It’s probably going too far to say that all is well with northern jumps racing, but there have been definite signs of a resurgence this season, a resurgence which has included a much-deserved first Grade 1 win for Simply Ned, the popular Nicky Richards-trained 11-year-old.
Proud owners David and Nicky Robinson have also enjoyed seeing Duke Of Navan win for the first time since 2015.
Explaining his journey towards ownership, David Robinson says:“Many years ago I used to go point-to-pointing, then we had children, business commitments, etc, but as that eased and the years passed and our business was successful we started to go National Hunt racing at places like Hexham.
“About 15 years ago we got our first horse Pearson Glen, an ex-Flat horse we bought off Alan Swinbank – he’s retired now at home with us and still going strong, and I hack him out. He was with Jimmy Moffatt and won races but got a tendon injury.
“We then approached Nicky Richards, about 12 years ago, and got our first horse with him. It went from there with Nicky, with whom we have an excellent relationship, and we’ve had great success for a small-time northern owner.”
Robinson has had 35-plus horses, 12 of which are currently in training with Richards, while he and wife Nicky also have homebred youngsters waiting in the wings. As well as running horses in their own name, the Robinsons operate as Langdale Bloodstock, under which they run horses in bumpers with a view to selling on.
They have been highly successful too,while those bought to race longer term, like Simply Ned (€23,000), Duke Of Navan (€25,000) and Baywing (€14,000), have been relatively inexpensive - especially compared to the prices being paid nowadays for Irish point-to-pointers, like the £410,000 and £400,000 top lots at the Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham sale the day before this interview. Such figures astounded Robinson, who is content to take the more patient, less expensive road.
Elaborating on why Richards is his trainer of choice, he remarks: “He’s 40 minutes from our home, which is important to us as we go to see the horses once a week, and we always liked the idea of buying unbroken three-year-olds, which he specialises in, and bringing them on, which is what we have done for the past ten years.
“He has excellent facilities, the most important being his gallops, which are some of the best, and an eye forbuying the three-year-old stores we like.We have bought all our horses at the Tattersalls Ireland August sale, initially as it was cheaper than the Derby sale but subsequently because it has been luckyfor us - and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
“We attend the sales with Nicky and agent Gerry Griffin, who’s been connected with Nicky and his father for 30-plus years. Gerry also has a good eye,but we have our say in what we buy. Nicky nearly always gets it right!
“We’ve had a lot of success winning bumpers with the Langdale babies, who we sell to partly fund the others.”
Simply Ned pays his own way, with a string of consistently good performances in the top two-mile chases earning him a big fan club.He was rightly awarded the Grade1 Paddy’s Reward Club Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas festival after being interfered with by Min, then ran a typically gallant race to be second to that rival at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival.
Asked for his magical moments as an owner, Robinson replies: “Simply Ned has had so many big days, being placed in numerous graded races at Cheltenham, Aintree, and of course Leopardstown – four years running -never letting us down, punching above his weight, running against the best two-mile chasers around - Sprinter Sacre, Douvan, Sizing John, Special Tiara, Un de Sceaux, Dodging Bullets, Uxizandre, Min, etc.
“We’ve been dining at the top table for the last four to five years with him. But the best day has to be him winning that elusive Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas - made even more emotional with the stewards’ inquiry and Min impeding him. Mark Walsh was adamant he had him beat anyway.
“We have also had great moments with Duke Of Navan, who is talented but a bit unlucky with injuries. He’s back to his best now.“Baywing provided a great day winning the Towtown last year and has probably paid for that, shooting up the handicap, as well as beingin experienced - he still has a lot to offer as a staying chaser on heavy ground.”
In terms of plans, Simply Ned might run in the €300,000 Grade 1 two-milechase at the Punchestown Festival,although the spring tends not to be his time of year.
Punchestown is also an option for Duke Of Navan, as are the other big spring festivals Cheltenham and Aintree.He was due to run at Doncaster first,while Baywing was due to contest the Eider as the magazine went to press.
Duke Of Navan’s niggles, along with injuries – tendons especially – generally frustrate Robinson, while other bugbears include prize-money at lower levels – “although it is improving” – along with “certain racecourse that give owners bugger all; they could learn alot from Leopardstown, who really lookafter you”.
He adds: “The north/south divide isalso an issue but that’s life - get on with it!”
Robinson, 67, is certainly getting on with making the most of life after retiring eight years ago when selling his business, which installs and maintains fire sprinkler systems, in a management buyout.
“We stay busy breeding racehorses,” he adds. “We now have four homebred babies. The first, Rubytwo, was placed in two bumpers last summer and is back in work with Nicky, and we have her younger sister, Amberose, who is also in work with Nicky - both will be racing this spring.”
Established stars and promising youngsters - sounds like a cordia mix for the Robinsons.