Smart move helps put O’Brien on track to be­come top trainer

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Mar­cus Army­tage RAC­ING COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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

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