Magazine article The Spectator

Time for Enjoyment

Magazine article The Spectator

Time for Enjoyment

Article excerpt

Freddie was alarmed his stick insect might have died and had to be assured it was merely dormant. Jack had helped himself to enough breakfast cereal to feed both the family Alsatians and Harriet gravely bore the news of the ink spilled over her mother Patricia's tracksuit. An early morning post-gallops coffee with trainer Philip Mitchell and the three youngest Mitchells this week was a reminder that not all training establishments have to be austere. Here is a trainer with time for his horses, time for his family and time for people.

There is a sense of continuity about Downs House, less than two furlongs from the Derby start. When I arrived in the early morning I parked beside the grave of Peter O'Sullevan's famous little Attivo. Philip was giving a leg up on the stable's current star Running Stag to work rider Derek Wilmot, who used to ride Attivo and who has been 35 years at the stable, previously run by Philip's father Cyril, now 82 and long retired in Majorca.

Mitchell senior once defined a trainer's task as `seeing he doesn't screw up the good ones', and, despite some famous rows when he was doing his time as a stable lad himself, Philip rates his father as a great trainer. `He had such panache. He could really sweeten horses, rekindle their enthusiasm.' If his father planted one silicon chip in his brain, says Philip, it was: `Any fool can get them fit. But you must have them mentally happy and enjoying their racing.'

There was an affectionate slap on the rump for the sprinting filly The Fugative as she clattered out of the yard. `She was a wild child. It took us an hour to get her in the horse box. She has so much guts. Whatever we did she'd be telling us, "On yer bike".' It took an age to persuade her to enter starting stalls. But they won her confidence and she has been placed to win three races this season despite being put over the rails at Folkestone on her first start. `Nothing bothers her now,' says her proud trainer. `She's the perfect little professional.'

I remembered his Lincoln winner King's Glory. Bought at the Newmarket sales like many of his (`Go to Ireland and they see you coming and add a nought'), he had lost his confidence. A stable lass asked if she could go into the box to fetch him and it was, says Philip, love at first sight. `They had an affair. The horse would call out to her every day when she came into the yard. It sounds silly but it was like a romance. The more they stayed together the more he blossomed.'

They ran King's Glory at the back end over lm 2f at Newmarket and he won at 33-1. …

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