Tuesday, 12 December 2017

BEING JUDGED AGAINST YOUR PEERS


It was clear there was no intention to be condescending, but that was how it sounded when Willie Mullins first post race comment after the Hennessy was to thank Sandra Hughes for the great shape Total Recall was in when he arrived at his new home.

Because of Mullins stature at the top of the training tree, he would not benefit from boasting, however furtively he may have chosen to.The notion that trainers are as good as the ammunition they are given is nonsense.No more than group huddle trainer speak.

When a small operations come away from a horses in training sale with a cast off  bought cheaply from one of the showcase yards, then rejuvenates their new charge, the narrative they bring out is the same one always.That one about treating the horse as an individual and all that stuff.

Early in 2004,Paul Nicholls took in Venn Ottery from the late Oliver Carter, who also owned the gelding. After a maiden chase win at Leicester, he won three off his next four starts all in handicaps, beginning off a lowly 87. At the end of the run his official rating was 117.

Pitted in the deep end in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, he started at 33/1 but the visual image of the race he ran sits in the memory as clearly as the winning performance of his stable companion Azertyuiop. Timmy Murphy arrived on the scene swinging away, and even allowing for the rider's often deceptive pose, the pair were in with a real shout of winning until finding nothing from the second last onwards.

Funnily enough, despite being portrayed as a bit of a fruitcake ,Carter  had been a champion point to point trainer and had also trained Otter Way to win the Whitbread Gold Cup back in the 1970's.Venn  Ottery had six changes of trainer after leaving Nicholls and never won again.

Of all the routine cases of horses being reconditioned after joining Martin Pipe, one of the most notable was in the shape of Shooting Light,who Pipe took over from Pat Murphy in 2001.

Formerly placed in the Triumph Hurdle, Shooting Light had turned into a useful novice chaser in his first season over fences, but nothing more. He did not on the face of it look to have any real improvement left in him.There were plenty of  miles on the clock after beginning his career on the flat with Michael Jarvis.

On his first run since his move to Pond House the impression he made was astounding. You will go a long way to see more strikingly impressive winner of a steeplechase.The race, a thirteen runner handicap at the Cheltenham October meeting was competitive enough.The winning distance was eleven lengths but he was value for any number you wished.

He followed up in the Thomas Pink at the same venue, then the Tote Silver Cup at Ascot. When he next appeared, when pulling up in Best Mate's King George, his official rating was 162, an incredible  39 lb higher than when beginning the winning sequence which began just two months earlier

In more recent times we have had the emergence of  David O'Meara who is curiously in danger of become a passing fad. Only two years ago many thought he had a magic wand, pondered how far he could go, and some were spouting rumours that he could even be the next boss of Ballydoyle.

At the centre of this furor was the improvement he managed to conjure from Amazing Maria. On the animal's final outing for his previous trainer Ed Dunlop, in September 2014, she started at 25/1 and beat one home in the Group 3 Sceptre Stakes at Doncaster. Her official rating was 101.

When she next appeared in May 2015, the now five year old had been moved by owner Robert Ogden  to  O'Meara's Yorkshire set up. Finishing third in a valuable Ascot handicap she followed up by filling the same position in a Group 2 at the Curragh. Then, unexpectedly, the level of her form spiraled upwards.

Victorious at the Royal meeting in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge when starting 25/1, she then followed up at the highest level twice, firstly in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket, then the Prix Rothschild over in Deauville.

The actual measured improvement was little more than a stone, but the achievement in turning what seemed to be a animal limited by her ability in Group races into a rattling high class horse was noticed.

This consolidated the belief that O'Meara possessed a rare skill to yield results that far exceeded the norm. The previous season he had trained Move In Time to win the Prix de l' Abbaye, a horse who first ran for the yard 18 months earlier off a mark of 85 after arriving seemingly exposed from Bryan Smart's stable.

The previous month O'Meara had taken another top level sprint with G-Force in the Haydock Sprint Cup. G-Force had a contrasting profile. O'Meara took charge after his first run as a juvenile the previous season, nurturing him slowly up the ladder.

Since Amazing Maria's Prix Rothschild, O'Meara has not trained a winner at the highest level in Europe.While there has been three in North America it is still not what was predicted.

Being assessed against your peers can on rare occasions produce some misleading impressions. In the early 1980's the Dickinsons took in The Mighty Mac and Planetman from the yard of John Edwards.

The horses showed immediate improvement, looking different beasts , with a swagger about them, and a change in running styles too. This leaving a cloud over the training ability of Edwards.

Within a few years Edwards was showing himself a fine trainer with his handling of the magnificent Pearlyman, who won two Queen Mother Champion Chases. He also went painfully close to having a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner through Yahoo.

Returning to O'Meara; since 2016 he has operated from purposely built facilities in Upper Helmsley. While his turnover in winners and total prize money continue on the same sort of level, the many who anticipated him being the next big name to breakthrough have observed what touches on a scattergun style modus operandi. 

The truly big owners have not come in force and it could be that he is shackled with being pigeonholed as a trainer who exceeds with cast offs from others.This may or may not be overcome. John Thaw once bemoaned that when he was going about his private life in public places, people would point and say,' look, it's Reagan'.There is still hope but it's just as much in the hands of others as himself.  

image source www.museum.tv / Archives


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