Life has been anything but plain sailing for Harry Whittington over the past 18 months but after admitting he has real ‘skip back in his step’ he hopes returning stable star Rouge Vif (pictured) can give him even more to smile about at Huntingdon tomorrow (Tuesday 8th November).
Last season was arguably one of the toughest the father of two has faced since taking out his licence back in 2012 after leading owner Andrew Brooks revealed early on in the campaign that he would be removing all his horses from his yard.
Despite what was a real setback at the time the 41 year old has since steadily built his team back up, and that hard work and determination has helped put him in a good position to eclipse his total of 10 winners from what was a difficult 2021/22 campaign.
Not only has this summer seen Whittington establish a pre-training business to run alongside his training operation, but he has also welcomed back Rouge Vif following his purchase at the Thoroughbid June sale by his current connections.
Admitting to having a “soft spot” for Rouge Vif, who he saddled to Grade Two glory on two occasions before his departure, Whittington hopes a switch back to smaller obstacles in tomorrow’s Weatherbys & Birdie Calendars Michaelmas Handicap Hurdle can now help reignite his flame.
Whittington said: “It was obviously tough and gutting to lose such quality animals, but at the same time you have just got to pick yourself back up and keep going. We have a new team now and Rouge Vif is back so things are working out nicely
“Lots of things in life are tough though and there are some days that you question everything, but I’ve always been a grafter having only started out with five horses.
“Now we have a smaller number of horses we can put more attention into them while I’ve set up a pre-training business alongside it and that is going well. I’ve got a real skip in my step and I look forward to jumping out of bed every morning.
“From the moment Rouge Vif walked in the door I was so pleased to have him back and obviously I’ve always had a soft spot for him as everyone knows so to have him back in the yard is fantastic.
“He was always a decent hurdler winning a Grade Two at Kelso then finishing third in a Grade One at Aintree. I just have it in my head that we should run him over hurdles for a bit just to sweeten him up.”
Although welcoming his old equine ally back with open arms, Whittington admits that he was slightly sceptical at first about connections purchasing him, but he insists he is pleased with what he has seen at home since returning to his care.
He added: “I was a little bit doubtful when Colin (Peake, part-owner) told me that he wanted to buy him as let’s face it he has not been finishing out his races.
“I just wondered whether we would be able to get him back to his best but that is what we will try and do
“We gave him a long break when he first arrived back and we have taken things slowly.
“We have done a bit of an MOT on him and there a couple of things we have sorted out but he appears to be in very good form.”
While Whittington is pleased with how Rouge Vif has shaped up on his gallops at Hill Barn Stables he believes the acid test as to how much ability he retains will not be discovered until he has contested the two-mile feature at the Cambridgeshire track tomorrow.
He added: “He has been showing up well at home but he still needs to show us that he wants to do it in a race. We couldn’t have done any more at home and hopefully he can translate that on a racecourse.
“He was given a mark of 140 over hurdles which is helpful. I saw this race a couple of months ago and a flat track like that will suit him, while the prize money is good.
“I feel like Huntingdon will be fine for him as he always runs well on flat track and it made the most sense to go there.”
There is no hiding the excitement Whittington has about having Rouge Vif back on his team sheet, however he has revealed that he is getting a ‘right kick’ out of his pre-training venture which has really taken off.
He added: “I did the pre-training for about five years before I got into training and I get a right kick out of it. I’ve broken in a lot of horses and I just enjoy bringing young horses on.
“That has always been my favourite part of working with horses is bringing them through a system. I feel I am well set up to do a proper job.
“It was through the summer I decided to set this up as we needed to get more numbers in. It is a good business model and I felt it was the right thing to do.
“We have been well supported and I have some excellent clients. I’m so glad I made the decision to do it. Hopefully it is now onwards on upwards.”
Plenty of things might have changed over the past 18 months, but one thing that has remained constant throughout is the support Whittington has continued to receive from Grade One-winning rider Daryl Jacob.
He said: “One man who I am particularly grateful to is Daryl Jacob who has stuck by me throughout thick and thin.
“Not only is he a great jockey but he is a wonderful horseman in helping to educate the young horses.
“When he is not riding for Simon Munir and Isaac Souede he will be on board all the horses for me. I am very thankful for his support.”
With his mind set now changed to quality over quantity as regards to the horses he sends out on track Whittington has selected three other horses alongside the returning Rouge Vif that he hopes will figure on his winners tally by the end of the season.
He added: “He Knows Better ran in what I think was an above average bumper at Chepstow the other day.
“He was very green for the first mile and the penny dropped as the race went on and he wasn’t beaten far in third.
“I don’t think I’ve been so happy with a horse finishing third. It was a really nice debut and I think he is well above average.
“I’m excited about Franigane coming back in over fences having missed last season and Young Bull for staying chases later in the season.
“All in all I’m extremely happy with the mix we have got and I’m excited for the season ahead.”