HENRIETTA KNIGHT BACK IN BUSINESS AFTER HIATUS WITH FIRST RUNNERS BACK PENCILLED IN FOR THIS FRIDAY
Monday 8th January
By Graham Clark
Henrietta Knight admits she is ‘more nervous’ thinking about saddling her first two potential runners at Wincanton on Friday (January 12th) since being granted her trainer’s licence for the second time than when sending out the mighty Best Mate to win his third Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2004.
The 77-year-old, who was given permission to return to the training ranks by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) last month, has entered Zettabyte in the Start Your RacingTV Free Trial Now Handicap Hurdle and Ballywalter in the Stayers Maiden Hurdle at the Somerset track.
Having saddled a winner with her first runner at Bangor-on-Dee in 1989, Knight, who is based at West Lockinge Farm near Wantage, Oxfordshire, went on to enjoy immeasurable success on the biggest stages of them all before handing her licence in back in 2012 to care for her late husband Terry Biddlecombe.
During her first spell as a trainer Knight’s finest moments came when saddling Edredon Bleu to glory in the 2000 Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and Best Mate to three Cheltenham Gold Cups between 2002 and 2004.
And Knight’s return to the training ranks following a near 12-year hiatus could be highly emotional should Ballywalter make his debut under rules a triumphant one with the seven-year-old, who is owned by her niece Mary Cookson, set to carry the colours of her late sister Celia Vestey.
Knight said: “I’m quite nervous thinking about it and I think I’m more nervous than when I sent out Best Mate in his third Gold Cup.
“Lots of people have been writing about us and I think there is an expectation for us to have a winner as we had a winner with our first runner in 1989 at Bangor.
“The plan is very much to go to Wincanton on Friday providing it is on. Zettabyte would prefer better ground, while Ballywalter is not a particularly fast horse but he will love the ground. He is a very honest and game horse that jumps and stays well.
“He is owned by my niece, who will be there at Wincanton with me, and he will run in my late sister’s (Celia) colours so it will be an extremely emotional day.”
Since calling time on her first stint as a trainer Knight has kept her hand in the racing world after writing several books, along with setting up a pre-training and schooling business, which she will continuing operating.
However, Knight, who was also racing manager to owner Mike Grech before his death in September, feels the lure back to give training another go was too strong to resist.
She added: “I would be waking up a lot of these mornings wishing I was training these horses that having worked with I would then see winning for other trainers.
“I’m fortunate to be healthy and I have a lot of enthusiasm for racing. I thought if I can still do a job for somebody else then why can’t I do it for myself.
“I can still take horses in from other people as the BHA have given me a licence for my main yard and my other yard is non-licensed which means I can still have other horses in.
“I’m very proud of my jumping facilities here and my schooling field is as good as any others in the country as I’ve spent money on it.
“When the jockeys get off horses and they say send it to Hen’s it gives me great pleasure to then see the jockeys school them at ours and watching the horses progress.”
While the focus will be on Knight she insists she could not have set up again without the help of her assistant trainer, Grand National-winning jockey, Brendan Powell, and her secretary Dawn Graham.
She added: “I’ve known Brendan for a long time, and I would always be weary taking one of his on as I knew he would have carefully planned out the race.
“He knows racing inside out and I’ve always said if there was a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire topic on racing then Brendan would get the million pounds.
“You can’t catch him out on anything. He knows, all the form, the jockeys, the distances and the horses and lots of things that go over my head.
“It has been so far so good between us. He knows I’m half mad, and he tolerates my strange ways. When Terry was around we both had our strange ways but it is all about compromise.
“Dawn Graham has also been invaluable as well. She was my secretary when I trained before, and she has been a big help in the office.”
Despite having won Jump racing’s Blue Riband on three occasions Knight believes she is potentially now better equipped than she was before having visited a multitude of yards to help produce her book The Jumping Game.
She added: “People have been tremendously supportive and even though I left the Jump racing game for a while I have a lot of good friends in it.
“I wrote my book The Jumping Game and I visited 30 trainers in England and Ireland and I learnt so much talking to different people.
“I was utterly fascinated, and in theory I should know a greater deal now compared to before. In this game you never stop learning, and you learn something new every day.”
A return to the hallowed Cheltenham winner’s enclosure remains an ambition Knight would like to achieve, however for now getting that first winner on the board remains the priority ahead of more ambitious targets being set in the future.
Knight trained a total of seven Festival winners in her first stint as a trainer, beginning with Karshi in the 1997 Stayers’ Hurdle.
She added: “I would love to have another winner at Cheltenham, but I might have to wait until I’m in my 80s for that to happen as a lot of the horses we have are young and exciting and some are only two or three years old.
“It would be my aim to have another winner at Cheltenham as you can’t describe that feeling, however for all that those previous days there were wonderful I never look back.
“I don’t really have the time to sit back and watch those races. Racing is about planning ahead and keeping on going forwards. You can’t keep winding the clock back.
“We are already halfway through this season and next season we will start to have targets. At the moment, it is just going to be one step at a time, but it will be nice when we get the first winner on the board.”