Tuesday 17 September 2019

Stable tour - Rebecca Menzies

When I began this series of interviews the idea was to meet trainers in the 'up-and-coming' bracket, and nobody encapsulates that more than Becky Menzies, who after securing a season's best tally over jumps is currently just three winners short of her most successful campaign on the Flat.

I'd like to call her the Master of Howe Hills, but that doesn't sound right and neither does Mistress - let's just say she's very much in charge of the operation at the training base owned by John Wade, who handed in his licence three years ago when Menzies was looking for a bigger yard.

Wade still lives on the 300 acre site but with boxes popping up all over the place there's a definite sense that things are on an upward curve for a young lady who when in her early-20s must have been one of the youngest ever to take up a trainer's licence.

"I worked for (the late) Ferdy (Murphy) since I left school and trained a couple in my lunchtimes in one of the barns," she said." I'm not from a horsey background and basically started out as a stable girl, but trained Chavoy in my lunchtime and when he won a couple of races I thought, maybe?!

"When Ferdy relocated to France I was a bit lost as I didn't see myself leaving for a long time, apart from maybe expanding the lunchtime training, so I went looking for jobs but Ferdy sat me down and said that I should try to start training on my own.

Becky in her executive shed

"If I could find a yard Ferdy said there were five owners who didn't want to go with him to France and sure enough they came with me to a yard owned by Peter Beaumont at Easingwold, and as the horses had been in a field for the summer I had some training fees to get things going.

"I was 23 at the time and thankfully I've made the business pay from day one, which enabled me to go to the sales and buy the odd horse. I couldn't get a Flat licence due to my lack of experience with Flat horses but they finally granted that after I ran a couple of jumping horses on the level.

"We came here three years ago and everything was already in place other than the executive shed (!) and John keeps on top of the facilities, topping up the gallops and making sure the paddocks are in good shape. The sand gallop isn't Wexford but a lighter John Wade mix!

"He's like a dream landlord and he still takes an interest but never interferes, he'll come and watch the horses work and things like that.

"His horses were very sick in the last year of him training and I think he'd had enough by then, but he's got the best of both worlds now with his horses dotted around a few other trainers as well."

There's a mixture of old and new as you might expect at Howe Hills, with an equine spa and vibrating plates at the ready to help horses that require a bit more TLC.

With so much land at her disposal Becky's horses shouldn't have boredom as one of their excuses should they fail to pass muster.

"We've got the mile and a quarter straight gallop which is a sand and fibre mix, and the furlong round sand. The grass gallop is a mile and a half round and when the grass is cut again hopefully we'll be able to get on it when the rain comes.

"On work days we'll group them together accordingly but on others they'll go off in threes and do their own thing, so they have plenty of variety.

"Everybody knows what they're doing when they come in first thing in the morning, I'll feed them and do the board - I'm very big on organisation!

"Conor O'Farrell comes in twice a week and we've got Nathan Moscrop in six days a week. Aaron Anderson works for us full time and rides as an amateur while we also have Kane Yeoman who has arrived from Sue Smith's."

This is only Becky's fifth full season with a Flat licence but as her reputation continues to grow it's easy to understand why that side of the operation will start take up the bulk of her time.

"The old fashioned National Hunt owners that have the patience are harder to find, whereas the Flat enables you to get a relatively cheap horse and get plenty of running out of them during the summer, and you're guaranteed some money back barring injury," she said.

"There's so much local racing so you can travel relatively cheaply whereas if you have a 0-100 jumps horse that wants good ground you need to be going to Musselburgh and even if you win you'll struggle to cover a month's training fees.

"So I find it easier to justify to owners getting a Flat horse which is sad because my heart has always been in jumping, but you get fewer injuries on the Flat and they are easier to keep sound.

"I love the idea you can keep going all year round and that Newcastle is up the road, I love having runners there and the surface is one of the best in the country, but we go to Chelmsford, Kempton and Lingfield as well.

"They are long days but I'd never let someone else do it, it's not really fair when sometimes it's getting light when I get back."

That sort of commitment marks Menzies out as someone dedicated to her profession, and she won't be suffering any fools after the shock of being left with unpaid fees owing to the sudden collapse of a couple of syndicates.

"They've always been a big part of the yard but we got stung a couple of times last year and it has been a tough learning curve as I'd not had anybody do anything like that in my first five years," she said.

"We've changed how we do things a bit, if a new owner comes to the yard we ask for a month's fees up front and we've got a good training agreement in place.

"It's scary that anyone can buy horse on credit, have it in training for three months and not pay a thing. There are no checks and I feel the BHA need to do much more to help, so for now we do it all from here."

Looking forward, Becky will be hoping to better last season's total of 21 winners with six already on the board, and with some nice young horses amongst the 30-odd ready to go this winter hers is a yard you want to keep close tabs on.

All Hail Caesar
He was very keen and hard to ride last year, all over the place, but this year he seems more professional and I think biding our time with him will stand us in good stead. He should be a good novice handicap hurdler in the north later on this season after running in a couple more decent novice races, but he jumps well and is a chaser in the making. He so big and heavy he wants cut in the ground and I wouldn't risk him on anything better. Thankfully the owners are very patient and he'll be well minded.

We bought him at the spring sale at Doncaster, he used to be very keen in his races and lost the plot a bit when we first got him, but he's A1 now and he schools well. He's been showing us plenty and he didn't have much of a break, so he'll be one of the first out in the next month or so.

I bought him from Richard Hannon as a dual purpose horse but he's been very disappointing on the flat, and he's had his palate fired. He's done plenty of schooling and hopefully he'll be okay for small handicaps in the north.

Ballycrystal Court
The ground is absolutely imperative to him as softer conditions can catch his wind, but we haven't tinkered with it yet as he seems fine at the moment as long the ground is decent. He should be able to win again and I can see him going to Musselburgh a lot this winter if we keep him going. He should stay 3m.

Breizh Alko
He got injured in France but we only got him last summer and we finished with him after Haydock because the ground went...he's too nice to risk on good ground. We weren't surprised by that win at Haydock and he'll stick to handicap hurdles for now, but he jumps well at home and will switch to novice chases when the time comes.

Champagne To Go
We bought her for a grand and has done her job winning a point to point, bumper and a hurdle but has been a bit disappointing recently. She will go to Hexham early in October and hopefully she can go out on a high as she'll make a fantastic broodmare which is the plan with her.

Charming Dream
Inconsistent in novice hurdles but is now coming down to a more workable mark and we'll be looking for a suitable handicap on good ground. Can take a strong hold.

Cool Possibility
A big horse by Dark Angel I bought at the Ascot sale, he's got a good attitude and schools really well. He was very raw looking on the Flat for Charlie Hills but could make up into a nice juvenile with a bit of soft ground.

Fair Sheriff
Didn't set the world alight in two bumpers but is a very honest mare and will hopefully come good when handicapping down the line.

Halcyon Days
He always has a good winter/early spring before tailing off and he'll be taking in all the usual races, starting at Carlisle before heading over to Catterick. Will hopefully win his races again although he's rising 11 now.

Halcyon Days - winner of eight races

I'm Too Generous
He had four years off but started bleeding in his first runs back, however he then won twice over 2m4f and we tried to win a novice handicap chase off the same mark the following week, but was flat out over two miles that day. He has enough scope for fences so will probably start out over 2m4f and should stay 3m as well.

Maid In Manhattan
She's won four on the flat after she bled following her first hurdles start for us, and has benefitted from a change in the way we train her. She hasn't bled at all on the Flat so we'll go to Nottingham to try to win the stayers final early next month and then try her in a mares' novice hurdle. She jumps well enough to win one with the idea of making her a National Hunt broodmare.

He had a fibrillating heart 18 months ago and seemed to lose his way, showing no interest at all. But he's won three of his last six races and on his old form he'd still be well handicapped. We'll aim to get him qualified for the Northern Lights final at Carlisle which is now in March, and he should get in off a nice weight.

Soviet Castle
Finished second in his first bumper which looks good form, and then won well in a weaker race at Catterick. He was growing a lot so we turned him away and he looks good this year, so he could be okay although possibly one for handicaps. He'd have enough speed for the Flat but (his owner) Maria wouldn't hear of it!

Stormbay Bomber
He tends to run well fresh but ran like he needed the run at Southwell last time after being off for nearly a year. Should be able to win something back over fences but he does want good ground.

Pain Au Chocolat
He's on a high mark at the moment which is why we tried him over in France, where came down at the second last when absolutely swinging. He's not interested in hurdles which doesn't leave too many options, he needs some cut in the ground as there's plenty of wear and tear but he's obviously got an engine. I wouldn't dismiss going back to France and one of the smaller tracks over there.

Toi Storey
He already wants more than three miles he could an Eider horse one day! He's got a lot of ability and will run through a wall for you, he can go the same speed on soft and good ground and has a great attitude. He'll stay over hurdles for now but if it looks like his mark is catching up with him he'll go over fences, he's already schooled and jumps great. He'll start out at Kelso in November.

Not disgraced in two bumpers and was very green in his first start over hurdles. He'll be alright once the penny drops and should win a race or two over fences in time.

Valnamixe du Mee
He's only been back in three weeks, he's got a low mark so we'll see what we can do with him. He was off for two years before unseating on his first run for us, and then injured himself when running loose. We live in hope.

Lord Brendy
A fair northern handicapper back in the day but hasn't run for nearly three years now. He came to us with the owner's other horse Valnamixe de Mee and like him we'll just tip away and see what we can do. Hopefully we'll get some leniency from the handicapper after his long absence.

She will come back around Christmas after injuring herself at Doncaster, when she still managed to finish third despite suffering the injury down the far side.

Captain Mowbray
On the sidelines at the moment but hopefully we'll have him back in time for a spring campaign.

Dippin And Diving
We've not done much with him as he's quite fragile, but we'll start him off in a novice hurdle and see where we stand.

Digger John
By Sulamani, he's okay and will probably start out in a Sedgefield bumper.

He's a nice big horse by Malinas who is quite well forward and he'll know his job when he starts out in a bumper.

Shes A Dancer
A smart Jeremy filly owned by John who will go for a mares bumper this side of Christmas. We trained her last year but didn't run because of the ground, she showed a good attitude so we know where we are with her.

A five-year-old half sister to Lord Brendy by Milan, she is a nice stamp of a horse and goes okay as well.

Garde Forestier
We thought he wouldn't run again after he broke a leg, we had him operated on and in a cast for eight weeks. The fracture has completely healed so he's back in and walking away, so he's done well to come this far and we'll see if we can get him back. We've had his wind done as well as he was struggling a bit before the injury.

Falcone de Bersy
John bought him cheaply last year but he's probably the best of his bumper horses and is quite forward as well, so could run as a four-year-old. I like him.

By Garswood, she's a half-sister to Thaayer who won for me over a mile on the Flat. She looks too slow for the Flat but might be ideal for a mare's bumper - I think she'll be okay.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Stable tour - Rose Dobbin

This time last year Rose Dobbin and husband Tony were looking forward to the winter jumps campaign on the back of a best-ever season that had yielded 25 winners and unearthed a clutch of potential stars.

Over the next few months those dreams turned to nightmares as the string was dogged by a low-level respiratory problem that proved hard to detect.

The booster jabs that were required following the equine 'flu scare in February merely served to further weaken the horses' immune systems, and when a handful of them were sent to Perth for the spring meeting in April only to disappoint again, they were all roughed off including the summer horses.

It's been a long time waiting for the them to come right but the tide has already turned, with winners on successive days at Perth and Kelso this week...the portents are good for the winter ahead.

Amongst the splendid isolation of the Northumberland hills lies Hazelrigg Stables, housing some 45-strong with room for several more. The scenery is breathtaking even on a damp, autumnal morning, anticipation lying heavy in the air.

Unlike her ex-jockey husband, Rose wasn't born into this environment as she takes up the story...

"I didn't get into racing until university when I started riding out at Peter Monteith's, and then I went to Lambourn where I spent a bit of time with Nicky Henderson and Ed James and also rode out for Stan Moore and Charlie Egerton," she told me as we stood overlooking the impressive 'quad'.

"I came back up here and got going with the riding, starting out in point-to-points where we had our horses with Rhona Elliot, a good all-round horsewoman who was great to learn from.

"That progressed until we had a few horses under rules with Nicky Richards so I was over there for the next four or five years, which is where I got my grounding as a trainer and of course where I met Dobbs.

"From quite early on I thought I'd quite like to start training but I was having such a good time and was lucky to have some nice horses to ride, I made full use of that first.

"When I wasn't at the races I was always at the yard and was basically an assistant there, while Dad also had some horses with James Fanshawe so I'd spend the summers down there which was brilliant.

"It was Dad's idea to develop this training centre on his farmland and by the start of the 2009 season we were under way."

We watched a handful of youngsters striding up the Martin Collins gallop while in the distance there are three lines of schooling obstacles starting with poles and barrels through hurdles and fences.

Adjacent to that lies a grass gallop set against a gentle incline, yet while the Dobbins readily admit to trying to emulate the 'Greystoke way', they don't have the luxury of the steep natural inclines that surround the famous Richards yard they know so well.

The horses look well forward although they only came in a week earlier than normal, having enjoyed a longer, enforced break to fully recover from the ailments that bedeviled the yard last season.

With those dark days an increasingly distant memory, and, buoyed by the winners already on the board, there is a quiet air of expectation at Hazelrigg ahead of what will hopefully be a really successful campaign.

The following horses are expected to pay their way this season (in conversation with Rose Dobbin).

Obviously very fragile and if he stays sound we'll probably only look to run him three times. Was fit to run last year but started coughing at the wrong time. He'll run in a 0-135 or 140 handicap and how he gets on there will tell us how high we can shoot with him. His owner has ambitious plans but he'll only run when everything's perfect.

Jack Devine
He's had sinus problems his whole life and we've given him three wind ops already, but he's a good horse that stays very well and we've something like the Edinburgh National in mind for him at Musselburgh.

Coole Hall
He had a bad foot last year and had a poor preparation going into his only race of the season at Wetherby on Boxing Day. He's still only seven and we'll start again with him over fences hopefully back at Wetherby in a novice chase at the start of November.

Bako De La Saulaie
A decent horse whom we hoped might be better than he currently is, but has been frustrating. Being by Balko he should stay forever but we're a bit undecided about his best trip. Hopefully he'll be better than ever after the break and on the plus side he remains a novice over fences.

Planet Nine
A favourite in the yard, I don't know why it took so long for him to get the hang of jumping, he was a bit of handful in his early days and got loose once before a race at Kelso. However he's settled down now and we'll stay over hurdles with him for the time being - it might be nice having a high class staying hurdler.

Some Reign
Has played up at the start and refused to race a couple of times but we found that he was suffering from a 'kissing spine' which we used to inject, but have had the problem operated on now so hopefully he'll put all of that behind him. Ran well over 2m when the horses weren't right last season but his future lies over further, on ground that's neither too quick nor too soft. He's a gorgeous horse.

He was really unlucky when falling at Haydock, he's a strong horse who isn't quite as quick as he thinks he is. He doesn't necessarily want soft and on better ground you'd think he'd stay 3m no problem. We always thought he'd pick up a decent handicap somewhere and you'd like to think he's a bit better than his current mark.

He was desperately unlucky not to win last season, taking a crashing fall jumping the last at Haydock after unseating there the time before. He jumps and stays and is becoming more settled in his races, so he might be a little more versatile in the way that we ride him.

Hitman Fred
A nice strong son of Getaway, he came back with sore shins from his run at Doncaster and we won't be running him on good ground again. He was one of those we sent to Perth in April that travelled well and then emptied out, so you can put a line through that. You'd like to think he's well handicapped off 107 and he'll probably stay over hurdles for now.

The Hollow Chap
Won a four-year-old Point To Point in Ireland but has been quite a keen and nervous individual and were disappointed with his two runs last season, but he's only young and has plenty of time on his side. He's had some soundness issues which we are just working through but I do like him and he could be anything.

Another we kept taking to the track last season and was not getting home, but he's come back looking as well as he ever has. He seems much more relaxed now and like most of ours should be ready to run in October, when there's a race at Carlisle for him. We'll look at the option of going over fences with him as well.

Trooper Turnbull
He's a nice big horse who ran well in his only bumper start at Newcastle. Dobbs wants to try to win a bumper with him but I might just go straight over hurdles and we think he could be alright.

Doktor Glaz
He's been a bit fragile over the years with his legs and he just had a touch of tendinitis so we took the decision to give him a year off. He finished off the season before really well and the drop to 2m4f seemed to be the making of him. I wouldn't rule out 3m again at some point and I'd like to think he'd be able to win from his higher mark.

Definite Wisdom
He was one of those to disappoint us over Christmas when we were expecting to see a bit more from him on his first run in a handicap. He's a horse I've been really pleased with since coming back in and will now go straight over fences.

Sweet As Candy
Got a really high mark for winning at Ayr the season before last but then went and ran really well in his first handicap. Has had some time off with a bit of a suspensory problem but we're looking forward to getting him started over fences.

Le Gavroche
He hasn't shown a great deal on the track so far but he has plenty of size about him and we've had him hobdayed, so hopefully we'll start to see some improvement this time.

Smuggler's Stash
He didn't have a hole in his tendon but it was bad enough to give him some time off. He's a fun horse on his day and when he gets his head in front he jumps from fence to fence and he's a proper northern staying chaser. He seems in really good form and we might just fire his soft palate because he's a bit stuffy.

Do Not Disturb
He hasn't been moving great and we've just got him started again. I was disappointed with his run at Ayr because we went there thinking he's one of the nicest horses we've had, but it was heavy ground and he was only beaten 16 lengths so it wasn't a disaster. He's a lovely big horse and he'll go straight over hurdles.

Le Cheval Noir
Won his Point to Point but was a bit light framed and never quite right last season. However, he has come back having gained plenty of weight and could be a nice sort if we can get him right. Will start off in a bumper.

Rath An Iuir
A lovely horse who is proving very difficult to train. He was quite weak when we got him and then had some recurring issues all last season. I'd love to see him on the racetrack but patience is wearing thin!

Fete Champetre
One of a handful of lovely young horses Dad bought last year. By Robin Des Champs he's a gorgeous big horse who is going to need plenty of time but is a proper stamp of a chaser who eats up the gallop, and is an exciting one for the future.