Gamble landed for sharp Kirby

North Yorkshire trainer Phil Kirby

North Yorkshire trainer Phil Kirby

First published in Sport
Last updated
York Press: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter

WATCH out if Lady Heidi lines up in the Musidora Stakes at York Racecourse in 12 days time.

The three-year-old bright hope of Middleham's Phil Kirby hasn't had a Knavesmire trip pencilled in to merely enjoy a nice day out, the trainer doesn't work like that.

His runners have been targeting the big meetings with regularity since his move from Castleton to Sharp Hill Farm, some 17 months ago, made such a big splash.

As the winners flooded in so did the better horses - his numbers increasing from 30 to just short of 70 in a single year - and so did Kirby's ambitions.

Visits to the Cheltenham Festival and, earlier this week, to Punchestown have followed.

But his horses are never just making up the numbers.

"I wouldn't want to run horses in the big races that aren't capable of going," Kirkby said. "I'm still trying to be realistic with them. I don't want to go to Cheltenham for a day out and finish 16th of 20.

"If I think we are going with a chance we will go and it's the same with York and the same with the Guineas. If they are not capable of being competitive I don't want to be going.

"We have got to keep getting better horses to warrant going."

Lady Heidi has only run three times, but a Listed race victory at Pontefract last October, under Silvestre De Sousa, saw the daughter of High Chapparal handed a rating of 97 and potential dates with some of this year's top contests.

"She has got to be one that you hope steps up to it," added Kirby. "It's not going to be easy for her rated 97 but she will be in all the big races and she has got her work cut out really.

"There is no reason why she won't go on and run well. She's potentially the best we have got and she is only a three-year-old.

"We had a plan last year as to where we were going to go with her and we are going to stick to that as long as the ground goes to plan. She was in the 1,000 Guineas but she's more likely to run in the Musidora at York and then go straight to the Irish Oaks.That's the aim."

Horses like Lady Heidi are reward for a gamble that paid off. Kirkby upped sticks from the North Yorkshire Moors in a bid to have a "proper go" - to see whether he could keep improving and keep firing in the winners.

His very first runner from his new premises, Everaard, left the yard on New Year's Day, 2013 and won a Musselburgh chase. The eight-year-old, along with the other occupants of Kirby's ever expanding yard, have not stopped winning since.

"The numbers have definitely gone up massively since we moved," he added. "Last year we were probably in the 30s and now we have 58 in full training and another 20 or 30 spares who are waiting to fill the gaps at Castleton and the other yards.

"The quality is massively better than where we were. We still have the good, original horses and we have added to them. We had a good start. There were some that were capable of winning straight away, which was brilliant. It got us up and running and we brought our own who kicked on.

"The winners brought more horses and more winners.

"It was a biggish move for us. Everything was very straight-forward where we were. We didn't have big bills and we were quite safe where we were.

"Coming here, we needed more horses. We needed plenty of winners and having them definitely brought us forward quicker. My aim last year, when I moved at the start of the year, was to have 30 winners and I think we had just short of 70 over Flat and Jumps in the year.

"We had 32 on the Flat and 28 over jumps and this year I have got to try and match that. That's not going to be as easy. "

One of those horses who travelled under the radar last year was Goldan Jess. The now ten-year-old won four times between January and August - one of a number of horses from the Castleton era who seemed to benefit from his new surroundings.

Kirby said: "He's a star. He's one of my favourite horses anyway and I thought he was quite good before. He has had little bits of problems here and there and big periods of rest but he did seem to like the routine here.

"He seems to be improving all the time. There's no reason why he won't keep going forward."

But Jess, like some other regular winners in Kirby's yard, isn't as well off at the weights as he was 12 months ago. That's led the trainer to admit that beating last year's winning total might be a tall order.

He's keen, though, to embrace the challenge.

"We've got to try and keep up with last year," Kirby explained. "Winners-wise, it will be hard to match last year although, saying that, we've had more jump winners this year than we had last.

"We are on target but we need to kick on with the Flat horses. Stopped Out will be a good horse on the Flat. He is rated in the 80s and he will be in all the big staying handicaps and Rumble Of Thunder is also going on the Flat.

"He's a horse that should be competitive and win his races. I've got some good horses. We've got a better bunch, higher rated horses and better quality horses. I am quite keen that we do need to keep going forwards - whether it is quality or the numbers. I have to do one or the other or both."

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