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Riders on the Storm


As Storm Ophelia drove dark sepia clouds of continental dust across our skies on Monday, news-outlets were keen to remind us that it was thirty years, to the day, that we awoke to the devastation wrought by The Great Storm of 1987.

I love the fact that we’ve started to call it the ‘Great Storm’ – it’s become one of those legendary weather events, like the Summer of ’76, by which we measure increments of age. If you were alive in 1976 (and I never cease to feel disconcerted when I discover that most of my work colleagues were not), then you’ll remember Brian Cant, The Bay City Rollers and Red Rum.

If you remember the Great Storm of 1987, then your frames of reference will probably include Rick Astley, Fatal Attraction and Desert Orchid.

The 100 mph winds of change, which knocked down nearly 15 million trees, also blew through the world of national hunt racing and, for one year only, it was Desert Orchid’s trainer David Elsworth who held all the aces. From Desert Orchid and Cavies Clown to Barnbrook Again and the Grand National winner Rhyme ‘n’ Reason – the talent in Elsworth’s stable was seemingly endless.

David Elsworth’s championship year was front of mind this week, as I reflected on the Kelso annual members’ trip to Colin Tizzard’s stable-yard in Dorset. Both trainers have the unerring eye of the experienced stockman and Colin Tizzard, like Elsworth in 1987, has assembled a formidable team for the season ahead.

Last week we marvelled at Cue Card’s shiny coat and took notes as we were told, “He’ll probably go to Wetherby for his first run; he’s further forward than he was last year.” Both River Native and Thistlecrack looked fit and well. The former will have at least one run ahead of a repeat shot at the King George VI Chase, possibly over hurdles.

Pingshou looks likely to go down the Champion Hurdle route – which shouldn’t be surprising as the connections already have Saturday’s Chepstow winner, Finian’s Oscar, for the top 2 mile novice chases. From one end of the yard to the other, it’s a championship-winning collection of horses.

The following day, after a fantastic afternoon at Newton Abbot Racecourse, our coach rolled into Nicholashayne – from where Martin Pipe claimed fifteen trainers’ championships. The emphasis at Nicholashayne, where Martin’s son David now trains, is subtly different – less about the individual trainers’ eye and more about the team, meticulous planning and detailed records. It’s a well-oiled machine and, in the trainer’s own words as we stand in his stable laboratory, “We try to take the guess work out of the game.”

There will be winners from Nicholashayne this season, hopes are high for Vieux Lion Rouge in the Grand National. But the stable won’t really get moving until the Cheltenham Meeting in November, so this week’s selection is the Paul Nicholls’ trained Capitaine, at Market Rasen on Saturday.

At the end of the film Terminator, a boy runs across a dusty garage forecourt and shouts something in a foreign language. A man translates for the benefit of the heroine, played by Linda Hamilton. “There’s a storm coming!” he says. There certainly is – I think the storm might be called Colin – and it’s going to have a big impact on all the top races this season.

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