Today we introduce a short feature to the site whereby we ask a number of influential kennels their plans for next year, with a brief reminder of their 2019 experience. We kick off with the trainer with the highest open race strike rate in 2019, as she possibly approaches the end of an era. . .Hayley Keightley.
Hayley’s husband, and kennel strategist, Mark can see pluses and minuses in the kennel’s 2019 returns, though there is no doubting the identity of the kennel star.
He said: “If you had said to me before the start of the year that Roxholme Nidge would win two Cat Ones (Steel City Cup/East Anglian Derby), and Poppy would win one (George Ing Leger), I would have settled for it. Despite his problems, Nidge has been outstanding and I had hoped that we might sneak him into the Bob Holmes competition at Sheffield before the end of the year.
“Unfortunately, he picked up a slight niggle on a toe on the gallop and we’ve had to forget about it for this year. But I still have an ambition to run him in an English Derby, even if it is just one heat. He has never had the chance to contest one, and then maybe retire him.
“I realise that he will be four and a half years old, but he absolutely loves the gallop. He only does as much as he wants, but if he is pleasing us in his work and enjoying it, why not?
“With Poppy, we all know that she is an enigma. If she can dominate a race in the first twelve seconds, she is nearly impossible to pick up. If she gets behind it is a different story as we saw in the Doncaster Leger. I honestly think if she had led Droopys Live in the final, she would have won. But Poppy is fragile and you can’t afford give a start to a bitch of the quality of Droopys Live.
“We might run her in the Golden Jacket at Crayford, even though we know she doesn’t really like the place. I would also like to give her one test in a true marathon. If she stays, then maybe the TV Trophy. If she doesn’t, we will wait for her to come in season and she will be off breeding.”
One kennel star who won’t be returning to the track is Roxholme Hat. The former Scurry/Silver Salver winner now lives a life of spoilt retirement in the caravan with Craig Morris.
For some of the other kennel stars, there are plenty of 2020 targets.
Mark said: “If you look at our two Derby dogs from last year, Roxholme Glory and Jim, did I ever think they were likely winners? No.
“Jim turned out to be a ‘working man’s class’ open runner. I would say he is among the dozen fastest dogs in the country, but would always be found short against the very best. He was probably half a length slower away than the best, another half a length slower to the first bend, half a length slower along the backstraight and so on. But I am still hopeful we can win either an average Cat One, or Cat Two competition with him.
“With Glory, he will be stepped up in trip. I think he might be a dog who does just enough when he is in front. He can get caught out by brutal pace, but over the longer distance they won’t necessarily get to him. We know how much potential he has after that 35.25 (575) first time over six bends at Romford. Unfortunately, he picked up a minor stress fracture of the stifle, but he should come back better than ever.
“I am hoping he could be joined in the Coronation Cup by Roxholme Dolly. I don’t mind admitting, I ruined her last year by putting her over the 714 metres at Crayford.
“She ran Ice On Fire to two lengths in the Puppy Classic Final, and he wasn’t getting away from her. She then ran 33.20 twice (33.22, 33.27) over the 540 at Crayford, which is exceptional.
“She won’t be going any further than the 575 at Romford in the future, plus maybe Crayford 540 and possibly Hove 515m. Mark my words, this is an outstanding bitch and she will prove it in 2020.”
Two more on the comeback trail are Roxholme Harvey and Roxholme Butt. Harvey is particularly interesting. He clocked 28.38 (480) at Sheffield in his first ever look at a UK track last May. He won his first two races in November, 23.87 and 23.79 (400) at Romford, and hasn’t raced since finishing second in his next outing, which was last October.
Mark said: “He came off the track that night and he had a hole in his foot that you would have thought have been drilled by a 10ml bit. It was so deep, we couldn’t even put stitches in it and that is why he has been off the track for so long.
“But we have started stepping up his preparation for Nottingham next year and believe me, he is good enough.”
Roxholme Butt’s story was entirely different. He won the Henlow Maiden Gold Cup early in 2019 but his form then trailed off. He hasn’t raced in six months.
Mark said: “He was a complete mystery to me. He was so bad, he was being beaten in trials by A4 pups. We had him checked over by various people and nobody could find anything wrong with him. We changed his diet but nothing worked. The only alternative was that he had fallen out of love with the game.
“But after a lay-off we have started trialling* him back and we are a lot more hopeful. This is a dog with 41.30 form for 685m at Hove, so we know how much ability he has if we can get him right.”
(*16.08 – 280m at Sheffield and 28.78 +40 for 480m at Nottingham on Monday)
Team Keightley will also feature some new faces, though at least one is already well known.
Mark said: “We missed out in the Derby at Wimbledon and Towcester with Hiya Butt, and his owners Greg O’Donnell and Paul Ellis were keen to have another go. So we bought Droopys Pension from Johnny Linehan in Ireland. He looked a very good dog last year, particularly in the early part of the year. He isn’t a bullet breaker, but he has top class early. The plan is for the Derby at Nottingham next year.
“We also have a few dogs who I have bought unraced, as I have always done. In recent years we haven’t particularly targeted the Monmore Puppy Derby but I have bought one pup with that very much in mind. In Ireland he was called Hitachi Paul, though he will race for us as Roxholme Blueboy.
“We also have a nice young bitch who impressed my in her schooling trials. She will be Roxholme Socks we also have a half sister to Roxholme Poppy who trialled in Ireland as Brynoffa Cleo but who has been renamed after Duncan Lambie’s mother, and will be Roxholme Irene.”
But 2020 could be a big year for the ‘Roxholme’ kennel in more ways than one. It could be their last.
Mark said: “As things stand, this will probably be our last year. Hayley and I are conscious of our ages and after so many years of commitment to the game, we are conscious that there are other things we would like to do before we are too old.
“Craig (Morris) will take over. If we are around, we will be helping out. If we aren’t, then it will be his opportunity to do things his way.”