IF equality is your watchword, horse racing probably shouldn’t be your game. And nowhere has a gulf been more evident in recent years than the yawning gap between northern and southern training ranks. The recent Cheltenham Festival was just one crystal clear example of where we, in the north, have lost more than a step or two in the race for the sport’s biggest prizes.
The lack of meaningful participation from stables north of the Midlands was stark. Save for a handful of solid entries, the cupboard was bare. And the further north you went, the worse it got. Just one Scottish trainer was represented at the big event (Keith Dalgleish with a sole runner on day one) and to say the presence at Prestbury Park was worrying would be an understatement.
However, there are shoots of recovery in the Scottish training ranks, and as a punter plying my trade north of the border, I’m going to focus on five yards to follow in this neck of the woods:
The first Lady of Scottish racing, she has amassed almost 600 winners and more than £330,000 in prize money this season alone. Since taking up training in 2009/10, she has firmly established herself as the country’s top National Hunt figure and has conquered both the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals along the way. Her partner, Peter Scudamore, plays a huge role in the setup and is undoubtedly a key part of the success story. He rode almost 1700 winners during a storied career that took in eight champion jockey titles, and now he is making his presence felt as the force behind Russell’s yard. The team has been in flying form this season, sending out 39 winners, and the smart money for a long time in this part of the world has been on One For Arthur popping up in the big one at Aintree. If he were to land the Grand National, it would complete Russell’s coronation as the undoubted Queen of Scotland.
The jovial Jim Goldie has been a well known face on the Scottish training circuit for longer than he would care to remember. But beneath his rosey-cheeked exterior lies a canny operator who is not averse to landing some serious pots. When the aptly named Hawkeyethenoo scorched home to win the Stewards’ Cup in 2012, Goldie’s name was put up in lights for those on the bigger stage, but it came as no surprise to those in the northern game. He had already landed good success over the jumps going back to the 2008 Grand Sefton at Aintree with his much loved Endless Power, proving that Goldie really can be a master of both codes. It would be safe to say the last 12 months have not hit the same kind of heights for Uplawmoor’s finest, but you can never rule him out and whenever a big meeting comes around at the likes of Ayr or Musselburgh, a Goldie runner in one of the big handicaps should always be your first port of call.
It’s hard to believe that fresh-faced former jockey, Keith Dalgleish, took out his training licence as long as six years ago. To those of us in Scotland, he is still regarded as a newcomer on the block – so goodness knows what the rest of the racing world must think. But be in no doubt, this is a trainer going in the right direction at a rate of knots. Although a dual purpose trainer, Dalgleish is very much a master of the flat at present and has been breaking Scottish records for winners in recent seasons, which comes as no surprise. In truth, his total of 80 flat winners in 2016 could have been a lot more. Perhaps the most exciting was Clem Fandango, who won the Listed Harry Rosebery Stakes at Ayr when barely coming off the bridle. Dalgleish evidently has an ability to coax talent out of horses, especially his juveniles, which is promising indeed for such a young trainer. He has a big future in the game.
One of Scotland’s most fascinating trainers, boasting a small but potent string. The undoubted star is Seeyouatmidnight, who should go close in next month’s Scottish Grand National. Thomson hasn’t hidden his admiration for the horse and it’s no stretch to say he’s the best the yard has ever seen. A grand servant such as Harry The Viking is also to be found in the stables at Greenlaw. Look out, also, for a horse called Donna’s Delight, who should be a real force once novice hurdling. Thomson is a trainer who commands the ultimate respect because you know that when he comes to the track, he’s usually coming with decent stock. Cool, calm and measured, he is a real example to the training ranks and it would be a great story if he could land the blue ribband at Ayr.
Probably my favourite trainer to follow at the moment would be this man, Iain Jardine. The one word I’d use to describe him as a trainer is “shrewd”. His placement of horses is second to none and he’s a dual purpose trainer who is firmly on the rise. If I was an owner just starting out in the game, there is nobody I would rather send my horse to than this man. Jardine, a former jockey, is young, hungry and keen for success, and clearly learned a lot from Len Lungo down the years. Jardine used to ride as a conditional for the legendary Lungo and has since moved into his old yard. It’s not hard to see where he has picked up such good, old fashioned habits. Lungo is very well revered in this part of the world and if Jardine follows that same path he will be doing the right thing. Watch out for his mare Stoneham as a horse to follow. She is a stayer, recently running over two miles on the flat, with whom there are races to be won.