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Daly is bringing winners back to Downton once again

The last couple of seasons have not been kind to Ludlow’s resident trainer Henry Daly, who trains at Downton Hall, just 4 miles north east of the racecourse. Between December 2020 and the following March, his horses finished in front just twice, fittingly, the second victory in our own Forbra Gold Cup. As Henry told the Racing Post at the time, “We’ve just had a shocker, it’s just the way it was. It’s injuries, some of them haven’t been particularly healthy, and just a load of things. Nobody remembers when you’re second.” A little harsh a self-judgement from someone who’s trained over 600 winners.

Daly is of the old school of trainer, and it served him well during the golden days of fifteen years or so ago, when 30 winners from 250 runners a season was the norm, and horses like Young Spartacus and The Mighty Man were offering access to The Winners Enclosure at the Festival and Aintree. But it’s a competitive world out there, and the tradition of the owner-breeder has been largely superseded by the demand for instant results of the modern – day owner with deep pockets but short patience.

And patience is something you need in spades living in rural Shropshire, where for all the on-trend foodies propping up popular food or literature festivals at a certain time of year, the pace of life is slower than 100 miles further east. Were any statistics available to prove it, I’d stake a bet that life expectancy in the Welsh Marches is higher than in outer London, where the pace of life is somewhat more frenetic. Patience is also needed in spades when training horses; if there’s something to go wrong with them, it probably will.

Daly learnt his trade from none other than Captain Tim Forster, who probably christened the phrase “old school”. As a former cavalry officer, “the Captain” ran a highly efficient training operation, initially from Letcombe Regis, near Wantage, then, on invitation from former racecourse steward Micky Wiggin, at his family estate at Downton. Daly, as his assistant – or more probably ADC – was able to pick up the reins when Forster retired in 1998 after being diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

No-one doubts Daly’s training ability, but it’s a sad fact of today’s world that the pursuit of new owners with leisure pounds to spend is a more important part of any trainer’s business skillset than training thoroughbreds. The growth of syndicates with mass participation, has all but made the small owner-breeder the rump of the current ownership cadre. As the stated head of the organisation, the trainer is responsible for bringing new bloodstock, and the wherewithal to pay for it, into the yard. Daly won’t be alone in finding the art of selling his own talents a tricky sell, even slightly distasteful! Social media coverage from some bright young thing in the office is one thing, but schmoozing moneyed folk in the clubs of London or Birmingham is not everyone’s cup of tea. And by “bright young thing” in this instance, I mean Henry’s able and dynamic partner, Clarissa, who runs the Pony Racing Authority in her spare time.

At Hereford today, however, that long road back to the top continued for the Downton team when amateur Alice Stevens kicked home winner number 6 of the new term in the 3m Sky Sports 415 Hands & Heels Conditional Riders Handicap Hurdle. Assuredly not Daly’s finest winner, nor Hereford’s finest race, but one small piece in a rehabilitation back to more frequent success.

Go Henry, we’re rooting for you. Hereford on a Monday is merely an aperitif for bigger ambitions.

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