Every sport needs renewal and the most heartening thing about this jumping season is the growing prominence of a bunch of comparatively new, comparatively young trainers.
A little older than some is the phenomenon John Ferguson. Moonlighting from his worldwide role as Sheikh Mohammed’s chief bloodstock adviser on the Flat, he has set up as a jumping trainer and had 18 winners from fewer than 50 runners, an extraordinary strike rate. In Wales Tim Vaughan goes from strength to strength, matched in the Cotswolds by Martin Keighley. Then there are the ex-Lambourn Likely Lads, a bunch of successful horse-handlers who were all assistant trainers there and did their courses together. Ed Vaughan, Harry Dunlop and William Knight have chosen to make their careers on the Flat but Tom Symonds, Jamie Snowden and Charlie Longsdon are the emerging names on the jumping scene, none more so than Longsdon, already singled out by champion trainer Paul Nicholls as a potential one-day successor.
It doesn’t take you long in his yard atop a Cotswold ridge near Chipping Norton to figure out why. Old Etonians are either powerful charmers or arrogant shits; there is rarely anything in-between. Charlie, who looks like a young royal stretched to six feet several inches, is blessed with a capacity for instant friendliness that would serve him well had he chosen politics rather than training. As I arrived, he was supervising the schooling over fences of a bunch of exuberant young bumpers, and this army officer’s son has that air of organised authority without which you will never run a successful stable. There were no ‘ums’ in his answers. There was plenty of mud on his boots and there is no evidence of silver spoons. Money was short in the early days and the pictures of winners in his timber office are frayed-edge cuttings rather than elegant objects in wooden frames.