01 November 2012 Ross returns raring to go
by Carolyn Tanner
At the end of the 2010/11 season Stuart Ross could have been forgiven for deciding to jack in Point-to-Pointing. A broken leg (his own) incurred in an accident at the start at Alpraham, plus the loss of two horses, left him pondering his riding future, but thanks to his near neighbour Richard Edwards, who provided him with three winners in 2012, he faces the coming campaign with all his old enthusiasm.
Stuart rode ponies as a child, but having forsaken horses for rugby and football it was not until he met Michelle Mullineaux that he graduated to something larger and started riding out for her trainer father Mick. Despite the fact that Michelle led him astray (where horses are concerned, of course) Stuart is not one to bear a grudge, and the pair have been together now for 12 years.
Having been given a Point-to-Pointer he planned to make his debut at Weston Park in 2001, but after one race the meeting was abandoned due to fog. Shortly after that Pointing ground to a complete halt for the season due to Foot And Mouth, so he applied for an amateur licence to be able to ride in Hunter Chases. His request was turned down due to a lack of experience, but he was informed that he could attend a course for Conditional riders at the British Racing School, and having done the requisite few days he joined the paid ranks.
"I became a Conditional by default, and I was pretty bad," he admitted, and having had just a handful of rides and struggled with his weight for 18 months he handed in his licence.
In 2004 he was asked to ride between the flags for Kelda Wood. He finished third on his initial ride and then gained his first success on Shafts Chance at Garnons in March, leading him to believe that race-riding was quite easy!
Things did not always go according to plan, though, and in his third season Stuart broke his collarbone, so he offered his rides to his friend Jonathon Jarrett. The upshot was that "JJ" made the most of his opportunity while Stuart's tally of winners that year was zero, leading the latter to rethink future tactics. "If somebody else wins on your horses you probably won't get the ride back," he pointed out, "so if you're injured you need to recommend the worst rider you can find to take over from you!"
In August 2007 Stuart received a 16-month driving ban after "a couple of drinks at Chester races," and because he was unable to go and ride out for his regular contacts he put a line through the 2008 campaign then and there. Then he was gifted a bad-legged horse called Double Spread, who was joined in his yard by a cheap Irish purchase named Tommy Two Toes.
The "write-off" season, his first as a trainer, proved to be his best. With Michelle taking over as box driver, and Stuart's mother and uncle also providing chauffeur duties, Double Spread and Tommy Two Toes gave their handler a double at Tabley, the precursor to six winners in seven days, and he ended the campaign on a total of seven successes.
If horses can be considered as friends, then Tommy Two Toes comes into that category where Stuart is concerned. "I owe him a lot," he stressed. "He was part of my double and two trebles Pointing, we finished third round Cheltenham, and he gave me a great spin round Aintree."
He is currently competing in Racehorse to Riding Horse show classes, but when he retires from active service he will return to Stuart to be cosseted for the rest of his life.
One thing from which the Ross horses do not suffer is boredom. A stone's throw from the A51, yet in the middle of open countryside, there are countless areas in which to exercise, including Delamere Forest just a few yards away. "It can get a bit manic in there in the summer, with children and dogs, but I love it when it's bad weather, as it's all mine," Stuart grinned.
He has a horsewalker and lunge pen, and a two furlong oval canter track which he claims is worth its weight in gold for the breakers which he takes in.
He currently has five Pointers to definitely run, but is well aware that one or two may go by the wayside, as happens in most yards, so would like to up the number to eight.
The apple of his eye is He's A Hawker, who he obtained cheaply due to the chestnut having a broken wither. He won his Maiden at Eyton in 2011, and has since been running under Rules, scoring twice over hurdles later that same year, and having his most recent outing in a Stratford Chase in August.
"He's the laziest horse you'll ever come across," Stuart smiled. "When McCoy won on him at Cartmel he admitted that he was blowing more than the horse. I'd love to go Novice Hunter Chasing with him," he added, "but he'll need to run really well in Opens before I go down that route."
He would not want very testing going, and will run as soon as the ground is deemed to be right for him.
He's A Hawker was found by Eric McNamara, who has proved a more than useful contact by regularly sourcing inexpensive purchases for the yard, and whose initial find for Stuart was the aforementioned Tommy Two Toes. "They all perform just as he says they will," acknowledged Stuart.
Best Back Him is one such. He won his Maiden under Nick Slatter two seasons ago, when his trainer was on crutches, but unfortunately broke down in the process. "He went wrong just before two out but Nick couldn't pull him up," Stuart explained.
He wears down his shoes "to tin foil," but although he will not be wrapped in cotton wool he may only have one pre-race gallop. "He's got some engine, but he'll need the run first time," warned his trainer.
The McNamara-sourced trio is completed by seven-year-old Garryglass, a son of Beneficial, who has been running without success in Irish hurdles, but should do better when faced with a fence and a longer trip.
He handles soft ground but has never tried good, and Stuart is hoping that this may also bring about improvement. "If the wheels stay on he should be able to run quite often," said Stuart, who is doubtless looking forward to the celebrations should a victory be forthcoming, as he has been leased to a group of the trainer's friends, all newcomers to ownership.
Four year old Frankie Four Feet, by Proclamation out of the winning, and well-related, mare Miss Holly, has run in a couple of Bumpers. Soft ground may suit him best, and although he is working well Stuart feels that he will not be seen to real advantage until he is seven or eight.
An unknown quantity is an unnamed four-year-old by Tikkanen out of Ok Flo Jo, bred by Simon Crank. Whether or not he will see a course this season depends on the progress he makes.
The most recent addition to the yard is Ballygalley Bob, who won five races for East Anglian handler Caroline Fryer. He has been purchased by Newmarket vet Claire Robinson, who is based with Rossdales, and will be a first ride for Stuart Hassall, an auctioneer with Wright Manley in Cheshire.
He has been novice-ridden in the majority of his Points, and his new trainer and rider will be studying the Planner to seek out similar contests.