It feels as if there are more new trainers within the National Hunt ranks than ever before. By “new”, I mean emerging talents within the past handful of years. Of course it always takes a couple of years for the ‘awareness’ factor to kick in, unless your name is Dan Skelton, who came straight out of the Paul Nicholls Training School and took his place at the top table.
§Skelton is one of a small number of these ‘newbies’ who is astonishingly talented. He is a serious trainer, a big-time, big-prize hunter and if you like your betting, you write his horses off at your peril.
The other young trainer I’d throw into the “heavyweight” category is Harry Fry. Fry is still in his 20s although to look at and to listen to you could easily be mistaken for thinking he’s been around since jump racing began. He has gravity, he is unfussy, he rarely allows emotions to get the better of him and he is a sensational trainer of some extremely talented horses.
When Unowhatimeaharry won at Cheltenham last weekend, the winning connections — the Harry Fry Racing Club — went berserk, and it was great to see. Meanwhile, the winning trainer adjusted his tie, afforded himself a small smile and prepared for a round of interviews with the assembled media which could have made Jacob Rees-Mogg look like the proverbial wild-child.
Fry is destined to be around for decades to come. He and Skelton could yet emerge to be the new Nicholls and Henderson — titans of the game and arch rivals of the highest order. Skelton and Fry are chalk and cheese. One in his leather jacket and hollering home his winners, the other in his tweed suit and covert coat, quietly plotting his way to the big prizes.
It’s two years on from Skelton’s biggest win of his career, when Willow’s Saviour took The Ladbroke, but I think this Saturday could be another Fry Day. Fry’s horse — Jolly’s Cracked It — is attracting the kind of antepost support that makes bookies sit and concentrate. He’s an unspectacular horse who might just be coming to the boil at the right time — much like his trainer.
A belated snippet of parish gossip reached my ears whilst I was racing at Cheltenham last weekend, relating to the ongoing discussion over Channel 4’s role as incumbent broadcaster of terrestrial racing. Much has been made of falling viewing figures and the possible interest from rival broadcasters Sky and ITV.
ITV in particular, it seems, have some innovative ways of seeking to generate interest in our sport around the biggest days of the year — the Cheltenham Festival, Grand National, Derby and Royal Ascot. Step forward Norris, Rita and the cast of Coronation Street.
Script writers would be encouraged to weave in discussions at Kev’s garage and the Rover’s Return that centre around the upcoming races. For me, it’s an inspired move. Racing continually navel-gazes about its ability to reach out to new audiences. As Bev pours a pint of Best for Tyrone, her casual reference to whether or not Venetia’s hotpot will stay the Aintree trip will reach out to over 10 million viewers in an instant. I think that’s worth much more than a hotpot. Watch this space.
Last week I wrote about my heightened anticipation around the shopping village at Cheltenham. If any reader can prove that they attended purely on my advice (more fool you), I will refund you somehow: the “shopping village” was little more than half a dozen stalls at the bottom of the parade ring selling over-priced art and a few charitable Christmas cards. It left me feeling anything but charitable and I am now officially well behind on my Christmas shopping!
Image: Cheltenham racecourse by Arpingstone via Wikimedia Commons, public domain