It was something of a shock to hear that Rebecca Curtis is down to 18 horses. The trainer has endured a difficult few seasons following a change in her personal life and finds herself with a string a third of the size it was a few years ago.
Fortunately, there are some promising individuals among them, including Joe Farrell, who gave Curtis a huge boost when edging home in the Scottish Grand National in April.
That Curtis picked out Joe Farrell – for a bargain £10,000 – at the horses-in-training sales should come as no surprise. While she excelled with dual Grade 1-winning hurdler At Fishers Cross, her forte, it appears, is training staying chasers, the likes of O’Faolains Boy, Irish Cavalier and Teaforthree, names that will be well known to jump racing fans.
Her challenge now is to unearth a new batch of names to take her to all the big meetings and festivals. Undaunted, Curtis retains confidence in her ability to do exactly that.
“I know I’ve got all the right tools,” she tells Chris Cook. “We can pick good horses, train them really well, we do really well with three-mile chasers and novices.
“I’m not too bothered with having loads of runners as long as the ones we have are quality, and we have got some nice horses this year.
“We haven’t got the same flow of horses that we used to. But I think a lot of yards are like that. It’s just looking for that next break. Everyone wants that one owner that will have five, ten, 20 horses with you.
“If we are given the right type of horses, we will do as well as any yard. We have made a good start to this season.”
One man who Curtis can rely on for support is Nigel Morris, who has the aptly-named Relentless Dreamer with the west Wales trainer. Relentless Dreamer has already provided a highlight this year, taking a valuable handicap chase at Cheltenham’s opening meeting in October.
The owner has ambitious plans for his chaser and retains faith that Curtis is the woman to help him achieve his goals.
Morris says: “Rebecca was the right choice and it’s been a great journey over the last five and a half years.
“She’s had a difficult patch but we’ve had some good times. She’s an exceptional trainer and I’ve learnt a lot.
“Her yard is in a spectacular setting and I’ve really enjoyed watching the horses develop; for me that’s an important part of the ownership experience.”
Norman Williamson is synonymous with jump racing following a superb riding career when he was associated with the likes of Master Oats and Teeton Mill – exactly the type of horses Rebecca Curtis would have loved to train.
Now a noted consignor from his Oak Tree Farm, it is Williamson’s job to find and sell future stars, which he does for the Flat at the breeze-ups and the NH market at store sales.
He has sold on top-level winners under both codes but admits which is his favourite.
“I am still a jumping man at heart and love the National Hunt side of the business,” Williamson tells Tim Richards.
“With stores you’re not worried about galloping them, or sore shins, whereas the breeze-ups can be stressful. We buy the majority of stores as foals and keep them until three.
“The real satisfaction is watching a horse you liked from day one go on and achieve something for their owners.
“I think most people selling horses are rearing them as well and just enjoy being around nice horses all the time – and hopefully making a good living.”