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

The Racing Paper - - Feature -

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

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