O'Brien hoping to reap rewards from Ravenswell Farm move

Ambitions to 'create one of the best racehorse training yards in the Cotswolds' are soon to become reality for Fergal O’Brien.

A new recruit to the Course And Distance stable, the Gloucestershire handler is on the move to Withington, 10 miles away from his current location.

For the past four years, O’Brien has shared Nigel Twiston-Davies’ gallops in Naunton and the pair are responsible for the county’s largest training hub.

By the summer, his business should be nearest to Kim Bailey’s at Andoversford, when the 80 boxes at Ravenswell Farm are due to be ready for use.

“It seems to have taken a good while to get planning permission so we are delighted to be there,” O’Brien told www.cdhorseracingtours.com.

“People tell me that’s the way it goes. We have been back and forth to the council with various details.

“The barns are already there so we are keen to crack on. I’d say we will be looking at moving in early summer.”

O’Brien’s career so far

His current base is one which has plenty of good memories for O’Brien, as he enjoyed an 18 year stint working for Twiston-Davies.

Together they celebrated plenty of big race successes including two Grand Nationals (Earth Summit, 1998 and Bindaree, 2002) and a Cheltenham Gold Cup (Imperial Commander, 2010).

O’Brien had good days in the point-to-point field too, capturing the West Midlands Trainers’ Championship on several occasions.

He set up on his own in 2011 at Cilldara Stud, near Northleach, with the help of businessman Chris Coley.

Four years later the training operation moved to Grange Hill Farm, where he rents the Upper Yard from Cathy Twiston-Davies.

Joined by his partner Sally Randell a short time later, the operation is one of the top 25 in the country with £395,000 of prize money and 33 winners for the current campaign.

In the 2017/18 season, O’Brien trained his first Grade One winner when Poetic Rhythm took the Challow Hurdle at Newbury.

He has had more runners at Cheltenham than any other course (192) and 25 winners, his tally at Perth only better.

How will the new yard compare to where O’Brien is now?

Currently he trains from 53 boxes, in a substantially smaller part of the farm than the main premises run by Twiston-Davies.

That often means he has to move horses around throughout the season, utilising space at several pre-training yards.

Ravenswell Farm will not only have more stables, but a newly constructed round gallop, four-furlong gallop and an all-weather gallop over jumps too.

A horse walker, office and accommodation for six members of staff are also part of the plans for the 550-acre arable farm.

The application says the purpose-built facility will be created for a 'not insignificant figure'.

At the moment Naunton’s two trainers share the gallops and work horses on them on alternate days.

There is inevitably some crossover and that includes some of the schooling facilities.

"We have outgrown our current yard,” O’Brien said.

“Willy Twiston-Davies is with his dad at the moment, I’m sure he is keen to crack on and do his own thing there, they have some new owners.

“It's the young generation coming through so best of luck to them."

Twiston-Davies junior, brother of jockey Sam, is expected to use the stables for his bloodstock and pre-training business.

How have the plans come to fruition?

With the help of former Southampton FC chairman Rupert Lowe, a friend of some of O’Brien’s owners.

They set up a meeting and the relocation plans were drawn up for the farm, which he owns.

They were submitted to Cotswold District Council in September 2018 and went before the planning committee on February 14, when councillors gave the project the green light.

Certain conditions will apply, such as essential signage for the four-furlong gallop warning Public Right Of Way users about potential for horse activity.

O’Brien has also been instructed to encourage all visitors to arrive via the A40 to avoid extra traffic in the villages of Withington and Compton Abdale.

What sets O'Brien's operation apart from the opposition?

Celebrations and social occasions here often revolve around cake.

It all began in Naunton when someone asked if they could visit and the only stipluation was that they had to bring a sweet treat.

The fun tied in well with the programme the Great British Bake Off and now each weekend there is always a fine selection for 46-year-old O’Brien and his owners to sample.

He has a preference for fruit cake or victoria sponge. Carrots are for roast dinners, he says.

Regardless of whether they bring something tasty along or not, all visitors to O’Brien’s yard are welcome and that theme will continue at the new facility.

What chance of a Cheltenham Festival winner first?

Although they have plenty of winners on the board at the Home of Jump Racing, a first victory at the main meeting at March has so far eluded 'Team Fergal O'Brien'.

Barney Dwan (2017 Pertemps Final runner-up) and Cap Soleil (second in the 2018 mares’ novices’ hurdle) have taken connections to a cherished placed berth in the winners’ enclosure.

Form shows the pair were up against it, as they finished behind this year's Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy and Champion Hurdle fancy Laurina.

This year O’Brien has nominated Albert Bartlett and Ballymore Novices' Hurdle entry Jarveys Plate as his number one candidate.

“He didn’t fire for whatever reason the last day,” he said.

“If I can get him back to anywhere near the form he was in when winning at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day he will have a chance.

“I’m told his time was very quick and he was impressive there.

He added: “For us The Festival is like Christmas.

“From the Cheltenham preview nights to the pubs around us, they are all busy.

“There’s a fantastic atmosphere. I’m very lucky to be based so close to the town and as a result, when we have runners we have lots of local support which is great.

“It’s obviously always been a place I have loved,” O'Brien concluded.

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