New enterprise for Nicholls
Our Ian Ogg visited Manor Farm Stables as a new syndicate, Ditcheat Thoroughbreds, was officially unveiled on Wednesday.
What a pleasant change to hear a trainer brimming with confidence ahead of the start of the time of year when the jumps season is about to go through the gears.
Circumspection is not often the preferred route towards the end of September. Instead champion trainer Paul Nicholls warns that his team – of whom 128 are in full work at present – are, if anything, well ahead of where they were at this time last year.
Nicholls is almost buzzing, but it is a particular squadron among his battalions that he particularly wants to talk about today. For a man who claims to be no good at marketing, he does a pretty good job.
Ditcheat Thoroughbreds is not just about buying a share in a racehorse, he says.
"This is about being involved with top jockeys and a top team and enjoying it. We're not pretending it's cheap [shares are priced between £6,950 and £15,950 for the first year and £3,500 for the second] but we wanted it to be a sensible price and for people to have a lot of fun; it's not just about the raceday, it's about the whole involvement with Team Ditcheat which has been my philosophy with all my owners and all of my horses since the beginning."
Ian Fogg, the director and driving force behind the syndicate, hasn't been there since the beginning, indeed he is a relative newcomer to both Ditcheat (the village) and horseracing but he has quickly been bitten by the bug and enjoyed one of his best days on the racecourse when Vicente won the Scottish Grand National in the spring.
The retired Fogg had noticed the rise in popularity of syndicates and had long discussed the possibility of setting up one as a business to keep him busy until this summer his hand was rather forced.
"This is Ian's baby," Nicholls continued.
"He's been talking about it for a while and the opportunity came up in the summer because Potensis Bloodstock decided to sell all their jumps horses across the board and there were several really nice ones that we had that I thought would be ideal in a syndicate so we got together and put a group of eight horses together.
"We could have done three but we thought there was an opportunity to buy eight really nice horses and get a syndicate together that could be involved in really nice horses.
"The horses were bought to be top-class jumpers and were suddenly on the market, so the idea is to have high-class horses who can hopefully compete at a better level at the big Saturday courses; we can run them for two years and hopefully at the end of the two years there will be a good residual value in the horses."
There are actually nine horses in the syndicate but the ninth is not being actively marketed as he is an unraced three-year-old by Milan out of Native Mo, the dam of Grade One winning novice chaser Native River.
The flagbearer of the team may well be Jessber's Dream, the only one of the ex-Potensis horses to have been purchased through the ring when knocked down for 190,000 guineas at Doncaster in August.
The smart mare is a winner of three of her seven starts but is not likely to be back in action until November when the ground turns soft. She "could mix it over hurdles and fences" this season although the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is the medium-term dream.
Nearer to hand though, Ditcheat Thoroughbreds could have their first runner as soon as Monday with Marracudja set to make his chasing debut at Newton Abbot.
The five-year-old has not been out since pulling up in a Grade One at Aintree but had previously run Winter Escape second in the Sky Bet Dovecote Novices' Hurdle and his trainer is excited about the future.
"I actually entered three in the race but if it stays dry he'll run which will be quite an exciting day," Nicholls said.
"We're going to start at Newton Abbot with him then we might progress to Cheltenham and if he did that well then he might end up going in something like the Henry VIII if he was good enough, he's got to progress but he does want good ground, he doesn't want it too soft.
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""He's not the easiest in the world to train at home. He's a bit sharp and loves getting on with the job – basically he loves bowling along in front.
"He's by Martaline and, in this country, they all want decent ground. In France every time we race at Auteuil they always say heavy, very soft but we were there two meetings ago and it was like that [pointing to the tarmac on the drive] so you can't always judge. You always get the perception that they want soft ground but it's not always the case."
It will be a little longer until Orbasa is in action but Nicholls hopes that he will be able to progress from his novice chase season and already has his eyes on a valuable early season prize.
"Orbasa came in a little bit later and probably won't run until the end of October," he continued.
"He's quite a smart chaser, he won one last year at Fontwell and was second at Ascot and Ayr; he could end up in something like the Paddy Power Gold Cup. He's a big strong horse but he's a bit behind the others and a bit burly because we gave him an extra week out."
He could be joined in the Paddy Power Gold Cup by Frodon who surprised Nicholls when winning at Newton Abbot last week.
"The first one I ran last week, of the winter horses, Frodon, won at Newton Abbot and I thought he was half fit," he explained.
"He jumped well. He had a run over fences in France and he could be an interesting horse to have in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. They're well forward but you don't want to do too much with them."
As Nicholls spoke, a host of familiar names passed by to or from the gallops, while the syndicate horses warmed down with the trainer calling out their names as they passed.
It may be a few more weeks until some of the bigger names are in action but All Set To Go is living up to his name and has been pencilled in for the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las which will be run in October rather than January this season.
Nicholls is busy making plans for the syndicate horses who are all quite forward in their work and they could include a rare foray on the Flat for French recruit Garo De Juilley.
"We've got a Flat licence and Megan's trying to persuade me to run him on the Flat and we might do that," the Champion Trainer explained.
"We've just bought him from France and he's won four on the Flat and he won his last start at Deauville over a mile and a half; he's got quite a nice handicap mark so we might just give him a run on the Flat before we go jumping.
"He'd never jumped a hurdle until a month ago so we've just been doing quite a lot of jumping with him and he jumps nicely."
He was also visibly excited by Coillte Lass, asking her groom how she had compared with Jessber's Dream on the way back and seeming more than happy with the reply that 'she stayed with her all the way'.
"I'd say she could be very smart," he said. "She won her point-to-point in Ireland in the spring and she goes very nicely; she won't be too far off a run in a couple of weeks' time."
One horse that is bound to attract his share of attention whether he warrants it or not is Clo Sacre whose dam is a half-sister to Sprinter Sacre's dam.
The four-year-old has already experienced his share of drama having fallen at the second last on his point-to-point debut – when "he would have won" – before being called the winner at the Berkeley by the commentator, only for the judge to disagree.
"I never worried about it but I saw the video the other day and he did win!" Nicholls said.
"It doesn't matter whether he won or finished second. He had a run and galloped and jumped and he's a really nice horse."
Nice horses are the foundation stone of the syndicate but it is not the only thing that Fogg has been concentrating on.
"We want to give people a really, really nice experience on a raceday," he explained.
"There will be a meet and greet and sometimes we'll get a box and sometimes there will be some hospitality; basically we are going to look after people on the racecourse and make sure that when they leave – win lose or draw – they've had a really nice day out.
"We want it to be special, we want to be at the top end of everything and we want people to go home having had a marvellous time."
For a man who was claiming he was still to start marketing the syndicate, Nicholls seemed to be doing a pretty good job, although as he quite rightly pointed out "the success of the horses will draw people in".
Success is something the 10-times champion trainer knows a bit about. On that basis, it surely won't be long before the marketing side of things looks after itself.
For more information about Ditcheat Thoroughbreds, go to www.DitcheatThoroughbreds.com
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