Point-to-Point graduates Martin and Belinda Keighley have grown a training business the hard way from the very bottom, but to their credit, they've never strayed far from their roots. The pair, now in their 18th season, learnt their craft from David "Duke" Nicholson in Condicote, a village that remains synonymous with Jump racing. Although the Duke's yard has now become part of chocolate box Cotswold fine living, the Keighleys continue to train less than half a mile distant at Luckley Farm, equidistant between Condicote and Longborough.
And on a fine autumn morning this Sunday, Martin was able to show invited guests some of the yongsters he has sourced that he hopes will put him back among the winners and Saturday races this season. Over 200 guests enjoyed a select group of young horses paraded and worked up the gallops by visiting jockeys Leighton Aspell and James Best, amongst some of the regular staff and those that ride out at Luckley.
The parade was led by Champion Court, now retired and lead horse at the yard. A winner of 8 races and nearly £200,000 in prize money between 2010-15, Champion Court's finest moment was winning the Grade II Silver Trophy Chase in April 2013, but he achieved his highest ever rating the following season, when touched off half a length by Riverside Theatre in the Peterborough at Huntingdon. As Martin added, "He owes us nothing, and we're pleased to have him here."
Fifty individual horses ran for the stable last season, running up 20 winners from 10 individual horses, and £146,765 in winnings. The stable has started well this summer with 6 winners already and £61,245 under their belt. Replenishing the yard with fresh novices, hurdlers and chasers, has been the mission, as some of the older favourites have found a new calling. The yard is ambitious for a return to the glory days of the middle of this decade, when prize money hauls in excess of £200,000 were the norm, and an influx of yoiung horses looks the opportunity to make this a reality. Thisis a yard that s no stranger to success at the highest level with 7 Graded winners to their name, but very conscious of their roots in between the flags.
Big Nasty is a massive chasing type, placed in Bumpers, and most recently second in his Novice Hurdle bow at Wetherby in April, he is set to start his season over hurdles before graduating to Novice chases. By Black Sam Bellamy out of Hello My Lovely, he has already acquired a rating of 120lbs, good enough to rank pretty highly in leading novice company.
Last season's flagbearers Mr Mafia (4 winners), Solstice Star (3) and Lord Condi (3) all return this season. Indeed, Mr Mafia has already had a busy summer , notching up back to back wins at Southwell in July from 6 runs. However, juvenile Sarasota Star is one to catch Martin's eye. Still a maiden after 5 runs on the all-weatherm he appears tough and genuine, and is being prepared for a juvenile hurdle debut in October.
Ben Buie is also one to watch. A five year old son of Presenting out of Change of Plan, his record to date has not yet been enough to merit a decent rating. However, he should show some talent for the popular Martin Keighley Racing Club. The Club, limited to just 10-0 members paying £500 per year, runs 3 horses and looks among the best value in racing. For those wishing to enjoy racing on a budget, this looks exceptional value.
Three others were paraded t the admiring guests. Be Thankful, a fourt year old chestnut filly, switched from Roger Charlton in MAy and has been running on the Flat over the summer. She will be ready to run o ver hurdles in October. Primogeniture, an eight year old bay gelding, is already a winner of a handicap chase this summer for the Racing Club, and will come out again soon, and can be expected to add to that tally; and City Never Sleeps, again in the ownership of the Racing Club, has been knocking on the door recently, a runner-up in his last handicap hurdle start at Southwell earlier this month. He has been schooled over fences and will go novice chasing.
The yard is full, and planning consent has been applied for a further 10 boxes in a new barn to bring the full strength to sixty. This is a Gloucestershire yard that is concentric around winning at Cheltenham, built with a solid foundation of knowledge built from success at venues like Andoversford. Belinda's 10 winners under Rules and between the flags provide Martin a very solid support to make this yard among the most friendly and inclusive in the county.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)