen Gamble unchanged at 16-1 for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, with her old rival Dysart Enos the 7-2 favourite.

On whether she would run again before the Festival, Derham added: “Until I speak Ed (Galvin) and Alex (Frost) properly about it I wouldn’t like to confirm, but I’d say there’s no need to run again.

“She’s had three runs over hurdles now, she jumped quickly today and I see very little reason to run again between now and the Festival.

“She’s good round the track (Cheltenham), she’s improving and I know I’ve got more to come from here.

“She’s done everything right so far, all she can do is keep winning her races and she’ll go there with a good chance.”

Queens Gamble takes Listed leap at Taunton

Harry Derham’s promising hurdler Queens Gamble will look to take the next step in her career in the Byerley Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Taunton on Saturday.

The chestnut was previously trained by Oliver Sherwood, who is now Derham’s assistant, and won twice in bumper contests before making a winning start over obstacles in May, ahead of her summer break.

Now trained from Derham’s base, the five-year-old started this season at Kempton in November and was the winner once again, taking a two-mile novice hurdle by two and quarter lengths.

Now Queens Gamble will step up to Listed level at Taunton, taking on five rivals under Jonathan Burke.

“It’s time to step up now, she has won twice and is in good form and we’re looking forward to running her,” Derham said.

“We were thinking of going to Newbury for the handicap and forecasts are hard to predict, but we think the Taunton forecast is slightly better than the Newbury one.

“It was quite soft there last week, so we thought we would go to Taunton instead and she looks to have a leading chance.

“She’s had no problems at all and going along well, she had a school in the week and Johnny was pleased with her and she goes there in good form.

“She won her two novice hurdles now so she’s entitled to take the step up in the grade, she’s second-best on ratings in this race but we think she goes there with a very good chance.”

Derham delighted with Queens Gamble progress

Queens Gamble is set to continue her hurdling education at Newbury over the Christmas period, with Harry Derham keen to run her in handicap company as he builds up her experience over obstacles.

A high-class bumper performer when trained by Oliver Sherwood, she made it two from two over timber on her first run for Derham, winning comfortably in the hands of Johnny Burke at Kempton.

A step up to Listed company at Newbury had been mooted following that triumph, but although connections are still planning to head to the Berkshire track next, they have decided to test the waters in a handicap on the course’s December 30 card.

Queens Gamble after winning at Kempton
Queens Gamble after winning at Kempton (PA)

“She’s fine, everything is well and there are no problems at all,” said Derham.

“As I said on the day at Kempton, Newbury was an option but I wasn’t going to commit to it and we brought her home and all of us thought about it and we’re going to run her in a handicap on Challow Hurdle day.

“It’s a 0-125 and we think some experience in a handicap hurdle will help her. That’s our plan and she’s very well and we’re very happy with her. She won well at Kempton and hopefully she will keep progressing.”

The ultimate aim for Queens Gamble will be a return to the Cheltenham Festival and Derham will test progressive Newbury scorer Young Butler’s suitability for a spot on the teamsheet for March when he lines up at Prestbury Park on New Year’s Day.

Having won a Pertemps qualifier on his stable bow, Young Butler has the series final on his radar for the spring, but one horse set for an easy period is the Andy Mitchell-owned Dargiannini, who suffered a setback following his third win for the Derham operation at Kempton recently.

“Dargiannini had a bit of a setback. He was fine after the race, then about a week after the race he went lame,” said the handler.

“He’s having a bit of time off and hopefully he will come right in a couple of weeks. We’re just going to have to bide our time a little bit with him, which is a shame because he has been an absolute superstar for me and won three races in under a year and been great.

“I wouldn’t think the Pertemps would be an option. Three miles round Cheltenham wouldn’t suit him. We tried three miles in the spring round Haydock, which is a much easier track, and Paul (O’Brien) didn’t think he got home, so round Cheltenham it will be much more difficult.”

Derham went on: “We are hoping Young Butler, who won a Pertemps qualifier at Newbury, could be a Pertemps horse.

“He’s going to run at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day to see if he likes it and can act round there. If he does, then he could be a candidate for the Pertemps and is at the right end of the handicap.

“Poor Dargiannini is 143 now, which will make life really tough, but Young Butler is off 126 and he could still have a bit of improvement in his rating.”

Derham delighted with Queens Gamble success

Harry Derham will work back from the Cheltenham Festival with Queens Gamble following her successful reappearance at Kempton on Monday.

The five-year-old was hugely impressive in winning twice in the bumper sphere at Cheltenham for Oliver Sherwood, who subsequently retired from the training ranks and became Derham’s assistant.

Queens Gamble disappointed in the Champion Bumper in March but bounced back with a debut win over hurdles at Warwick in May before being given a summer break and switching stables.

Jonathan Burke’s mount was an 8-13 favourite to make a winning return in the Watch Racing TV Novices’ Hurdle and was not hard pressed to score by two and a quarter lengths from Classic King.

Derham said: “That was good and she is obviously a good mare. I’m always nervous when you bring a horse to the races that is not fully wound up that it will catch them out. Johnny (Burke) and I said last night if she is as good as we hope then she won’t need to be fully wound up today.

“Today she was much better jumping. Oliver will tell you himself that before that run at Warwick she hadn’t had the best prep, as she hadn’t been out on the grass as it was a bit quick, but her jumping won’t be an issue.

“She jumped really nicely today and over the last two, when Johnny asked her to lengthen, she jumped very well. She is a high-class mare that is professional and she went about it spot-on.”

Paddy Power trimmed Queens Gamble’s odds for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival to 14-1 from 16-1 and Derham confirmed that Grade Two contest will be her ultimate target.

Harry Derham at Cheltenham
Harry Derham at Cheltenham (Adam Davy/PA)

He added: “A day in March is the time we need to have her right, as the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival will be absolutely made for her. She has won at Cheltenham before, so we just need to plot our way there.

“I wouldn’t want to over-race her beforehand so I will speak to her owners and make a plan.”

Derham doubled up with the Paul O’Brien-ridden 2-1 favourite Dargiannini in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson’s East India Express impressed in the Racing TV Novices’ Hurdle.

The Milan gelding was a 10-11 shot to supplement a debut success in a bumper at this venue in February and eased five lengths clear of his rivals in the hands of Nico de Boinville.

Henderson said: “I tried to get him ready for the Newbury bumper after he won here, however after that he coughed and coughed for months and I couldn’t get him out again.

“It has taken a bit of work to get him there. He wouldn’t show you anything at home and that is why he was probably the second string here last time.

“He has a lovely temperament and a lovely attitude to it, but he is only a baby as he is only four years old.

“He jumped really well. We have all had to work a little bit hard on his jumping and it wasn’t the most natural thing to him, but he has got the hang of the last few weeks and he was very good out there. I went this trip just to give him a little more time to work it out.

“I think he is too young to go further, and he is not quick enough to come back in trip. So, a good old Henderson tactic is if you don’t know what to do, just stick in the middle!”

Queens Gamble preparing for Derham stable debut

Queens Gamble is in line to continue her hurdles education when making her first start for Harry Derham at Newbury on Thursday.

The five-year-old was an early fancy for the 2023 Champion Bumper after impressively winning a pair of Cheltenham bumpers when previously trained by Oliver Sherwood.

She suffered a narrow reversal at the hands of Fergal O’Brien’s subsequent Aintree scorer Dysart Enos in her Cheltenham Festival tune-up at Market Rasen and although struggling to land a blow on rain-softened ground at the Festival itself, she remains of real potential as she seeks further experience over timber.

With Sherwood having bowed out from his illustrious training career, Queens Gamble now finds himself in the care of Lambourn-based Derham, with chestnut’s former handler working alongside as the young trainer’s assistant.

Derham is keen to get a run into the talented mare before her first key assignment of the year in the Listed Play Coral “Racing-Super-Series” For Free Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury in early December.

He said: “She obviously did very well in her bumpers and it is very kind of Alex Frost and Ed Galvin and their families to send her to me and we hope that she progresses over hurdles this season.

“She will be entered for Newbury and we would like to go there, but I don’t think her owners or any of us would like to run her on bottomless ground and that would be something to consider.

Queens Gamble impressed in her bumper outings last season
Queens Gamble impressed in her bumper outings last season (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“She’s ready to start her season now, so if we can go to Newbury that would be great and if not then we will find a suitable alternative quite soon.

“Her first big target is at Newbury during the Winter Carnival on December 2, the mares’ Listed novice hurdle, so we would love to get a run into her before then if we can.

“She’s obviously got to go and do it over hurdles and I’m confident she will. I don’t want to plan too far in advance but she’s looked very good in her bumpers and I’ve no reason to believe she won’t do well over hurdles.”

Queens Gamble was given an early introduction to hurdles at Warwick in May and although the manner of victory was far from emphatic, her training team feel there is a lot more to come.

Derham continued: “She won at Warwick and I think everyone was a little underwhelmed that day, but Oliver and the team there just felt she wasn’t quite at her best and won despite that.

“Obviously I’ve only known her since the beginning of this season and Oliver’s team seem to think she is a lot stronger this year. I’m certainly very pleased with what I can see and really looking forward to her.”

Although keen to take his time with an operator who could easily become the fledgling handler’s stable star, a return to the Cheltenham Festival for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle could be on the cards for the spring if Queens Gamble progresses as expected throughout the season.

Queens Gamble's trainer Harry Derham
Queens Gamble’s trainer Harry Derham (Adam Davy/PA)

“That would be a big target this season if she keeps improving,” added Derham.

“Her bumper form would make her a live contender for a race like that and her schooling this autumn has been really good.

“So I do have that in the back of my mind and I don’t want to over-race her this winter with the thought that if she keeps improving and we can get her to the spring in good form, then that would be lovely.”

Sherwood happy to take Cheltenham Gamble with Queens

Queens Gamble has Cheltenham form in her favour as she faces off against the might of Ireland in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Oliver Sherwood’s talented mare has impressed twice at the track in her short career, beating Milton Harris’ five-time scorer Mullenbeg by 10 lengths on debut before downing another subsequent victor when scooping Listed honours at Prestbury Park in the autumn.

Despite defeat in her prep race at Market Rasen, Sherwood believes Queens Gamble is more than capable of holding her own and has the six-year-old fighting fit for her return to the track she loves best.

He said: “It’s difficult to assess the form on two ways – firstly taking on the Irish and then going up against the boys for the first time. But she’s entitled to be there and she hasn’t missed a beat.

“She’s in great order and I’ve been really happy with her prep. She loves Cheltenham and the only thing I don’t know is how she will handle this soft ground, but you’re not going to know until you try.

“They set out to beat her at Market Rasen and we got the tactics wrong, so fair play to Paddy (Brennan) and Fergal (O’Brien, jockey and trainer of winner Dysart Enos). She lost nothing in defeat as far as I’m concerned and she goes there with a live each-way chance on Wednesday.

“Johnny Burke knows her inside out, so we keep our fingers crossed.”

Willie Mullins has an enviable record in the Champion Bumper
Willie Mullins has an enviable record in the Champion Bumper (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

Willie Mullins has a record 12 victories in this Grade One event and has taken home the trophy for the past three years.

He is responsible for 10 of the 24 heading to post and it is no surprise to see him well represented at the top of the market.

Patrick Mullins has chosen to ride Dublin Racing Festival runner-up Fact To File, which leaves Paul Townend free to take over aboard impressive Navan winner It’s For Me.

It's For Me is set for the Champion Bumper
It’s For Me is set for the Champion Bumper (Gary Carson/PA)

“He has done nothing wrong and is unbeaten in a point to point and a bumper for the owners,” said Anthony Bromley, racing manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.

“He has got to move forward from that and improve, but he is a very likable horse and in an open year, he has a sound chance.

“There’s no doubt he has to improve from what he has done so far. That said, he is a likable horse with potential, but it is a big step up in class.”

The fly in the Mullins ointment could well be the John Kiely-trained A Dream To Share, who was snapped up by JP McManus after downing Fact To File at Leopardstown, with both runners now sporting the famous green and gold silks at Cheltenham.

Kiely is one of the elder statesman of the training ranks and hopes the five-year-old can remain unbeaten and provide him with the Cheltenham Festival victory that is missing from his CV.

He said: “He’s run very well so far. He’s in good form and we are hoping for a good run.

“It would be nice if he could keep living up to his name – he has done so up to now.”

Burke still full of hope for Queens Gamble at Cheltenham

Jonathan Burke believes Queens Gamble should not be forgotten if she lines up in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival.

Oliver Sherwood’s six-year-old headed to Market Rasen for last week’s Alan Swinbank Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race as the shortest-priced British contender for the Festival bumper following two emphatic victories at Prestbury Park.

However, she lost her unbeaten record when hunted down by Fergal O’Brien’s Dysart Enos and was subsequently eased out to 20-1 by the bookmakers.

The man in the saddle in all of her career starts has explained how he was expecting more of the mare but things did not go to plan in Lincolnshire, with the steady pace of the race against her.

“I was gutted initially,” said Burke. “With the way she has come up the hill at Cheltenham, when I let her down I was expecting her to take off, but she didn’t.

“I was kicking myself thinking should I have held her for longer maybe, but we had gone slow on a completely different track and she just wasn’t seen to her best I don’t think.

“Even at halfway I wasn’t happy, I had it in the back of my head things weren’t happening the way it did at Cheltenham. But she’s fine and if she goes well, I’m sure she will go straight to Cheltenham in March.”

The Listed contest was being run at the third time of asking having originally been scheduled to take place on January 20, before efforts to restage the race the following week also fell foul to the cold weather that played havoc with the racing calendar throughout January.

Burke admits the rescheduling could have played a part in the flat performance, but is backing the course and distance winner to show her true colours if returning to Cheltenham for the third time at the Festival.

He continued: “It probably didn’t help (rescheduling), but it was the same for the others and Paddy (Brennan) and Fergal are just brilliant in bumpers.

“I was gutted as I thought she would take off like she has done at Cheltenham, but maybe it’s just a case she is best seen at Cheltenham. With the mares’ allowance in the Champion Bumper, we’ll have a good go anyway.”

Rasen runner Queens Gamble aiming to book Festival ticket

Oliver Sherwood hopes it will be third time lucky as leading Champion Bumper hope Queens Gamble continues her education at Market Rasen on Tuesday.

The five-year-old, who has already won both her races in impressive style at Cheltenham, will look to return to the Prestbury Park track on March 15 as the top British challenger in the extended two-mile contest.

With Market Rasen forced to abandon her Festival prep-race target twice because of frost, Sherwood is hoping the Listed Alan Swinbank Mares’ Open National Hunt Flat Race will finally be staged.

“Third time lucky – hopefully it is going to be on,” said Sherwood. “Market Rasen have been superb in the build-up, keeping in touch with us and obviously they want us there.”

Queens Gamble opened her account last April, beating the well-regarded Mullenbeg by 10 lengths in a mares’ bumper at Cheltenham before scorching to an eight-length success over Bonttay and 14 other rivals in Listed event back at that track in November.

Sherwood is hoping to learn more about her when she faces 11 rivals this time.

“I’m very happy with her – she hasn’t missed a beat,” he added. “With any horse, any trainer will tell you that when you have abandonments and rescheduled races, you have to build her up and drop her back down and then build her up again.

“With certain horses it is difficult, but with her it hasn’t been that difficult, other than trying to get her to the boil two or three times.

“She is a very easy horse to train and doesn’t take a lot of work, so I’m very happy with her build-up. The ground will be ideal, so it is all positives at the moment.”

On a right-handed track, which is much sharper than she has faced at Prestbury Park, Queens Gamble will also concede 4lb to a field that includes five previous bumper winners.

Sherwood said: “There are slightly less runners than there were originally, but I respect every horse.

“I’ve been at it long enough to know nothing is a gimme in this game and obviously there are plenty of horses in there with really good chances. She has a got a little penalty, which is understandable.

Oliver Sherwood heads to Market Rasen on Tuesda
Oliver Sherwood heads to Market Rasen on Tuesday (Simon Cooper/PA)

“But she is a big mare and the most intriguing thing for me is that it is a different track and a different way round, different course and much sharper than Cheltenham.

“It wouldn’t possibly play to her strengths. It is a long journey up from Lambourn and she has had only two races, so it is all part of her education and I’m looking forward to seeing that.

“We said we would stick to the original plan that if she went and won at Cheltenham in November, we’d stay to bumpers this year. She has only just turned five, so I’m really looking forward to next season and going hurdling with her.”

Sherwood monitoring weather ahead of Queens Gamble run

Oliver Sherwood hopes to run exciting prospect Queens Gamble at Market Rasen on Friday, but is keeping a close eye on the weather forecast.

The dual Cheltenham bumper winner is entered in the Listed Alan Swinbank Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race as part of her preparation for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, for which she is currently a 12-1 chance with Coral.

However, with temperatures due to plummet, the Upper Lambourn handler will keep his powder dry if conditions are unsatisfactory.

He said: “I’m as happy as Larry with her. I am just a bit nervous about this ground. I want to run and we will probably end up declaring and going up and seeing what it is like, but it is a long way to go to take (her) out.

“It wouldn’t bother me if she didn’t run and go straight to Cheltenham, because she takes no getting ready. So I’d be happy with that and if we didn’t run, I’d take her to an away-day to Kempton or something, for a bit of a spin.”

Aintree could also be on the radar for the Getaway mare, who powered to an eight-length success over Bonttay when making a return to action in November.

“I’m very much keeping an eye on things to have a spring campaign, because this year there is a four-week gap between Cheltenham and Aintree,” said Sherwood.

“If things didn’t work out at Cheltenham, she could go for the mares’ race at Aintree. I don’t want to go and burn my bridges too early on. God willing she’ll run.”

Queens Gamble on course for Market Rasen Listed date

Oliver Sherwood’s highly-promising bumper mare Queens Gamble is headed for Market Rasen later in the month.

The five-year-old has been seen twice on track so far, making her debut in a Cheltenham mares’ contest in April and triumphing by an impressive 10 lengths.

In November she returned to the same track to contest a Listed heat and flew home under Jonathan Burke to win by eight lengths.

The chestnut was then intended to line up for another Listed event at Huntingdon last month, but a slightly unsatisfactory scope ruled her out of that engagement.

The Alan Swinbank mares’ bumper at Market Rasen will now be her next port of call provided conditions are not too testing, after which Queens Gamble will be aimed at the Cheltenham Festival.

Queens Gamble
Queens Gamble (David Davies/PA)

“We gave her a bit of a break after we didn’t run at Huntingdon because her trachea wash wasn’t 100 per cent,” Sherwood said.

“She’s just coming back into action now, she doesn’t take a lot of work, luckily.

“The aim is to go, hopefully, to Market Rasen on January 20.

“That’s the plan, but if the ground was to come up very testing then we wouldn’t run and we’d go straight to Cheltenham.”

The Market Rasen bumper, a Listed race, has become a target for Willie Mullins as the leading Irish trainer has made a habit of sending a filly over to Lincolnshire in recent years.

“It is what it is, I’m more worried about my own horses, let alone other people’s!” said Sherwood of the prospect.

“If they come, they come, but I’ve been friends with Willie for a long time so I’d be delighted to see him there – not that he’d show up!

“It’s just exciting to have a nice mare like her, fingers crossed the ground doesn’t get too testing.”

Monday Musings: Anightinlambourn

When the Ben Pauling-trained mare Anightinlambourn battled bravely up the Cheltenham hill to win her third chase from her last four starts for the Ben Pauling stable, it might have been seen as an omen, writes Tony Stafford. Certainly so, that is, by two handlers (unlike Ben) who train in the Valley and who had fancied later runners on that middle Saturday of the big Paddy Power Gold Cup meeting.

The first has been a licence holder for almost four decades since the 1984-5 season and, before that, assistant to a great champion for another six of his ten years’ training apprenticeship. The other, who has had his yard in Lambourn for 11 years, has spent it honing a method where jumping-bred animals are produced and developed with the principal, nay almost single-minded, aim of turning them into high-class steeplechasers.

The first of our two heroes, as heroes they are, is Oliver Sherwood, Grand National-winning trainer, and now in his late 60’s and happily free of the malignant cancer that threatened to curtail his life last year. Now the smile is back, the drawn features are a vague, lost figment of the imagination and winners are rolling again.

From an Essex farming family, Oliver is the son of hunting enthusiast Nat and brother of Simon, General Manager and Clerk of the Course at Ludlow and, for a never-to-be-forgotten while, rider of the peerless Desert Orchid, on whom he won ten races, nine in succession before the grey fell at Aintree in their last race together.

It’s almost 25 years since such as Large Action, owned by Brian Stewart-Brown, helped Sherwood onto the top table of jump trainers alongside his fellow former Fred Winter assistant, Nicky Henderson. More recently he won the 2015 Grand National with the eight-year-old Many Clouds for his main patron, the late Trevor Hemmings, Mr Aintree in succession to Ginger McCain, Red Rum’s trainer.

Halfway between those times, a young army officer was serving in Iraq, but he emerged from that experience with a resolve. Jamie Snowden had always been interested in riding and horses. It was as a serving officer that he managed to weave a reputation as the best military rider of his era. His frequent wins at the Grand Military meeting at Sandown every March made him the ideal man to trust to build a betting bank for the Cheltenham Festival the following week.

It helped that at this point he spent time as an assistant with Paul Nicholls, who provided some of the Sandown winners and he was also a prolific winner of point-to-points.

Later he joined Henderson, a while after Charlie Longsdon had left to start training and it was for Charlie that Snowden partnered the winner of the most valuable race of his riding career. He had ridden the 10-year-old gelding Kerstino Two to three wins in succession – the horse’s first three starts after coming under Longsdon’s care – and they finished in the money the next twice.

Then, on January 6, 2007, at Sandown Park, they lined up for the £25k to the winner Ladbrokespoker.com Handicap Chase. They won by three lengths with Mr J Snowden claiming five pounds making the most of that military races experience to beat the 9/4 favourite, Preacher Boy, ridden by a certain A P McCoy. Then in turn came Noel Fehily, Tom O’Brien, Seamus Durack, Ruby Walsh, Paddy Merrigan, Daryl Jacob (claiming 3lb), and Charlie Studd. Paddy Brennan, Sam Thomas and Timmy Murphy all pulled up in completing the rollcall.

Both Longsdon and Snowden had moved on by the time Ray Tooth’s Punjabi had joined Henderson and, while he was winning his Champion Hurdle and a couple of Irish Grade 1 races, Ben Pauling and Tom Symonds had filled the role as joint-assistants.

By then, Jamie, with the serious riding just about out of his system, had set up at Folly House in Upper Lambourn. By Saturday at Cheltenham, I make it he had trained a total of 335 domestic winners, and Jamie Snowden Racing Ltd has completed the clean sweep of training winners at every UK jumps course.

Win number 335 was the most valuable prize and easily the race with the biggest prestige of his career to date. It was the £90k to the winner Paddy Power Gold Cup, the feature of the entire three days, which he took with well backed 5/1 shot Ga Law.

As befits an army man, the road to the Paddy Power was planned with (almost) military precision – he did think that maybe three weeks between a comeback after 600 days off and running back in such a big race might entail the risk of the dreaded “bounce”. Well, the only bounce was the way Ga Law jumped the formidable Cheltenham fences under Johnny Burke and they had more than enough to hold off the challengers coming up the hill.

For a six-year-old on only his ninth career start, this was an exceptional performance and the French-bred gelding, like all Jamie’s carefully sourced young horses, has a pedigree to match his ability.

Johnny Burke was also on our other equine star of the show and when I say star, I have no doubt that is exactly what Queens Gamble is destined to be. She had already shown herself to be well above average on her only previous start, also at Cheltenham at the April meeting, when I think it’s fair to say she caught her trainer slightly unawares, for as he says he never fully winds up his bumper horses on their debuts.

Queens Gamble is a daughter of Getaway from a winning mare which the owners raced with Jessica Harrington. She in turn was a daughter of Hawk Wing, favourite for both the 2,000 Guineas and Derby of 2002 but second in turn to stable-mates Rock Of Gibraltar and High Chaparral, although he did win Group 1 races at two, three and four.

He didn’t produce anything like the 137-rated horse he was by the time of his retirement, but he was always slightly quirky and the fact he eventually was sent as a stallion to Korea tells its own story.

If Queens Gamble looked good last April, on Saturday the performance was even better as this is always a high class mares’ bumper. She drew easily eight lengths clear of the previous winner of the race, the unbeaten (in three) Fergal O’Brien mare Bonttay and the rest of a deep field.

As with Frankel late in Sir Henry Cecil’s career, and this year Desert Crown, the Derby winner for Sir Michael Stoute, there is no reason why Oliver Sherwood should not take charge of the best he’s had in his later years as a trainer, such is his wealth of experience and career-long success. All that’s missing really is that title!

I certainly remember calling him something in his riding days, way back in the early 1970’s. Then, the Sporting Chronicle was the northern-based racing daily in competition with the Sporting Life, the main paper in the rest of the country. Both had naps tables and I was in the Chronicle list.

Coming to the Kempton pre-Cheltenham meeting – the competition ended a few weeks later – I had a long lead in the 70-strong field, but halfway through the meeting, I thought I recognised a name of one of the winners.

The horse was called Balmer’s Combe, ridden by Oliver Sherwood. It won at 66/1 (having opened at 14’s!) and sure enough the tipster in fourth, Teddy Davis of the Chester Chronicle, had made it his nap. I only ever saw him at the big meetings and, obviously, at Chester, and it wasn’t until that May when I asked him about it.

"It was all a mistake", he said. "I was told Oliver Sherwood would have a winner that day. It was trained by Fred Winter, but then it became a non-runner. He’d picked up a spare ride on a no-hoper, trained by Richard Mitchell, so I assumed that must be the horse. There were a couple of non-runners and a few fallers, so he won!" I couldn’t hold it against Teddy who was a lovely old boy, obviously long gone; but that Sherwood!

Having expected a big run from Queens Gamble, on whom Johnny Burke didn’t need to be as vigorous as on Ga Law, I was delighted when she came up the hill clearly in a class of her own. She’s the real deal!

There was predictability about the rest of the day, notably an Irish double initiated by the well-backed Banbridge, who floated over the fences and cantered clear for Joseph O’Brien in the competitive Arkle Trial for novice chasers. Then there was a trademark gamble landed with ease by Tony Martin via Unanswered, living up to his name in a one-sided stayers’ handicap hurdle.

The Irish, as ever, are coming, but two stout Englishmen based in Lambourn will be doing their utmost to see them off this winter, in a race or two at any rate.

- TS