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Pauling is investing for a permanent place at racing's top table

27-June-2022
27-June-2022 18:33
in General
by Peter McNeile

In the space of just 13 miles of undulating Cotswold countryside lies a veritable powerhouse of National Hunt racing. Bounded by Jackdaws Castle in the north, home to the irrepressible Jonjo O'Neill, and Fergal O'Brien to his south outside the pretty village of Withington, nearly 500 horses are trained for Jump racing in the UK, just shy of 10% of the total across the country. It's no exaggeration to say the Cotswolds has become the country's racing hub, to rival the South-West.

Where once Lambourn was a centre of Jumps excellence, a majority of the yards in Lambourn now house younger horses being prepared for the Flat. And though Nicky Henderson, Jamie Snowden and Warren Greatrex might argue otherwise, Lambourn is largely perceived as a Flat village, where once upon a time, it was a bastion of Jumps excellence. 

These trends can be cyclical, but the confluence of Cheltenham Racecourse, the appeal of the Cotswolds as a second home to wealthy owners, and a vibrant Point-to-Point scene have all led to a cluster of excellence that makes Jump racing the number one sport in this neck of the woods. Lomng may that continue. 

The new kid on the block (in relative terms) is Ben Pauling, formerly an assistant to Nicky Henderson, who embarked upon a training career in 2013. He's a man that's flying just presently, with a 30% strike rate from summer jumpers over the past fortnight with winners today and last week at Southwell,  and also at Worcester again last week. 

This summer success is not new, but what is new is a new premises adjacent to Naunton Downs Golf Club, also in the Paulinhg ownership, and run by Ben's wife Sophie. Taking the old Stow Road from Andoversford, a smart new entrance and signage herald an investment in American - style airy barn stabling, 94 stables, all-weather round and straight gallops stretching down toward Aylworth, and all the other accoutrements that now are par for the course at almost any training yard of worth. 

It's all part of a gameplan to make "Trained Ben Pauling, Naunton" a permanent fixture in results and winners' lists. 

In one direction can be seen the steep cross - hill gallops of Naunton maestro Nigel Twiston-Davies and business partner Carl Llewellyn. To the other, just over the brow a few miles, the rival yards of Fergal O'Brien and the evergreen survivor, Kim Bailey, eye up each other's pigeon-catchers over morning gallops. 

It takes a lot of energy, not to say some success along the way, to fill a large yard with decent horses. No surprise therefore to seee the new owner of Naunton Downs at the Tattersalls Derby Sale last week replencishing the stock ready for the winter when all roads will lead to the big events at Cheltenham and Aintree. 

Ben Pauling at the sales last week

Willoughby Court, Le Breuil and most recently, Global Citizen have all made the grade at Cheltenham's theatre of dreams in the spring, but the pursuit of the fastest horses requires both deep pockets and constant replenishment. Last year's smart performer may not make the cut from the top of the handicap, and even allowing for the multiplicity of graded races at present, there are still less winners than also-rans. Money will out, where trainers are in the market for an under-rated horse. 

Summer is an unremarkable time for the sport. Enjoyable as racing at Worcester or Ffos Las can be, no-one would pretend the races are of any great quality. Yet, as Hang In There's victory at Worcester last week for Emma Lavelle illustrates, it's also a period where you can spot horses that may yet graduate to more impressive and demanding races when the ground eases. It's a story of so far so good for the Pauling stable since the clock ran back to zero at the start of May. Twelve winners are on the board already, and 32 of the yard's 48 runners to date have paid their way to the races. 

Next door to the yard lies the golf club, a lifestyle destination not just for golfers, or indeed for racing fans looking over the hedge and beteeen the fairways for a festival winner of the future, but for fans of the Cotswold lifestyle. Mayfair club Fitzdares has set up shop in the club, whilst yoga and a weekend creche sit alongside tennis to while away precious free time. There's every likelihood of one set of sporting fans cross-pollinating to the other side of the business: a racing business not for once founded on agriculture as a backstop. 

Always a good sign: a cheerful staff makes for happy horses and vice versa

But racing is a highly competitive sport, and the competition isn't just on the racecourse. There's a finite number of owners willing to spend consistently on quality bloodstock. Even if there's a greater propensity to spend on racing in the Cotswolds than many other places, there are also hungry businesses competing to offer the best communication, the best facilities, the best all-round ownership experience. It's an endless task. 

Pauling is one of the new generation that has embraced social media to convey his story. There are others for whom this comes less than naturally, but it's an essential in today's fast-moving world, and quicker even than the Racing Post in conveying the appearance of success. 

Meantime, that stream of summer winners provides a welcome reassurance that the Pauling savings have been put to good use.   

 

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