A special moment at Trentham on Saturday had added meaning for two of the major players involved in Jennifer Eccles’ spectacular Group 1 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks (2400m) triumph.
Trainer Shaune Ritchie has confirmed that the Rip Van Winkle filly’s handler Colm Murray will be joining him in a new training partnership from the commencement of the 2020-21 racing season. Born and bred Irishman Murray joined Ritchie’s Cambridge operation over two years ago and the talented horseman has been an integral member of the Jennifer Eccles support crew, riding her in all of her work and looking after her on raceday.
“Colm is a natural horseman and he has that way about him that I think only the kiwis and the Irish have with their horses,” Ritchie said. “He gets to the stable each morning before me and is very keen and is exactly the right type of person that is great for racing and for our stable. “We have a wonderful bunch of staff and he fits in very well.
“He has been riding the filly (Jennifer Eccles) all the way through and is a major asset for the operation. “He is very good with the clients and they enjoy his company. “When you are away from home you want someone like Colm at home looking after the team as it gives you real peace of mind.”
A former jumps jockey in his homeland, Murray made his way to New Zealand where he worked for another Cambridge trainer in Mark Forbes before finding his way to Ritchie. “He transferred over to me after leaving Mark’s stable and fitted in straight away,” Ritchie said. “I have had Noel Waddell as my foreman for some time and he’s been great, but he has no ambition to train again so to get Colm on board works out well. “His wife Mallory is the broodmare manager at Cambridge Stud and I was joking with her the other day that their one-year-old daughter’s first words are going to be Jennifer Eccles given how much time her dad spends with her.”
Ritchie returned home from Wellington on Sunday morning and was looking forward to celebrating the Oaks win with family and friends later in the evening before working out where to next for his stable star, which could include a one-off raid on the Group 1 Australian Oaks (2400m) in Sydney next month. “It’s exciting as she is certainly a spectacular filly,” he said. “We’re very aware that we have had a busy season and whether we go to the well one more time. “We will make that decision at the end of the week, once she has got home from Trentham, but if she looks at us funny or leaves an oat or we get a wet track, then we will pull the plug and she will be off to the paddock. “I would hate to go over there and have her run sub-standard so if there is any doubt we won’t be going.”
Ritchie did have one tongue-in-cheek recommendation for the large group of syndicate members who race Jennifer Eccles after another hearty rendition of her theme song, the Hollies’ 1968 tune of the same name, that rang around the Trentham birdcage on Saturday afternoon. “I would prefer if it was a little bit more modern as the song was written before I was even born,” Ritchie said. “It’s no Post Malone and we don’t have a Buddy Holly on vocals so if she does get to a feature race in Australia, we may have to take the whole group to singing lessons and get some professional help.”