Some 30 years ago, my first ever visit to Woodford for the Berkeley Races was to follow a good friend enjoying a ride in an Adjacent Hunts race, predecessor of the Confined race type now.
James Grassick, formerly of the parish of Winchcombe, was born into a racing family, and used to ride out one lot before heading for school each day. His father had come across from Ireland as a teenager and built a family and a livery business, to which he added a trainer's licence.
And a happy day it was too at Woodford, when New Lord demolished his opposition to win - the very essence of Point-to-Point racing.
James enjoyed another first yesterday. Irish-bred Glockenspiel won a claimer at St Malo in Normandy, a first winner for a trainer who has now set up shop on the other side of the Channel. There's nothing remarkable about the horse, but the story of the trainer is one that is growing currency on this side of the water, where young and ambitious trainers find the start-up costs of a training business prohibitively high.
You know the old adage; if you want to make a small fortune in horseracing, start with a big one and go training. There's not a trainer in the land who won't tell you there's no money to be made in training. The margin is all in the buying and selling. Keeping horses is a marginal business, not least because of the cost of property now.
One thing we don't do well in this country is support fledgling training businesses to flourish. A worthy innovation at Wolverhampton and Southwell many years ago offered start-up trainers the opportunity to rent a barn (ie up to 20 stalls) on the racecourse, where they could use the all-weather surface for work. It's a model in common usage in the USA, not just at racecourses, but at training centres too. Sadly, it was discontinued at the two ARC tracks.
The only remotely comparable model to that here is the new-ish stable yards on the Hamilton Road in Newmarket. Nothing like that exists at any other training centre - or racecourse. And this seems an opportunity missed: horses trained at the racecourses are as likely to race on the premises as go elsewhere.
Instead, Grassick Jnr is one of a growing band of trainers seeking a better quality of life in France, where lower costs combine with generous prize money (you still have to win it, mind) and travel allowances to encourage new handlers into the sport. The cost of property, whilst rising, bears no relation to the feeding frenzy that is the UK market.
You may justifiably remark that the loss of one middling trainer is neither here nor there. If this were an isolated incident, I would agree, but James is not alone. Nick Littmoden, Louisa Carberry, Andrew Hollinshead and others have done similarly. Add to this a growing band of well-established trainers sending teams over for short 3 month spells (the maximum duration of a temporary licence), among which most prominent is Tom George, and there is not just a brain drain, but a horse drain too.
It's a lesson British administrators and racecourses should be learning. Exhorting the professionals to "Buy British" on its own is not enough.
Westbury-on-Severn trainer Adrian Wintle is enjoying a purple patch at present, Espinator at Newton Abbot today providing a third winner within a month.
Keepers Choice, a seven year old mare who doesn't know how to run a bad race, started the sequence at Bath in a 6f handicap on June 4, following up a second time at the same venue 8 days later. Lightning doesn't often strike three times, but she was only narrowly beaten by the better-bred Arctic Emperor from Archie Watson's 10 days later when returning to Bath a third time. I'm sure she'll be winning again there; she certainly knows her way around.
As if to show his versatility, Adrian produced Espinator to win at Newton Abbot this afternoon in division II of the 2m5f handicap hurdle. Leading into the final bend, the French-bred gelding was challenged and found more to win by 1 1/4l, ridden by Kevin Brogan. Having broken his duck at the eleventh attempt, you'd hope he'd be slightly ahead of the handicapper.
Newton Abbot was also the scene for another Point-to-Point graduate triumph this afternoon, when Claire Hitch, former secretary of the Dulverton West at Bratton Down, trained her second winner of this term, and third overall, in the opening maiden hurdle, with a ten year old called Every Breakin Wave. He's a Johnny-come-lately at that age, but there's a first for everything.
Claire's no stranger to success between the flags; 37 winners and counting to date.
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