On Friday 10th February the Racing Breaks team were lucky enough to be invited to visit Fergal O'Brien's training yard just outside Cheltenham. The timing of the trip couldn't have been better with Fergal and his team picking up their 50th winner of the season the day before when Petite Power put in a brilliant performance to hold off 7 rivals in a handicap at Huntington!
For those of you who aren't aware, Fergal is a National Hunt trainer who is currently enjoying his most successful season to date with 51 winners from 258 runs which gives him an impressive strike rate of just a touch under 20%.
Fergal has been training horses since 1989 when he started under the guidance of Captain T A Forster. He spent around 3 and a half years there before moving to a private trainer for just under another year. In 1992 he spent 2 months working with Ginger McCain (best known for training three time winner of the Grand National, Red Rum) before he went on to training for Nigel Twiston-Davies. He spent 18 years with Nigel before making the decision to strike it out on his own! As of today he has been an independent trainer for 5 years and as mentioned is currently experiencing his most successful season yet!
We took the opportunity to ask what Fergal believed was his best moment as a trainer over the last 5 years - he couldn't decide on just one so gave us his top three instead!
- Dark Energy's first 5 wins under him as a trainer
- Lord Landen's win at Cheltenham in December 2015
- Alvarado coming 4th in the Grand National in 2016
Fergal will be hoping the last of those moments can be eclipsed this year as Perfect Candidate was drawn inside the top 15 of the weights for the Grand National at the Ceremony in London earlier this week.
The training yard itself is home to 43 horses which are trained by Fergal and his team and he also has another 10 horses at other yards. Whilst at the yard we visited the two gallops that are on-site, one of these is made up of fibre sand and carpet and is a steep tough surface which gives the horses a great work-out, the other is 5 furlongs long and slightly easier. He shares the gallops with Nigel Twiston-Davies and they alternate use of each of the tracks throughout the week!
Spending the morning around the yard was a fantastic experience to see exactly what goes on "behind the scenes" and getting to meet all the team that help train and look after all the horses on a daily basis was brilliant. When spending a day at the races you sometimes forget that looking after, caring for and training these horses is a full-time job, and a great deal of work goes in to getting a horse to that start line for each race. Even more reason for the celebrations each time a horse returns a winner - something Fergal and his team are getting very used to this season!
Something that really stood out from our visit, was Fergal receiving a congratulatory message from fellow NH trainer Paul Nicholls. As a trainer with over 25 years experience it was brilliant to see that he recognised what a great achievement it was for the yard to break the 50 winners in a season barrier! Horses may be up against each other come the raceday but behind the scenes trainers celebrating each others success is something truly amazing.
If you check the Fergal O'Brien racing Twitter (@FOBRacing) you will see that when people visit it is common courtesy to take cake for everyone at the yard, it has become such a tradition that they even have their own hashtag of #GreatFOBbakeoff! We also took part in this tradition as you can see from some of the images below...well, we couldn't turn up empty handed after 50 winners!
Full up on cake and tea and before leaving we had to ask Fergal which horses he believed would be ones to watch next season! He named Imperial Elixir and an as yet unnamed horse by Scirocco, so keep your eyes out for those!
We would like to thank Fergal O'Brien and his whole team for hosting us last week and making us feel so welcome. If you love racing and have never visited a yard before we recommend you get in touch with the team there, but make sure you brush up on your baking skills first!