Willoughby and Our Traveling Head Lad
This horse takes no introduction, he is what you dream of training and owning when you go into racing.
His presence was apparent from day one. Bought out of the Goffs Land Rover Sale as a three-year-old in 2014 after Ben's first season by Tessie Greatrex and Ben. He was bought for Paul and Clare Rooney.
Willoughby was broken in that month and then turned away before coming back into full training later that summer. His class was obvious from day one but keeping a lid on this fractious individual was tricky to say the lease. Harry Beswick, Ben's Conditional at the time, rode him and did a brilliant job. ‘Wooohhh Willoughby’ could be heard during first lot most days!
He did everything with ease and as the season went on this striking individual caught the eye of many. He was still a frame of a horse though maturing all the time. He was a big baby and when it came to his racecourse debut in a bumper at Ffos Las he provided a rodeo show to rival any bucking bronco!!
He went on to finish third and was put away for the summer. The only way to describe him when he returned was ‘WOW’! He had grown and he had matured into an even more magnificent individual.
He won his first two bumpers that year and then headed to the Aintree Champion Bumper. Unlucky in running that day, he still managed to finish a fast-finishing fifth. The patience that he was shown over those couple of years by Ben and The Rooney’s, we truly believe allowed him to become the horse and he is today.
Last year was a year dreams are made of. He started his eagerly anticipated hurdling career around Market Rasen followed by Warwick and then onto the Grade 2 Leamington Spa in January where he won this in empathic style. Next stop was the Grade 1 Neptune on Wednesday the 15th March, a date and a day that will forever live in our memory. He led from the start, turning the heat up as the race went on under a textbook front-running ride by David Bass. He showed guts and determination to fend off the sadly late Neon Wolf in which can only be described as one of the closest and thrilling finishes of the week. No words can really describe that day and the joy it brought to so many. It provided memories that will last a lifetime and a celebration (by his trainer) that will be repeated many times leading up to this years’ festival!!
He has started this season in fine style and has taken to fences with ease under the guidance of Nico de Boinville. After what was perhaps a slightly interesting start at Huntingdon, he went on to win the Grade 2 Novice Chase at the Winter Carnival at Newbury. He was then only beaten a few lengths in the Grade 2 Dipper where perhaps its fair to say the race was not run to suit him and he wasn’t quite firing on all cylinders that day.
All being well and with everything crossed. He will head straight to Cheltenham now.
As Ben said ‘he is the horse that made all my boyhood dreams come true’ he is a treasure to us and we are so grateful to him. He is one in a million.
TRAVELLING HEAD LAD
After profiling Willoughby it seems fitting to talk about the man that looks after him every day.
Nick is the epitome of what a member of staff should be. He is hardworking and dedicated to the yard. He goes above and beyond his role and we’re incredibly lucky this Yorkshire lad applied for one our job roles three years ago!
Nick, a qualified joiner, decided that he wanted to go into racing and therefore took up a position at the Northern Racing School to learn about the game. He did an eight-week course and headed to Tim Vaughan's for a season before heading to the flat yard of Keith Dalgleish in Scotland.
He soon realised that jumps were where he wanted to be and we had put an advert on Careers in Racing at the same time, a lucky coincidence! He applied, was offered a role straight away, and moved down with his lovely Labrador Red, who has become as much part of life at the yard here as anyone.
It soon became apparent that Nick was going to be a big part of the team from the word go. He soon made the role his own, but also he brought so much more to the team. His joinery skills were second to none and he worked overtime helping transform the yard, making improvements and increasing the size of the tack room.
After a couple of Seasons, Nick decided that he’d like to give pointing a go and took on Bath Wells as his pointer. Bath Wells had been in training with Ben and had become high in the handicap, his owners had decided to give him away as a pointer and Ben saw the perfect opportunity to put Bath Wells into training with Sophie for Nick to have some fun on.
He had his first ride in January 2016 at the Heythrop Point-to-Point. Cheered on by the yard they finished a fantastic second. Nick took some outside rides for others and had a lot of fun that season.
As the yard was growing, an opening for Travelling Head Lad became available. Nick took on this role part-time last year with Eloise and he was then appointed Traveling Head at the beginning of this season. His capability to manage staff and horses with a level head has meant that the team that go racing are efficient and always turned out well. He is fantastic with owners and we know that with Nick there the horses will always have the highest level of care.