"Why do the Irish keep on winning? We should be winning too!";
Something which I'm sure most of us were pondering on the final day of this
year's Cheltenham Festival, but in the nineties a certain Liz Prowting asked this
very question to the legendary trainer, David 'The Duke' Nicholson.
"Put your money where your mouth is," responded Nicholson.
That she did, and a short time later Prowting, better known in the racing
industry as ‘Mrs P’, was purchased a horse at the Doncaster Sales whom would go
on to win her first race at the very first time of asking.
"There were two mares for sale at Doncaster that we liked the look
of," recalls Liz. "One was in foal to Gunner B [Dans Le Vant], and
we purchased her. A horse called Air Shot was the result of that, and he
provided Martin [Keighley] with his first winner as well as my own."
Significant it may be, some ten years on we sit in the corner of Martin
Keighley's office, whom now plies his trade as a trainer and purchaser of one of
the grandest coffee machines ever seen in a trainer’s office, with the
anticipation of Prowting having two runners at the Cheltenham Festival.
It's fair to say that time has moved on since that initial phone call
from 'The Duke', but the enthusiasm of ‘Mrs P’ remains the same. Sitting in the
corner of Keighley's office, she recalls moment after moment of her racing past
and doesn't fail to keep us hooked in storylike fashion, only momentarily halted
as she watches on as the mare Flementime enjoys a playful moment in the paddock
behind us, bucking, kicking and rolling without a care in the world.
Theres a sense of passion in the voice of Liz as she details the
homebred victories that she has been blessed enough to experience. Whilst it is
clear that every winner and every runner is of equal excitement, there is a
sense of pride cherished with getting a homebred steeplechaser onto the track,
and none more so than Dans Le Vant’s second foal for Prowting, Flying Gunner.
"He was a brave horse, He fought his heart out every time", said
Liz, "We went to Cheltenham once for a non-Festival race with him and he
flew up the hill to finish second by a nose. He went back into the winner's
enclosure to a round of applause, and he got a better reception than the
winner, but he knew it was for him.".
“I had to sell him to friends, which was a really sad day, but I got him
back after he ended his racing career and he enjoyed a lovely retirement with
Like Air Shot, Flying Gunner registered seven wins under rules in total,
but will forever hold a place in her heart.
Some fourteen years on, Liz experienced the same kind of applause for
one of her horses at Cheltenham as Annacotty ran his own heart out to finish an
exceptional second on Festival Trials Day, when carrying top weight in a
considerably strong handicap chase.
Annacotty had provided both Prowting and Keighley with their first Grade
I successes on Boxing Day last year, as he powered to an emphatic victory in
the Feltham Novices Chase at Kempton Park to win by ten lengths.
"We were delighted for Liz, she's a fantastic owner to have,"
said Keighley. "We felt the blinkers sharpened him up, sharpened up his
jumping and he got into a good rhythm. He's a horse you need to know well and
we've been lucky that Pops [Ian Popham] is having his first, full, injury free
Keighley is responsible for the training of three of Liz's horses;
Annacotty and Coyaba, both of whom ran respectably at the Cheltenham Festival,
and Faultless Feelings, all three of which watch on intently as Liz enters their
boxes bearing gifts of various fruit and vegetable objects for their consuming.
There have been questions and concerns, criticisms I guess, as to what
happens to some thoroughbreds at the end of their racing careers. However, a
racing career is not where ownership and responsibility ends. Liz's Racing
Manager, Hannah Bishop, is clear in her opinion that the buck of responsibility
firmly stops with them, an opinion which Prowting herself shares. A career may
end, but they desire to retain the ownership of all of their horses until the
very ends of their lives.
"We have to be confident that the horses are enjoying what they do
and enjoying their job," said Bishop. "If they aren't enjoying their
job, they won't run and they'd be retired to home. We always allow our horses the
time they need; with Coyaba we’ve been able to run him as a three year old in
juvenile bumpers, but with a horse like Letsby Avenue it has required a lot of
time – eighteen months in fact – to get him to that level to be competitive on
“Liz [Prowting] is quite different in that she never bets, and we never
allow a jockey to take a stick to our horses when beaten. If they do, they will
never ride one of ours again."
With that in mind, loyalty has also formed a huge part of her jockey selections,
and she fondly details a tremendous sense of loyalty to ‘Choc’, better known as
Alan King’s stable jockey, Robert Thornton.
Out of action through injury for a lengthy amount of time, Thornton was
provided with his first ride back aboard Letsby Avenue at Stratford-Upon-Avon,
a booking which she was extremely keen to make upon hearing the return of
Thornton was nearing. For Liz, there is a real sense of a collective, family
feel towards her horses, and the jockeys that she selects form an integral part
“We’re under no illusions on how many people it takes to get our horses
to a racecourse and it's a joy to have them running, particularly at
Cheltenham, but there is no pressure on the horses to perform,” says Bishop. “They
owe us nothing, particularly this season.”
With the Cheltenham Festival now concluded, preparations
are in the final stages for Prowting's stars to return to her humble abode, and
you can see the anticipation and excitement on her face as the time draws nearer
to having her thoroughbreds back home for the summer.
2014 has provided a whirlwind season of delights, and whilst it did not
conclude with victory on the most grandest of stages, it would be folly to rule
out a fresh, revitalised Annacotty next season back after a well earned break.
Whilst 2014 provided that moment of magic at Kempton, 2015 could yet
provide another monumental journey of memories.