2019/20 Season at a Glance
The 2019/20 season was our 27th season from Down Farm – a season that was sadly cut short due to Covid-19 outbreak in the UK. Causing us all to be locked down, put the horses in the field and get the power washer and paintbrushes out a lot earlier than usual! Since the spring campaign was cut short – which we had saved a lot of the better ground horses for due to an unusually wet winter – we were a bit down on our usual winner count of previous seasons with 28 horses finishing with their heads in front. However, what is clearly evident from our prize money count of £611,000 is that not only our winners but placed horses were earning good prizes in a better quality of race. Something that I believe cannot be frowned upon! Another stat that everyone likes to know and is a huge credit to the team here at Down Farm is the fact we picked up 47 best turned out awards over the course of the season!
As always we had a fairly productive Spring at the start of the new season with consistent performers Boyhood, Forgot to Ask and Sumkindofking all picking up good prizes in May. Boyhood won on his chase debut at Newton Abbot under a fine ride from Johnny Burke for his owners Stephen Smith & The Gabbertas Family. It was great to see Forgot to Ask add a chase win to his CV having won both bumpers and hurdle races for owner Julie Hoskins, who has been a loyal supporter of mine for many years. Sumkindofking too got this season off to a good start at Southwell, before later on in the winter stepping up to marathon distances. He picked up some good prize money finishing placed in both the North Yorkshire and Edinburgh National over four miles – which looking at his diminutive stature would make you think is his trip! Later on in the summer month it was great to get Ballon Onabudget’s head in front at Newton Abbot in a valuable handicap hurdle – a track I love to support at that time of year because of their good prize money and impeccable going.
Having had a reasonably quiet time over the summer months it was great to see Copper West carry on his upward curve from the season before at Market Rasen in October when winning the £50,000 Virgin Bet Prelude Handicap Chase. Copper then struggled on the very wet conditions throughout the winter months but put in a great effort to finish second in the prestigious Prince of Wales trophy at the end of February. Fingers crossed he can win what seems to be his inaugural big race next season for owners The Mersey Clyde Partnership.
Our most successful horse last season was The Worlds End, who enjoyed success at the highest level when winning at Ascot over Christmas in the Grade 1 Marsh Hurdle for owners the McNeill Family. He started his season off in tremendous fashion when running away with the Grade 2 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby. Having been over the larger obstacles for the majority of last season, the decision was taken that Worldie would stick to hurdles for this season having had a back operation in the summer. This was evidently a huge success as you can see from his results! A big part of his recuperation from this was played by our neighbour Jason Maguire’s spa facilities at Ivy Lodge Farm.
Bun Doran is a horse that has always improved from year to year and thankfully last season was not an exception. He put in a career best performance to win the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over the festive period, he jumped his rivals into submission and really threw his name into the hat in what looked to be an open 2m chase division. I was really looking forward to him taking on Altior in the Game Spirit at Newbury, unfortunately he made an uncharacteristic mistake and came to grief. Whether it was to our advantage or not Bun then headed to Cheltenham as a very fresh and forgotten horse for the Champion Chase and ran an absolute cracker to finish third. His owners the Crossed Fingers Partnership also enjoyed a successful season with Doctor Dex winning a valuable novice handicap at Ascot earlier on in the season first time out over fences. Along with lovely new recruit Oscar Robertson, who won a novice hurdle at Wetherby in November and was put away for a Spring campaign that unfortunately never happened! He is sure to be a lovely chaser next season.
Dual Grade 1 winner Summerville Boy started the season with an impressive winning debut over fences at Uttoxeter. However, a switch back to hurdles after coming to grief at Sandown in the Henry VII Novice Chase over Christmas reaped its rewards when he was a run-away winner of the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day! It was great to see him back in the Cheltenham winners enclosure 2 years on from his biggest career win in the Supreme Novice Hurdle for owner Roger Brookhouse. Black Op too broke his maiden over fences in the same colours in good style at Stratford first time out, proving he had ironed out his jumping issues from the season before. Although he did not have a big race win this year he deserves a gallant mention for his seconds in the Berkshire Novices Chase (Grade 2) at Newbury behind Champ and the Kauto Star Novices Chase (Grade 1) at Kempton over Christmas.
Clondaw Castle didn’t make many appearances last season due to the under foot conditions being too wet, however when he did take his chance he was very effective: finishing second in a valuable 2m chase around Ascot earlier on in the season before winning the £50,000 Warwick Castle Handicap Chase when stepped up in trip in February. It too was great to win a nice race in John French’s colour – part owner – who previously had good staying chaser Toulouse Lautrec with the yard. Clondaw was a real sufferer of the season being cut short as he really comes into his own on the better ground, but I am sure he will carry on his progression into next season!
One horse who really relished the testing conditions throughout the winter was the progressive Springfield Fox. Having started the season off over hurdles with limited success, it was evident that chasing could not come soon enough for ‘the Fox’. Thus, once he had a handicap mark of 117lbs he made an emphatic debut over fences at Chepstow winning by 12 lengths. He then followed up this success with an easy win at Exeter by 17 lengths, putting him up to a mark of 142lbs in only 2 runs over fences! Although things didn’t go to plan for him in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, I am sure there is a lot to come from him in the not so distant future in extreme stamina tests on very soft ground! It is also very exciting to have impressive novice hurdle winner Hooligan in the yard for the same owners – Dermot O’Donohoe, John Cavanagh, Vicki Robinson and Sharon Nelson . Hooligan won well at Warwick just before Cheltenham, having reaped the rewards of having an easy previous season after being brought at the Goffs Land Rover Sale back in 2018.
Last season was not only poignant for all the success we experienced but we also took the decision to retire God’s Own. Basil was a three time Grade 1 winning chaser and ended his racing career having earnt his owners the Crossed Fingers Partnership over £625,000. His biggest successes were in 2016 when he took the Melling Chase at Aintree and Champion Chase at Punchestown. These successes came two years after his maiden Grade 1 success at Punchestown and the first of his two Haldon Gold Cup wins at Exeter. Basil was not only special for these big race wins but also for his endless enthusiasm and consistency at the top level – demonstrated by his 18 first three finishes in graded company over a span of 5 seasons! A lot of credit must go to Sherrie-Anne Derrick, who has ridden him out every day since he joined us at the age of four and therefore I feel it was only right for him to enjoy the rest of his retirement with Gonk. Happy Retirement Basil!
Basil is a fine example of our horses progressing from season to season, leading onto The Big Bite who won his novice chase impressively this season for owners Heather Haddock and Neal Griffith at Doncaster in January. It always pleases me to see horses that win bumpers train on to win novice hurdles and novice chases as they progress through the ranks, something that I believe Bite should do next season for sure! Fingers crossed that Roger Brookhouse: Rock on Rocco and Big Bresil, who both won novice hurdles well this season at Huntingdon and Exeter respectively, should do the same and progress into lovely novice chasers next season!
Since racing came to a close unexpectedly early end last season, we still have a lot of lovely young stock from the year before that were unable to make their racecourse debuts last season. This means that I am really looking forward to the season ahead, not only to unleash the old stalwarts discussed above again but to also potentially unveil the next smart horse or hopefully horses! I wouldn’t want to give away any hints otherwise it wouldn’t be fair for everyone’s “Five to Follow” entries but I’m probably not worth listening too as I rarely feature in the end of season results anyway!
Over the lockdown period we took the opportunity to extend a loop on our flat woodchip gallop – meaning that if desired we can now work horses over a 1m4f. This is a real luxury as it enables the horses to slowly build up their work and will be a huge asset for young horses that have never cantered over those further distances.
Finally if you’re heading to Gloucestershire, then our holiday cottages are a very popular stay over, for those of you wanting to write your memoirs. With a warm house to entertain from, owners old and new are always most welcome. And we are at your disposal to answer any queries you may have about your own horse or new horses for sale.