Smart move helps put O’Brien on track to become top trainer
For the past few years there has been a pattern to the jump trainers’ championship: Dan Skelton sets the early pace, until Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson takes over at the top in November or December and those two have it between them from thereon in.
But, nearly two months into this truncated summer jump season, which did not start until July 1, there is a new name at the top of the leaderboard: Fergal O’Brien, whose £87,000 in prize money and 19 winners have come at a strike rate of 28 per cent.
Indeed, O’Brien is going so well that Paddy Brennan, his stable jockey, is just four wins behind Brian Hughes in the jockeys’ title.
O’Brien, until 2019 a tenant in Nigel Twiston-Davies’s second yard, started moving into the new 80-box yard at Ravenswell Farm, Withington, near Cheltenham, a year ago and celebrated completion of the switch with three winners at Cheltenham’s October meeting. He has not looked back.
The farm belongs to Rupert Lowe, former chairman of Southampton football club, and from his point of view, with no interest in racing, it is purely a business proposition. O’Brien said: “We were casting around for a new place and
Jane Tufnell, an owner of mine, asked Rupert if he’d ever thought about it, and from our first visit in July 2018 he’s been phenomenal.
“We were originally planning 40 boxes, a few caravans for lads’ accommodation and a Portakabin for an office, but Peter Hall, a former owner who is an architect, said we could do this and this, so we now have 80 boxes, staff accommodation for eight, an owners’ room and an office on the same footprint of the barns that were already there.
“There is great turnout [100 acres], it’s an easy place to train and the staff love it. More by luck than judgment, the gallop is in the right place and probably key to it all. When they said jump racing would return on July 1, my owners took a punt and sent their horses back in mid-May, because no one was sure it would actually happen then.”
O’Brien has a further 30 horses to replace the summer jumpers in September. The two horses he is most looking forward to this winter are Champagne Well, who is set to go novice chasing, and Global Fame.
Out in front: Fergal O’Brien leads the race to be champion jump trainer with £87,000 in prize money and 19 winners this year