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Trainer Profile: Colin Tizzard

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  “He’ll win the King George, two years’ time, you wait and see!” Given that the speaker is Colin Tizzard, who has saddled the last two winners of the Grade 1 chase, the opinion carries weight, but a warm chuckle from him downplays the gravity of his statement.        Tizzard, his son Joe, and a group of owners are in jovial mood as they watch a pair of promising young novices school upsides at the trainer’s Venn Farm Stables in Dorset, south-west England.       Home to some of the most successful trainers, past and present, in National Hunt (Jumps) racing, the region has long been a hotbed for the sport and also for Point-to-Point (PTP) racing, a related category of amateur thoroughbred racing over fences which is often a starting point in the careers of National Hunt jockeys, trainers, and horses.       Tizzard is one of a number of trainers in the area who have a background in Point-to-Points and have made a successful transition to racing under Rules. His team has firmly established itself as one of the top 20 National Hunt stables in the country season in and season out, having started with two pointers to support his son’s embryonic riding career more than two decades ago, while also running the family dairy farming business.       The stable’s run of form has notably progressed from very good to excellent in the past three years. Last season was Tizzard’s best to date, when he finished third in the trainers’ championship to the two trainers who have dominated the British National Hunt scene for the past decade or so, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls.       So what has propelled Colin Tizzard to the highest echelons of the trainers’ table?       One can certainly trace the origins of the stable’s current form to the emergence of Cue Card, who has long been one of the cornerstones of the Tizzard string. Since beating the highly regarded Al Ferof to win the Champion Bumper on only his second start, Cue Card not only elevated the profile of the stable but reassured the team that they were heading in the right direction.       “Cue Card came along when we were just ticking along with 15-20 winners per year, and we thought we were flat out at that point, but he gave us the confidence that we could do it,” says Tizzard.       In the seven years since that memorable day at Cheltenham, the stable proved they could indeed do it, and across the board, with nearly 20 individual Graded or Listed winners. Everything came together in the 2016/17 season for the Tizzards: third place in the trainer rankings, 33% more runners than the previous season but with a near-identical winning strike rate, plus six individual Grade 1 winners. So, what next?       “We won £2.5 million last season, including Irish prize money, and it would be amazing if we could do that again,” enthuses Tizzard. “It is exciting; some of those four-year-olds we schooled this morning aren't just winners, they're potential Cheltenham horses.”       When asked how he would assess his chances of landing the trainers’ championship this season, he takes a typically practical view of his situation.       “No, I'm 50 horses short of what is needed to win a championship. But I could be better set for the spring festivals this season and I probably have a better crop of novice hurdlers this time around too.       “Thistlecrack and Native River are late starting, and Native River faces a tougher task this season than last year. He jumped the last nearly upsides and you would have bet money that he would have outstayed anything up that hill (in the Cheltenham Gold Cup), but he didn’t. Whether it was that our stable wasn't in the best form at the time or we had been to the well a few too many times with him, but for me the Gold Cup is the hardest race of the year. It tests horses, their wind, and tests the jockeys. It tests the owners and tests the trainers, too!”       However, while the established stable stars occupy a special place in the story of the rise of the Tizzards and remain key players in plans for this season, it's apparent that he is also planning and building for the future.       Among Tizzard’s string are 18 newly turned four-year-olds. Once Tizzard has gone through plans for the runners with his son, he points out a nice type whose dam is a sister to the 2017 French Champion Hurdle winner L’Ami Serge. This is just one example of how the stable’s rising profile has attracted new owners and brought increased strength to an already successful string.       Although Tizzard remains coy about absolute numbers, it’s fair to estimate that his string now runs to more than a 100. One of the signs of a well-organised stable is its ability to adapt to changing demands, but not at the expense of the results on the track, and this is perhaps where lessons Tizzard has learned in the family farming business, which runs alongside the training operation, have paid dividends.       Certainly, the family ties to the training and farming businesses remain strong. Tizzard has been a dairy farmer in his own right for more than three decades, with 500 head of cattle, and along with his brothers Alan and Michael, who have farms on neighbouring land, has followed in the footsteps of his parents. Leslie and Marjorie Tizzard started out as tenant farmers on the Venn estate in the post-war years, just down the road from where the majority of Tizzard's horses are stabled today.        Tizzard’s elder brother Robert is an owner-breeder who returned to the area after a career in London. Situated close to Venn Farm on the Somerset/Dorset county border, Robert’s house overlooks the paddocks that are home to his select band of broodmares as well as the arena where Colin Tizzard schools his jumpers.       Displaying his typical shrewdness, Tizzard’s move into training more than 20 years ago was very much informed by the farming business and what he was learning in his early years as a trainer.        “We are farmers and it (the farming side of the business) is very much our safety net. We have seen a lot of trainers in the position we are now, but then they're 25th next year, 50th the next, and then they're gone.       “The pressure really is on the younger trainers these days, those who have a few horses, rent a yard, and maybe have families to support. The only pressure I get is the pressure I put on myself, so to be in that position, we make sure the stable is first run as a business.        “Simply, anyone who has ever had a horse loves training them. If you had a hunter, a polo pony, a show pony or a gymkhana pony, whatever you've got, you think you can beat the next one and that's all we're doing here.”       This measured, straightforward philosophy meant that the Tizzards developed the training business steadily rather than dramatically in the early years.       “There was no masterplan. We had pointers when we were teenagers, so we would milk the cows and then ride the horses and I also rode as an amateur under Rules. Later, we and our children Joe and Kim would go hunting, and we did that for years. But we enjoyed the training as much as the riding and we made a start with some pointers, and it was just a natural progression as Joe’s riding career started. When the pointers started winning all the time, we thought we would take out a licence.       “Not long after that we put the gallop down and then Joe became first jockey to Paul Nicholls, so we didn't get Joe much for a while. Then, even when he wasn't with Paul, he would be off playing golf, so we never saw him!       “After Joe retired from riding, he has worked as hard as anyone and he's very much involved with the running of the farm as well as the training side. Joe lives on the farm, in the ‘love nest,’ but I probably shouldn't call it that! Joe and I both have entry books and we sit down together and he does it online. We have debates and then he has to come around to my way of thinking.       “Joe and Kim are partners in the business, rather than assistant trainers, and Kim drives 19 miles every morning to ride first lot, before anyone else, does three lots per day and then goes to the stable office to sort out a lot of the administration with my wife Pauline, including the weekend staff rotas.        “Pauline used to run our bed and breakfast business, but it came to the point where we didn't have time to do that, so we finished that and she still does a hell of a lot now, dealing with owners, dealing with racing colours, going to the races, making sure the VAT is right, and checks on everyone, and she checks on me.       “Joe’s the man who makes contact with new owners coming onto the market. I'm a farmer, I can't quite go over and do it like he can. He does attract new types of owners.       “By and large, Kim and Joe do everything I don’t and try and do everything I do!”       As Tizzard is talking, his mother Marjorie, now retired and who lives close by, calls into the yard. Tizzard strides over and embraces her warmly and says, “Make sure you get a photo. I owe her everything!”       A member of the family's fourth generation is also present in the yard, to ride ponies out before school. Freddie Gingell, Kim’s son, has ambitions to be a jockey and has been riding in PTP pony races with success this year, winning two races in the Charles Owen series, at Chepstow and Ascot. “Seeing Freddie win was one of the proudest moments of my life,” says Tizzard. “He's into everything in the yard.”       By necessity, Tizzard and the team have adapted to the growth of the training side of the operation, and the family business has now expanded to a staff of around 35, including part-time employees.       “We were short of staff and one year, Pauline and I were doing about 25 horses by ourselves on Christmas Day. We have a good team now from a number of different countries and ethnic backgrounds. Some are now naturalised British citizens. We heavily subsidise the accommodation and the pool money was good last season.”       The yard’s expansion required investment in facilities, and one of the biggest advances was the erection of an American-style barn at the main yard three years ago, with the majority of the horses now based there rather than at the bottom of the hill, near the main farmhouse, or in the various satellite yards dotted around the local village, Milborne Port.        “The barn’s well ventilated and airflow is important, so being up on the hill does help, and if you walk in there, you won't smell any ammonia,” says Tizzard. “We get the odd bug but with the prevailing south-west winds coming straight through, they don't hang around. As with the cattle, daylight is really important; it's needed for their ‘zen factor.’        The crossover from cattle farming extends to meeting the dietary requirements of the string, as Tizzard grows his own haylage. “We still end up with twice as much as we need. So, if we cut it one day and it rains the next, we use it on the farm and then the next bit for the horses.”       Tizzard's practical approach extends to how and on what he exercises his horses. “Things evolve all the time. I used to use the uphill gallop every day for every horses, but I now also use the deep sand three days a week. The combination of the hill and sand trains the whole body.”       The deep sand was imported at some expense from Ireland until Tizzard experimented with different grades and hit upon a cheaper alternative sourced from nearby Wareham on the Dorset coast.       As well as being an area rich in natural resources, Somerset and Dorset have long been home to some of the UK’s leading National Hunt trainers, including Harry Fry, Nicholls, David Pipe, and Philip Hobbs. Tizzard doesn't see the proximity of such powerful stables as an issue for concern.       “It's a very competitive area around here. There are lots of local trainers, and they’re all good trainers. There's fierce competition but plenty of respect. Going back a few years, the likes of Martin Pipe, Philip Hobbs, and Paul Nicholls brought the standard up around here, which is good for all of us.       “However, it means that we will probably head north for valuable races. All the big chases will be ultra-competitive for the next three to four months, which is partly why Hey Big Spender won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle three times.”       As one who has built up a training yard from scratch into one that could be mounting a title bid in the coming seasons, what does Tizzard think of the challenges that face trainers today?       “Well I think that the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) are very good and are talking to trainers. We should maybe look after the prize money for the lower end races to provide for owners and trainers competing in those races, so we look after those at the ‘other end.’ That was me five years ago and it might be me in five years’ time.”       In discussing their current situation and training career to date, it's clear that the Tizzard team are not content to rest on their laurels, and their results in recent seasons have of course put Venn Farm on the radar of many owners. One such is long-time National Hunt fan and professional gambler Russ Watts, who was celebrating his 50th birthday on the day of his visit to the yard accompanied by his two sons, Sam and John.       Already a National Hunt owner for more than 10 years, Watts has an interest in The Russian Doyen, his first horse with Tizzard. “I first thought of having a horse with Colin some years ago, as he was then a local, rising trainer and I live around 30 minutes away. Later, a friend had a horse here and that led to me coming on board last year,” says Watts. “Colin’s open, honest, and good fun.”       Watts is one of the more locally based people to have joined the burgeoning list of owners at Venn Farm in recent years. The yard’s success means it is attracting notice from further afield, including from high-profile owners such as the late Ann and Alan Potts, whose Ann & Alan Potts Limited entity has multiple horses at Venn Farm, alongside those of longer-standing owners Jean Bishop and Brocade Racing.       The passing of Alan Potts in November, just a handful of months after the death of his wife Ann, came as a huge shock to the National Hunt racing scene in the UK and Ireland. Their familiar yellow, green, and red colours have been very much a fixture at the major meetings from the days of the top two-mile chaser Sizing Europe onwards, notably landing the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March with the Jessica Harrington-trained Sizing John.       The switching of some of the Potts’ Irish-trained horses to Tizzard’s yard in the autumn of 2016 was headline news in the racing press, but the results that followed warranted the faith of the prominent owners. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the arrangement were the circumstances in which Alan Potts and Tizzard first met.       “I was at Cheltenham, watching a race on the one of the TVs in the bar. This chap behind me told me,’Get out of the f***ing way.’ I looked around and said ‘I'm not in the way.’ He said, ‘Yes, you are, you’re still in the f***ing way.’ I said, ‘I'm sorry, but I would never stand in front of anybody.’ He said, ‘Well, you f***ing did.’ So I said, ‘Well, I'm sorry.’ Afterwards, someone told me it was Alan Potts, so I went back to him and said, ‘Sorry, Mr Potts, I won't do it again.’        “The next meeting I went to at Cheltenham, he was sat in the bar with a bottle of wine” -- and here Tizzard stretches out his arm -- “and he offers me a glass and says, ‘We didn't get off to the best of starts, did we?’ So I sat down with him.        “That was in the spring of (2016) and in October he rang up and asked if I could take 15 of his horses.”       Alan Potts’ death this year just ahead of the three-day meeting at Cheltenham was a shock for everyone, particularly as he had been due to visit Venn Farm that week. In accordance with the wishes of the Potts family, the entries ran, and the victory of Fox Norton in the Shloer Chase provided an emotional win for all concerned.       “I only knew Alan for 18 months,” remembers Tizzard. “He was a man that you wouldn’t forget. He wasn’t always easy, but he made things happen, so you can see why he achieved what he did, given where he started from. He left a lasting impression on me.”       The increased patronage of sizeable owners has undoubtedly helped to elevate Venn Farm to new heights, in tandem with the shrewd evolution of their stable and facilities.       Maybe it's an illustration of just how far the stable has come in recent years, in terms of the strength of its string and results, that while Tizzard had once talked of retirement in interviews as recently as five years ago, he is now quick to dispel the notion: “I have no plans for retirement. I'm enjoying it too much.”        With a string comprising multiple-Graded winners and brimming with potential talent for next season and beyond, it's not hard to see why.

Published in European Trainer, January - March 2018, issue 60.

“He’ll win the King George, two years’ time, you wait and see!” Given that the speaker is Colin Tizzard, who has saddled the last two winners of the Grade 1 chase, the opinion carries weight, but a warm chuckle from him downplays the gravity of his statement.

Tizzard, his son Joe, and a group of owners are in jovial mood as they watch a pair of promising young novices school upsides at the trainer’s Venn Farm Stables in Dorset, south-west England.

Home to some of the most successful trainers, past and present, in National Hunt (Jumps) racing, the region has long been a hotbed for the sport and also for Point-to-Point (PTP) racing, a related category of amateur thoroughbred racing over fences which is often a starting point in the careers of National Hunt jockeys, trainers, and horses.

Tizzard is one of a number of trainers in the area who have a background in Point-to-Points and have made a successful transition to racing under Rules. His team has firmly established itself as one of the top 20 National Hunt stables in the country season in and season out, having started with two pointers to support his son’s embryonic riding career more than two decades ago, while also running the family dairy farming business.

The stable’s run of form has notably progressed from very good to excellent in the past three years. Last season was Tizzard’s best to date, when he finished third in the trainers’ championship to the two trainers who have dominated the British National Hunt scene for the past decade or so, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls.

So what has propelled Colin Tizzard to the highest echelons of the trainers’ table?

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