Beckett’s so happy to make it a family affair
Nick Townsend talks to trainer Ralph Beckett about his current winning strike rate of 30 per cent
Remind Ralph Beckett that he has embarked on what could be described as a backend-of-the-season winner binge – and he wryly contends that it couldn’t be more timely.
“As a wise man once told me, it’s always a good idea to be going well in the autumn because that’s when people decide where to put their horses next season,” the three-time Classic-winning trainer reflects.
You suggest to him that such wisdom must have been imparted by Peter Walwyn, to whom Beckett was the late dual Flat champion and Derby-winning trainer’s assistant for four years, and took over the running of his Windsor House, Lambourn yard on his retirement in 2000. “No, it wasn’t Peter,” says the trainer. “But I’m sure he would have ascribed to that view.”
Beckett’s current winning strike rate of around 30 per cent in the last fortnight – with another 30 per cent placed – would been the envy of Walwyn; indeed any trainer. Just as crucially, five winners in that period have been two-year-olds in a season in which his juveniles have amassed 17 winners overall. It bodes well for next season.
Notably, they include Antonia De Vega, who secured the Ladbrokes Prestige Stakes at Goodwood, and will contest next Friday’s Group 1 bet365 Fillies Mile at Newmarket. Others winners whom Beckett believes will progress next season include Chaleur, Sand Share (third in the Group 2 William Hill May Hill Stakes at Doncaster), Manuela De Vega, Guildhall, Nivaldo and Glance.
Yet, he is acutely aware, particularly after last year when his current Kimpton Down base near Andover was afflicted by first a low-grade virus and then Ringworm which meant a disappointing tally for the season, just how capricious this business can be.
This was the man who oversaw two of his most talented charges, Simple Verse and Secret Gesture prevail in major events in 2015, only for them both to be disqualified. Simple Verse was reinstated after the Beckett team won an appeal against her being demoted and placed second in the St Leger. But there was no similar correction of the result after Secret Gesture was demoted from winner to third in the Grade 1 Beverley D Stakes at Arlington Park, Chicago.
Jay Hovdey, the leading U.S. turf writer described Beckett’s year as “character-building”. As the trainer observed ruefully at the time, “it was a bit more than that”.
Beckett looks back now, and still speaks of the “the inequity of it all”. He adds: “If either, or of them, deserved to be disqualified, that would have been different. But I don’t think that anybody thought the decision in Chicago was fair and, under our rules, there was no way the St Leger decision was fair. In America, I wasn’t surprised. I remember watching the headon, and saying to Kevin Darley, representative of Sheikh Fahad (Al Thani, who owned both Simple Verse and Secret Gesture) ‘we’re going to lose this’. But after the St Leger, I was astonished at the inconsistency of the decision as much as anything else.”
Those much-debated episodes, within a month, can easily distract from Beckett’s achievements in recent years in saddling Talent and the aforementioned Secret Gesture to be first and second in the 2013 Oaks – the first trainer since Noel Murless, 41 years previously, to do so – while Simple Verse was the first filly to claim that 2015 St Leger since User Friendly in 1992.
Beckett, below, has long been associated with a penchant for training fillies and mares. He believes they flourish in the quieter environment of his yard, rather than one of the main training centres
The trainer also secured a first Oaks triumph in 2008 with Look Here, dam of Here And Now, who represents him in next Saturday’s Dubai £500,000 Cesarewitch at Newmarket.
“Training members of the same family can be a real advantage,” he says. “You get to see things in them that you you’ve seen in other members of the family
– the whole picture, when to press on with them, when to not, various factors that help you in their proboth gression, or sometimes lack of progression.”
On Wednesday, his two-yearold debutant Stormwave comfortably justified favouritism at Salisbury. “I trained his dam (Celtic Slipper) who was third in the May Hill (Group 2 Doncaster), second in the Prestige (Group 3 Goodwood) and who won an Italian Group 3,” he recalls. I also trained his sister Moonlight Landing who won the Listed Grand Cup at York. It’s a good example of families I know well.”
Racing was certainly in his family’s blood. His grandfather, 3rd Baron Grimthorpe, a partner in the Leeds firm of Beckett & Co., which later became part of the Westminster Bank, bred racehorses. They included Fortina, the 1947 Cheltenham Gold Cup victor. Beckett’s cousin is Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to Khalid Abdullah. Beckett’s career began with the late Jimmy Fitzgerald, the Maltonbased trainer of 1985 Cheltenham Gold Cup victor Forgive’N Forget. “Most people who came out of Norton Grange will tell you it wasn’t a place for anyone with a thin skin,” he recalls affectionately. “But a lot of us came out of there – including Richard Fahey, Ger Lyons, John Quinn and Brian Ellison – all benefitted greatly from being there.”
After spells with Arthur Moore and Martin Pipe, Beckett joined Walwyn, winner of the 1975 Derby with Grundy, and spent four years as his assistant before succeeding him at Windsor House at the age of 28.
“Peter gave me a wonderful opportunity. I didn’t inherit an awful lot of horses from him, but I did inherit an awful lot of goodwill. That counted for a lot.”
In 2006, he took over Whitsbury Manor, formerly David Elsworth’s base, before acquiring Kimpton Down in 2011. His patrons include such names as Khalid Abdulla, Qatar Racing and Kirsten Rausing. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall’s Pacify is trained by Beckett.
“Training for owner-breeders is a privilege,” says the 47-yearold father of two whose wife, Isabelle, is responsible for the financial side of the operation and also rides out. “They understand the game, how it works. There are bumps on the road that come along, but they tend to take them on the chin. It makes life a whole lot more straightforward.”
Beckett, who is chairman of the Flat committee of the National Trainers’ Federation, takes a vociferous stance on may issues in racing – as a glance at his website testifies.
But ask him his principal concern, and he puts it succinctly: “Too much Flat racing in the winter. Too much all-weather racing in the summer. And too much jump racing in the summer. I remember they asked for trainers’ opinions when summer jump racing was introduced. Each trainer came out with a paragraph of why they thought it was positive or negative, and they asked Jimmy Fitzgerald. And he said: ‘Whoever thought it up was drunk.’ That was his only line. I always remember that when I think about summer jumping.
He adds: “Equally, the amount of all-weather racing we have now…the horse population doesn’t match the fixture list. That makes no sense to me. It’s crazy. That would be the first thing I would change. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.”
What does appear to make sense is that this assertive, energetic character is just the man that the sport requires to move forward positively. In the meantime, in the of haven of Kimpton Down things are very definitely on the up.
“Training members of the same family can be a real advantage. You get to see things in them that you’ve seen in other family members”
Talented twoyear-old: Antonia De Vega ridden by Harry Bentley wins the Rossdales British EBF Maiden Fillies' Stakes