THE saying goes that a change is as good as a rest. Whoever invented the familiar adage could well have had Phil Kirby in mind.
Renowned as a shrewd trainer, with a particular ability for improving a horse, Kirby, now in his fifth year with a licence, has upped sticks from his Castleton base, near Whitby, and has taken over Kate Walton’s stable in Middleham.
The first runner from his new Sharp Hill Farm stables left the yard on New Year’s Day and the impact has been immediate.
Everaard was straight out the blocks when winning a Musselburgh chase under Richie McGrath and that was followed by Stormy Morning’s victory in an amateur riders’ race at Wolverhampton on Wednesday with Harriet Bethell in the saddle.
It was a big move for Kirby, who says the shift will now allow him to have a “proper go”, but it wasn’t a difficult decision.
“I always thought it was definitely going to happen,” he said. “It was just making sure I could afford it and it would work. It has worked where we are and I didn’t want to get myself in a position where I couldn’t afford to do it properly. It looks like if we keep the numbers up, which I feel I will have no problem doing, we will be fine.
“Kate was looking for somebody to come and take over some of the boxes because it wasn’t full. I had outgrown where we were so it was a sensible option to fill it with my horses.”
Walton, the daughter of top trainer Sam Hall, had plenty of success in her own right – her biggest win coming in the 2009 Champion Bumper at Aintree with Sitting Tennant – but following the death of her husband last year she decided to “look outside the box” in order to make sure the yard was full from a financial viewpoint.
Kirby said: “There’s going to be 48 here – and probably 15 to 20 at home at Dibble Bridge which I am keeping on – so we are going to be up to maybe 60 or 70 around to work with. That’s job done.
“I am looking forward to it. There’s going to be a lot more but Kate is going to be doing a lot with us as well. We need someone else to keep that going and Kate is going to be here to help us as much as possible.
“There are a nice bunch of young horses that Kate has already got, on top of the horses I have because we have tended to get better as well. There should be a nice bunch of horses to work with all being well. Hopefully some of the young ones will turn out better than average. That’s the plan.”
Dibble Bridge will act as an overflow yard – “for resters, changes and for sweetening them up” as Kirby puts it – but he has no doubt that Middleham will prove far more convenient.
Kirby had an arrangement with the Reveleys at Saltburn where he could take his horses to the coast to use the gallops. Grateful though he was, the ever-increasing size of his yard made organisation difficult.
Now, with the High and Low Moors on his doorsteep, and retracing steps he first took when working for West Witton trainer Ferdy Murphy for two years, Kirby is convinced his current surroundings will help him rack up the winners.
“I’m hoping it should help with everything,” he said. “The facilities here are great. It should make everything a lot easier and hopefully it will bring us plenty of winners.
“We have started on the Moor. The Reveleys were absolutely brilliant to me and everything there worked really well but all the running around was getting to be too much with so many horses.
“I need to do it properly.”
With 11 victories in this jump season to date, just one off the yard’s record 12 last year, hopes are high that a full yard, with fresh horses and more ammunition, can help Kirby stamp his mark quickly in Middleham.
He’s keen on Stopped Out, an eight-year-old who won by 14 lengths in a hurdle at Kelso a week ago, but it is the new crowd that excite him most.
He explained: “I was fairly impressed with Stopped Out. He has always shown plenty but there are a couple of nice bumper horses who look like they will be good when they come out. We haven’t had these in the past.
“We have always had in-training horses, who have come out of Flat yards. This is the opportunity to try to produce nice horses. We want to get plenty of winners. That’s the top and bottom of it. It’s a fantastic opportunity.
“I do feel like I have done my apprenticeship and we have got to step forward now. We either carried on what we were doing forever or we have a proper go at it and this is what we are going to do.”