So competitive are the autumn horses in training sales nowadays. with deep pocketed buyers from around the world ever more involved, that netting yourself the winner of a fair race first time up for £50,000 or so takes some doing.
Samuel Spade came into Tattersalls’ Park Paddocks’ ring in October having won one of his ten races for the David O’Meara yard and running to a Racing Post rating of just 55 at Doncaster four days previously.
However, trainer Ben Pauling and Highflyer Bloodstock saw enough potential in the then three-year-old to fork out 47,000gns, and, in the silks of ROA member Emma Palmer, were rewarded at Kempton’s Christmas meeting when the son of Myboycharlie made a winning bow over hurdles.
He followed that up by finishing a good second to favourite Perseus Way in the Chatteris Fen Juvenile Hurdle at Huntingdon, keeping alive dreams of a Cheltenham Festival appearance in the Fred Winter.
Palmer has already experienced the exhilarating high of a Festival winner thanks to Samuel Spade’s stablemate Le Breuil in the National Hunt Chase of 2019, and Cheltenham has been something of an ever-present when it comes to her sporting story.
“I was first introduced to horseracing through my grandfather, who had a great interest in following the races,” she says. “We used to sit together shouting at the TV if his chosen horse was going well!
“Then my love for the sport took off when I first went to Cheltenham races in my late teens. Ben Pauling was in the group I went racing with and when his brother-in-law, Charlie Longsdon, started training I bought a small share with him.
“When Ben set up his own yard in 2013, I bought a share in a horse with him. A couple of years later I mentioned to Ben that I would like to buy my own horse, and this led to the purchase of Le Breuil.”
That obviously turned out pretty well. Le Breuil won a bumper at Warwick on his debut in May 2016 and is still going strong, having racked up eight wins and ten placings from 35 races at the time of writing, for prize-money of £166,126.
In addition to that Cheltenham Festival success, he has been something of a regular at Aintree, including finishing third in the Becher and fourth in the Foxhunters’.
Palmer continues: “In the early days of my interest in racing, apart from a couple of small shares with Charlie and Ben, I had a share on the Flat with Highclere – one of the horses was Census, who took us on a journey to the St Leger but unfortunately died at his peak.
“Apart from Le Breuil, my other horses are Silver Atom, a five-year-old who is now hurdling, also with Ben, and the recent acquisition, four-year-old Samuel Spade.
“Recently I have got interested in Flat racing, so have small interests with Hambleton Racing, Pimlico Racing and Nick Bradley Racing, with whom one horse in particular looks quite exciting, Cite D’or, who is with Harry Eustace. She has just gone over to Dubai to contest the UAE Oaks in February.
“Also, recently I have become more interested in the breeding side and have invested in some broodmares with Hannah Wall at Tweenhills and Kevin Blake at Golden Farm, with my first foal due imminently!”
In Pauling, Palmer has an upwardly mobile trainer already enjoying by far his best season, both in terms of winners and prize-money.
She says: “Ben and I have known each other since we were 18, so when he started out ten seasons ago I supported him in syndicates and then in sole ownership. Our friendship guided me through my early days of ownership and enhanced my interest in racing.
“I like the way Ben looks after and trains the horses. He is never hard on the horses, he appreciates their ability and is very good at placing them. Every horse in his yard is treated individually by his excellent team. Le Breuil had his quirks and they have all been recognised and met.
“Seeing Ben’s training career grow, from a few boxes in a barn at Bourton Farm to the futuristic facility that he and Sophie have created at Naunton Downs, it has been an enormous achievement, and to be part of that journey has been exciting and inspiring – especially now he is having his best season, luckily with the help of Le Breuil and Samuel Spade!
“I work in property, as well as private equity, so life is a bit of a game of chance hoping for reward, so I try to surround myself with people who can give good, sound, knowledgeable advice!”
Reflecting on her magical moments so far, Palmer says: “The Tuesday of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival was a day I will always remember. It took an evening in the local pub, after Le Breuil had come second in a novice chase at Cheltenham in mid-December 2018, to contemplate putting the four-miler at the Festival on the cards – thanks to it being suggested by a great friend Mikey Wilson’s knowledge of the form, then a call from Jamie Codd asking to ride Le Breuil in the race the week before the Festival.
“Thank goodness we entered! It was almost heart-stopping seeing Le Breuil battle up the hill and win.
“A second highlight I must mention is having another great friend, Pete Mason, ride Le Breuil at Aintree in the Foxhunters’ last April – if only Le Breuil hadn’t planted after a couple of false starts, who knows what could have happened.
“Samuel Spade also caused my blood to pump at Kempton the other day, when winning first time out over hurdles – faith in Ben paid off!”
Looking ahead, Palmer says: “Le Breuil will hopefully try the Foxhunters’ with Pete again if all goes to plan. He is now 11, so we take one race at a time. “Silver Atom, who has been very green, now has a handicap mark and can hopefully have a few fun days out at the smaller tracks.
“As for Samuel Spade, maybe the Boodles Fred Winter if we can get one more run in before mid-February. He proved to us he really has taken to hurdling by following up on his win with a good second, conceding 8lb, at Huntingdon. He learnt a lot on the second run so hopefully can improve further.”
Wins aside, asked what else she particularly enjoys about owning horses, Palmer replies: “The best thing is just being part of a sport where anything can happen, so when it does go right it is pure
“Being part of the team that can make that magic happen is thrilling. In terms of my journey, I must mention Hannah Dean, now travelling head girl, who has been with Ben and Le Breuil since the day he arrived at the yard.
“Having people like her who are so dedicated to the horses in their care makes an enormous difference. It’s full- on working with horses and everyone at the yard plays a part in its success.”
She continues: “It does not always go to plan of course, and the unpredictable winter weather has thrown issues into the mix more than ever this season.
“Prize-money in National Hunt racing in the UK is also a tricky one. Not every horse will be a star but they all cost the same to keep, so it would be nice to see the lower levels get slightly better prize funds, as I think it would help encourage people into ownership more long term.
“Another option would be to class jumpers more on their purchase price, like they do on the Flat, to mix it up a bit, even though in both codes the fairytales are often made by the ones who went under the radar at the sales.”
Whether 47,000gns counts as under the radar is debatable, though what is not is that Samuel Spade is looking a shrewd buy, and with Le Breuil, Silver Atom and her exciting new venture into breeding, there is plenty for Palmer to look forward to for the rest of this season and well beyond.