Cambridgeshire trainer Pam Sly avoided the big meetings at Aintree and Sandown today, heading for Wetherby, and was rewarded with a double, both ridden by Champion lady Point-to-Point rider Gina Andrews. At 77, she's busy proving age is no obstacle to training winners.
Her first winner, 6 year old gelding Frensham, clearly has a liking to Wetherby. He broke his maiden there on his second visit, and has now recorded 5 course and distance victories; proof, were it needed, of the "Horses for Courses" adage. Despite an official rating raised by 8lbs, his 6 1/2l victory today suggests more trips to Yorkshire's premier Jumps course are on the cards.
By contrast, Pam and Gina's second winner in the concluding Bumper was well fancied. Eileendover was winning her second Bumper within a month, and will be an interesting watch when obstacles are added.
Pam Sly has successfully managed to carve a niche for herself over more than 30 years training horses as a dual purpose trainer not to be ignored at any level of the sport. Better known for her Flat horses, this small yard rarely breaks into double figures in winners under either code, but does that matter when every so often a diamond is produced? In 2006, Pam fulfilled the role of giantkiller when filly Speciosa upset the odds in the 1,000 Guineas.
Whilst the Classic victory wasn't a complete shock following an illustration of her speed in the previous autumn's Rockfel and the Nell Gwyn earlier that same season, Speciosa left some impeccably bred and very expensive fillies behind her that day.
Her 50 or so runners every Jumps season can be almost guaranteed to provide an above average strike rate and - rare among trainers - a positive betting result if supporting every one across a season. In fact, she and Gina Andrews have a formidable record in excess of 50% at Wetherby.
The number of East Anglian Jumps trainers will reduce by one this Spring when Nick Littmoden, whom we reported enjoying success with Jumpers again earlier this week, moves to train in France. He is one of an increasing number of British-based handlers enticed by the splendid subsidized communal training facilities and the better prize money in France.
Those who have raced in France will tell you there is little atmosphere other than at the big country meetings like Craon or Lion d'Angers. Even for its big days, Auteuil feels cavernously empty, but for the professionals, the ability to receive travelling expenses irrespective of where your horse finishes, and prize money most can only dream of over here, is enough to overcome reservations. Nick is in a growing band of ex-pats from the UK and Ireland making their way across the Channel.
One thing they don't have over there is the eclectic amateur base we enjoy through Point-to-Point racing. The sheer volume of fixtures and venues probably makes this superfluous, nor is the Jumps games so closely aligned to hunting as here, which may explain the lack of crowds.
That said, no-one can deny the success for French-bred National Hunt stock over here these past 15 years. The top yards are virtually Francophile, looking through the names of horses in training.
Point-to-Point fans in East Anglia will have to be patient a while yet to enjoy racing in our area. The schedukled fixtures at Ampton and Higham during January have been cancelled and the Thurlow at Horseheath will open the calendar on Saturday January 30th.