Donn's Articles » Gavin Cromwell

Gavin Cromwell

Gavin Cromwell didn’t put Flooring Porter in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle last year at entry stage.  You couldn’t have entered him, you couldn’t have justified the entry fee, a five-year-old who had been beaten in a handicap hurdle at Gowran Park on his latest run off a mark of 131.  Then he won a Grade B handicap hurdle at Navan, and the world changed.

It wasn’t just that he won that handicap hurdle, it was the way that he won: stretched his rivals out down the back straight, steadied around the home turn, cleared away to win by 12 lengths.

The handicapper raised Flooring Porter to a mark of 150 after that win, and that was bordering on Grade 1 territory.

“I was humming and hawing about putting him into the Christmas Hurdle after that,” recalls Gavin Cromwell.  “About asking the owners if they wanted to pay the supplementary entry fee.  He was still going to have to improve again if he was going to be competitive in a Grade 1 race, and you didn’t want to look stupid.  And it was a lot of money to ask the owners to come up with.”

The trainer rang Ned Fogarty, one of the members of the Flooring Porter Syndicate.  It was going to cost €10,000 to put their horse into the Christmas Hurdle.  Fogarty thought for two or three seconds, no more.  Their horse had won €53,100 for winning the Navan race.  He had earned his entry fee.  It wasn’t their money, reasoned the owner.  It was the horse’s money.  There was no decision to be made.

Even so, Cromwell felt the pressure.  A Grade 1 race is Premier League, taking on the top class stayers on level terms, different to a handicap in which you are receiving weight from the better horses.  Flooring Porter was the joint-youngest horse in the Christmas Hurdle, one of just two five-year-olds, and he was the second lowest-rated horse in the race.  All but one of his rivals was considered to be superior, and he received no weight allowance for that.

Turns out, he didn’t need it.  Grade 1 or handicap, it was the same story.  Flooring Porter set off in front in the Christmas Hurdle and stretched his rivals out.  Again, they closed up as they raced out of the back straight and approached the second last flight, but Flooring Porter popped the obstacle and stretched away again.  He went to his left on landing over the last, but that’s his way.  He wouldn’t be Flooring Porter if everything was straightforward.  He stayed on well up the run-in, stretching away to win by six lengths.

On his next run, Flooring Porter won the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

“He still has his quirks,” says Cromwell.  “You wouldn’t really want him to lose that.  It’s part of him, it’s part of his talent.  But he knows what he’s doing now.  Danny (Mullins) schooled him the other day, and he said that he felt great.”

Flooring Porter is on track for the Dornan Engineering Christmas Hurdle again at Leopardstown on Tuesday.  He hasn’t had the ideal preparation, he fell at the second last flight in the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle at Navan on his debut this season, but his trainer reports him in tremendous form.

“Danny said that he still had plenty of horse left the last day when he came down.  He was just letting him go in and pop.  It looked like a horrible fall, but he was fine the next day.  He wasn’t even stiff.  He’s in great form.  I think that he’s as good as ever.”

It’s a busy time for Gavin Cromwell and his team.  He will be flat out over the course of the next four days with runners at Leopardstown, Limerick and Down Royal, and the work has to be done.  The team splits up.  If you work Christmas Day, you have New Year’s Day off.

“It’s so hard to get good staff these days, and we’re very lucky that we have great people.  But for them, none of this would be possible.”

It was at Christmas time in 2017 that Cromwell took Raz De Maree over to Chepstow for the postponed Welsh Grand National, then took him back two weeks later for the re-scheduled race, and won it.

“That was brilliant.  Raz De Maree was such a hero around here, he was locally owned.  When we got him back home, he was paraded at the two national schools here.  He was like a rock star!”

Attention is focused closer to home this year, with Flooring Porter, Gabynako and Vanillier giving the trainer big chances in Grade 1 races in Ireland.

“Gabynako ran a big race in the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse last time.  He was unlucky, he made those mistakes at crucial stages of the race, but I loved the way that he came back on the run-in after making those mistakes.”

Gabynako will go to Limerick for the Grade 1 BoyleSports Faugheen Novice Chase over two and a half miles on Sunday.  Vanillier, winner of the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last March, is entered along with his stable companion in the Limerick race, but he also holds an entry in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Wednesday over three miles.

“Vanillier is a Grade 1 winner over hurdles, but he has always looked like a chaser, and he has taken to chasing well.  I’d rather go to Leopardstown over three miles with him, so hopefully the ground is going to be safe at Leopardstown.  He doesn’t need it bottomless, he shows a nice bit of class on nicer ground, he has a gear.  We just want nice, safe ground.”

There are lots of others.  Perceval Legallois in the maiden hurdle at Limerick on Sunday, Midnight It Is in the beginners’ chase at Down Royal on Sunday, Alfa Mix and Ilikedwayurthinkin and Darver Star in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown on Monday.

“We’re looking forward to it now all right.  It’s great to be here.  Good chances in Grade 1 races, runners with chances in the Paddy Power Chase.  It’s great to be competitive in these races.”

In the Premier League.

© The Sunday Times, 26th December 2021