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Little birdie tells Tim Walford the solution
THEY say one swallow does not make a summer – but for Tim Walford it seems a few nests of them can certainly ruin one.
Something was wrong at Cornborough Manor, he knew that, but putting a finger on what was to blame was a head scratcher. There had been a virus at the Sheriff Hutton yard, that was certain, but they don’t last much.
The weeks went on, however, and still the horses weren’t right.
Not until the feathered friends that cluster in the trees round the stables and barns at the picturesque yard took flight. Suddenly, according to Walford, it was as if the gloom that covered the place suddenly lifted.
“They just weren’t quite firing and it is hard to put a finger on it. I do think when the swallows went, though, the horses were spot on. We do have nests around but what do you do, kill the lot?” he chuckled.
He can see the funny side now but, at the time, the downturn in form was no laughing matter.
Not since 2006 has Walford endured such scarcity in victories – only four times has he been to the winner’s circle in this Flat campaign. Not for four years has he run so few horses, 61, on the level.
And when bad luck strikes, it hits indiscriminately.
“It’s bound to affect you,” Walford continued. “We have had an incredible amount of bad luck. We’ve lost three horses – who died – and two of them were proven horses. We just had some disasters.
“The worst thing that happened was to Diablo Dancer, who was probably my best filly. She would probably have won at York, was a half-sister to Ubi Ace, and she just kicked in her stable. We don’t even know what she kicked.
“She cut into her hind pastern and never raced again. It was a complete fluke and bad luck. We had some good owners, who had high expectations of her. That was the biggest blow. It’s been very significant.
“We have had lows before and we have been in the job a long time – with pointers first and we had a similar season with them (in the past) and I could never really knock that one on the head. I don’t think the horses have been firing.
“We did have a virus but they do not last for months. Of course they don’t. They last maybe three weeks while they have them and three weeks while they get over them. It’s six weeks at the most but it was a lot longer than that.
“They are firing now. I can see it. They are keen and kicking and they are different again. You know when you are walking round. With the level of horse that we have had, in general, you need everything to be right. You need all the boxes ticked to win races. We haven’t even had half of those boxes ticked.”
If the richer yields of the Flat can sometimes pay the bills, it is the jumps that captivates Walford – ‘when there is schooling I don’t often miss it’ – and he is hoping he has a number of future winners waiting to get out over hurdles and fences, even if they take a little more time to get ready.
Walford added: “I have some super young horses but, they are young and we have paid a bit for one or two of them. You can’t rush those jumpers. On the Flat, the turnover is so much quicker.
“You soon find out if your yearling is any good.
“With a jumper, he can be four or five and, even then, you are not quite sure. They need much more time. Among these young horses I have got a gorgeous Desert King horse, unnamed, and I’ve got a lovely horse that we ran once last season when we shouldn’t have.
“I’ve several really lovely horses. The aim is to run all of them this year but they might have hiccups. There’s a few young ones ready to run. On the Flat, we are also definitely going to get a few yearlings this time.
“I’ve gone for ones in the past who are too immature. They have been all right in the end but we are going to try to buy more mature types that have a lot better chance of winning as two-year-olds.”
All of which leaves Walford optimistic he will soon be flying high once again – because he is well aware that another season like this one will be hard to swallow.
Picture: Paul Greenwood
TIME to say goodbye to Frankel. When Sir Henry Cecil saddles the wonder horse at Ascot for the QIPCO Champion Stakes tomorrow, the poignancy of the moment will be far from lost on him.
The trainer, who owns Cliff Stud, near Helmsley, has lived and breathed every step Frankel has taken along the way over the last three years, and few who saw his devastating victory in the Juddmonte International at York Racecourse in August is likely to forget it.
Ahead of what is expected to be his last appearance on the track, Cecil said of Frankel: “I am so lucky to have been allocated Frankel to train. He has been an inspiration and challenge, which I really needed so badly.”