“No Bullsh!t Ben, I want a squad of horses to be able to go down south with and take on the big boys! This is the best bunch of horses we have ever had and we are not scared to test them against the big yards from the south!”
Wow! If James Ewart’s horses have even half of the enthusiasm and drive of their boss then this up and coming yard are in for an outstanding season!
Every trainer should know their horses inside out but James Ewart was almost rapid fire with information when talking to me about his squad. There was simply nothing this man did not know about any of his horses. He knows the minutest detail about every single one of his string and has in-depth plans in place for each and every one of them. He prides himself on attention to detail, by his own admission he is always tweaking things, looking for that sweet spot, nothing is too small in the yard to warrant his full and unbridled attention. There is a stealthy determination in his voice, he wants those big horses, the ones that he can take to your Cheltenham’s, Kempton’s,Sandown’s and such places.
The yard itself is situated just outside of the village of Langholm in the Scottish Borders. It is your typically idyllic setting for training racehorses and they use the landscape around them well. There is a plethora of rolling hills around the yard with numerous forest tracks which they use to condition their horses. There is also a stream running along outside the front of the yard which they use on occasions for any of their horses that may have leg problems or niggles. Red Rum may have had the Irish Sea but the horses at Langholm have a luxurious Scottish stream at their disposal and they are not afraid to use it!
Perhaps one of the greatest assets the yard have is the 5 furlong circular gallop which is modelled on France’s Champion Jumps Trainer Guillaume Macaire’s own sand gallop. James used to work with Guillaume Macaire in his time over in France and this is another thing that is evident when talking to James; he has absorbed everything anyone has every told him about training horses and utilised that knowledge to his advantage. Through his career he has worked with the likes of Jonjo O’Neill, Nicky Henderson and Ferdy Murphy and I would reckon he has collated all the knowledge he has gained from these top National Hunt trainers and is now using it to build a team worthy of taking on his former employees.
As part of James’s on-going drive to establish his crack squad of horses he has implemented 3 major changes within the yard – the horses bedding, the feeding arrangements and the installation of a horse walker (very much his current pride and joy). He feels these 3 changes will make a massive difference to the yard and again it is this constant evolving and desire to improve that you just can’t help but be impressed with.
There has also been an important personnel change within the yard with the appointment of Brain Hughes as the new stable jockey. To my mind this is a huge capture for the yard. What you now have is a talented and up and coming jockey riding for an equally talented and up and coming trainer, a potentially lethal combination to go to war with!
I went to the yard with the thought of AIKMAN being the horse to put them on the map this season – I came away with the notion that there may be some even better talents than him lurking in the yard!
AIKMAN – For those of you that witnessed his demolition job on his seasonal return at Kelso let me tell you this; he was only around 80% fit that day! The plan for the 7yo now is to go chasing with a trip to Carlisle at the end of the month on the agenda for his fencing debut. They fully expect this one to be better over fences than he was over hurdles (140 rated hurdler). He has the physique of a chaser and he could well turn out to be a Grade 1 horse. The mid-season plan is the Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day. In typical James Ewart style he will be looking to start the horse off over 2 miles on his chase debut at Carlisle for the simple reason the first 4 fences he will face that day are uphill. The horse is still quite exuberant and this will give him the chance to settle on his chasing debut. There goes that absolute attention to detail again……
James thinks his ideal conditions are a flat right-handed galloping type track with good or good to soft underfoot conditions suiting him best – he could be very good indeed.
VOSGES – I went there thinking VOSGES may be a sneaky one to watch out for this season and came away thinking he may be even better than AIKMAN! Thats the impression I got from a couple of people in the yard, not just James. The plan for him is also to go novice chasing and he currently holds an entry at Kelso tomorrow (ground dependant). He is described as an athletic, brave, accurate and fast jumper and potentially the best jumper in the yard, in fact James described him as an AMAZING jumper! As a 4yo he gets an allowance going chasing and as he is pitched in to a novice handicap chase on debut there is every reason to believe he is well in at the weights, they fully expect him to make into a better chaser than a hurdler. He makes his chasing debut over 2m6f which is the furthest he will have run over but James has him marked as a stamina orientated horse so has this step up in trip as being ideal. This could be a very exciting horse for the yard…….
SA SUFFIT – Fit and raring to go with his first target of the season – the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. Forget last season is the word as they struggled with the weather with this one and things simply did not fall for him. They still think very highly of this 8yo and they are pretty confident he will do himself justice in the Charlie Hall. It’s easily his biggest assignment yet but he is in great shape and James and staff don’t think its out of the equation that he could run into a place at Wetherby.He looked magnificent to my eye whilst strutting his stuff in the yard.
The important thing for this boy is the ground, he needs cut and the more testing it is the better it is for him.
UEUETUOTL – The real dark horse in the yard. They are all very bullish about this one and think this could be a very special horse. The best 3yo in the yard (by some margin possibly) and it is being targeted at a bumper at Carlisle at the end of the month for its racecourse debut. They are confident of this one striking first time out and think there will need to be something very special in opposition to beat this one first time out. It was clear from listening to a number of people that this one is very high on the pecking order.
*ps. I’m not convinced my spelling of the name is 100% correct but its not far off!
THORLAK – How would I describe this one…..oh yeah it’s a half-brother to AZERTYUIOP (remember him??)! The best bred horse in the yard and another of the youngsters that James is super keen on. THORLAK is the 4th male from the dam Temera with the other 3 ‘boys’ having grossed well over £1 million in prize money, landing 7 Graded races in the process. This one has done plenty of work with the other horses in the yard and is more than a match for them. James joyfully tells me that his younger horses are the best horses in the yard and this lad sits in that bracket of being potentially high class.
The horse is currently for sale (as in James is looking for owners for him) and you never know you could be purchasing the next AZERTYUIOP! Wow, the mind boggles at that thought!
Make no mistake people this is a yard that is going places! The ammo is there to be heading south with – AIKMAN, VOSGES, SA SUFFIT (to name but a few) – and James is not scared of taking on the big boys, in fact I think he thrives on the idea!
As I was leaving the yard yesterday James was also heading out of the place on his way to Kelso. He was going to walk the track to make sure the ground conditions were what he was after for some of his entries this weekend. There is that attention to detail again, always tweaking and always checking everything is how he wants it to be. With commitment like this how can this up and coming yard fail to make an impact.
The south, you have been warned!
Part II of this article will be available over the weekend on the Blog.
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NTF National Hunt Service 2011/12
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