Racing: Chapple-Hyam relishes the Commander role

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is a risk starting up any business at any stage of life but it is some bold call for a first-timer to not only walk into an arena as competitive as training racehorses, but to do so bearing a famous name in a goldfish bowl like Newmarket. It would not be a scenario for a delicate flower, but then Jane Chapple-Hyam is not one to wilt. She is Australian, but not up a gum tree.

For Chapple-Hyam, her new venture is just one more of life's challenges. Melbourne-born, she transplanted to Britain when her mother became the second Mrs Robert Sangster, experienced Manton under the regimes of Michael Dickinson, Barry Hills and, until he was unceremoniously sacked seven years ago, her then-husband, Peter. She moved to Hong Kong with him, returned to Britain three years ago and last year went through the break-up of her marriage.

But true to her robust birthright, Chapple-Hyam, 39, has turned negatives into positives. "I got the racing bug when I was very young," she said. "Where I grew up it was a natural dream to want to train the winner of the Melbourne Cup. I was married to a trainer for 16 years, a good one and a good horseman. I was never going to sit at home twiddling my thumbs and it's the only industry I know.

"I've always been behind the scenes but I'm not starting out as a green twentysomething. I've seen a lot of what can go right and go wrong and I'm mature enough now to kick on."

As well as gaining experience at Manton and in Hong Kong, Chapple-Hyam worked under the tutelage of Colin Hayes in South Australia, underwent a course at the National Stud in Newmarket and completed her credentials at the British Racing School last summer.

She got off the mark with her eighth runner when Chief Commander took a Wolverhampton maiden in January. He has been cannily campaigned since, recently picking up good prize money in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and on Saturday takes another step up the ladder in Kempton's Easter Stakes.

"He's thriving on racing," she said. "He is seriously well and telling me he wants to get back on the track. He came with a late rattle over seven and a half at Cagnes and needs a mile now. He is ready to rock and roll.

"This will be his trial for the German Guineas. You need to be rated 110 to be competitive in that, and he's on 98 but improving and a good showing on Saturday will put him in the mix. He handles the all-weather, but he'll be better back on turf."

Being last stop for the buck is something new and Chapple-Hyam will have to make a decision over Chief Commander's jockey. "Frankie Dettori has phoned for the ride," she said, "on the grounds that the horse is the improver in the field. But it will be difficult to take Jimmy Quinn off; he rode my first winner. But I'm running a business and have to do what's best for the owners.

"I'm beginning to realise the pressures. As a partner or spouse you live with it every day, but don't experience it properly. Over the winter I've started to learn what it means. It's a challenge, and scary, but it's cool."

Chapple-Hyam is unconcerned about being a rival to her Derby-winning ex-husband. "It's not like we're the only ones in the situation," she said. "In respect of divorces or separations, racing seems to be in a league of its own among industries. But then things that can lead to problems, like betting and drinking and entertaining, are part and parcel of it."

Eight horses, some of them cast-offs, in a back-street yard is a far cry from the glory days of Dr Devious and Rodrigo De Triano but it is a beginning. "I'd like to train 20, but I'll settle for what I've got and build the bricks slowly," said Chapple-Hyam. "We have good owners, a happy yard and that means happy horses.

"Some have said that I started life at the top and have worked my way down, but that's not how I see it. Life is swings and roundabouts and I like to think I'm not going in circles. I'm on the swing about to go up."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Misty Dancer (Taunton 3.40)

NB: River Amora

(Taunton 4.40)