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.

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