Sir Graham Wylie, one of jump racing’s most prominent and successful owners who has enjoyed tremendous big race successes at the Cheltenham Festival, has announced that he is taking a break from the sport.
The 60-year-old, whose horses run in his and wife Andrea’s name, will have no horses in training for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Sir Graham, who was knighted in the New Year’s honours list and is the co-founder of the financial software group Sage, has decided to focus his attention on his business interests.
He told the Racing Post: “I’m very busy with other businesses so it felt the right time to take a break from it all now. We have our charity and we’re involved in some very big businesses that need our attention right now in the current pandemic.
“I just don’t know right now when we might have horses again, as I’m focusing on so many other things – like the British Masters which starts this week. We’ll just take our involvement in anything as it comes.”
He added that his decision was in no way linked to any of the changes in British and Irish racing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and was “hopeful” of returning to the game in the future.
At one stage the Wylies had 80 horses in training with Howard Johnson. They enjoyed a number of major successes over jumps with the likes of three-time World Hurdle winner Inglis Drever, No Refuge, Arcalis, who all memorably scored at the 2005 Cheltenham Festival.
However, as a result of County Durham handler Johnson being banned for four years in 2011 by the BHA for running a horse who had undergone a neurectomy operation and steroid offenceshaving they dramatically reduced their involvement.
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Inglis Drever among stars owned
The Wylies then split their string of around 20 between the champion trainers of Britain and Ireland, Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins.
They remained highly successful, claiming big prizes with the likes of On His Own, Boston Bob, Briar Hill, Yorkhill, Bellshill and Nichols Canyon, who emulated Inglis Drever by capturing the 2017 Stayers’ Hurdle.
Only five horses carried the Wylies’ colours last season, all trained by Mullins, with the deaths of Up For Review, Invitation Only and Ballyward at the 2019 Cheltenham and Grand National festivals affecting the owners and causing them to contemplate their involvement in the sport.
For me being at the Cheltenham Festival when Inglis Drever landed the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2005, 2007 and 2008 will live long in the memory.
The Wylies decision to take a break does not come as a great shock given their tragic losses at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and the current Covid-19 pandemic.
With low prize money a major issue at present, many other owners have warned that they may will quit the game for good. Racing chiefs need to work with them, rather than against them, to try and get the situation resolved quickly or ultimately the sport will suffer and find itself facing an uphill battle to recover.
Cheltenham Festival winning mare Laurina joins Paul Nicholls
Cheltenham Festival winner Laurina has left Willie Mullins to join 11-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
After moving from trainer Guillaume Macaire in 2017, Laurina won her next six starts for Mullins by a combined distance of more than 100 lengths.
Her biggest success came in the Grade 1 Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final at Fairyhouse but she also won the Grade 2 Mares’ Novice Hurdle at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.
The following year she was sent off at 5/2 for the Champion Hurdle but disappointed when trailing in a 17 length fourth to Espoir D’Allen.
Laurina was then sent over the larger obstacles last season, but after winning a beginners’ chase at Gowran was pulled up in her next two starts in Grade 1s at Leopardstown and Sandown.
She was then switched back to hurdles on her final start of the season, but could only finish third in the Grade 3 Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown.
Laurina is owned by Sullivan Bloodstock, whose Jared Sullivan has had a number of horses with Nicholls previously – including dual King George VI Chase winner Silviniaco Conti.
The seven-year-old is not the only horse to have joined Nicholls from Mullins, the other two being Next Destination, who beat Delta Work in a Grade 1 novice hurdle on his most recent start in April 2018, and the Sullivan-owned Saglawy.
It will be interesting to see if Nicholls can work his magic on Laurina. She looked to have the world at her feet until the wheels came off in no uncertain fashion and she heads into the new season with major questions to answer.
Record breaking Lizzie Kelly hangs up her saddle
Record-breaking Jump jockey Lizzie Kelly has retired from horse racing after a terrific 11 years in the saddle, following the news that she and her husband are expecting their first child later this year.
Kelly made sporting history when she became the first woman to win a Grade 1 race aboard Tea For Two in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day back in 2015.
The 27 year-old continued to make a name for herself becoming the first female in 33 years to compete in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Tea For Two in 2017.
In 2018 Kelly went on to claim her first Cheltenham Festival winner onboard Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase. She enjoyed another Cheltenham Festival winner in 2019 with Siruh Du Lac in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.
Speaking on her retirement to Great British Racing, the Devon-based jockey said: “I will miss riding in races, the weighing room and everyone in it. Having two Cheltenham Festival winners is definitely something I will remember forever.
“The big winners are an important part of a jockey’s career, it’s what you put all your hard work and efforts into getting. The part of the job I enjoyed the most was riding young horses on their first time on the racetrack and looking after them – I got a real kick out of that. I will remain heavily involved in racing and pre-training. The long-term goal is to train but I am sure there is nothing that will replace riding in races.”
Kelly went on to thank the racing industry for her experience in the sport. She said : “I want to take the opportunity to thank the huge amount of people who have helped along the way; my husband Ed, Mum and Chester, the team and all of the owners at Culverhill Farm, Rodi Green, Neil King, Ginge and the hordes of other people who taught me, helped me and encouraged me over the past 11 years.
“The girls in the weighing room who made it feel like home and the lads on the other side who were so good to me. I really have had a career that I could never have imagined and I’ve been blessed to be associated with the horses that I have ridden.”