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Trainer Mark Walford prepares to take over from father Tim
AT the helm of a tractor that looks like it first saw action long before he was born, Mark Walford carves a path – like an icebreaker – through the mud to the bottom of the gallop.
There, nostrils flaring and on tip-toes, await the young horses set to be put through their morning paces.
His instructions are brief, but clear. It’s a gentle canter today – a chance to assess progress long before any of these participants will get out on to the battlefield of the racecourse for real.
But there’s a different feel to operations at Cornborough Manor, in Sheriff Hutton, these days.
The elder Walford, Tim, is back in the yard having just tractored out several huge lumps of hay past some unsuspecting cows into a byre.
There’s the saying ‘One day son, all this will be yours’. For Walford junior, that time is almost now.
The baton – in this case the training licence – will be passed over next month and it is 30-year-old Mark who will be charged with taking the next step in developing a quarter of a century of training tradition.
They’ve not had the resources of a Richard Fahey, or the big winners of a Brian Ellison, but the Walfords are shrewd and resourceful.
Who can forget The Grey Berry? Bought for £9,000 and sold on 18 months later for more than a third of a million.
Then there was Ubi Ace, another six-figure sale after he had been developed into a talented hurdler that won a Listed race at Sandown.
These are big shoes to fill, and Walford knows it. He’s steeped in the Cornborough tradition.
He grew up on the farm, surrounded by 350 idyllic acres and a view that belongs in any picture postcard book of Yorkshire’s beautiful countryside. On a clear day, you can see York Minster.
He’s served his apprenticeship too – a two-year spell with Mick Channon and a job with Norton’s John Quinn preceding six years spent learning the trade from his dad, along with mum Gill.
So he’s ready and he knows he is lucky. He also realises, to coin the cliche, that with great power comes great responsibility.
“It’s not something I am taking lightly. I have got to perform,” he said. “I know the place inside and out. There are a lot of memories here and a lot more good ones to come.
“I learned from John Quinn that one thing he never did – when he had a winner – was bask in the glory. He was always straight on to the next one. That’s important. You can’t be complacent. No matter how well you are doing, it can all go wrong. You have to make sure it doesn’t.
“We’ve got a good team of staff, everything is in place, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a success.”
Training wasn’t Walford’s first choice. He almost joined the rat race, aiming to further his education, before he found his true vocation.
“I was planning to go to university, do some degree that would have got me nowhere and a lot of debt, and I went off that idea,” he explained.
“My dad got me an interview at Mick Channon’s. I remember coming back from somewhere and he said, ‘You’ve got an interview there on Monday’. I said, ‘Where’s that dad?’ and it was Newbury.
“I got the map out and I started looking down and when I got past Doncaster I thought, ‘bloody hell, he’s sending me miles away here’.
“I got the bug there. It was an amazing place and he was a good guy to work for. I was green when I went there, and definitely not as green when I came back.
“I went on to John Quinn and, after having spent two years at Mick’s, I knew this was what I wanted to do.
“I feel like I am ready. I wouldn’t have been ready three years ago. I’ve got a family, I feel everything is settled and I am ready to do it.”
The name on the licence will be his, and Walford senior admits he is ready to take a back seat, but this has always been a family operation and that’s not going to change.
“Me, mum and dad work as a team and we all have different ideas on things,” Walford said.
“We generally come to an agreement. At the moment, when we don’t, my dad’s decision is final. In the future, when we don’t come to an agreement, it will be my decision. I think he’ll be okay. From conversations we have had, he seems fairly ready to let me step forward.
“He’ll still be there. It’s great for me. He has so much experience and it is something I want to use.
“It will be invaluable – his experience and my mum’s.
“What my dad has done is up the quality every year. We’ve had some not so good years but he has always taken a risk, bought horses on spec that we didn’t have owners for and we’ve got some really good quality horses.”
Walford is excited about Shimla Dawn, a ten-length winner at Market Rasen last month, Northern Oscar – “mentally, he’s a baby but he will be a chaser in time” – and an interesting recruit in Barleycorn Lady, a £28,000 foal which he describes as a “great athlete”.
“It’s massively exciting,” Walford enthused. “There are a lot of nice horses. We’ve also got the old horses that are always going to pick up a couple of races.
“Flat-wise, we haven’t got a massive amount. We’d struggle to have 15 for the first season but I’d want to have ten winners. Minimum. I think that’s quite achievable.
“This is a huge opportunity. There won’t be many that get the opportunity to start training in a yard with 30 horses and the quality that we have got. I am looking forward to it.”
For more information about Walford, and the new Cornborough Racing Club, log on to www.timwalford.co.uk
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