It may yet turn out that the most significant development in racing this year was the sale of some 250 dairy cows. Back in 1995 Colin Tizzard, a dairy farmer on the edge of the Blackmore Vale, started training point-to-pointers for his son Joe to ride. Joe Tizzard, one-time stable jockey to Paul Nicholls, went on to become a leading rider. Colin steadily progressed from being a farmer who trained to becoming a trainer who farmed, though often with a stockman’s shrewdness, preferring to take a third prize of £14,000 in a Graded race rather than the headline glory of victory in a £6,000 handicap. Now, with Joe and his sister Kim as his assistants, he handled Cue Card, the public’s favourite jumper of recent years, to win a King George. Last season he trained Native River to win both the Welsh National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. There is nothing racing scribes enjoy more than joining the cluster around Colin as he philosophises in his Dorset burr on the circumstances as well as the science behind yet another triumph: ‘Sometimes you go to the dance hall, and a pretty girl smiles at you and comes over instead of looking away.’
At soggy Newbury on Saturday, as the jumping season opened into full flower, it began to look like déjà vu all over again with the big two stables of champion trainer Nicky Henderson and former champion Paul Nicholls dominating. First Paul took the mares’ novices’ hurdle with Posh Trish, a big scopey mare who will make a lovely chaser. Then Nicky won the red-hot John Francome Novices’ Chase with Santini, former star hurdler. Paul then won the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap with Kapcorse, a big five-year-old ridden by Bryony Frost, who will only improve, and saddled the second, Brelan d’As, as well. Race four and it was Nicky’s turn again: the six-year-old Champ ran away with the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle, sporting, like Kapcorse, the familiar striped colours of J.P. McManus. Before Ben Pauling, a one-time assistant to Nicky who is fast moving up the ranks, took the fifth race, a limited handicap, with the gutsy and slick hurdling Global Citizen, there was another reminder of Henderson/McManus power with the big-screen viewing of his Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air up at Newcastle humbling the much-vaunted Irish challenger Samcro in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
It was all getting rather predictable. But then came the big race over three miles two furlongs, the Ladbrokes Trophy. Long known in real money as the Hennessy Gold Cup, the race has been won in the past by such greats as Arkle, Mandarin, One Man and Denman. I had backed Ms Parfois, who tired to finish sixth. But I said before the off to a racing companion: ‘Now Colin Tizzard’s sold his cows to get serious, I guess we ought to be looking at his.’ Pity I didn’t take my own advice: ridden so sensibly by Tom Scudamore, Tizzard’s Sizing Tennessee stayed on superbly to come home ten lengths the winner at 12–1. Second was the 4–1 Tizzard-trained Elegant Escape and their third entrant, West Approach, was fifth.
Typically, after the race their trainer quietly ruminated: ‘For him to do that and have three of the first five is unreal, though I’ve always been quite good at training big, slow horses.’ (Indeed he used to say to owners that if they left their horses with him long enough they would all become three-mile chasers.) The Dorset maestro declared that Sizing Tennessee was ‘legless’ in the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last year and they reckoned they had jarred him up on firmer going in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr before he returned this season to win a chase at Fontwell. ‘Things happen when we don’t know they’ll happen and that’s the beauty of jump racing.
So it is and the intriguing question is just how far Team Tizzard can go now they have made racing their priority. Nicky Henderson’s horsepower is in a different league, Paul Nicholls is as winner-hungry as ever and rebuilding effectively. The Cheltenham Festival will once again see many top races fall to the two Irish titans Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. But on the evidence of the Betfair Chase, the former World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack is on his way back. Native River will be defending his Cheltenham crown. Elegant Escape looks a good sort for the Welsh National and although the handicapper might be harsh after last Saturday’s victory, Sizing Tennessee looks a real candidate for Aintree’s big one. As a part-time dairy farmer, Colin Tizzard finished third in last season’s championship, with 79 victories bringing in prize money just short of £2 million. He may well go on to higher placings than that.
Incidentally Philip Hobbs is very much back in business after a bug struck last season. His Jerrysback was injured and never ran when included in our Twelve to Follow. On Saturday Jerrysback won at Bangor at 50–1. One that got away…