TRAINER Michael Winters’ horses have been thriving in recent weeks, as we approach the midway point of the National Hunt season.
The Kanturk handler is hoping that his yard can continue to produce the winners, through the weeks and months ahead.
Winters’ recent winners include the highly-talented duo of Chatham Street Lad and Sayce Gold. Their respective victories, which arrived at Cork and Thurles in November, took the trainer’s overall tally to five, for the current campaign.
Winters has already surpassed the total of what was a quiet season in 2019-20, in terms of both winners and prize money. Prior to Clonmel this week, the grade one-winning trainer had won with four of his last seven runners – an impressive 57% strike-rate.
Sayce Gold is one of the leading lights, at Winters’ north Cork yard. The Trevor Hemmings-owned mare has looked out of the ordinary on both starts this season, winning a bumper, at Fairyhouse and then scoring on her first outing over hurdles, at Thurles.
A daughter of Gold Well, she is entered at both Cork and Punchestown, on Sunday. But her trainer is adamant that she’ll bid for glory in Mallow’s Grade Three Kerry Group Stayers’ Novice Hurdle.
‘‘The mare runs in Cork. She looks a nice sort. She’s looking fantastic. Sometimes, going to the races, you might have one a little bit on the heavy side. She’s mad well in herself. There’s no reason why (she can’t win the race at Cork.) If she does produce what she has done all along, she’ll be hard to beat,’’ he said.
Chatham Street Lad holds an entry for this Sunday’s feature at Mallow racecourse. The son of Beneficial has won four times at the Cork track. But he could sidestep the Grade Two Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase, in favour of a tilt at a Cheltenham contest, the following weekend.
The eight-year-old (also entered at Navan, Saturday) is well-regarded by connections, and has won two of his three starts over fences, so far this season. His trainer believes that there is more to come from the Vivian Healy-owned gelding.
‘‘In fairness to Chatham Street Lad, he was bought to develop as he went on. He is 17 hands. He’s a big, strong horse. He could be hard on his body as a young horse. He is probably at his prime now. He is strong enough to handle bad ground as well. For a big horse, he actually likes nice ground.
"But it’s a bit safer to go with the softer conditions. Sure, we’re delighted with him, because he was always the one you expected to be a chaser. He got a good, high mark over hurdles (136). There are a couple of options for him. I must speak with the owners, as he is entered in Cheltenham as well," Winters said.
Last season was a modest one for a yard that has produced big-race winners at Fairyhouse, Galway and Goodwood, over the years. But Winters and his team have certainly hit the ground running this time around, and have already left that below-par campaign behind.
‘‘The horses are going well. Everyone here is enjoying it. To back it up, there’d be a dozen or so four-year-old horses. There’s potential in them. That’s a big thing. You really need young horses coming through. There was a virus last year and the horses had to get double vaccinated. They look fantastic now.
"At times, you get your turn. Look at Liam Burke; in the last six months, he is producing these bumper winners. If we can follow his tail a small bit – we’ll be fine!
‘‘We have great staff and everything. They are able to school and gallop them. There are a few of them (working with horses) all their lives, such as Alex and Janet. There are lads there for the future then; one lad is getting his licence and has his own horse, his younger brother is another lad for the future, and we have a girl who is a sister to (Cork hurler) Darragh Fitzgibbon. With a bit of luck, we might be producing a few star jockeys of the future.’’