Johnathan Pow­ell spends a day at Lam­bourn with the trainer who has sprung to­wards the top of the tree

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Our award-win­ning writer meets trainer Clive Cox

Clive Cox’s sec­ond spell as a race­horse trainer has de­liv­ered a se­ries of big race vic­to­ries that have pitch­forked him ir­re­sistibly to­wards the top of the tree. To spend a morn­ing with him at his sta­bles on the roof of Lam­bourn is to marvel at his calm de­meanour and easy go­ing tem­per­a­ment as he goes about the stress­ful busi­ness of fine-tun­ing his team of 100 thor­ough­breds that have al­ready won more than 40 races this sea­son and over £1 mil­lion in prize money. It surely helps that the yard and gal­lops he rents are owned by John Fran­come, an old chum from his rid­ing days.The mood al­ways light­ens when Fran­come is present be­cause the canny for­mer cham­pion jockey can­not re­sist try­ing out his lat­est risqué jokes on sta­ble lads and vis­it­ing own­ers. The fo­cus of trainer and land­lord is on the next big chal­lenge for the sear­ingly fast sprinter Harry An­gel who re­cently gave Cox his sec­ond vic­tory in the Group 1 Dar­ley July Cup at New­mar­ket. Con­fi­dence is high as the count­down con­tin­ues to­wards the Sprint Cup at Hay­dock early in Septem­ber for which he is al­ready a warm favourite. The trainer says ad­mir­ingly: “This horse has ma­tured and grown up over the summer and proved at New­mar­ket that he was a man. “Go­ing there we didn’t think we were tilt­ing at wind­mills be­cause he was only beaten three quar­ters of a length by Car­avag­gio at Royal As­cot when things didn’t re­ally go our way. “He was so well in him­self that day,and a bit too fresh.He ran with the choke out and never had a chance to get a blow in.

“With ma­tu­rity and rac­ing he has be­come the fin­ished ar­ti­cle and you’d have to say he looked pretty spe­cial at New­mar­ket in out­run­ning Brando and Li­mato with Car­avag­gio only fourth. I’m very proud of him.”

Th­ese are heady days for Cox who,like so many fine train­ers,learned his trade as a jump jockey. In his best sea­son he rode 33 win­ners but he is prob­a­bly most widely re­mem­bered for part­ner­ing the favourite Sa­cred Path in the 1988 Grand Na­tional.

Theirs was a short jour­ney as they fell at the first fence.Cox can laugh about it now though at the time he de­scribed it as the big­gest anti-cli­max of his life.

On the way home his wife Tina didn’t speak for the first hour be­fore he fi­nally sug­gested,“Come on, it’s not that bad.”

Tina then re­vealed that her hand­bag had been stolen while she was watch­ing the big race.

“LIver­pool seemed an aw­fully long way from home that night,” he re­calls.

When he stopped rid­ing in 1990 he turned to train­ing at a lit­tle yard near Woot­ton Bas­sett in Wiltshire close to the Lon­don to Cardiff rail­way line with Tina

putting to­gether a few syn­di­cates.

They worked prodi­giously long hours for min­i­mal re­ward and it was an up­hill strug­gle be­fore he handed in his li­cence and joined forces with his friend Mikey Heaton-El­lis, an in­spi­ra­tional fig­ure who bravely over­came be­ing paral­ysed in a race fall to make a suc­cess of train­ing be­fore his un­timely death from mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease in 1999.

Af­ter nine fruit­ful years as as­sis­tant trainer to Heaton-El­lis at Bar­bury Cas­tle, Cox was ready to take the plunge again and jumped at the chance to take over the reins as salaried em­ployee of Elite Rac­ing at Fran­come’s Beech­down sta­bles.When that deal ended it made sense for him to rent di­rect from Fran­come.

The re­sults th­ese past few years have been un­de­ni­ably im­pres­sive, though the mod­est Cox is so un­der­stated you al­most have to drag the names of all his ma­jor win­ners from him.

The list is get­ting longer by the sea­son. Lethal Force, who cost only 8,500 Euros was a bril­liant sprinter who won the Di­a­mond Ju­bilee and July Cup, Harry An­gel, another bar­gain at £44,000 looks ev­ery bit as good if not bet­ter, while Xten­sion, Kodi Bear, Prof­itable, Reck­less Aban­don, New Seeker, Gilt Edge Girl, Price­less, Jimmy Styles and My Dream Boat have all been flag­bear­ers for the yard.

Then there is the jaunty two-year-old filly Heartache,leased by a syn­di­cate of 70 en­thu­si­asts, who danced to a no­table vic­tory in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal As­cot in June, beat­ing a heav­ily backed Amer­i­can trained favourite.

Cox has a happy knack of un­earthing smart ju­ve­niles at af­ford­able prices for his own­ers and sev­eral of them have sub­se­quently been sold on for life-chang­ing fig­ures.

Harry An­gel, for in­stance, now runs in the colours of Sheikh Mo­hammed’s Godol­phin team, who bought him this spring from Peter Ridgers, a 70-year-old char­tered ac­coun­tant, af­ter eye-catch­ing vic­to­ries in the Mill Reef and Sandy Lane Stakes.

Lethal Force is now on the stal­lion ros­ter at the Cheve­ley Park Stud while Harry An­gel will even­tu­ally stand at the Sheikh’s Dar­ley Stud in New­mar­ket.

Cox clearly has an eye for stock and talks fondly of the day he paid £44,000 for Harry An­gel at the Doncaster year­ling sales in 2015.He had bought Xten­sion,his first Group 2 win­ner, from Paul McCar­tan and was en­cour­aged that Harry An­gel was out of a half-sis­ter to that horse.

Aware that Harry An­gel’s sire Dark An­gel was a hit among breed­ers and train­ers alike, he feared that the young­ster would be well out of his price range.

“I en­joy buy­ing into fam­i­lies that I know and trust so he was ob­vi­ously on the list of year­lings I planned to look at with John Reid who helps me at the sales.

“Harry An­gel was full of pres­ence, ath­letic, a gor­geous looker with every­thing you want in a horse so I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to get him.But you never know and I was thrilled and as­ton­ished to be able to se­cure him for £44,000,”he re­lates.

“He was very keen at home ahead of his first out­ing at As­cot as a two-year-old and keen in the race, too, so did well to run the odds-on favourite to a nose.

“Adam Kirby gave him a beau­ti­ful,kind ride, wasn’t hard on him at all, which has been well re­warded since.”

There was a blip next time at Glo­ri­ous Good­wood when Harry An­gel be­came so wound up at the start he re­fused to en­ter the stalls. He has been mak­ing up for it ever since and with more im­prove­ment to come should give Cox and Kirby many more days in the sun.

Kirby is in no doubt about the colt’s tal­ent as he says “Harry An­gel is a ma­chine,the best around and the best you will see for a long time.I truly be­lieve that. He is so ex­cit­ing to ride. I’d take on any sprinter with him.”

Clive Cox, far right, helps lead in Lethal Force and jockey Adam Kirby af­ter win­ning the 2013 Dar­ley July Cup

John Fran­come

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