Donn's Articles » Gavin Cromwell

Gavin Cromwell

It’s not quite rags to riches, but it’s still a good story.  The farrier who became the trainer.  The blacksmith who put the shoes on the horses for the trainer, who became a trainer himself and conquered the world.

Gavin Cromwell is still a farrier, but he is not a farrier who trains a few horses on the side any more.  He is a serious racehorse trainer who also runs a farrier business.  He may not do all the shoeing himself any more, but life as a farrier continues.

So does life as a racehorse trainer.  It thrives and flows.  It began as a trickle, one and two winners each season between the mid-2000s and the mid 2010s.  Then it started to grow.  Five National Hunt winners in Ireland in 2014/15, 14 in 2015/16.  Last season, he had eight National Hunt winners in Ireland and nine in Britain.  That total of 17 was his best up to that point.  This season, he has trained 30 National Hunt winners in Ireland and five in Britain, over double his best previous tally already, and we have only just moved into March.

It’s not all about National Hunt either.  In 2017, Cromwell had nine winners on the flat in Ireland.  In 2018, he had six flat winners in Ireland and seven in Britain.  During the 2018 calendar year, he had a total of 48 winners across all codes, across all distances, across all jurisdictions. 

In January last year, he took the 13-year-old Raz De Maree to Chepstow in Wales, and won the Welsh Grand National over three miles and five and a half furlongs.  In October, he took the three-year-old Princess Yaiza to Longchamp in France, and won the Group 2 Prix de Royallieu over a mile and a half. 

There was only one Irish-trained winner at Longchamp on Arc de Triomphe weekend last year: Princess Yaiza, trained by Gavin Cromwell.

Espoir D’Allen supplied two of those 48 wins in 2018.  JP McManus’ horse won the Grade 3 Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas in November, and he won the Grade 3 Irish Independent Hurdle at Limerick’s Christmas festival.  He started off 2019 well too by easily landing the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas at the end of January, and he continues in the ascendancy. 

“We were very happy with him at Naas,” says his trainer.  “He made a couple of little mistakes, but he did it nicely.  And they didn’t go a great pace.  He will be happier when they go a stronger pace.”

That was the Voix Du Nord gelding’s seventh victory from eight runs over hurdles since he arrived at Cromwell’s yard, just outside Navan in County Meath.  That was in 2017, when he was a three-year-old who had just won a bumper in France. 

“Frank (Berry, JP McManus’ racing manager) just told me that they were sending him to me.  I didn’t know anything about the horse before he arrived here.  I had to Google him.  But I was delighted to get him.”

Espoir D’Allen arrived just over a year after Jer’s Girl, owned by JP McManus, trained by Gavin Cromwell, won Grade 1 novice hurdles at the Fairyhouse Easter meeting and at the Punchestown Festival.

“We liked Envoi D’Allen from the start.  We knew that he was a smart horse but, in truth, we never really anticipated that he would turn out to be as good as he has turned out to be.”

He was good from the start.  He won his maiden hurdle on his Irish debut, his first run for his new connections, at Punchestown in October 2017.  After that, there are nice stepping stones for juvenile hurdlers through the Irish National Hunt season if they are good enough and if they continue to progress: a winners’ hurdle at Down Royal in early November, the Grade 3 Bar One Racing Juvenile Hurdle at the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle meeting at Fairyhouse in early December, the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.

Espoir D’Allen was good enough, and he did continue to progress.  He won all three.

“He’s not a horse who shows you a lot at home, but he kept doing it on the track.  He kept winning.”

After that, the obvious race for him was the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival in February last year.  Espoir D’Allen was sent off the odds-on favourite, but it didn’t happen for him.  He wasn’t himself, he didn’t run his race, and he finished fourth of the five runners, behind Mr Adjudicator and Farclas, who ultimately went on to fight out the finish of the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival the following month.

Espoir D’Allen didn’t make it to Cheltenham last year.  He was given the time that he needed after that defeat, and he didn’t return to the racetrack until last November.

“It was always the plan to start him off in the Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas this season, and go from there if all went well.  Take our time with him.  We left him in the Irish Champion Hurdle to give ourselves the option of running there, but we thought it best then to go back to Naas instead, for the Grade 3 race.  He won that nicely, and he’s on track for Cheltenham.”

The Champion Hurdle is his target at the Cheltenham Festival.  It’s a big step up in class.  It’s a hot Champion Hurdle, much hotter than it looked like it was going to be a month ago, with Buveur D’Air and Apple’s Jade and Laurina all lying in wait.  But Espoir D’Allen may not be out of place in the line-up.  He has earned his shot.

“It can be difficult for a five-year-old, taking on the older horses.  But he is talented and he is progressive.  I’ll be nervous for sure, but it’s good nervous.  It’s great to be going there with a live chance in the Champion Hurdle.”

The story continues.

© The Sunday Times, 3rd March 2019