25th January 2021

If I could bottle it – whatever it is that is making our horses run so well at present – and sell it, I would. But, unfortunately, there is no magic potion and it is no easier to explain a phenomenally good run of form than it is to explain a string of losers.

Of course the horses are generally well but we are still encountering all the usual winter ailments: coughs and snotty noses; cracked heels from exercising in the wet; ringworm from an influx of new young horses; and so on. We are not doing anything differently.

When we had a run of more than 100 consecutive losers one year and James Willoughby famously commented that ‘there is no such thing as yard form’, he explained our ‘poor’ performance by saying that it was down to the population of horses that we were running at the time and he pointed out that, based on previous form, the vast majority could not be expected to win. There was a lot of truth in that.

If you look at our strike rate at the end of any year you will see that it tends to take quite a dip and that is down to the fact that many horses are rushing to get a run before the end of the year to give them some experience before a winter break or to allow us to fully assess their ability if we, and/or their owners, need to make decisions on whether to keep them into another year. The same applies to many other training yards and Maiden and Novice races, in particular, tend to be big fields and pretty competitive.

Come January, we have the whole year ahead of us and, for most of the horses, there is no pressure or rush to run and we can take our time to select the ideal race. That said, the same again applies to many other yards and so our current run of winners and strike-rate is still quite exceptional.

With a week to go we have already passed our best ever total for January and our 18 winners have come at an incredible strike-rate of 45%. Even more amazing, I would say, is the fact that 17 individuals from 31 to run have won. That, 55%, winners-runners is the sort of figure we might just aspire to at the end of a season but never at this stage.

Long may it last but we must keep our feet on the ground and remember that the nature of the British program and its reliance on handicaps often dictates that a peak must be followed by a trough as our friends the official handicappers hike the winners up and try to stop them from winning again. Sadly, it takes a lot longer to come down in the handicap than it does to go up. Thankfully, however, we have a few more horses waiting in the wings to pick up the gauntlet if this first wave of success starts to wane. It is a great start to the year and makes the cold, dark mornings, and the boredom of lock-down a lot easier to cope with.

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