Wiltshire in the vanguard of British assault on Cheltenham
The last two seasons have seen nothing less than a meteoric change of fortune for Sutton Veny handler Milton Harris, doubling his profile of Graded winners, and placing himself firmly mid division in the Trainers' rankings.
The form that has seen him train no less than 46 winners this term continued this week with a haul of 3 run-of-the-mill races at Wincanton yesterday and Leicester today in preparation for a tilt next week at one of the biggest races of the season - the JCB Triumph Hurdle, with the unbeaten Knight Salute.
The amiable Harris will field a maximum team of seven for next week's rite of Spring, in which Knight Salute, winner of the Grade II Adonis, Summit and JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial races at Kempton, Doncaster and Cheltenham, is a short-priced 10/1 to upset the Irish, with his stablemate Silver Shade in the same race at four times that price.
Silver Shade is also entered in the Boodles Fred Winter Hurdle on Tuesday with stable companion Aliomaana, whilst Mullenbeg seeks to upset the Irish dominance of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
It's all a far cry from 2011, when Harris was declared bankrupt and had his licence rescinded, which I guess goes to show that persistence is everything in this sport. When Sh*t happens, you dust yourself down, get back in the saddle and kick on again.
Another kicking on is Georgie Nicholls, one time partner of champion trainer Paul. This family has racing coursing through their blood in every generation. Paul needs little introduction, and daughter Megan from his first marriage is an accomplished flat rider. Georgie, now living in Kingston Lisle, teamed up today with Will Biddick to bring home a winner of a six runner hunter chase at Leicester.
Meanwhile, followers of the Point-to-Point scene will have seen Olive, the 16 year old daughter of Paul and Georgie, riding around the West Country circuits this winter. She looks to be perpetuating the family passion for the sport whilst studying for her GCSEs at Cokethorpe School, just south of Witney. This might be just the sort of incentive to get Cokethorpe to recognize the benefits of an association with the sport. Watch this space.
Up in the north of the county is another trainer with aspirations to Cheltenham success. Unlike Harris however, Alan King is no stranger to success in the top flight under both codes. Edwardstone is a keen favourite for the Arkle Trophy on Tuesday, aiming to end a Festival winner drought and bring the Barbury Festival tally to 16. Both Harris and King will testify to the concentration of wealth in the very few hands at the top of the tree that ha sought out the best bloodstock lines to win our top races. Intuition, a sharp eye for a horse that can improve, and fluke all play a part in sourcing horses at a reasonable price that can go on to Grade I success.
It's eyes peeled next week for a week for Wiltshire to remember.