Wednesday 20 February 2019

Turning a corner after losing two stable stars

Coeur Sublime (left) was just edged out by Chief Justice (right) at Fairyhouse. Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post
Coeur Sublime (left) was just edged out by Chief Justice (right) at Fairyhouse. Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post

Daragh Ó Conchúir

The colours are as recognisable as those of the leading owners in either code and have long been a byword for quality. What many would not have known, because neither the livery nor the name had altered, was that there was a handover in 2008 and a new owner in situ.

The original Chris Jones was a successful developer with a lifelong interest in horse racing. His racing highlight was Klairon Davis winning the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in 1996, 12 months after triumphing in the Arkle Chase at the festival.

"My dad only ever had a couple of horses," recalls Chris Jones Jnr. "The most he might have ever had were two or three at any one time. He'd more sense than I had! To find one like Klairon Davis was unbelievable, and at a time when Irish horses weren't winning at Cheltenham."

Klairon lived "an incredible retirement" at the training centre Jones has established in Dunshaughlin, until passing away last August at the age of 29.

The 89-year-old Jones Snr died in 2013, but had transferred his love of horses. "We were brought up in that type of house. My cousin Mary Moore (wife of Klairon Davis's trainer Arthur), that whole Jones family. (Former jockey) Timmy Jones, the whole lot of them. You had no choice, you were surrounded by it. My four sisters took it on as well, they're very keen on it and it's a great family thing. That's one of the reasons we do it."

Tiger Cry was the first horse he owned and Cheltenham success came quickly, the son of Germany bagging the Grand Annual Chase under a Davy Russell drive in 2008. What A Charm added to the family's Prestbury Park CV in the Fred Winter Hurdle three years later, with a young Paul Townend doing the steering.

Jones had set up the Dunshaughlin base the previous year, with Andy Lynch overseeing the pre-training of the younger horses and training a few for the boss. Lynch remains a vital cog in the machine, though Gearóid O'Loughlin has now taken over the reins.

"Gearóid and Andy play a critical part in it all. People often ask, 'How come you have so many good horses out training?' We find out a lot of things before they leave our yard. Unless they're above average, they don't tend to progress or we move them on. So that's a big part of the operation."

Mala Beach, Home Farm and Noble Endeavour have been strong representatives in recent years, but this being racing, there has been plenty of bad luck too. Mega Fortune and Zabana, both Grade One winners, suffered fatal injuries within three months of one another at the end of 2017.

"It's been a kind of a funny year and there's a transition for us because we lost a couple of good horses last season. We don't have big numbers so losing two Grade One winners knocked us for six. It was difficult to take and it's made a fair dent, so we're just trying to get ourselves back.

"Mega Fortune was a big loss and had a bright future. Zabana was such a big part of Andy Lynch's life, and ours. He was a special horse. We were very attached to Zabana because he was at home on our farm in Dunshaughlin. For me, my wife and the kids, he was part of the family."

Jones would love to have a winner at Leopardstown, where he is a director. Ordinary World finished second to Min in the Dublin Chase yesterday, while Paloma Blue was withdrawn from the Arkle because of the ground. That same reason may see Noble Endeavour taken out of today's Unibet Irish Gold Cup, but Coeur Sublime is a major player in another of the day's four Grade Ones, the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle.

It is a packed affair, with at least six leading contenders. They include Chief Justice, who edged out Coeur Sublime by a short head at Fairyhouse at the beginning of December but was struggling when Jones's charge suffered a very heavy fall at the last at Leopardstown over Christmas when making his move to take the lead.

Mega Fortune won this race two years ago but having feared the worst immediately after Coeur Sublime tumbled so badly, Jones would be more than happy for the son of Elusive Pimpernel to have a positive experience.

"He won his maiden hurdle first time out at Down Royal so that was very good. He was probably unlucky at Fairyhouse, in a brilliant race, where he was just beaten. He was going to win at Leopardstown, no question, when he fell and he was very lucky to get up.

"We brought him home to Dunshaughlin for 10 days and Gearóid brought him to the sea every other day. The boys did an extraordinary job at home and he actually turned the corner fairly quickly.

"I suppose we won't know until we go back to the well but he's certainly not showing any ill effects now."

"I'd settle for a clear round after the last day. That's what you're thinking when you're on the comeback from a very bad fall like he had, for him to get around and enjoy it, with a smile on his face."

He has consistently rejected any suggestions that there was any official arrangement with Bryan Cooper, who has ridden more regularly for him this season, and though the Kerry rider had not been engaged for any of the weekend quartet, there is nothing to read into that he declares.

"There was never anything and Bryan knows that too. If you look at it, Bryan has ridden, Mark Enright has ridden, Davy (Russell) has ridden. We'll use them all. Davy rode an awful lot of them but obviously he has a lot of commitments now and doesn't ride as much.

"I had Davy on the phone to me last night and again this morning. It's great to have him, it's great to have Bryan. It's great to have the whole lot of them and we try to just share it around."

Either way, Chris Jones and those maroon and white stripes will keep making an impression.

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