Jack Channon had big boots to fill when he took over the trainer’s licence from his father Mick at the historic West Ilsley stables, once home to turf greats Brigadier Gerard, Nashwan and Dayjur. His father, the former Southampton and England striker who scored over 250 goals during his first career, had triple Arc runner-up Youmzain among his 2,500 plus winners after switching sports, many of them at Group 1 level, but the days when the yard regularly sent out more than 100 winners a year, and as many as 144 in 2003, were long gone. Jack, now 30, has been an integral part of the operation for years and is the man charged with restoring the stable’s fortunes, having made a most encouraging start this season.
I’ve been very pleased with how all the horses have run. It’s not the biggest team, but there are real pockets of quality. We’ve also managed to place those of lesser ability well, and I think we’ve succeeded in maximising their abilities. We’ve got 70 horses in, with 50 or so on the go at any one time, and I’ve been pleased with the way they have held their form. I’d have loved to have had a stakes winner and a couple of big Saturday winners, but it will happen. I know there’s lots of improvement to come when we get our hands on some better stock.
Caernarfon has been a terrific flagbearer for us this year – we were all very proud when she finished in the frame in the two Classics. The aim through the winter was always the 1,000 Guineas. For her to turn up on the day and show that she was that level, and then to roll on to Epsom and go so close in the Oaks, was a massive thrill for the whole team. She’s being freshened up for something in the middle of October. We didn’t put her in the Fillies & Mares on Champions Day, simply because I think that trip on soft ground would stretch her stamina. Johan was another highlight when he won the big mile handicap at Glorious Goodwood.
The quality races on QIPCO British Champions Day are very much the level we want to be aiming for. We didn’t make any entries at the initial stage this time, but there’s a chance we’ll supplement Gather Ye Rosebuds. The Musidora was a step too far after her winning debut at Newbury, but she then put on 35 kilos before she ran at Hamilton, where she beat a very good horse of William Haggas’s. She’s a very talented filly with a great cruising speed and plenty of stamina, and if Hamilton had come before Ascot’s entry stage, we would definitely have put her in. She’s owned by Mrs Pat Shanahan and Mrs MV Magnier, and if she went and won the Princess Royal or something like that, she’d be well worth supplementing.
We’ve got some amazing clients, many of whom have been with us a very long time, and I’m delighted with the stock they send us, but we are always looking to expand and we want to be dealing with genuine Classic prospects again. Historically, West Ilsley Stables has always been a Classic yard, and I’d love to be training for some of those owner-breeders whose bloodlines stretch back generations. We’ve never had a Frankel or a Sea The Stars here, and we’ve only had one Kingman. We had a Dubawi once, and we won the Firth of Clyde with her, but we’ve never had one since.
There are no shortcuts to getting our hands on those bluebloods. All we can do is prove to people that we can maximise the potential of their prized possessions as well as anyone. If we keep doing that, people will notice. It’s like scoring goals in the reserves. If you score enough of them, eventually they’ll have to pick you for the first team. Our currency is winners – and the better the winners the stronger the currency.
Dad is still very much involved here. He’s got an unbelievable eye for bloodstock and he’s an integral part of the team. It’s a joy for me, and I hope it’s a joy for him. He’s my sounding board and when I run ideas past him he’s there to tell me if I’m completely stupid or just a little bit stupid. And believe me he does! We are both similar in that respect and neither of us holds back. We don’t pussyfoot around each other and if one of us feels that something is wrong, we say so.
If that’s how we are similar, I suppose the main difference is how we got here. Dad had to fight and claw his way to the top in two very different sports, and in his early days in racing he was never afforded the luxury of patience. If he didn’t get results straight off the bat, he was history, and in lots of circles he never quite felt part of the club. I’m lucky in that his success here has allowed me to be more patient, especially with those more stoutly-bred types.
We’ve got a five-year plan and the good news is that we are staying here at West Ilsley. It’s been on the market, as everyone knows, but the only reason we were thinking about selling is that we weren’t sure we could run the business successfully. After the season we are having we have had a good look at everything and with some of the new support that’s been coming in we’ve come up with a plan that we can make work. We’ll probably stick to 70 or 80 horses for the next two or three years, but in five years’ time I’d like to have expanded the string up to 120 or more. Among them we want to see some better quality so we can compete regularly at the level dad was at when he was sending out all those Group 1 winners.
I’ve never wanted to do anything other than train racehorses. I’ve always been sports mad, but I had two left feet as a footballer – I remember dad coming to watch me when I was seven or eight and telling me I was useless and so had better stick to the horses. I enjoyed playing but there was no point beating around the bush. It might sound harsh, but it was good advice and I’m very glad of it now.