An incredulous trainer crediting the owners of a horse after a seemingly surprise victory always catches the eye and one suchexample came at Newbury in a Grade 2 mares’ novices’ hurdle last month.
Largy G’s name does not betray her size – she is tiny – but that did not stop her defeating ten opponents at odds of 14-1, much to the joy of trainer Noel Williams and owners Neil Berry and wife Lucie McGarity, with the latter’s foresight the subject of much praise from the trainer.
“I was thinking about places like Newton Abbot in the summer for her, but Lucie said we should stick her in and I thought, ‘Oh God, she’ll get lapped’,” said Williams. “Then I started to pick it apart and thought to myself, ‘She could just go and run a massive race’.
“I am shocked – delighted as well – although I thought she’d outrun her price. This was beyond our wildest dreams.”
The eight-year-old more than justified her place in the field with a length victory over favourite Nina The Terrier, keeping on well under Tom O’Brien. Largy G rans off 109 there and has been raised 7lbs.
ROA member Berry is happy to admit that his other half is the driving force of the couple’s involvement, and says: “It’s my wife, Lucie’s, passion really. She lived in Ireland in her early twenties, spending time as a student at the Irish Equine Centre in Naas and then returned to work for David Redvers at Tweenhills, back in the early noughties.
“We both ride and I used to play a bit of low goal amateur polo. But as the ponies aged, I didn’t replace them and Lucie convinced me that having a
racehorse would be far more fun and less expensive, though I’m not sure about the latter!
“Lucie has a great friend from her Pony Club days, Ben Arthey, who originally held a licence in Ireland but is now involved with the Crawford brothers. The pair of them convinced me that Largy G was a wise investment.
She had limited opportunities as Covid really had a huge impact on Irish pointing. So she was bought “unseen” out of Ross Crawford’s yard, on Ben’s recommendation. And was delivered to Rothwell truck stop on the side of the A14!
“I will admit my heart slightly sank when this diminutive filly came down the lorry ramp. It is not so much that she lacks height. There is just not a lot of her! But, as we’ve found out, they don’t need to be big to be tough and genuine. And neither do they need to be expensive.”
The daughter of Shantou has since made for some better memories than that first impression on the A14, often outrunning her odds.
She was 50-1 on her debut under Rules for Williams’ Blewbury yard at Newton Abbot last April but was beaten just a neck, while she was third at the same track the following month. After finishing down the field at Leicester in December on her return, she ran a good third behind stablemate Speech Bubble at Newbury, again starting at 50-1, before her triumph back at the same track.
“Largy G is our first horse to run under Rules,” says Berry. “We previously had another horse from the same connections that we had hoped to run in British points, but unfortunately he never got further than a team chase at Garthorpe point-to-point course.
“We also have a four-times winning Getaway mare who is expecting to Passing Glance. She didn’t run for us but was bought as a long-term broodmare prospect. Largy G will eventually join her, under the new venture of Knapdale Stud.
“We sometimes board horses for a Flat owner in the village – our stable and land is split between Slawston and Hallaton, Leicestershire, home of the famous Easter bottle-kicking! – and we have a couple of non-thoroughbreds too. Plus the occasional horse in for rehabilitation, as Lucie is an equine chiropractor.”
Your first horse to run under Rules winning a Grade 2 is not a bad start, to say the least, though as her odds tend to imply – regardless of whether they are too dismissive of the form book – the mare is not the most straightforward.
“Largy G, or Sheila as she is known at home, can be a bit gassy to ride and eating isn’t her favourite pastime,” reveals Berry. “We knew she wouldn’t suit a big yard. We sent her to Noel because he’s a proper horseman and, most importantly, he knows how to train mares.
“Many mares just can’t be trained the conventional way. Some can have quirks and foibles and you need someone who can work with that – and Noel certainly does. It can take a brave man to follow the ‘less is more’ approach to training. So many horses can easily be over-cooked. It’s a fine balance and an even greater one when it comes to mares.
“He’s a talented and patient trainer, a good communicator and he has an experienced team working with him. He certainly deserves to train far more horses.”
Berry and McGarity will of course not yet have a welter of magical moments stored up but, whatever happens in the future, they will always have that day at Newbury.
Berry says: “How could we top this win? It’s just incredible! A Grade 2, albeit a handicap, with a filly who had been bought to run in a hunt members’ or mares’ maiden at our local point-to-point track!
“Had it not been for the disruption of Covid and Lucie breaking her arm last year when the mare was half fit, Sheila might have been aiming for Dingley, not the chance of some black type.
“All came right for us at Newbury. We got the ground she needed and Tom O’Brien was available to ride her. He’s a brilliant jockey and much is owed to him too. I doubt we’ll ever have another day of racing like it.”
He adds: “Where she goes next is up to Noel. There seems to be limited opportunities for good-ground fillies like Largy G to run over hurdles in the late spring and into the summer months – certainly if you are wanting to run in Class 3s, against your own sex.
“And opportunities in the two-mile- four to three-mile division are non- existent. To run against the boys in a handicap, without a weight allowance, seems a hard task for a light-framed filly. Bryan Mayoh, in a guest article for the Racing Post’s Good Morning Bloodstock, highlighted that still only 20-25% of
the total of eligible mares in Britain and Ireland hit the track and that there should be more encouragement to race mares.
“He also acknowledged the “innate physical advantage enjoyed by geldings”. Whilst National Hunt racing will always remain a winter sport at heart, the smaller fillies often appreciate the better ground and some sunshine on their backs. It’s a pity there isn’t a programme for them, which might help to keep a few more of them in training.”
Berry continues: “The best thing about being an owner has to be days like we’ve just had at Newbury. Our first horse in training, an inexpensive purchase and she has broken her maiden in a Grade 2 handicap hurdle. It’s unbelievable!
“She had run well at Newbury in January against some good horses and finished 17 lengths behind Speech Bubble off level weights, when in reality she was carrying a greater percentage of weight for her size than Speech Bubble, who looks a proper chasing type.
“The chance to carry a lesser weight, irrespective of the handicap, was an opportunity not to be missed for a light- framed filly.
“There is the perception that horses have to cost five- or six-figure sums to be any good. The Saturday she won helped to disprove this, through the first and second horses home in the Scottish Grand National and the winner of the EBF Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, who were all four-figure mares. It can be affordable.
“And there are plenty of smaller handlers who deserve more support from both owners and perhaps the media too. But you’ll have big yards selling big-priced horses to perhaps slightly naïve owners, off the back of a drinks reception and being ‘sold the dream’.
“Inevitably, many people become disillusioned. We know that. We know people that have. It may be a business and everyone has to make a living. And I appreciate that many factors can affect the success of a horse. But, for owners to keep investing in the sport, integrity is paramount.”
Berry is a tax partner with MHA MacIntyre Hudson, a large firm of chartered accountants and tax advisers.
“As a partner, I’m responsible for the Leicester office but have clients nationwide,” he says. “I advise high net worth individuals, their associated businesses and ultra high net worth International clients.
“It’s my wife’s turn to advise when it comes to buying horses though. To be fair, she’s done okay so far!”