The fu­ture’s or­ange for re­vived bell

Jonathan Pow­ell talks to a trainer cur­rently on the crest of a wave

Racing Ahead - - CON­TENTS -

Michael Bell’s first job in rac­ing af­ter he left the Army was a three­year stint as a mad keen as­sis­tant to Mercy Rimell, an out­stand­ing jumps trainer who died ear­lier this month at the ven­er­a­ble age of 98.

Mercy was an in­sti­tu­tion in the rac­ing world, forth­right, en­ter­tain­ing, a fund of knowl­edge and full of com­mon sense which she rel­ished pass­ing on to younger gen­er­a­tions.

Of all the would-be young train­ers who passed through her sta­bles at Kin­ner­s­ley, Mercy had a soft spot for Bell who was al­ways too big to be a jockey though he mem­o­rably won a hunter chase for her at Chel­tenham on Ten Cher­ries who would go on to run in the Grand Na­tional.

At an early stage it was clear Bell had all the qual­i­ties nec­es­sary to make a suc­cess­ful trainer and duly moved on to work as an as­sis­tant to Derby win­ning trainer Paul Cole atWhat­combe.

Michael’s fa­ther played his part, too, by pur­chas­ing two year­lings to put in train­ing with Cole. One of them Pass the Peace, who cost a mod­est £9,000, proved to be a top class filly at two.

When Bell set up as a trainer on his own at New­mar­ket in 1989, Pass the Peace, by now three,was a bril­liant flag­ship for him, pro­vid­ing his first win­ner in a Group race, the Fred Dar­ling Stakes, a tra­di­tional trial for the 1,000 Guineas.

In time, Bell sold Pass the Peace to Sheikh Mo­hammed which al­lowed him to pur­chase FItzroy Lodge, the yard in New- mar­ket that he had been rent­ing for three years.

I re­mem­ber him telling me on my first visit:“This is an oa­sis in the cen­tre of the town with the gal­lops either side of us. I’d say with ev­ery­thing so ac­ces­si­ble it means that there are lower lev­els of stress in the yard for both the horses and us and that must con­trib­ute to their well-be­ing.”

Pass the Peace was all speed but Fitzroy Lodge has a rich his­tory of de­liv­er­ing Derby win­ners and Bell added his name to the list in 2005 with a rare sure­ness of touch in his prepa­ra­tion of Mo­ti­va­tor, the 3-1 favourite, who won with au­thor­ity.

Four years later, Bell took his sec­ond Ep­som Clas­sic, the Oaks, with Sariska.

Now he is de­servedly in the lime­light again af­ter the su­perbly game vic­tory of his hardy stayer Big Or­ange in the As­cot Gold Cup in June by a short head in a heart-stop­ping fin­ish with the rag­ing hot favourite Or­der of St Ge­orge.

With Bell’s brother Ru­pert com­men­tat­ing on the race for talkSPORT and his nephew Oli Bell shout­ing the win­ner home while work­ing for ITV’s As­cot team, this was very much a fam­ily af­fair which un­der­stand­ably left all three close to tears in a touch­ing out­pour­ing of emo­tion.

Ru­pert Bell rather gave away his al­le­giance to the win­ner when, with half a fur­long to run, he sud­denly bel­lowed: “Come on,Big Or­ange.”

While Oli Bell ad­mit­ted: “I was a bit em­bar­rassed be­cause peo­ple saw me run­ning down af­ter the horse,only for me to re­alise that he is quicker than me so I stopped.”

The horse who does it the hard way from the front end had show­cased his chance for Royal As­cot with a highly im­pres­sive tri­umph in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown with the as­sis­tance of a well judged ride by Frankie Det­tori.

When Det­tori was forced out of As­cot af­ter crack­ing a bone in his shoul­der,Bell turned to Godol­phin’s re­tained jockey James Doyle who had never rid­den the horse be­fore.

You would not have known it as he set a solid tempo on the long strid­ing Big Or­ange de­spite be­ing har­ried for the lead for a while by Quest For More.

Clear on the turn, Big Or­ange found plenty in front on his first at­tempt at two and a half miles and though Or­der of St Ge­orge fin­ished with a flour­ish the

photo showed that he was still a whisker be­hind at the line.

Next up for the ad­mirable win­ner is the chal­lenge of try­ing to win the Good­wood Cup for the third suc­ces­sive year, a feat never achieved be­fore though the splen­did war­rior Dou­ble Trig­ger, with a flaxen mane and tail, won it three times in 1995, 1997 and 1998 be­fore em­bark­ing on a long ca­reer as a stal­lion.

No won­der Michael Bell de­scribes Big Or­ange as an ab­so­lute su­per­star.

“He gives his all ev­ery time and has a heart as big as him­self. I can’t praise his at­ti­tude enough be­cause he is colos­sal and wants to race. On fast ground in the mid­dle of sum­mer he is a mon­ster,” he says.

“We knew he would prob­a­bly have to do the don­key work at As­cot but we were happy to do that as you can’t check his stride pat­tern. You have to use it. Quest For More did try to take us on for a while but he wasn’t go­ing fast enough for us.

“James had a long chat with Frankie ahead of the race and it paid off be­cause I thought he was in to­tal charge of the sit­u­a­tion. Then in the clos­ing stages I was pray­ing for the win­ning post to come in time and it did.

“The Gold Cup is the fea­ture race of the meet­ing and I can’t tell you the pride I have in Big Or­ange in tak­ing on a very good horse in a proper race and beat­ing him fair and square.”

Doyle re­vealed that Det­tori had ad­vised him not to in­ter­fere with Big Or­ange’s ground de­vour­ing stride.

He ex­plained:“This horse knows what speed he wants to go and you just sit as a pas­sen­ger.Quest For More did lead us for a bit un­til I pulled him out and he pricked his ears nicely.I had Frankie’s voice in my head as I eased him ahead and let him bowl.

“While he was in front a long time and got a bit lonely I think if some­thing had joined him a bit sooner he would have won a bit more im­pres­sively.

“I al­ways felt he was hold­ing Or­der of St Ge­orge when he came to us and knew he had won cross­ing the line.He has be­come the peo­ple’s horse and is a plea­sure to ride, a proper old fash­ioned stayer who wears his heart on his sleeve and tried so hard, a real bat­tle-har­dened cham­pion.

“I just wish most horses I rode tried as hard as him.”

The plan had been to run Big Or­ange in last year’s Gold Cup un­til heavy rain spoiled the party and he was with­drawn on the day. Since then he has won a sec­ond Good­wood Cup be­fore a work­ing trip around the world that took him to Aus­tralia for the Mel­bourne Cup, Hong Kong and Dubai where he fin­ished a close fourth to Vazirabad.

It was no­table that in Dubai he was rid­den for the first time by Frankie Det­tori who was cho­sen by his owner breeder Bill Gred­ley to re­place his reg­u­lar jockey Jamie Spencer.

Bell ex­plains: “Bill is a man of opin­ion and he wanted a change of hands on the reins. He and Frankie used to be neigh­bours in Stetch­worth and he rides okay.”

For Gred­ley,the plea­sure of own­ing and breed­ing a hardy geld­ing like Big Or­ange is that pro­vided he stays sound he can con­tinue to per­form at the high­est level for years given the right con­di­tions un­der­foot.

Gred­ley was taken to the high­est peaks rac­ing can of­fer by the ex­ploits of his won­der­ful home-bred mare User Friendly who fa­mously won the Oaks, Ir­ish Oaks, York­shire Oaks and St Leger.

He talks with un­der­stand­able pride of the fan club Big Or­ange has gained from a series of gritty, uplift­ing per­for­mances on the track.

“He has touched an aw­ful lot of rac­ing folk, never more so than at As­cot. They need horses to sup­port and you can see why they have picked him.I wasn’t sure he would stay the ex­tra trip in the Gold Cup but Michael had no doubts, rea­son­ing that he got two miles well at the age of four and is big­ger and stronger now.”

If the cards had fallen dif­fer­ently Big Or­ange might have been rac­ing in dif­fer---

ent colours through­out his ca­reer.

Bell ex­plains:“He was a big,raw prod­uct as a year­ling,and a box walker so didn’t go to the sales as he would have made a ham sand­wich!

“Later when we saw him at a break­ing yard as a two year old Bill wasn’t gong to send him into train­ing.

“But then he can­tered by and we said ‘God, that horse moves well, let’s give it a go and the rest is his­tory.

“Big Or­ange has a very good mind and de­cent limbs as well.That com­bi­na­tion is a po­tent force.

“He is an enor­mous horse and they tend to ma­ture and get bet­ter with age. It also helps that he has a mas­sive stride, a high cruis­ing speed and never knows when he is beaten.

“At Good­wood last year I thought he was in trou­ble when he was headed but he fought back to win the race and af­ter­wards Jamie Spencer said he was al­ways go­ing to win.”

I leave the last word on this ad­mirably tough record seek­ing stayer to Twyron Lloyd-Jones whose role as Bell’s head lad in­cludes look­ing af­ter Big Or­ange.

He left rac­ing for a while in 2005 when his son needed heart surgery but has never had cause to re­gret his de­ci­sion to re­turn to his old boss a few years later.

Lloyd-Jones ad­mits: “We come into rac­ing for horses like Big Or­ange who wears his heart on his sleeve.He is a on­cein-a-life­time horse and I do ev­ery­thing with him.

“While I knew he’d started to get a fol­low­ing I wasn’t pre­pared for the amaz­ing re­cep­tion he got at As­cot.It was an in­cred­i­ble re­sponse from the crowd.

“That’s when I broke down, when I re­alised ex­actly what he had done. It was so close I couldn’t tell if he had won and I also had Oli Bell beat­ing me up and slap­ping me at the fin­ish.

“Af­ter he had fin­ished do­ing that I man­aged to get to the horse and the lead into the win­ner’s en­clo­sure was some­thing else. I’ll never for­get it.”

We could be in for more of the same if the big horse with the al­most tan­gi­ble will to win com­pletes the tre­ble at Good­wood on Au­gust 1.



Michael Bell

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