It is not easy to define the roles of dynasty or destiny in the career of Mark Rimell. His son, Fred, is barely a year old. To anyone who has mapped steeplechasing achievement, of course, the name of Fred Rimell represents an enduring pinnacle. Champion jockey four times, he then trained four Grand National winners. By naming his son in his grandfather's memory, Mark has shown due pride in their kinship. On the other hand, as a trainer he has very much been obliged to make his own name.
Unlike, say, Nick Gifford, David Pipe or Andrew Balding, no substantial advantages accompanied his surname: no stableyard, no ledger of loyal owners. Yet the couple of dozen animals Rimell has stabled on the fringe of the Cotswolds include two of the first four in the betting for the Victor Chandler Chase on Saturday week.
Two observations became imperative from a visit yesterday. One is that nobody should back Crossbow Creek for the Ascot race, because only Oneway will run. The other is that genes are always a more precious legacy than bricks and mortar, even in a trade that makes such exorbitant demands of its young practitioners.
Rimell and his wife, Annie, have soon explored the full spectrum of training racehorses. In their first season, two winters ago, they announced themselves overnight with Oneway. He won five handicaps and was fourth in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. They had found him for 20,000 guineas, while Crossbow Creek, who won the Lanzarote Hurdle, they bred themselves.
"The floodgates opened," Rimell remembered. "Those two had put us on the map, and new horses started arriving. Unfortunately they brought new problems with them, their bugs and viruses, and our second proper season was a disaster."
In the spring Rimell shut down the yard and regrouped. He rang Sir Mark Prescott, who would not have known him from Adam, and was invited to stay. "Training's a jigsaw, and it can take a year or two to find each new piece on your own," Rimell reflected. "He's an incredible man and made some very helpful suggestions. He said that everyone will get a virus sooner or later, and what sorted trainers apart was how they coped. The important thing was that we had already shown we could train. He advised us not to panic, not to change too many things. If we did that, when the horses came right, we wouldn't know why."
Crossbow Creek vindicated that approach in the autumn with scintillating wins at Kempton and Ascot. With his preference for fast ground, he is taking a midwinter break and will be prepared for the big two-mile handicap at Aintree in April. "Last season he suffered bad luck upon bad luck," Rimell said. "He looked an Arkle [Trophy] winner first time out at Taunton, but was brought down at Sandown, then the ground went against him, and then we had the virus. So it was important to get his confidence back.
"On the right ground, he's a flying machine, he's lightning. I'd take on any other horse on quick ground round Kempton."
Oneway shared the yard's travails last season, but managed third to Kauto Star in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown - and did exactly the same last month. He has since chased home Voy Por Ustedes at Kempton and Rimell is optimistic he will find the track and the company of handicappers more to his liking at Ascot.
"We were beaten fair and square the other day," he said. "But Kempton is a very quick track for a hold-up horse, and he used up his reserves getting on to their shirt-tails. But he should love Ascot, and I think we have him back now where he was before last season."
When Rimell first appeared on the racing pages, he found himself being asked only about the past - about his relationship with Fred's matriarchal widow, Mercy, or about hedonistic riding days. Now that he has packed so much, so soon, into his embryonic training career, it is high time people instead asked what he might do in the future.
"We had five horses taken away when they were wrong, slow-maturing horses we'd given time," he said. "It's one thing us being patient, it's another getting owners to be the same. We have some lovely young horses, and I'm sure we'll find successors among them for Oneway and Crossbow Creek. Without those two, we'd have been struggling. We're struggling anyway. But they kept our heads above water.
"We're a bit like Fred and Mercy, except I'm like Mercy, I'm the fiery one. When things don't go right, I'm a bloody nightmare. But I think trainers improve with age. They have to. Racing is 80 per cent downs, 20 per cent ups. Only for some ridiculous reason, the 20 per cent seems to make up for the 80 per cent."
Nap: Smoothly Does It
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