Stunning beauty of Newmarket is a firm favourite
- The Daily Telegraph
- July 13, 2012 12:00am
Trainer Paul Messara with racehorse Ortensia at Arrowfield Training Centre near Scone in the NSW Hunter Valley. Picture: Liam DriverSource: The Daily Telegraph
PAUL Messara reveals to RAY THOMAS why Newmarket is such a special place in racing.
The sheer beauty of the Newmarket training complex is what strikes you first. Lush, rolling green fields and steep hills are used for morning gallops with hardly a running rail, winning post or grandstand in sight.
This is the cradle of thoroughbred racing, dating back nearly a thousand years. All the champions of English racing have been trained and raced here. Frankel, arguably the greatest of them all, strides over these famous training tracks each day.
Newmarket is a sacred place. It is protected from agricultural development, has survived the demands of two World Wars, and been excluded from the development of modern transport systems. Major roads are built around The Heath and the railway line goes underground.
As Paul Messara eyed the view across Newmarket’s tracks and historic township from the highest point, Warren Hill, he imagined himself training here one day.
“This would be a great place to come and train,” Messara said. “It really has everything a horse trainer needs.
“Admittedly, it is a difficult place to get set up, the level of entry and funding required is quite high while the prizemoney is not great.”
Stake money for most races in England is quite low by Australian standards. One of Messara’s horses won a race at Wellington in country NSW earlier this week, earning $9000 as first prize plus another $5000 in breeders and owners bonuses, nearly three times what can be won at minor English race meetings.
Messara is getting a taste of training Newmarket style, albeit with one horse, stable star Ortensia, one of the favourites for the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket racecourse tomorrow.
Some of the best trainers in the world are based at Newmarket including Sir Henry Cecil of Frankel fame, Sir Michael Stoute, Luca Cumani, John Gosden and others, and Messara has taken the opportunity to learn from these masters of their trade.
“I’ve spent a couple of mornings at different stables, spent some time with Luca Cumani,” Messara said.
“It is fascinating, a very different style of training, The training facilities are very different to back home, they have a lot of staff in the stables, the tracks they race on are very different.
“Some of the tracks are steeper than others.
“You have to get the horses used to the hill work because the racetracks here, particularly the July Cup course, are very undulating. I’ve found we have to be quite soft on our horses when we first arrive here at Newmarket because they are using a whole different set of muscle groups in their gallops.
“They are putting stresses on different areas of their hind legs that they don’t do on our flat tracks back home.”
When The Daily Telegraph visited Messara at trackwork this week, it was just after 6am and he was giving the mare first use of The Heath’s training tracks.
“We have to beat the ‘Blue Army’,” Messara said in reference to the all-powerful Godolphin team of gallopers, who start morning gallops just after 6.30am.”But they work ‘gentleman’s hours’ at Newmarket. I’ve got a friend, I won’t mention his name, who trains here but doesn’t start until 7.45am.
“It is a far more relaxed lifestyle, not the early morning rush we have for trackwork back home. Why do we train horses at 4am? It’s a question that deserves thinking about.”
Messara also seems far more relaxed since returning to England last week. Perhaps that has something to do with the relative calm these days around trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Newmarket stables since Black Caviar left, and also the improvement in his mare since her defeat as favourite when ninth in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot three weeks ago.
Leading into Royal Ascot, Chapple-Hyam’s stables were under siege with media virtually camped out the front, guards keeping watch 24/7, and a security-coded electronic front gate that allowed stable access only to a privileged few.
Since Black Caviar left to return to Australia a few days ago, so did all the media attention. The only guard behind the front gate now is Chapple-Hyam’s little white terrier dog.
“There was a lot of people, media, coming through the place when Black Caviar was here and that can be unsettling at times,” Messara said. “But when you have the best horse in world stabled next to you, it is going to draw a lot of attention.”
Messara revealed there were a number of other contributing factors which led to Ortensia’s defeat at Royal Ascot.
“She did get a bit ‘hot’, she was quite worked up before the race and that is unlike her,” Messara said. “So did Black Caviar and she is also a very relaxed mare.
“Ortensia also pulled up quite tight in the back with a muscle strain after the race. There is no doubt she was feeling it and didn’t stretch out like she can.”
Black Caviar also pulled up sore behind after her Golden Jubilee Stakes win at Royal Ascot.
Although this could be just coincidence, Messara said the undulating track and steep rise to the finish at Royal Ascot could have contributed to the soft tissue injuries both mares suffered.
“Whether it happened when they going downhill and the mares took a couple of bad steps, who knows?” Messara said.
“But the tracks could easily be a reason because our horses are used to racing on mainly flat courses.
“With Ortensia, we know she took a couple of bumps during the race, got off balance, and because she was feeling her back, it might have been enough for her to shut down and not stretch out.”
Messara started Alverta in the July Cup two years ago with the mare running one of the best races of her career to finish third behind Starspangledbanner.
Alverta improved sharply off a disappointing Royal Ascot run when she went to Newmarket and Messara is confident Ortensia will do something similar.
Messara said Ortensia has recovered from her back muscle strain and he has been able to step up the mare’s training for the July Cup (1200m).
The trainer revealed Ortensia is actually 20kg lighter than she was going into Royal Ascot, an indication of just how much fitter the mare is for the Newmarket race tomorrow.
The undulations of the July Cup course are even more extreme than Royal Ascot with a pronounced dip in the middle section of the race before a testing and very steep incline to the finish line.
“We have been able to give her a couple of test runs at the July Cup course and that has been most important to her preparation,” Messara said. “You have got to really attack that final dip before coming up the hill to the finish.
“We have been teaching her to get that momentum going as she comes into the dip and then push on up the hill.”