Robin Oakley

Forgotten man

Forgotten man

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Genes, it seems, can survive a period of hell-raising.

‘I know that name. What else has he got?’ I heard a racegoer inquire of his companion at Kempton on Saturday, after Mark Rimell had trained Crossbow Creek to win the big race of the day, the Totesport Lanzarote Hurdle. The answer is: ‘For the moment, not very much.’ Mark Rimell has only one other older horse in his yard of 13 mostly untried youngsters. But that other horse is Oneway, with whom he had the previous Saturday captured the biggest race on the Sandown card, the Ladbrokescasino.com Handicap Chase, the chaser completing a four-timer in the process. The 34-year-old trainer certainly bears a name which racing folk will recognise, his grandfather Fred having numbered among his victories four winners of the Grand National (ESB, Nicolaus Silver, Gay Trip and Rag Trade) and a couple of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Woodland Venture and Royal Frolic), with his wife Mercy later taking on the licence.

For Mark there has been some useful experience along the way, too, including learning time with David Nicholson, Josh Gifford, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Michael Dickinson and Jonathan Sheppard, though not all of that is recalled, it seems, in intimate detail. There were a few wild years, he admits, of wine, women and song. ‘Hopefully, some of it rubbed off through the alcoholic haze. It’s only in the past few years I’ve got my head together.’ More seriously, he pays tribute to the discipline and attention to detail he learnt from David Nicholson and to Nigel Twiston-Davies’s ability to get a horse fit. The former British three-day eventer now trains in his own right from his wife’s family’s estate near Witney, having sold his house to pay for the installation of a six-furlong Ecotrack gallop, which, he says, having ridden all round the world, is as good as any surface he has encountered.

Mark rides all his own horses in work so that he can make his own assessment of their abilities, rather than being told by visiting jockeys. ‘I’ve sat on enough good horses to know when I’m on something with a bit of ability,’ he says.

Crossbow Creek is owned by Mark’s mother Mary and he owed her a victory. The seven-year-old is out of a dam called Roxy River, whom Mary Rimell once had in training with John Spearing. ‘She should twice have won a novice hurdle but on each occasion I fell off her at the second last. Admittedly, she made pretty big mistakes on both occasions. Even Tony McCoy would have done well to stay on, though I suspect Mr Spearing would beg to differ.’

There is, though, no gainsaying the success Mark Rimell has now achieved from his tiny string in only his second season. He has plenty of boxes waiting to be filled, and we clearly have not heard the last of the Rimell name on the jumping scene.

Otherwise the Kempton day belonged to Philip Hobbs, sometimes the forgotten man among the West Country triumvirate who these days dominate the jumping scene. Martin Pipe and Paul Nicholls are rarely out of the news. But the quiet, calm Hobbs, handler of such crowd-pleasers as Rooster Booster, unfussily clocks up his winner centuries, too. On Saturday, he trained the winners of five of the seven races, and rubbed it home by training the first two home in the last, Supreme Serenade and Croix de Guerre. It was the first time he had trained five winners on the same card, although he has had the same number in a day before spread across different courses. An accumulator on the five would have paid 2,850–1.

Royal & Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle favourite Gold Medallist, a Group Two winner on the Flat, lived up to expectations in the novices hurdle and though Made in Japan, last year’s winner of the Triumph Hurdle, was the big disappointment for the Hobbs yard in the novice chase, finishing fourth and last, they still won the race with second string Pak Jack. It was clear from his sticky jumping that Made in Japan did not relish the tacky ground.

It was, though, the filly Zalda and the mare Supreme Serenade who went into my notebook. Richard Johnson had not intended to make the running, but with nothing else doing he took Zalda into the lead in the juvenile novices hurdle, steadily stepped up the pace and eventually cruised home ten lengths clear of the field. She was nothing special on the Flat, but this was an impressive debut.

The older Supreme Serenade came into the straight in the closing handicap hurdle looking all over the winner as Paul Flynn sat contented as a Lamborghini driver among a group of family runabouts. Then, when he let her take the lead at the second last, she began to wander, looking as though she might throw away the race as she had done in a mares’ final at Newbury last year. But so clear was the ability gap that, despite her uneven course, Supreme Serenade’s rider was able to cruise back into the lead without ever picking up the whip. Some race-watchers were ready to label her a head case, but trainer and jockey insist that it was just greenness. If they are right, when she learns a bit more this strapping mare could be very good indeed.