In less than a decade Rebecca Menzies has increased her numbers more than 10-fold – and yet there is a growing feeling that this may only be the start for a trainer with a burning desire to take her career to the next level.
It is no slight on the 33-year-old that few knew who Menzies was when she became Britain’s youngest trainer in 2013, aged just 24.
Having become obsessed with the sport as a teenager after meeting prominent owner Walter Gott, whose colours were carried to big-race success by Addington Boy and Granit d’Estruval, Menzies joined the latter’s trainer Ferdy Murphy, working her way up the ranks to become his assistant.
In the spring of 2013 it was announced that Murphy, a veteran trainer with 10 Cheltenham Festival winners on his CV, was to relocate to France, leaving Menzies to ponder her next move.
She said: “When I first found out Ferdy was going to France I was probably in a bit of a panic to be honest thinking ‘God, what am I going to do now?'
"I could have gone to work for someone else, and I did have a couple of job offers, but Ferdy said ‘why don’t you set up on your own? There’ll be a few horses from here with owners that don’t want to go France and it might be the only chance you’ll get to set up with a small group of horses you already know’.
“The problem was I didn’t have a yard and I hadn’t done the exams, so it was a very condensed summer doing the modules and trying to find somewhere to put these horses that were in the field.”
Menzies’ search for a base led to her taking over the reins from another powerhouse of northern racing in Peter Beaumont, best known as the trainer of 1993 Gold Cup hero Jodami.
With just half a dozen horses in her care and perhaps plenty waiting for her inevitable fall, Menzies admitted to self doubts – but any apprehension was significantly outweighed by sheer determination and a will to succeed and after just a few months with a licence, Menzies became the youngest ever female trainer in Britain to saddle a winner when Pistol Basc struck gold at Sedgefield.
“I suppose it was a little bit daunting, but at the same time I had nothing to lose by trying and that was what spurred me on,” she continued.
“Genuinely at the start the ambition was just to survive and try to have winners. For the first couple of years it was a question of whether it was going to work or not and making enough money to pay your bills and make it viable – it was literally bare survival.
“It was good we started with horses like Balding Banker who was my first runner, and Pistol Basc who was my first winner, because I already knew them so I knew what we needed to do with them.
“There were people that said ‘oh you’re too young’. I didn’t get any stick for being a girl, but being as young as I was there were a few people who thought ‘how do you know enough to be doing this?’.
"I actually did my modules with Dan Skelton and Charlie Appleby, so that was a little bit daunting as well, but at that stage we just had the six horses and I just needed to do the job with them and prove myself really."
After three successful years in Brandsby, which saw her string increase to around 25, in 2016 Menzies moved north to Howe Hills – a yard in County Durham owned by former trainer John Wade. With several of Wade’s horses still on the property, overnight the string was pushing 40, which led to a change in Menzies’ battle plan.
She said: “It was a big jump going from Brandsby to here – everything is on a much bigger scale. There is a bit of pressure that comes with that as we have brilliant facilities and the horses needed to deliver, but thankfully they did seem to improve when they came here.
“Obviously the more horses you get you can upscale things a little bit and get more staff and other targets start to become more achievable then because you have the people to help you do it. When we first started I was doing a lot myself, so it’s quite nice to be able to sit back and manage it more, rather than being so hands on.
“It’s still all about survival now, don’t get me wrong, but obviously we can relax a little bit more now knowing we’ve got a good system in place and good people."
Recent results for Team Menzies speak for themselves. In 2022 thus far she has saddled 32 Flat winners, comfortably eclipsing her previous best of 21 last year, while her current tally of 22 National Hunt winners is well on the way to last season’s tally of 31.
On a tranquil November morning she had 70 horses riding out, but there will be pushing 90 when some of the Flat string return earlier in the new year and there is room for three figures.
“We don’t really set targets in terms of numbers, as long as it gets better every year,” she said.
“It’s been a slow and sustainable build-up. We put in 35 new boxes last year and we didn’t fill them straight away, but we have now and hopefully the quality has gone up as well.”
That rise in quality is evidenced by a Listed winner on the Flat in 2020 courtesy of Stormy Girl and two over jumps earlier this year with Return Ticket and Fonzerelli.
Menzies is keen to continue to upgrade her string while also pointing out that sometimes the smaller fruits can be equally as sweet.
“We’ve got some nice National Hunt horses in training and some nice, young store horses that we can bring along slowly. It’s nice to have some blank canvases so you’re not just patching horses up from other yards, as we’ve done in the past,” she said.
“At the same time I don’t want to stop getting those horses. I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported me and I do like trying to get the horses that might be struggling for whatever reason and seeing if we can find the key to them here – I love trying to prove a point!
“Having those local winners has been a catalyst for getting some better ones and I enjoy going racing locally, as do a lot of people I train for, so I don’t want to lose sight of that at all.
“But obviously it would be nice to make those entries on a Saturday and go south with something you think could compete and hopefully we are starting to see that now.
“It’s only really this season when we’ve started to see these horses that will get three miles and are going chasing that you start to dream a little bit.”
Among the horses Menzies hopes might go on to bigger and better things this winter is Hasty Brook, who won a maiden hurdle in Ireland for Joseph O’Brien before twice finishing second over the smaller obstacles at Ayr in the spring. He is shortly set to embark on a career over fences.
“He did nothing wrong at all last season and has done well for his break,” Menzies added.
“He schools really well over fences and hopefully he’ll be one through the depths of winter that you can really rely on, hopefully on good tracks.”
Menzies also gave special mention to Lady Mendoza, who finished second on her recent hurdling debut at Newcastle and “could be quite exciting” for the Coral Racing Club, and Rafferty’s Return, who won twice over hurdles last season and is expected to improve significantly from his recent comeback run at Wetherby.
Lenebane is an interesting new recruit having finished second to Henry de Bromhead’s subsequent Grade Three winner Magical Zoe at Wexford in early September for Ross Sullivan, while Point Franklin – a half-brother to champion Flat stayer Order Of St George – is put forward as a horse to follow in the bumper sphere following a promising introduction at Aintree.
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