Stillington racehorse trainer Ruth Carr reveals how she is topping the winners’ charts this season (From York Press)
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Stillington racehorse trainer Ruth Carr reveals how she is topping the winners’ charts this season
A glut of winners has established Stillington’s Ruth Carr as the country’s leading female racehorse trainer. She tells STEVE CARROLL about her methods.
THE yard’s Mr Grumpy is getting ready to have another tantrum. As Ruth Carr strokes his forehead, Excusez Moi – ears pinned back – lunges and makes a beeline for her hand. They are a big set of teeth when flashing forward.
Carr has seen all this before.
She flicks her hand away, grabs the rein and brings her temperamental gelding to a full stop with merely a flick of the wrist.
To call Excusez Moi a character is to put it mildly.
He has his own pen because he was a touch too ‘colty’ when put out with Carr’s other racers.
That’s horse-talk for a bit of a menace.
Then there was the Great St Wilfrid Stakes at Ripon where, after exiting the parade ring, Excusez Moi just wouldn’t budge – no matter how forcefully jockey Silvestre De Sousa gave him a dig in the ribs.
Carr had to walk most of the contest’s six furlongs just to get him to the start.
Here lies her talent as a trainer.
For all Excusez Moi’s foibles, the seven-year-old can be a talented performer.
And Carr has got the best out of him.
Where other yards might have given up on Excusez Moi, dismissing him as difficult, Carr has persevered. She knows her horses to the last detail – their habits, their likes, their dislikes.
It’s a method which has brought that horse three victories this year and a highly creditable third in the Sky Bet Dash at York Racecourse. It’s a method which, in only her second season as a trainer, has catapulted Carr up the ranks.
Thirty-eight winners have flowed from her Stillington base this year. Figures which put her alongside the likes of Norton’s John Quinn, ex-champion jockey Walter Swinburn and Ireland’s Jim Bolger.
She’s had more winners than Luca Cumani, Ed Dunlop and Peter Chapple-Hyam. She’s had more winners, and amassed more prize money, than any other female trainer.
But you can safely bet success won’t change Carr’s approach.
“It is attention to detail and you need the luck on the day,” she says. “It’s the little things we do to keep the horses happy and knowing each horse. Take Sunley Sovereign. He’s a big horse and quite a monster to get the jockey on.
“We put the jockey on in the saddling box and he nicely, quietly and calmly, goes down to the start. But at the beginning of the year we had such a stress with him.
“Now we do this special thing with him and he likes that. It’s knowing each horse individually and knowing all those little details. For want of a better thing to say, they are kind of my children.
“I know that sounds a bit girly but, each one, I know their traits. I know if that one leaves his cornflakes and picks out of his food, that’s normal. But if someone else did that I would be thinking ‘oh dear, what’s wrong with him?’ because I know he eats everything. I know which ones are lazy and which gallop flat out down the field every day.
“They all have their little personalities and things that they do.”
It isn’t just knowing her horses so intimately that sets Carr apart.
She does things a little differently from your average handler. While most trainers swear that a run on the gallops is the best way to get a thoroughbred to race fitness, it’s a practice Carr is largely happy to put to one side.
“You’ve seen them out in the paddocks – probably roughing it compared to the Newmarket stables – and we don’t get them over the top mentally at home,” Carr reveals.
“We can do more on the racecourse and keep them at that peak for longer. It’s just a matter of keeping them right mentally. Physically, you need them healthy but a lot is about what’s going on between their ears.
“I hardly gallop the older horses at all. We do have a routine – because horses like a routine – but horses are individuals and what suits one doesn’t necessarily suit another.
“Some horses have to go on the gallops because they are lazy and I can’t get them fit in the lunging ring. But we spend a lot of time in the pens and lunging – getting them fit like that.
“That means when they go to the races, it’s not just the same as they are used to at home every day – galloping up and down, up and down. They are going to the races and they are doing something different.
“I guess we are pretty unique but that’s our way. You have to probably be quite brave. People say ‘how can you run it Ruth when you haven’t galloped it?’ but I’ve been brought up doing that from granddad.
“It takes more guts to do less with them at home then it does to keep galloping them.”
Things have happened quickly for Carr since taking over training duties from her grandfather David Chapman, who had the legendary Quito and Soba in his arsenal.
She admits her winning haul is “beyond what I could have expected”. But Carr’s looking forward and she’s aware of the potential pitfalls that lie ahead.
It’s a grounded attitude that should serve her well as she attempts to take the next step – landing a big prize on a big raceday.
“Now it’s trying to build on this and play it in my favour – try to expand, not so much in numbers, but in quality. Get new people in and more paying customers,” she said.
“We had 12 winners last year and I had not really thought about a target for this season. So, off the top of my head, I said 20 would be good. Obviously, we hit that and hopefully we will double it.
“At the start of the year I wanted to win better handicaps and we definitely have been winning better races. Last year we were only winning really bog-standard races – £3,000 races that were only worth about £1,800 to the winner.
“We have won some quite decent prize money. But it’s hard. It costs the same amount to train a horse rated 50 as one rated 110. It costs to feed and look after them.
“Granddad said to me when he asked if I wanted to take over the licence ‘you have to want to do it because racing’s not like it was and it’s hard. Don’t think you’re going to make a lot of money out of it’.
“I’ve been involved in racing, and this yard, since I left school so I’ve not just jumped in at the races in skirts and high heels. I’ve worked up from the bottom.
“I know that this year has been spectacular but I also know there will be years where you are tearing your hair out and wondering why it won’t go right.”