Ben Linfoot gets all the latest from Donald McCain's Bankhouse Stables in Cheshire as new recruit Cloudy Dream headlines a fresh-looking team ahead of the new season.
It was October 2015 when Paul and Clare Rooney removed 60 horses from the care of Donald McCain. The Bankhouse Stables trainer had just missed out on 100 winners in a season for the first time in four years, by a solitary victory, after the best three seasons of his career.
The heady days of 2011-12 (153 winners), 2012-13 (141 winners) and 2013-14 (142 winners) were soon consigned to the past. In 2015-16 McCain registered just 53 victories as he dealt with the blow of losing such a large portion of his string. Building back towards a century of winners in a season would take time.
But he’s bang on track to do just that, now. Three years on, following 80 winners in 2016-17 and then 98 last season, McCain has already registered 35 wins at a healthy 16 per cent strike-rate before the 2018-19 jumps season proper has begun in earnest.
Whisper it quietly, but he should do it. The stable is awash with young horses and fresh faces, replenished from the sales and point-to-points, and, other trainers’ yards, too. With Cloudy Dream and Mount Mews arriving from Ruth Jefferson’s, the boot is now on the other foot.
But still, McCain is reluctant to target the magic number. Even though he admits trainers’ lives are dominated by such figures. “I don’t really set targets,” he insists. “I just want to train nice horses for nice people.
“If you can train 100 winners a season then that’s a great season whichever way you look at it. We missed by two last year but we were close. That’s it really. We had 98 winners last season and if somebody said to me now you can have 98 again I’d probably take it because I’m not that brave.”
After the hot summer McCain says he hasn’t killed his horses to get them ready too early. He’s changed how he works them in a morning these days (less gallops) and you sense the long game is more important to him now than any short-term gain.
“We’ve got a stack of nice, new fresh faces in the yard and of last season’s bunch we’ve some nice novice hurdlers that were always going to be novice chasers, so it’s exciting,” he says.
“If we get around there again (the 100 mark) and there’s one or two nice days come out of it with good winners… if we can do that and they can stay healthy and we’ve one or two nice young prospects at the end of the season, then I’ll be happy.”
He’s settled in great. Absolutely fine. Every morning you see him he looks a real athlete and a high-class horse. It’s quite scary in a way, hoping you can do him justice as he’s been such a good horse for a number of years. He’ll probably go to the Old Roan at Aintree on Sunday. There’s nothing to stop us doing that at the moment and then I’ll learn more about him when I start running him. We’ll start off at two-and-a-half and we would train a bit different to what Malcolm and Ruth [Jefferson] had done, so there will be a little bit of trial and error and we’ll see. We’ll start him off at two-and-a-half, we know he’s okay with that, and I tend to learn more about my horses when I start running them.
I would’ve thought we’ll try and get a bit of practice into him, he’s not had a lot of racing over fences and he needs to go racing and learn his trade. He’s in good form, but the route I’m not sure. I think it’ll be fences, I think it’ll probably be three miles to start with and as we go along we’ll find out a bit more.
He’s grand. He’s a big, old-fashioned horse. He’s shown a good level of form and we bought him to run in those staying chases in the north of England, two-and-a-half to three mile chases. He loves heavy ground and he’ll find heavier ground in the north than he has in the south and that’s what he’s for.
He’s high enough in the weights and the reason he is high enough is because he’s very effective in deep ground round Haydock. He’s become a very efficient hurdler, it was average to start with but he’s become very slick and Haydock, being a very fast track, on deep ground, suits him down to the ground. He seems to love the place so there’s no point going anywhere else.
Katachenko’s been a nearly horse, he’s not had a lot of luck racing wise, he missed a lot of his ground through last winter. Federici might well go back to Aintree [for the Becher Chase] in December and Testify, it didn’t really happen for him in the second half of last season. The first part of the season as good and he might be better in small fields and deep ground, but he’s still a young horse, he was a highly-rated novice chaser last year and he’s still an exciting horse to have.
He still doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He’s very raw and finds life quite easy, which he did last season. We ran him up at Ayr just to put some manners on him really and teach him to race properly. I feel he’s fairly treated handicap wise going forward. His first run [at Carlisle, sixth] will be an educational occasion, as always as a chaser, as he’s not been the point-to-point route or anything like that. He’s a really nice horse, with a pedigree [related to Peddlers Cross] and he looks to have a really nice future. I don’t think he’ll go further than two-and-a-half. We’ll start at two and then go forward, but his jumping seems quite sharp and slick, so I wouldn’t be in a rush to go too much further.
He’s more of a three miler. He was second at Haydock in a Grade 2, got a long ay back over a trip that was a bit sharp for him and then he stepped up and ran a blinder at Aintree [in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle]. He was a bit unlucky actually, down to two out he got stopped in his run otherwise he would’ve been a bit closer. He’s a proper slow ground winter horse, I bought him out of his point to point as he looked effective over his fences and I’m really looking forward to him. At this moment in time I’ve no idea [where he’ll start] I’ve not rushed as he wants winter ground. We’ll go carefully and make sure it’s safe, I do like to start them at Carlisle if I can, but obviously you’re governed by where the novice chases are, so it’ll be one of the nice tracks anyway.
He’s been a star so far. He might well go to the first Cheltenham meeting this weekend, he’s been a bit unlucky not to have won all of his chases so far. He’s won me nine races in less than two years, but he doesn’t really catch people’s attention yet he knows how to win. His jumping’s become quite good and the ground would be on the faster side I would say for the first Cheltenham meeting so we might take a punt and see where we are. He’s in the 140s now.
He missed last season but had a similar profile to Uppertown Prince and Testify in that he won a nice novice hurdle down at Chepstow. I ran him in a Aintree handicap hurdle just to make him go up a bit as I did with The Last Samurai a few years earlier, just because they’d found life easy up until then and he ran a nice enough race. He could be a really exciting novice chaser.
Knockrobin’s a nice horse. He’s quite raw as well. He threw a race away at Sedgefield in April that he should’ve won and I ran him once too often just to try and nick another novice hurdle before he went chasing, but he’s every inch a chaser.
He’s another new horse I don’t know too much about, he’s only had the one run over fences and he needs abit of practice, but he goes well.
Novice Hurdlers, Juveniles and Bumper Horses
I’m not a massive fan of bumpers anymore to be honest, I don’t think they do what they were designed for. People try that hard to win bumpers to sell them and prove that they can win something, so they’ve become a different type of race. With handicapping the way it is now if we kick on over hurdles and it takes them one or two to get to grips with the job then you’re a long way down the road to get them where you need them to be, so I’m running less in bumpers than I ever have really...
Big horse, he’s quite eye-catching. A big grey horse with two white front legs, must be 17 hands. We’ve not rushed him but he’s coming through quite nicely, he does things easily. It’s highly unlikely he’ll run in a bumper and he’ll go straight up to two-and-a-half or more over hurdles. He’s an exciting horse.
He was a horse that I followed and tried to buy immediately after his point-to-point. I know they turned down big money for him at the time, he had a bit of a setback after that so I ended up a few months down the line at Doncaster sales when his profile wasn’t quite as impressive. It makes him a little bit more chancy but if he stays healthy he could be a very useful horse.
We only bought him out of a seller but he’s taken to the job really well. I think he can be even slicker as a jumper, he jumps better at home, and if he can get a bit more practice he can do well. He’s not a deep ground midwinter horse, he’s still a colt actually so we might castrate him over the winter and kick on into the spring with him.
He’s more effective on soft ground and stays very well. I’m sure he’ll get two-and-a-half in time and probably further. We were schooling him as a two-year-old, he’s only small but he’s very efficient and jumps really well. He wouldn’t be flash and you wouldn’t notice him much but he seems to know how to win. He could go to Wetherby for the Wensleydale Hurdle, there’s not that many options for an early juvenile.
We paid good money for him and we’ve not had that type of horse for a while. He was very impressive in his point-to-point and he’s not a big horse which is why he was not as dear as he could’ve been. He’s got a good French pedigree, a real good way of galloping and he’s exciting.
He’s a full-brother to Nefyn Bay who is a grand horse but has had lots of problems, with his wind and his joints and everything. I’m hoping this horse is like him but without the issues and all Nefyn Bay did is want to win. We trained his mother for Mr Hemmings and he’s lowish grade but has won plenty of races. This horse ran a nice race at Perth the first day and they were raving about the first two but he was the unraced horse in the race that finished up their tails. I’d be really hopeful he’ll be a nice horse.
Nice type of horse, by Yeats. He’s a nice type, bred by Malcolm Jefferson so a grand horse, but, like I say, they’ll all be well schooled and even if they run in a bumper they’ll be ready to run in a novice hurdle.
She’s the last of the Whiteoak foals by Flemensfirth and she’s probably the best of them. Obviously Whiteoak was the first Mares’ Hurdle winner at Cheltenham and a very decent horse, she ran well in the Champion Hurdle for us and everything. She ran a really nice race for us at Bangor in the spring, she was really immature and she goes really well at home.
Whiteoak Fleur isn’t from the family, but she put up a really taking performance first time out at Sedgefield last season, she had one more run in the spring and it was probably a bit too soon after Sedgefield, I was trying to get another one into her. She’s hard work at home so I wanted to get a bit of racing in and she’s a nice horse for mares races going forward. She’ll want two-and-a-half miles but there’s lots of opportunities for mares now.
THE CATTLEJOBBER, LORD SPRINGFIELD, CLASSIC IMPACT
These type of horses, I do follow my point-to-points closely. I don’t necessarily get to buy the sexy pedigrees, the most beautiful horses, but there’s a handful of horses there that are really nice individuals and it’s nice to get some fresh faces in the yard. They’re all quite exciting and Classic Impact’s a full-sister to Wymott and Testify.