Marlborough trainer Emma Lavelle's new jumps season gets off the mark at Ffos Las
This will be Marlborough trainer Emma Lavelle's second full season at the Bonita Racing Stables in Ogbourne Maizey. Last season her horses flourished in the airy stables and on the all-weather and grass gallops.
Now with a full complement of seventy horses and full complement of staff she and her husband and Assistant Trainer, Barry Fenton, are keen to get into the new season: "We're very much looking forward to it - we've done the ground work with young horses that are ready to go - we've lots of potential."
Emma Lavelle Racing's first winner of the new season came on Saturday (October 22) with the five year-old mare Woolstone One in the opening Mares' Maiden Hurdle at Ffos Las. The going was 'soft (heavy in places)' and there was a strong wind and it was raining. Under Richard Johnson she came home half-a-length ahead of Arian.
She had won bumpers in December 2015 and January 2016, and this was her first outing since moving to Bonita. Afterwards Johnson said she had jumped and travelled really well: "She seemed to appreciate the very soft ground which obviously bodes well for the rest of the winter and she should win again."
Emma Lavelle was not at Ffos Las to see her victory. She was on a 'day trip' to New Jersey to see the nine-year-old gelding Casino Markets, who she trains for the Mighty Acorn Stables, go in the Far Hills' Grand National - aiming for a share of the $400,000 prize pot.
It was Casino Markets' third race during his stay in the United States - with Leighton Aspell aboard he came eighth of ten in August's Saratoga Stakes and then fourth in the Belmont Park Stakes in September - winning $10,000.
Disappointingly Casino Markets' rider in this third race, the Maryland-based Irish jockey Ross Geraghty, had to pull him up. He will be back at Bonita Stables by the end of the month.
The start of the season has had its ups and downs. The autumn start of the jump season is always tricky for trainers. The ground stays firm - often too firm for winter horses. Lavelle had entries for Worcester on October 12 - and fortunately decided not to go.
The meeting became farcical as the ground turned quicker than expected. One trainer said "It's like a road out there" and another said: "It's as fast today as it's been all summer." There were 33 non-runners and two races came down to two runners in each.
In Spring this year the four year-old filly Talent to Amuse won her first three races after moving from the flat (trained then by Roger Varian) to Emma Lavelle's yard to go hurdling.
She won a maiden hurdle at Stratford on Avon and novice hurdles at Kempton and Newton Abbot - all two milers and all under Daryl Jacob.
But on her first outing of the new season at Chepstow (Saturday, October 14) - again under Daryl Jacob - she fell at the first. She galloped away looking fine and her jockey walked calmly back.
Then two days later her owners, the Thurloe 55 of Thurloe Thoroughbreds, announced that she had fractured a bone behind her knee and would be out for the season. "But," they added, "she will be back for next season. Talent to Amuse is only four and has a bright future ahead once she recovers from this set back."
A huge disappointment. And those into the dark arts of coincidence might note that in her last race on the flat at Haydock exactly a year ago she came in eighth of twelve runners. That race was won by Withhold - who, on the Saturday of Talent to Amuse's misfortune, was busy running away with the Cesarewitch. Strange.
Another problem for trainers is the reduction in the number of bumpers - the National Hunt flat races that give young horses a first taste of racing. This is leading to over-subscribed entries. For example a bumper at Worcester later this week (October 25) has had 57 entries for a maximum field of 16.
Last season the yard had Daryl Jacob as a main jockey. Since then he has moved on. He stays as retained rider for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede and has linked up with Gloucestershire trainer Ben Pauling. But he will still ride Lavelle's horses when available - as she explains: "We'll be using the best available - we've got a great core of people riding out - and we'll use plenty of people who know the horses."
And this season Emma Lavelle Racing has taken on conditional jockey Patrick Cowley: "He's a very good rider with plenty of experience and is extremely keen to keep improving. We're excited to have him on board. We'll give him lots of opportunities."
Over the short time Emma and Barry have been at Ogbourne Maizey, the Bonita yard has improved and grown enormously. And 'bit by bit' more improvements are being made - next on the planning list will be a new gallop down by the bottom yard.
HERE'S ONE TO WATCH FROM EMMA LAVELLE RACING:
A five year-old bay gelding by Oscar out of Enniscoffey.
He has raced three times to date (23 October 2017):
1. 20 February 2017 - in a two-mile bumper on Lingfield's polytrack, in a close finish under Daryl Jacob, he 'held on gamely' to beat by a short head the Henderson-trained Take to Heart ridden by Nico de Boinville.
2. 7 April 2017 - with Aidan Coleman aboard, he came second at Aintree in the Weatherbys Private Bank bumper over two miles and 209 yards. Nineteen ran.He went clear inside the final furlong and stayed on well to finish two-and-a-half lengths behind the winner and nose in front of the third placed horse.
3. 12 October 2017 - he started the new jumps season in a two mile & two furlong novices hurdle at Exeter under Leighton Aspell. The ground was 'Good (Good to soft in places). From a field of ten runners he came in fourth - having bumped the first hurdle.
Enniscoffey Oscar is owned by the Pick 'N Mix Partnership. Emma Lavelle describes him as "...not over big, but incredibly athletic. He's by a sire we love."
"He's thrived since his arrival at Bonita - a very smart type."