Taking the Mick
Ben Linfoot visits Donald McCain's yard ahead of the Cheltenham Festival and picks out some horses to follow.
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Nicholls, Henderson, McCain.
That's been the trifecta in the trainers' championship the last two years and this season it's a familiar story. Donald McCain sits third in the table behind Henderson and Nicholls (based on prize money), but numerically he's sent out more winners than the big two with 121 on the board.
Not bad going for a man who only took over the reins from his father, Aintree legend Ginger, in 2006.
Since then he's added his own name to the Grand National honours list, but the overall strength of the modern-day McCain operation can be evaluated by his success at the Cheltenham Festival.
Six winners in six years. Pretty, pretty good.
"Look, the job's going grand and we're training plenty of winners," says McCain, understating his rapid rise to the upper echelon of the training ranks. "We're building it quietly. If we can be the biggest yard in the north of England then that's great. And we'd be very proud of that. All I want to do is train nice horses."
"We've got a nice team going down. I'll only probably have one in each of the handicaps so we may be a little bit short there. Novice hurdlers, I've barely got one as the likes of Up And Go will skip the Festival. But the young chasers, Our Mick, Super Duty and The Real Milan are grand horses and I'd like to think they can compete. And then obviously you need a couple of strong fancies, and we've got those as well. It's grand. I'm happy."
Donald McCain on his Festival team
And nice horses can be seen everywhere at his Bankhouse stables in the heart of rural Cheshire.
Overturn. He's a nice horse. Second-favourite for the Arkle but McCain is relishing the prospect of taking on the red-hot Henderson-trained jolly, saying: "I think his style of racing could make it very difficult for Simonsig. He's been impressive but he hasn't been second in a Champion Hurdle."
The needle is there. You can feel it. You just know he's desperate for Overturn to smash the favourite up. Attempts are made to go further down the Simonsig-bashing route but McCain rocks back onto his heels and laughs. "I'm on my best behaviour today."
Cinders And Ashes. He's a nice horse. He hasn't had his ground this season but McCain is adamant he'll be a different proposition on better conditions. He gives him a "massive each-way chance" and it gets me thinking. Is the 14/1 about him the last remaining shred of value in the Champion Hurdle? It could be.
Super Duty. He's a nice horse. He's the favourite for the Kim Muir, but McCain is leaning towards the RSA with him as "it looks wide open if you take out David's horse." It's hard to argue with that. But the lure of the Kim Muir, a race he's won twice already with Cloudy Lane and Ballabriggs, could be hard to resist. It's certainly the easier option.
And Peddlers Cross. He's another nice horse. The apple of his trainer's eye, you feel, even now, even with the puppy-like enthusiastic Overturn thriving at the very top level. PC wouldn't have won over many with his performances in recent times, but he's still the best work horse McCain's ever seen. And the World Hurdle is wide open this season...
But, Overturn apart, the really nice horse, the really really nice horse, is OUR MICK. The great, big, grey, Our Mick. Third in the JLT Specialty last year, he's going to be running off a similar mark this time around in the same contest and caught the eye last time at Cheltenham on trials day, coming to grief late on when colliding with runaway winner Katenko. "He was running a nice race when Jason decided to jump off him," joked McCain. "If he'd jumped another fence he'd have gone up in the weights and he's the obvious one for the handicaps."
Indeed he is. But so is Son Of Flicka. A horse that has run abysmally all season but thrives when Festival time comes around. A second in 2011, a winner in 2012, he's the first one to be paraded and McCain hopes he " comes to himself over the next few weeks."
It wouldn't surprise you would it? Any Cheltenham Festival success from the McCain stable shouldn't surprise you. He's the man from the north who looks nailed on for a spot in that trifecta for years to come.