Knight returns to win big in the social media era

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Selfies didn’t really exist when Henrietta Knight handed in her trainer’s license in 2012, but they come with the territory of a modern racing celebrity and she was stopped by several eager fans on the short walk from the paddock to the grandstand at Wincanton on Friday. . “I still don’t know how to make them,” she said later. “I don’t know anything about that kind of thing. When I started training, I used to walk around with a big phone with an antenna. If she had kept it, she probably would have sold it for a little money.”

A big bear hug from James Bowen, his rider’s jockey, in the paddock before the race was also a departure from the usual pre-race protocols. However, on a day when National Hunt racing welcomed one of its most familiar and popular figures of recent decades, he felt entirely appropriate.

Related: Talking horses: Sunday night races can cause serious jockey burnout

Knight was 65 years old in May 2012 when she announced her retirement from training to spend more time with her late husband, Terry Biddlecombe, who passed away in January 2014. The blue-blooded former boarding school teacher and rugged former jockey were the couple of The sport’s best-known celebrity was at the turn of the century, when Knight trained the exceptional Best Mate to become the first horse since Arkle in the mid-1960s to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in a row.

In the twelve or so years since Somersby provided the most recent of his 14 grade one winners in the Clarence House Chase in February 2012, Knight has written three books, including Not Enough Time, a moving memoir of the life he shared with Biddlecombe on and off the track. She has also continued a successful pre-training business, preparing young horses for jump racing.

But it’s probably fair to say that no one expected Knight to reapply for a trainer’s license at the age of 77, or that she would be in Wincanton on a bitter January afternoon in 2024 with two riders to her name. The first, Zettabyte, even received a somewhat sentimental tip on Radio 4’s Today program on Friday morning, despite being a big outsider in the betting, and although neither Zettabyte nor Ballywalter, at 28-1, They may have upset the judge, their coach was simply delighted to be back.

So far no significant objectives have been set. “Just to get that first winner,” Knight said. “This season is in the middle of the season and it is difficult to pick up horses in the middle of the season, because they are settled in their other stables. [But] “I’m getting new owners and getting ready for next year, then we’ll know what we have and we can set some goals.”

The new owners who want to send horses to West Lockinge Farm belong, she says, to “the younger generation”, and Dawn Graham, her “secretary and right-hand woman”, has warned that “I will have to do a lot more in terms of social networks. I’m on Instagram. I can’t really work on it, but I’m working on it. Dawn was with me when I trained before, so she is used to my eccentricities.”

However, Knight’s approach to training will be the same as always, in part because its facilities and many of its employees are also the same as always.

“I’ve seen enough methods from people elsewhere, but at the end of the day, every person who trains, trains differently,” Knight said, “so we’ve pretty much stuck to our old system, because you have to cut corners.” “according to their fabric and we have our own configuration. There are things I would love to change but… it has always worked and we can go to other places, which is what we used to do before, we took the horses to gallop them.”

In addition to staff who have been with her for years, former jockey and trainer Brendan Powell will play an important role as Knight’s assistant.

“A lot of the staff is the same,” he said. “They have worked far [in the pre-training business] for many years without an end goal. Now what they are doing has a purpose and they are excited about it.”

As, clearly, is the coach in charge. “It’s been a fantastic reception,” said Knight, after unsaddling Zettabyte. “It’s surprising how many old faces turned up, and they all look a little older. As I do.”

Collonges can collect Classic

Venetia Williams’ 30% strike rate in November and December has dropped a bit in the first half of 2024, but most of her runners are still performing well and Collonges Fountain (3.00) could put the stable within reach of £1m in prize money for the season in the Classic Chase at Warwick on Saturday.

Fontaine Collonges’ season got off to an inauspicious start when he started first in the London National at Sandown, but made amends impressively when he moved 14 lengths clear of the runner-up in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day.

A £7 rise in ratings for that convincing success seems more than fair, as the form also suggests that Fontaine Collonges had benefited from a wind operation over the summer. Saturday’s return to a marathon trip could also be a further improvement for the lightly raced nine-year-old who has just 10 hurdle starts in the book.

Warwick 12.05 Etalon 12.40 Donnacha 1.15 Vicenzo 1.49 Kyntara 2.24 Gray Dawning 3.00 Fontaine Collonges (nap) 3.35 Aye Right 4.05 Hartington

Kempton 12.20 Kalif Du Berlais 12.55 Junkanoo 1.30 Flegmatik 2.07 Notlongtillmay 2.42 Nemean Lion (nb) 3.15 Pepe Le Moko 3.50 Douglas Dc

Wetherby 12.35 Jaminoz 1.10 Colonel Harry 1.40 Delgany Bobby Blue 2.15 Mount Tempest 2.50 Benassi 3.25 Lord Of Kerak 3.57 Jasmine Bliss

Chelmsford 4.15 Twistaline 4.45 Post Rider 5.15 Juicy 5.45 Expert Agent 6.15 Young Endless 6.45 Mitigator 7.15 Cavalluccio

Wolverhampton 4.30 Bright 5.00 Desert Raider 5.30 Heet 6.00 Summa Peto 6.30 Not available 7.00 Basholo 7.30 Street Life 8.00 Trusty Scout 8.30 Come To Pass

Wetherby 1.10 colonel harry He last held his own in the closing stages of the Grade One Henry VIII Novice Chase at Sandown and looks certain to appreciate this step up to two and a half miles.

Kempton 1.30 Two of Flematik’s Three career wins over hurdles have come at this track and Tristan Durrell’s 3lb claim is also positive.

Warwick 1.49 kyntara He is unbeaten in two starts since joining Mel Rowley over the summer and could well complete the hat-trick after a 6lb gain on his latest success.

Kempton2.07 It is the fourth pick of five in the bets, but Not much until May He was one of last season’s best rookies and showed further improvement to finish a solid second in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November.

Warwick2.24 Four very promising novice hunters in a field of five people, with gray dawn Marginally preferred to Apple Away and Broadway Boy. A serious error with two outs left him with a mountain to climb at Cheltenham last time, but he still finished a length behind the winner and has considerable room to progress further.

Kempton2.42 Nemean Lion He was just starting to get involved when a serious mistake at the penultimate put him out of contention at Greatwood at Cheltenham in November.

Warwick3.35 the reliable Yes of course He hasn’t won since November 2021 but has started to relax a bit on the weights and Dylan Johnston also sheds a useful 7lbs.

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