The Bridgwater name has been synonymous with Jump racing since the late eighties, when the late Ken Bridgwater rose to prominence with a charismatic mare called Winnie the Witch, winner of 9 of her 42 races including a memorable 33-1 shock in the 1991 County Hurdle.
That same mare was responsible for the development of now trainer David Bridgwater into one of the leading jockeys of his generation, a man who picked up the top job in racing as first rider at Nicholashayne for Martin Pipe following the retirement of Peter Scudamore. Riding for his father mostly to start, the young David Bridgwater enjoyed his first winner in 1990, and rode 435 in total from 2,841 rides across a career spanning 10 seasons.
Today's first win of the emerging Jumps season by juvenile hurdler Dutch Admiral at Huntingdon is typical of a man who does things his own way. The Bridgwater stable at Wyck Hill outside Stow is never going to be a winner machine like some of his counterparts around the county. It's not the style of a man who was able to walk away from the Pipe job because he didn't want the role to be all-consuming. In words that might put off many an employer, Bridgwater is remembered for saying," Life's too short; at the end of the day, it's just a horse race."
In these days where mental health is never far from the top of the agenda, that sort of comment would nowe be applauded for showing a sense of perspective. The challeneg of so many young professionals in the sport however, is that to build a viable business, a little obsession is almost a necessity.
In fact, the move away from Pipe inadvertently set in train the route to riding retirement. With less rides to choose from, David opted for a spare in Aintree's Martell Red Rum Chase of 1996 and broke his arm in a bad fall, putting him out of action for six months. The same injury prompted him to call time on his career in February 2 years later.
Five Festival victories have prepared the latest generation of Bridgwaters well for a training career. Starting out in Lambourn, his first 3 runners were winners, but the path to regular success has been elusive until more recently, when he moved from the overflow yard for Jackdaws Castle at Slade Barn, Ford, to Wyck Hill overlooking Stow in 2012. Winners began to flow almost immediately, doubling the tally of the previous thirteen years in just two seasons.
Top flight contenders like The Giant Bolster, whose 5 wins included the Grade 3 Handicap Chase and Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham's Festival Trials fixture, as well as a gallant 3/4l third to Lord Windermere in the 2014 Gold Cup; Wyck Hill, who slogged through the mud to win an Eider at Newcastle the same year, and more recently The Conditional, who stayed on to beat Ben Pauling's Kildisart in this year's Ultima Handicap by a neck, producing Bridgwater's first Festival winner as a trainer.
Whilst quantity is not a byword at the yard just beyond the luxurious boutique hotel on Wyck Hill, then quality most certainly is. You count out a Bridgwater horse at your peril.