Robin Dickin off the mark for the summer

You could be forgiven for thinking there were just two trainers around Stratford reading this blog, and it’s certainly true that Messrs Skelton and Murphy are prolific in their pursuit of winners. Yet Warwickshire and the surrounds of Stratford play host to plenty of other able handlers.

One such who’s had a lean time of it in recent years is Robin Dickin, who enjoyed a welcome change of fortune when winning a handicap hurdle at Southwell yesterday. One-time Irish winning Pointer, the French-bred 9 year old Phoebus Lescribaa, flattered to deceive on that winning debut at Lisonagh in 2016, and has largely disappointed since, winning just 2 of his 16 starts.

Former jockey turned trainer Robin Dickin

They say there’s a race in every horse, but the patience of any owner is sorely tested over lengthy gaps between entering the hallowed Winner’s Circle. Four changes of trainer, from Rebecca Curtis through Fergal O’Brien and Olly Murphy led Phoebus Lescribaa to Robin Dickin’s door in July last year. And if truth be told, by the end of last year, Dickin himself may have been having doubts after a series of middling performances.

But May 2021, the horse may have turned over a new leaf! Dropping from middle distances to the minimum trip, Phoebus was just run out of it by 1/2l in a handicap hurdle at Southwell, so it was little surprise that the enterprising and persistent Dickin returned there a month later to finally get his head in front, again over the minimum distance.

Robin started training in 1986 at the conclusion of a successful riding career under both codes. He’s since trained some 350 winners, led by Kadastrof, the prolific Dr Rocket, and current favourites like Thomas Crapper and Restless Harry, between them responsible for 15 winners including the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury in 2017, and Restless Harry’s neck win over Teaforthree in the Weatherbys Hamilton Insurance Handicap Chase, a Listed race at Ascot in 2014.

Last season, however, runners and winners were well down on the halcyon years around the start of the decade. The team has adapted to new facilities at Alne Park near Stratford, where landlord Nic Allen, an enthusiastic owner and supporter of Stratford already, provides a benign interest in the developing business.

As every trainer will tell you, success is about persistence, doing the right thing on a consistent basis, and not a little luck. Owners can be fickle, searching for the latest name in the training ranks as if their methods were markedly different to any other. This is not to say the old ways are always the best; rather that the quality of training facilities all over the UK nowadays allows trainers to prepare their horses to much the same standards throughout, so fashions in choice of trainer often have a relative importance above their station.

Have no doubt. Top flight success and Robin Dickin will be bedfellows once more before too long has passed, and Stratford will be the better for it.

And so say all of us.

Stratford specialists the Skeltons to lead the fightback against Irish dominance at racing’s top table

According to the extensive database collected by Timeform, no duo in horse racing is quite as effective at Stratford as Dan and Harry Skelton.

Dan, the elder of the brothers, has trained 35 winners from his 167 runners at the course according to the stats – nearly double that of his nearest rival. Incredibly, more than one in three Skelton entries either wins or is placed at Stratford. We should mention his younger sibling Harry too. He has ridden 31 winners in the same timeframe – a success rate of 25%, with 38% of his rides at the track ending in victory or at least a place.

He claimed the Champion Jockey crown in 2021, landing 152 winners in a prolific campaign, and the hope for British racing fans is that the Skeltons can spearhead a return to the glory days for domestic runners at the Cheltenham Festival.

At the most recent edition of the flagship meeting, just four of the 28 races were won by a British horse. The Irish, on the other hand, claimed 23 victories.

There are plenty of different explanations as to why that might be, with the Irish bred and trained purposefully for the big meetings at Cheltenham, Punchestown, and the like. Meanwhile, some British trainers and owners prefer to focus on the nitty-gritty of the National Hunt campaign.

Either way, take Nicky Henderson’s haul out of the roll call of winners and it really does make for dismal reading for the domestic entries.

Getting Closer

The Skeltons have some excellent horses at their disposal, and a couple got close at the 2021 Festival.

Roksana was third in the Close Brothers’ Mares Hurdle, and ran superbly at Aintree a few weeks later to finish second in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree. Available at 10/1 in the Cheltenham Stayers’ Hurdle odds for 2022 here at Space Casino, she could bring the Skeltons a rare success at the Festival.

But for a stumble late on, they could have been celebrating a win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Their Spanish horse, Nube Negra, ran superbly well in the two-mile outing, and stayed on despite a fumble to finish just half a length behind the winner, Put the Kettle On.

The seven-year-old still has room for development, and victory in the Desert Orchid Chase – defeating Altior by three lengths in the process – was an outstanding effort.

Elle Est Belle secured another place for the Skeltons in the Champion Bumper back in March. The five-year-old is already a course winner, and produced an excellent effort to finish behind the more experienced Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit at the Festival. With another year of action under her saddle, Elle Est Belle could be another profitable campaigner at Cheltenham for the duo.

Other contenders will emerge as well, you suspect, with the likes of Langer Dan also promising a bright future. For the prosperity of British racing, the hope is that the Skeltons will lead a Warwickshire fightback against Irish racing dominance – starting with the Cheltenham Festival in 2022.

Four horses to become big stars come the winter

National Hunt fans are already looking ahead to the 2021/22 campaign with a great deal of interest. We saw a lot of talented novices shine on the track last season, and a few of these started their careers at Stratford.

Hopefully, some of these future stars will appear at Stratford in what will be a good test for them whether they are a hurdler or chaser. Here are four horses in particular which are worth looking out for.

Shishkin

Nicky Henderson’s chaser Shishkin won all five of his races over fences last season. The 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner looked even better as a chaser. He was the clear favourite for the Arkle last March and as you can see from the latest horse racing results, he made no mistake in the novice championship over the shortest trip.

The 2m chase division is one of the most exciting categories to look forward to next season. Shishkin is going to have an excellent chance in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham against the more experienced horses.

It would be great to see Shishkin take a spin around the fences at Stratford, but frankly, we don’t stage the sort of races for which he’d be entered. A racecourse gallop wouldn’t be out of the question and as he travels so strongly and clears his obstacles with speed, this is a spectacle in itself. Henderson is sure to have lots of options with the horse in the early stages of the 2021/22 campaign, but it’s more likely we’ll be the venue for another emerging novice.

Allmankind

Lodge Hill trainer Dan Skelton knows all about success at Stratford. Nobody has had more winners here than Skelton over the past five years. He is sure to have lots of entries at his local course this season.

Regulars to Stratford will be hoping one of those is Allmankind who is one of the stars of his stable. The five-year-old was victorious in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown. He also scored in two Grade Two races. And although he didn’t grace Stratford during his novice season, Dan Skelton has a good record for introducing novice chasers around Stratford which tests their balance and dexterity.

Unfortunately for his connections, Allmankind was no match for Shishkin in the Arkle. That was his only defeat in five starts over fences. With the experience now on his side, the 2m chaser is a horse who could claim some big races next season.

Bob Olinger

One of the standout performances at the Festival last season came from Bob Olinger, an Irish horse trained by Henry De Bromhead. The novice hurdler prevailed in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in impressive style.

Next season is going to be a big year for the horse as he will be linked with all the leading hurdle races. De Bromhead will need to decide whether his horse steps down in distance for the Champion Hurdle, goes up in trip for the Stayers’ Hurdle, or embarks on a novice chase campaign.

It’s unlikely we will see Bob Olinger in the UK before The Festival. There are lots of options in Ireland for him before he makes the trip to Prestbury Park. It will be great to see if he has improved further when he makes his seasonal reappearance around October. However, with crowds back racing again, Stratford’s fixture on the Monday of Festival week is likely to play host to Irish voices getting in tune, and hopefully a horse or two to accompany them.

Premier Magic

Finding winners is all about recognizing best in class ahead of everyone else. And whilst the previous three horses all operate in the very top flight of the sport, Stratford’s USP has always been its relationship with the grass roots of the sport. Our Hunters’ evening this Friday supports that case, with the most valuable card of Hunter chases anywhere in the UK.

Premier Magic will go off favourite for the Point-to-Point.co.uk John Corbett Cup, the novice championship for emerging talent between the flags. The eight year old is winner of all four of his starts this Spring, including Open races at Didmarton and Chaddesley, the latter in the prestigious Lady Dudley Cup, as well as a Hunters chase at Leicester. Trained and ridden by Welshman Bradley Gibbs in Hertfordshire, he is a darling not just to his owner and trainer, but to a growing following of Pointing enthusiasts.

Mark him out for the top of his class when it comes to the Cheltenham Foxhunter next March.

Keep an eye on all the action at Stratford over the summer and autumn meetings as the next star to follow the above four horses could be unveiled.

Sign-up to receive news and offers from Stratford Racing Course

If you would like to receive information about events, new products and special offers from Stratford Racing Course, please enter your email address here.

All use of personal data shall be in line with our Privacy Notice