Sunday, 24 September 2017

LOST KINGDOMS


The curious claim on Karl Burke's website that Chris Thornton continued to produce high class winners from the famous Spigot Lodge,is made probably out of respect as opposed to accuracy.

As assistant to Sam Hall,Thornton would have been part of the team when Dakota ran a close fourth in the 1976 King George V1 Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes.Then,at the helm himself,he would have briefly dreamed of success at the very top through his 1981 Derby hope,Shotgun.

What cannot be denied,is that a property that is part of the sport's heritage has been somewhat put back on the map in the past couple of years with successes at the highest level,including a Prix Morny last month.In a sport that is losing ground on its contemporaries,the facility to join the present with the long ago past is one of the few assets it has to cling on to.These links need to be maintained and should be celebrated.

Unfortunately,many of our famous establishments have gone for good and cannot be salvaged.Castle Stables,on the Arundel Estate,where John Dunlop pillaged many of the top prizes in the sport,is the most recent,high profile case.It's disquieting that this is allowed to happen.

Others fortunately remain active, even if they just appear to exist to make up the numbers,long removed from the old days.Two other West Sussex bases fall into this category. Findon, under the care of Nick Gifford, and the neutered,Coombelands Stables,run now by two separate licence holders.

Coombelands Stables in Pulborough may not flow off the tongue like a Beckhampton ,a Seven Barrows or a Manton. It cannot boast of having a long lived history,but will never be forgotten for being a powerbase for a prolonged spell beginning in the late 1970's.

How times change.The facilities are now shared by Amanda Perrett, and John Dunlop's former assistant, the Frenchman David Menuisier. Let's face it, it's never a promising sign when this sort of thing happens.More of a way of saying, 'right, those times have finished for good, we will just have to make hay as best as we can'. 

Amanda Perrett was never going to emulate much of what her father Guy Harwood achieved.It started well enough though.After a few progressive years the turn of the millennium saw her guide Indian Lodge to two Group One success's.Not long after,she had in her care what was arguably the horse she is most associated with,Tillerman. He won three Group races,none of which were at the highest level, but he was popular with racing fans.

It's been quiet for a while now.Two Group Three winners from 2007 onwards,a rare big handicap success in the Royal Hunt Cup this year,but permanently out of the limelight for most of the time.

Perrett continues to receive support from Khalid Abdullah,and her present string includes seven of his juveniles.If it can be described as token support it's not bad by such standards,but what hits home is that there is a generation of racing fans in their thirties who will not link Coombelands Stables to success in the world of horse racing.

The trainer's husband, Mark Perrett,acts as her assistant.He's been there since the days he rode the few jumpers that his wife oversaw in the late eighties.Still, back in the yard's heyday, there existed one of the most revered trainer's assistants who had also been a journeyman rider.

Mention the name Geoff Lawson,and to many the first image that comes into the mind's eye is that of the Australian fast bowler from the 1980's. But there was also a well known Geoff Lawson in UK racing.He was the brother of Harwood's wife,and many attributed the success at Coombelands Stables to Lawson,as much they did to Harwood.

You could have called him the Peter Taylor of racing.If anyone needs reminding how low profile racing has become, they should note that the celebrated football figure has a Wikipedia entry longer than most of the racing legends.What some would have called racing's most influential assistant does not receive a single acknowledgement, not even on Guy Harwood's page which consists of a single,long paragraph.

Harwood started training from the yard in 1966. Lawson joined up in 1973.Three American style barns, three all weather gallops and a turf gallop were developed. Coombelands Racing Ltd had both Harwood and Lawson as directors. Harwood was a car dealer, at the Bentley end of the scale as opposed to the welded together pieces of junk type.It all fitted nicely into the narrative that Lawson was the main driving force behind the success.

There were other notable members of racing's A Team. Head Lad Tom Townsend, rough edged but astute stable jockey Greville Starkey, and not to forget the bloodstock agent, James Delahooke. Known as the man who picked out Dancing Brave,Delahooke was also responsible for some snips at the lower end of the market. Of the 1981 three year old team, he acquired To-Agori-Mou, Kalaglow and Recitation for a combined amount of under £50,000.

Top class performer after top class performer appeared on the racetracks with regularity.So when the success eventually started to flag, they all whispered that it had all been down to Geoff Lawson, despite the assistant remaining in place.

Records show the last winner for Guy Harwood at the very highest level, was Polish Patriot in the 1991 July Cup.He trained fifty five winners that year,but it was far off the heady days of a few years earlier for consolidated quality.The following five years were the last five that Harwood held a licence for,and his yearly totals never passed thirty,his final two years yielding nine and eighteen winners.

Lawson continued his association with the yard after Harwood senior retired. His health however deteriorated and he was eventually dismissed, reportedly suffering from alcoholism.Lawson died in 2001 at the age of just 56.

It was a sad finale to a long association.The well being of the sport requires a wide geographical spread of power.That it's all in too few spots than ever before is not an encouraging sign.






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