Newmarket trainer Nick Littmoden is back on the winning trail over Jumps, recording his third winner from just 14 runners at Doncaster with 4 years old French import, Imperil. The 4 year old held off Graeme McPherson's challenger in the Novices Handicap Chase to win by 1 1/4l.
It's good to see Nick enjoying success again. As an enthusiastic amateur, I worked with him at Gerry Enright's yard in Sussex, before he branched out on his own from a satellite yard at Wolverhampton in the early days of the All-Weather there. When he moved back to Newmarket, and concentrated solely on the Flat, winners began to flow well, including a personal best in 2002 when his near 700 runners achieved 80 winners and £627,545 in prize money.
During those halcyon days, Listed and Group races proved that with the right firepower, the talent was there to exploit them. The Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot and Doncaster's Flying Childers promised a sunny future, as well as the Ayr Silver Cup.
This decade though, the going has been much tougher; so much so that Nick even had a spell outside the sport.
Nick's actually a Sussex man, brought up on the edge of the downs less than a mile from the old Lewes Racecourse. Yet despite its rural outlook, and despite the powerhouse of Goodwood within the county boundary, Sussex doesn't shout racing like some other counties. And dare I say it, since the disappearance of Josh Gifford and John Dunlop, the only major flagbearer in the county is the irrepressible Gary Moore, as versatile under either code.
Newmarket, of course, is predominantly a Flat town, but there's plenty of interest in the Jumps, more so now with some hefty prizes to be won in the upper reaches of the game. Kribensis, winner of the Champion Hurdle in 1990 was a brief and playful foray into Jumping for Michael Stoute, but nowadays, it tends to be among the younger trainers looking to make their mark that dual purpose yards are to be found.
Nick would be the first to admit that he's unlikely to be troubling the market leaders just yet, but his stats are worthy of note. A 21% strike rate is better than many larger competitors. There are always some gems to be found in the smaller yards, and no guarantee that small will remain small forever. This is a man who was Champion Trainer on the AWT no less than 5 times.