Robin Oakley

Why experience beats flair at Goodwood

 Faced with a field of 13 two-year-olds in the British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Fillies Stakes at Goodwood last Saturday a friend and I agreed the best thing for our Placepot was to go with experience. Just three of the fillies had run before and sure enough two of those three, Jakarta and Royal Equerry,

The early tragedy of the flat season

The Flat season proper has opened with an almighty shock and a cruel tragedy. First City of Troy, the latest horse to be anointed by the incomparable Aidan O’Brien as the best he has ever trained, flopped like a wet sponge in the 2000 Guineas. Then with Charlie Appleby’s Godolphin team mopping up top races

Amo Racing’s Flat supremacy

You don’t often walk into a racing yard and find the trainer engrossed with two owners –apropos of horse names – discussing the role in the French Revolution of Count Mirabeau,  but Dominic Ffrench Davis is a rounded man. When I first met Dominic 25 years ago he was a young start-up trainer who’d had

The magic of Aintree

However hard some people try to make it a business, jump racing remains a sport and the Grand National its greatest race. Two fences out this year 20 horses were still in contention, ten still seemingly in with a serious chance of winning. As Ruby Walsh noted: ‘If that doesn’t convince people it’s a wonderful

The battle of the racehorse trainers

A famous American horse-handler – after seeing an English trainer who had been his assistant starting to win races back in the UK – declared: ‘I taught him everything he knows.’ He then added: ‘But not everything I know.’ With a friendly but intense end-of-season battle this year for the Jump Trainers’ Championship between Paul

Cheltenham gave us a taste of what is to come 

Writing a fortnightly column about a sport happening daily can be cruel. These words had to be delivered before the Cheltenham Festival’s Tuesday opening so I can only declare what I hope might have happened: that England’s trainers have responded as effectively to the advance taunts that they would fold in the face of Irish

Is racing being ruined by ‘super-trainers’?

Back in November, 20 horses went to post in the Troytown Chase at Navan. Fourteen were trained in Co. Meath by Gordon Elliott, who provided the winner Coko Beach and four of the first five home. He broke no rules. To those who objected to his mass entry, Elliott retorted that he hadn’t stopped any

The joy of Tunbridge Ware trinkets 

Tunbridge Ware trinkets, toys and showpieces were the fridge magnets of their time; now they are the ultimate collectibles. When in the 18th and 19th centuries the aristocracy and middle classes travelled to Royal Tunbridge Wells for its curative waters, traders in West Kent saw an opportunity. The visitors needed souvenirs or gifts and with

Who’s afraid of Willie Mullins

Who’s afraid of Willie Mullins? Pretty well every other trainer and certainly the bookies who made his French import Ocastle Des Mottes a 7-2 hot favourite for the Betfair Hurdle – which is the richest event of its kind run in Britain – at Newbury on Saturday. You can see why. The ever-courteous Mullins holds

How to become a successful racehorse trainer

Cheltenham’s end of January meeting is supposed to be an amuse-gueule to give us a few form lines for the four-day Festival in March. Instead, this one gave us everything including emotional victories for an 18-year-old jockey and a 92-year-old owner, a demonstration round by a new female hurdling superstar and defeat by inches for

In praise of trainer Dan Skelton

I’m not sure how the BBC would have taken it in my Nine O’Clock News days if after a tough interview I had embraced a disconsolate politician (though I can guess and it wouldn’t have been to the corporation’s credit). It was, though, the best moment in the ITV coverage of last Saturday’s racing, when

Il Est Francais really is something special

Some people seem to get all the bad luck. No Cheltenham Festival regular will ever forget the 2020 Triumph Hurdle when Goshen, trained by Gary Moore and ridden by son Jamie, came to the final hurdle coasting and 12 lengths in the lead, only to make a fractional misjudgment and hurl his rider into the

The best books about horse racing to buy now

‘There are just not enough horses’ heads looking out of the boxes,’ said William Jarvis as he ended a 140-year-old family dynasty training in Newmarket. We are losing too many like him. But racing has surmounted previous downturns as a remarkable new book reminds us. George Stubbs is credited as the first great equestrian artist

In praise of Harry Cobden

For the past two years anybody who has asked Harry Cobden, Paul Nicholls’s stable jockey, which horse in the yard he was most looking forward to partnering, the answer has always been the same: Bravemansgame. But when declarations were made for the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock last weekend, the rider’s name attached to

My top tips for the racing season

The cockerels of jump racing had better look out: the Hen is back. At 76, Henrietta Knight, whose feat of training Best Mate to win three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups will probably never be equalled, is to renew the licence she relinquished 11 years ago to care for her late husband, Terry Biddlecombe. Racing fans

The joy of jump-racing

When famous folk die you sometimes fish for memories of any encounter you may have had with them. The memorial service for Nigel Lawson spurred no memory-searching for me. I will never forget meeting him at around 4 a.m. on the pavement outside The Grand in Brighton on 12 October 1984, surrounded by blue police

There’s no doubt this horse is something special

Aidan O’Brien is a superb trainer. You name it: he has won it. The Derby nine times, the Irish Derby 15. The 2000 Guineas ten times, the Irish 2000 on a dozen occasions. This year he passed the worldwide total of 400 Group One or Grade One victories. He is an innately modest man who

The horses to watch in 2024

The definition of good luck in Russia is state security knocking at your front door and demanding ‘Ivan Denisovich?’ when you are able to reply ‘Ivan Denisovich lives two doors down.’ Sometimes you just have to be thankful it is someone else’s bad day. Steaming around the M25 on Saturday towards Newmarket’s Juddmonte-sponsored Cambridgeshire Handicap

The murky world of bloodstock agents

Top owners are quitting horse racing because bookmakers nervous of a government and a Gambling Commission that know remarkably little about the horse-racing industry and ignore even the modicum they do know are making it harder and harder for them to have a significant bet, closing the accounts of those who refuse to acquiesce to

The charm of Carmel races

Racing at Cartmel probably began in the 15th century when Brother John wagered a mug of ale with Brother Cain at Cartmel Priory that his mule could give his fellow monk two lengths start and beat him back to the Abbot’s orchard. Nowadays Cartmel is one of racing’s precious smaller jewels. The tiny track nestled