There are two stables on an upward trajectory in Naunton, near Cheltenham, where Fergal O’Brien shares the gallops day-to-day with former boss Nigel Twiston-Davies.
O’Brien enjoyed his best-ever season in 2016-17 with 60 winners and a second in the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival with Barney Dwan.
His yard has already made a strong start to the new season and he has plenty of promising runners to look forward to. Here he talks to us about their prospects.
Master Dee and Creevytennant were set to go for the Badger Ales Trophy. What are the plans for them now they have been targeted elsewhere?
Master Dee goes to Aintree for a 2m4f handicap chase. The trip should really suit him. Creevytennant goes for a veterans’ chase at Sandown on Sunday and that should be just what he wants.
Looking back to last weekend, Colin’s Sister was a good winner at Wetherby. What did you make of her performance?
It was a much better performance than even we expected, she did surprise us. We went there not to just make up the numbers. We thought we could get in the places and there’s good prize-money, plus it was a good place for her to start. The manner in which she went through the race and picked the others up was phenomenal and surprised us all. It give us other options and we could go for that stayers’ hurdle at Newbury in December.
Cap Soleil looks another smart filly after her win at Newbury. Would you agree?
It was a bit like Colin’s Sister in that we thought she’d run well, but we genuinely didn’t expect her to win. She’d been working well at home but the second Countister is smart and Dame Rose, who was third, won a Grade 2 bumper at Aintree. It’s been one of the best performances by any horses this season, in my opinion.
Jockey Paddy Brennan is a big part of your team. What is he like to work with?
He’s brilliant and he’s always looking forward. He’s always planning what the best next step for a horse is and he’s a huge part of the team.
You train from the same base as Nigel Twiston-Davies. Is there much competition between you?
I wouldn’t say it’s a competition because he’s got a lot more horses than we have! We do try and compete at the races and I worked with Nigel for 18 years, so he’s a guy I admire and respect a lot. He’s a very good trainer and I’m very lucky to be here and have the horses and owners we’ve got.
You seems keen to promote the social side of racing a lot. What is the reason for that?
It’s not a cheap hobby. If you’re paying a lot of money and just waiting until you go to the races to get your fun then you’re going to spend a lot of the time disappointed. We try to be a friendly and open yard and a lot of owners come on a Saturday and go for breakfast together. They get to know each other and it’s a lovely side to it.
Barney Dwan made his debut over fences this week. What did you make of his performance?
We had to be happy with it. The ground wasn’t ideal and in hindsight if I’d have had my time again I probably wouldn’t have run him. The did go a gear slower as a result and he had a nice time jumping-wise as a result, which was important after having two bad experiences last year when jumping. I was very happy with him and Noel Fehily said the horse gave him a lovely feel and that he’ll be a different horse on better ground.
Lord Of The Island and Chase The Spud were stars for you last season. How are they?
Unfortunately Lord Of The Island is out injured this season, but he’ll be back next year and we’re looking forward to that. Chase The Spud will hopefully go to Haydock at the end of the month for a three mile 0-145 handicap chase. He’s in great form.
And, finally, what is the aim for this season?
Just to be consistent. Consistency in racing is one of the most difficult things as people go in and out of form. But if you can be consistent and have those winners that’s what we want. If we do that we’ll get to 61 winners, which is the target as we had 60 last season, and things will be okay.