TRAINER TALK: FRED HUTSBY

 

By Jake Exelby

 

The colours of Light Blue Jacket and Scarlet Cap are among the best known and longest-standing in point-to-point racing. I went to Walton Farm near Wellesbourne in Warwickshire to meet jockey-turned-trainer Fred Hutsby, the latest member of the family dynasty to be involved in the sport.

“These colours have been used by my family for over 100 years now”, Fred told me. “I bet they’re worth a lot”. Fred is the fourth generation of Hutsbys to ride in races, following in the footsteps of father Ken and grandfather Henry, who used to train the family pointers until Fred took over in 1997.

“When I started training here at Walton Farm,” Fred explained, we only had two boxes. “But we’re lucky that we train on a farm. We’ve got access to all the hay and straw we need and we were able to convert an old cattle shed into stables.” Some of Fred’s horses are housed in a open barn, which he converts back into a straw shed in the summer, when the horses are out at grass.

Fred has 14 horses to run this season, including the prolific Penmore Mill, winner of 12 of his 20 races in point-to-points and Hunter Chases, and the promising Vertical Glen, who hacked up in a competitive Maiden at Larkhill on only his second run. “We’re aiming Penmore Mill at the Aintree Foxhunters,” confirmed Fred, “as we think he’s at his best just short of three miles. I’d love to run him under National Hunt rules but I don’t have a permit to train and Dad says he’s definitely not for sale!”

Vertical Glen is likely to take in a Restricted Race at Horseheath or Cottenham next and others to watch in the yard include Kristian Gray, a good second recently and probably targeting a Whitfield Maiden, Dunara Castle – who missed the whole of last season but showed plenty of promise in 2013 – and Tempered Steel, who was below her best in 2014 after winning three races the previous year. Then there’s Burtolli Boy – “an aeroplane at home”, Ohowya – “looks much stronger and more settled this year” and evergreen Rash Move, whom Fred bought as a three-year-old and who is still going strong at the age of 14 after 11 wins and 11 places from just 25 starts, including a win at Cheltenham and a third in the Aintree Foxhunters.

The Hutsbys do most of the work themselves. “I start riding out second lot, after the school run,” laughs Caroline. “We only have one girl working here with us full time, as well as a couple of work riders and some weekend help”. So what about holidays? “We go on holiday with the horses when the boys are at school. Last year we took Penmore Mill and Vertical Glen down to Exmoor. We stayed in a hotel and treated ourselves while they were stabled nearby. We rode them on the moor every day.”

I asked Fred what he looks for in a horse. “Generally, I like to buy them from Ireland as three-year-olds. I’ve got some good contacts over there and I can get a nice unbroken horse for just a few thousand pounds. As long as they’ve got good legs and I’ve checked their wind, I know I’m not buying a horse with problems. It’s a big punt, but it gives me the time to make sure they’re right before I start running them in races.”

Horses who have come via this tried and tested route include the aforementioned Vertical Glen and Rash Move, as well as the useful Killimore Cottage and Mister Teddy. Fred sticks to a proven routine. “I try to break them at Christmas time, then turn them out in a field in Spring. I work them with my pointers so they learn their ABC and strengthen up. I like to get them doing flat work and slow steady work, teaching them to balance. When they start jumping, this helps them meet the fences right. Schooling is the key – we do enough of it to teach them to ‘put in a short one’ when they need to.”

The routine extends to the point-to-point season too. “I like to run them early in the season, often at the first Black Forest Lodge meeting,” continues Fred. “Then I give them a good break – they get at least a week in the field each time they run. And it works. While the Hutsby stable is not a betting yard, Fred has a reputation for getting his horses ready to run well, and win, first time out.

Of course, Fred was a successful jockey both before and after he started training. He rode 78 winners between the flags, but is best known for his association with Mighty Moss, owned by his father and trained by the late David Nicholson, where Fred worked at the time. “He was the first horse we bought from Ireland.” he reminisces “We never thought he’d be as good as he was.” Mighty Moss was placed at three consecutive Cheltenham Festivals, including being beating only a length by the great Istabraq, and his biggest win was in the Spa Hurdle, also at Cheltenham in 1998.

Fred finally called a day on his riding career in 2010. “I had a bad shoulder injury after a fall at Whitfield and was starting to struggle with my weight in any case, so I made the decision to retire during the Cheltenham Festival. My last winner was Rash Move in a Hunter Chase at Taunton – the only time I rode him under rules – and my final ride was at Didmarton the same week.”

I couldn’t resist asking Fred and Caroline if the Hutsby name was likely to be seen on racecards for a fifth generation. “We hope so,” smiled Caroline. “Both boys – Jack who is nine and seven-year-old Tom – have been hunting for the past two years and Tom is particularly keen.” We look forward to the famous colours continuing to grace the pointing field for another 100 years.