North Devon trainer hit by equine herpes virus is back on track with a new team of staff to prepare horses for year ahead
Victor Dartnall unveiled a strong team of horses, including plenty of exciting future prospects, for the forthcoming winter jump racing season at his annual owner's day, writes Lucy Johnson.
Dartnall endured a torrid time after the outbreak of equine herpes virus at his North Devon yard last November, which affected 25% of his 45 horses.
Three horses died, and it was also suspected of causing fatal heart attacks for two others. A number of horses needed round-the-clock care.
But wins from both Ambion Wood and Seebright in the spring, plus several decent placed horses, signalled that the yard near Barnstaple is back on song, and about 35 horses will represent the trainer this autumn and winter.
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"It was a very difficult time but I'm delighted to say we are almost back to full strength; we have one or two super new owners, and a particularly strong crop of young horses starting their careers in bumpers and over hurdles," said Dartnall, who revealed his new line-up at his open day on August 18.
A new team of staff has also joined Higher Shutscombe. Josh Guerriero, who is now assistant to Dan Skelton, has been replaced by Matt Hampton who will ride for the yard in amateur races and Ray Crow, who was with Ferdy Murphy, replaces head girl Rachel Robbins who is now training pointers. South African Gillian Forbes brings a wealth of experience from her time with leading Flat trainer Mark Johnston and also new are Leanne Buckingham and Ryan Timby who were both previously with Alan King.
They join Katie Essery, Flo Willis with Debbie Tucker keeping everything shipshape in the office.
Yard stalwarts Mic's Delight, Shammick Boy, Richards Sundance and Ace High all return to the fray with the latter expected to be aimed at the big staying handicap chases.
"He's a very exciting chaser but he's had an interrupted career to date. He's summered exceptionally well and we have high hopes for him this season," said Dartnall.
Both Shammick Boy and Mic's Delight will be sent handicap hurdling before being tried of fences, Richards Sundance will go hunter chasing, Henry King will go chasing and Roudoudou Ville, a winner of five races and anti-post favourite for the Byrne Group Plate until suffering an injury, has been given 18 months to fully recover and will run in the top two miles six furlong handicap chases as will consistent high class handicapper Tartak. The mud-loving top-class staying chaser Giles Cross is expected to run after Christmas.
Former winning point-to-pointer Silver Commander is very highly regarded and will be aimed at novice handicap chases along with Regal Presence who finished a good third in a novice chase at Towcester in May, and decent point-to-point winners Tresor De La Vie and Letmespeak will go chasing. Know More Oats, Un Bleu A L'Aam and Rugged Jack look to be the pick among the young hurdlers.
The bumper contingent are made up of Darloa, by the French-bred Darsi, Bindon Mill, a full brother to a multiple winner and by Tamure, Dancing Shadow, Kilmarnock Lad, Astre Rose, by the top French sire Al Namix, and two unnamed three-year-olds by Kayf Tara and Tamure.
A shift in policy at Higher Shutscombe, where Irish and French-bred youngsters are now being bought much younger and turned away at Higher Shutscombe as stores for the future, meant a handful of unnamed two and three-year-olds, were paraded which were sourced by renowned bloodstock agents Brian Murphy and Richard Hobson.
"It means we have a constant source of exceptionally well bred two and three-year-olds from both Ireland and France in the yard which we start from scratch," said Dartnall.
"The horses have been cantering and schooling and look very well and we are expecting to get going again in late September, early October, depending on the ground of course."