Robin Oakley

The turf | 25 May 2017

If Litigant can win the Ebor again it will be one of the training feats of the decade

The turf | 25 May 2017
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Most racehorse trainers, those at least who didn’t have a legacy from Aunt Agatha to lubricate their way into the business, have attended the School of Hard Knocks, their tutors including some famously celebrated deliverers of colourful reprimands. Think Gordon W. Richards or Barry Hills. Having worked for Jenny Pitman and served eight years as assistant to the seemingly almost permanently incandescent Mick Channon, Joe Tuite, a Lambourn trainer in his own right since 2010, probably has the ultimate degree in bollockings. He was one of five stable lads who on one famous occasion misheard Jenny Pitman’s instructions. They galloped the horses a mile further than she had intended, thinking that the anguished arm-flapping and the steam rising from her ears as they passed was merely a warning to avoid a hole in the ground, although he points out with a grin that four of the five came out and won two days later. Joe remains a fervent Channon admirer, insisting that the West Ilsley trainer is ‘a great leader of people’ who has achieved remarkable results without spending huge sums on his horses. When the Queen’s racing manager John Warren came down one day and was waxing eloquent on pedigrees, Joe recalls, Mick Channon declared: ‘I’m training horses, not bits of paper,’ insisting, ‘There are no rules about where good horses come from.’ As for those bollockings, ‘Two minutes later, around the next corner, he’d be smiling.’

I am sure that Joe, too, can turn the air blue when required, but his style is more about patience and quiet assurance. ‘I feel I get the best out of what I have. I haven’t had many horses leave here that I’ve later wished I’d kept. Whenever you are around horses you are learning. The day you are not picking up something is the day you’re not paying attention.’ My abiding image of a visit to his smart brick-built yard in Folly Road was of the four-year-old Machine Learner quietly nuzzling the back of Joe’s neck for several minutes as we sheltered from the rain outside his stable door. There was a vehemence as Joe Tuite asserted, ‘I want all my horses coming to the door. I don’t allow anyone to hit them here. They spend 90 per cent of their time in these boxes and they’ve got to be happy.’ When I remarked on the preponderance of girl grooms pushing barrows, he declared, ‘It’s probably 70:30 with my staff. Girls are great with the horses, they’ve a softer touch. Kind ways.’

All 35 boxes are full at Felstead Court and there are a few more from the ranks of the ‘sick, lame or lazy’ out at studs. At a time when so many in racing are stuck in the glums Joe is strikingly optimistic: ‘Racing is in a strong position. There is no shortage of people looking to buy a horse.’ As he drove me around the Lambourn gallops, noting the Jockey Club’s developments, he insisted, ‘If you don’t have winners in Lambourn, it’s certainly not because of the facilities.’

As well as working for Mick and Mrs Pitman, Joe Tuite spent time as assistant to former trainer Charles Egerton, where one of his tasks was translating the trainer’s Old Etonian drawl into language new recruits could understand. ‘Edgy’, he says, had a good eye for buying horses and got him involved in running plans. It seems that Joe does the same with head lad Chris Martin, leaving it to him most days to feel the notoriously fragile legs of the stable star Litigant who on two of his comparatively rare racecourse appearances won both the Ebor and the November Handicap in 2015. ‘I never feel his legs and those old tree knots without a sharp intake of breath.’ They are aiming him at the Ebor again this year: ‘If we can get him right for that one big day and win it again then he’ll be Yorkshire folklore.’

There have, though, been plenty more successes for this small yard, which had 22 winners last year. It won a Group Three race with Madam Dancealot, a £5,000 filly who was later sold to the United States for £260,000. He gave Chris Martin a half share in another filly acquired for just £2,000 as a bonus for his efforts in the yard. After her first effort on the track, she was sold on to Qatar Racing and that won’t have been just for a couple of Mars Bars.

Prospects for the future, along with Machine Learner, include the filly Gaelic Spirit. ‘She’s very quick, the fastest two-year- old I have trained even if her knees are not the prettiest.’ Joe is hopeful, too, that Surrey Hope, already a winner at Kempton and one with a bit of quality about him, will be winning decent races. But it’s Litigant I’ll be cheering on if they can get him there. A second Ebor with a horse with glass legs would be one of the training feats of the decade.