Beckhampton: Roger Charlton starts his flat season campaign with an exciting squad of two-year-olds - and some older timers
Roger Charlton hopes to run Ayrad, a 5-year-old chestnut owned by Saleh Al Homaizi and Imad Al Sagar, on Friday (April 22) at Sandown in the bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes. It all depends on the state of the ground.
The continuing wet weather that has affected the jump season so badly, is now starting to worry flat racing trainers. Earlier in the month Roger Charlton took two runners to Lingfiled and said he was "happy to be avoiding the softened turf elsewhere".
When Newbury's two-day Spring Trials meeting was lost to waterlogged ground, the major Saturday races were switched to Chelmsford's artificial surface course.
It was a tremendous organisational feat. But there were disadvantages - not all the trainers wanted their horses to run on Chelmsford's all-weather surface - which is considered to run fast. And with the Friday card abandoned, a clutch of maiden hurdle races was lost leaving several dozen horses still to find races to kick off their season.
Roger Charlton has every sympathy with jump trainers' problems during the season with some needing to run a horse who then gets "a harder race than you want it to have" on heavy ground. But he adds: "It's the same for everyone".
Bad weather can lead to all sorts of problems. In the terrible winter of 1947, when Tudor Minstrel was being prepared for The Guineas, they had to lay straw on part of Beckhampton's gallops so he could beat the frozen ground and get some proper exercise. He won in a record distance.
On a grey and decidedly chilly Monday morning the third group of horses in training with Roger Charlton are being ridden out. They start with a warm-up on the all-weather trotting ring - a fairly recent addition to the yard's facilities and he says a really valuable one.
They do not exercise on Sundays so they are quite fresh and after their warm-up need only to canter twice round the seven furlong wood chip gallop. This group is mainly two-year olds and includes two Frankel offspring.
There are five two-year-olds sired by Frankel at the Beckhampton yard. At the present stage of their development they appear to be taking as much after the mares as Frankel. One in particular is quite a small horse - at the moment.
Roger Charlton says that just twenty per cent of foals sired by outstanding thoroughbreds will have the potential to achieve similar results - the other eighty per cent will be good but not outstanding. This dose of reality gives some context to Frankel's £125,000 stud fee and the £1.15million paid for his first foal (in June 2014.)
As this flat season progresses it will be fascinating to see how the Frankel two-year-olds fare in their races.
Roger Charlton worked at Beckhampton for thirteen years as Jeremy Tree's Assistant Trainer and then took over the licence in 1990. He had a momentous first season with Sanglamore winning the French Derby and Quest for Fame winning the Epsom Derby. Beckhampton is one of the country's top yards and he now has his son Harry as his assistant trainer.
The Beckhampton Inn became a training yard in the late 1820s and sent out its first classic winner in 1839 - when Deception won the Oaks. Since then the yard has seen thirty classic winners trained on its famous gallops.
Some of its buildings and loose boxes go back to the 1890s. They still provide an excellent environment for the horses - their thick walls giving them a steady temperature.
Beckhampton's two yards have room for ninety horses in training. At the moment there are 85 horses there. The other five are still in pre-training or just waiting till the season is underway.
They should not wait too long - Roger Charlton says: "May is one of our most prolific months." But the yard has no entries for this June's Investec Derby: "We've not got really good three-year-olds this year."
Last year Beckhampton saw the retirement of one of its stars - Al Kazeem went to stud at Oakgrove Stud near Chepstow where he was bred by John Deer. Now Beckhampton has Al Kazeem's full brother in training - the two-year old colt Kazawi (Dubawi/Kazeem.)
So that's two horses under Roger Charlton's expert eye to watch this flat season - first Ayrad who is entered for the Group 1 Investec Coronation Cup at the Derby meeting on June 4. (He is also entered for a Newmarket one mile and four furlong race on April 30.) And secondly, the two-year-old Kazawi.
Apart from Ayrad there are other older horses to watch - like Quest for More who came ninth in the Melbourne Cup and won two important races last season - at Goodwood and Newcastle. And Countermeasure and Time Test - both entered for Newbury's Group 1 Lockinge Stakes on May 14.
That is not, of course, to forget those five Frankel-sired two-year-olds - Zefferino, Occurrence, Fair Eva and two more which are still to be named. It should be an exciting flat season - weather permitting.