Training in the shadow of giants

Despite never having enjoyed the big numbers some other trainers in Newmarket possess, James Fanshawe’s patient approach has stood him in good stead in a town and sport that never stands still

Ask James Fanshawe for his USP and he might think you were inquiring about a feature on his new iPhone. In which case he’d look at you quizzically before referring both you and the iPhone to Janet Anderson, who runs his racing office.

James Fanshawe has been training since 1990 and is enjoying another good season

Fanshawe is grappling with the device when we meet. He’d lost a chunk of memory when he transferred his contacts from his old phone. It leaves him feeling perplexed, yet while he may not be in harmony with modern gadgetry, he actually has a strong USP even though he probably wouldn’t know what the acronym stands for.

He has made a Unique Selling Point of Pegasus Stables in Newmarket, which he and his wife, Jacko, moved into in 1989. It has become the fulcrum of his operation: a historic property, built by Fred Archer as the place from which the renowned jockey would have trained had he not taken his own life, aged 29, back in 1886.

But it’s not just the property on its own. Fanshawe is preoccupied by Archer to the extent that he feels the man’s presence in the bricks and mortar. He hasn’t actually seen the ghostly silhouette of the man aboard his grey hack, which is said to stalk Newmarket Heath. But he feels it, nonetheless.

He has also embraced Archer’s legend in the quest to recruit owners. “Fred Archer is what this place is all about,” Fanshawe maintains. “He built it in 1884 and there’s a feeling here that he has never left. He was a Victorian icon, in the top five of the most famous people who ever lived in Newmarket, so it’s great to have him here.”

It is tempting to think Fanshawe is indulging in whimsy for the sake of a good ruse. There may be an inclination that way, since Fanshawe is renowned for his occasionally waspish sense of humour. But the theme is consistent with other aspects of his persona.

We know that he is overtly superstitious. He baulks when he is asked for a pre-race television interview on his horse’s chance. Some years ago he was door-stepped into it by a paddock reporter, and while his geniality obliged him to field the questions, his expression betrayed the fact he was seething inside. He then closed the interview by thanking his interrogator for jinxing his horse.

He is also happy to perpetuate stories that his lads have been known to deploy a Ouija board when they fancy a horse, in the process summoning Archer’s spirit from beyond the grave. Needless to say, such imagery is evocative within the inherent mystique that surrounds racing.

When I started we had owners who’d spend up to £70,000 on a yearling and have it in training on their own. These days they are more likely to join syndicates

And why not? “Newmarket is very much like that,” Fanshawe says. “I mean, Charles II and [his fabled mistress] Nell Gwyn are still around, aren’t they? All these ghosts are what makes Newmarket, to a degree. Referring to its history is a good way of bringing that across.”

That’s why Fanshawe set up Fred Archer Racing, a partnership inaugurated by the husband-and-wife team in 2013. There are nine horses in the venture this year, each of them split into ten shares. And when the “jackpot” horse came along at Royal Ascot, it invariably had one more connotation with Archer.

The Tin Man was Archer’s nickname. “Archer loved money,” Fanshawe says. “Like Lester Piggott, he had a reputation for being cautious with the cash. He made every pound a prisoner.”

In which case Archer – who left £66,662 in his will, the equivalent of more than £6 million today – would have loved his equine namesake. The Tin Man pushed his career earnings beyond £800,000 in winning the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

More pertinently, The Tin Man pays tribute to Fanshawe’s skills. His Royal Ascot triumph marked the trainer’s fourth Group 1 strike in the previous ten months. Fanshawe has sent out 18 Group 1 winners in all. That’s a healthy return for a man whose stable has rarely housed 100 horses.

There was a time when Fanshawe was part of the thrusting generation hell-bent on dethroning Sir Henry Cecil and Sir Michael Stoute as Newmarket’s top dogs. But he expanded too quickly at a time when the last recession was gathering pace. It required him to mount a salvage operation in 2010 with a team of just 40 horses.

“Around the time I started [in 1990] we had individual owners who’d spend between £30,000 and £70,000 on a yearling and have it in training on their own,” the 55-year-old reflects. “These days, they are more likely to join syndicates; I lost quite a few owners to syndicates as a result.”

James Fanshawe and son Tom, who rides star sprinter The Tin Man at home

Fanshawe realised he had to adapt the concept of ownership. He also needed to adapt his approach to training, given that he had fewer horses. Each one became more precious. Every shot had to count, especially when he grew out of the vanguard of younger trainers to whom new owners are magnetically attracted.

“The ‘young trainer’ business is a funny perception,” he says. “I remember my uncle, David Nicholson, didn’t reach his peak until he was in his 50s, when he became champion trainer [over jumps]. But if it’s a choice, the new kid in town tends to win over an established older trainer.

“I’m not complaining,” he continues. “I benefited when I was a young trainer. I did well early on and we got a yard full of horses. But looking back, I was definitely a lot more gung-ho when I started.

“I’d take a chance buying horses on spec, and I’m much more methodical now in my overall approach. Routine with the horses is paramount here. I try not to break those rules. Overall, I take fewer risks and am probably more patient.”

Fanshawe has been training for 27 years, all of them in Newmarket. He’d bounded into the town for the first time in 1982 for the first of eight seasons as Stoute’s assistant. That was 35 years ago, and the place enchants him even more now than it did at first sight.

“That first summer I spent in Newmarket was completely different to anything I’d seen before,” he recalls. “I love the place. If a town was ever designated as the centre of the racing world, it would have to be Newmarket.”

Needless to say, Newmarket has changed significantly since he first arrived. But it still retains its essence, together with the requirement for trainers to get on as a collective even though there is plenty of barbed ribbing.

“On the whole we’re pretty sociable towards one another; more so than the generations preceding us,” Fanshawe ventures. “It is not so competitive as to preclude good friendships.”

He then tells a story concerning Captain Cecil Boyd-Rochfort and Sir Noel Murless, who used to train from Warren Place. The rivalry between them was intense throughout the 1970s, when they were both at the top of their game.

All the Newmarket trainers get on fine until someone starts to do really well – then we all get jealous

“Apparently the captain used to take his horses over for a pick of grass outside Warren Place when they were coughing,” Fanshawe relates.

“Yes,” he concedes, “there are occasions when it breaks down a bit. It’s handbags at dawn on the Heath when someone has pinched another one’s owner, but basically we get on fine – until someone starts to do really well. Then we all get jealous.”

Fanshawe says he doesn’t recognise the feeling of claustrophobia others equate with Newmarket, where more than 30% of the town’s inhabitants are involved in racing. From his perspective, the competitive spirit among trainers is a positive, although he is not immune to the goldfish-bowl syndrome.

That syndrome becomes more pronounced in lean months. “You might be having a crap time but you’ve got to keep going,” he says. “You keep your eyes open, take in what’s happening, but use that to spur you on.

“In my corner of Newmarket we have William Haggas, Ed Dunlop, Hugo Palmer and also Roger Varian until he moved up to the Bury Road. It can be extremely competitive. You see Haggas’ string out on the Severals: these great big horses gleaming in the sun, while yours look moth-eaten. But you mustn’t change your routine even though it becomes very tempting.”

Part of the temptation stems from the fact there are very few secrets in Newmarket. “The feed truck might come down here and I’ll ask what’s so-and-so feeding his horses and he’ll say, ‘Oh, this and that.’ It makes you wonder whether you should be changing to it,” he elaborates.

“Then you hear that someone else has a new toy, say a treadmill or one of those sea-walkers. Obviously vets have to be discreet, but they do go from yard to yard. And the lads socialise with each other. They may have a girlfriend in another yard. Word gets around quickly.”

However, the most valuable piece of information Fanshawe has gleaned is something he learnt for himself. Patience is the byword even though Fanshawe exudes a sense of restless energy. Its benefits are expressed outwardly by his horses, the best of which he thinks about incessantly in the quest to maximise achievement.

With 75 in his string, Fanshawe has to pick his targets carefully. If a big-race plan goes astray it might be months before he can contemplate the prospect of redemption. Trainers with wave after wave of big-race runners don’t have to spend anything like as long in the loneliest of waiting-rooms.

Fanshawe is thus consumed by the build-up to big races in which he has runners. “There is tension involved in getting everything right,” he says. “You have to concentrate hard. I said to myself a while ago that I needed to learn how to enjoy training horses, irrespective of whether they were winning or losing. In reality, it doesn’t work that way.”

Nor should it. Training horses in Newmarket is an intense business. No matter how well you are doing, there is always someone who is doing better. There may be plenty doing worse but the competitive instinct fundamental to success does not allow for backward glances.

After The Tin Man’s Ascot triumph he turned out in the July Cup, where the slow pace irredeemably compromised his chance. It consigned Fanshawe to that lonely waiting-room, where he will count down the days like a prison sentence until The Tin Man is loosed once again.

Yet in the final analysis, the measure of Fanshawe is that he perennially unearths horses that are capable of taking on the very best on a limited budget. With or without the help of Fred Archer.

Queally partnership a positive for trainer and jockey
A feature of James Fanshawe’s set-up is his alliance with Tom Queally, the jockey forever linked with Frankel who went through lean times after the great horse retired five years ago.

The Tin Man and Tom Queally take the plaudits after winning the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot

This time last year Queally was sharing the rides with Freddy Tylicki. The two jockeys had their own set of horses. Fanshawe was happy enough to listen to the preferences of his owners but what he wanted, above all, was continuity in the saddle.

There were two stable stars at Pegasus House last season. There was The Tin Man, whom Queally has ridden in all but the first of his 14 career starts, and there was Speedy Boarding, whom Tylicki rode in every one of her 12 races. This speaks volumes about the loyalty Fanshawe extends to jockeys who support his stable.

Let’s hope that winning some decent races helps to get Tom going again

Fanshawe’s face creased with angst at the mention of Tylicki’s fall in October last year that left him paralysed from the waist down. But the nature of it is that life goes on. Queally is now aboard the majority of Fanshawe’s runners when he is not required by Mohammed Obaida, who retains him.

“Tom has proved himself to be world class,” Fanshawe says of the jockey, who followed up The Tin Man’s Royal Ascot triumph by winning the Northumberland Plate aboard the Fanshawe-trained Higher Power one week later.

“Tom has confidence in The Tin Man, which is very important. He knows what the horse can do. He has good hands and comes here to ride work a couple of times a week. It’s a good arrangement all round, and let’s hope that winning some decent races helps to get Tom going again.

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