Racing: Von Der Recke cannot put the brakes on Moneytrain
Thursday 27 February 2003
Carnival week begins in the Rhineland today, the only time of the year when the traditionally reticent folk in the Cologne area get on the tables and party. For Christian Von Der Recke, though, the celebrations have been more enduring.
Germany's champion jumps trainer for the last nine seasons has become a significant figure in these islands this winter, both for his victories and readiness to sell any horse that stamps its mark on British soil. Von Der Recke still has three horses in the Cheltenham Festival in two weeks' time – including the Triumph Hurdle notable Moneytrain – but success for him will be having no representatives at all.
To the Freiherr (the Teutonic equivalent of a baron) horses are every bit a commodity as brushes or detergent. They can all go for the right price and the bids before the Cheltenham Festival are almost always too persuasive to ignore.
Von Der Recke sold the fancied Eluna last year before the filly finished 16th in the Triumph Hurdle and recently relinquished Saitensohn to Jonjo O'Neill's yard for £150,000. And that was sterling not euros, he insisted at his Weilerswirst yard, 15 miles south of Cologne, yesterday. "I like pounds," he said. "They're better."
Moneytrain vaulted up the Triumph Hurdle betting last month with victory at Cheltenham, the first time a German horse had won at National Hunt racing's capital. A Saitensohn-type of offer would now be accepted by the gelding's owner, the Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann.
"The Hamanns are very keen to run at Cheltenham, but, on the other hand, they are keen to take an offer for Moneytrain if it comes up," Von Der Recke said. "I am expecting Moneytrain to be sold before he runs at Cheltenham. I'm the bank manager. That is how I look at it. If we get the right price, more than the value, then we sell and try to get something new. Everything is for sale, apart from the wife. She stays in the yard.
"It's heartbreaking to sell sometimes yes but I won't start drinking or jumping off the bridge. You have to accept that part of the game in racing. And I always say that if you have a horse for Cheltenham you have to double up the price. The more fun you have, the more you have to pay.
"All these horses would be worth 40 per cent less if Cheltenham wasn't in front of them. But, like I say, you sell the ice creams in the summer and not the winter."
The queue has been growing as 42-year-old Von Der Recke has established a conspicuous record in Britain this season, largely with Tony McCoy as his accomplice. The trainer has posted 10 wins and six seconds from 24 runs at a strike-rate of 41 per cent.
Gestut Rennstall is set in a tranquil acre of the flatlands of northern Germany. Christian Von Der Recke, who moved to these premises in 1997, is a fairly composed figure himself, a good English speaker, a good salesman. He trains 100 horses, only five of which are jumpers, those former Flat horses he believes will have an aptitude for the winter game.
His homeland has little interest in racing, even less in the jumping sphere of the game, but Von Der Recke has found a plentiful appetite elsewhere for his National Hunt horses. Now that the bargains have been stripped out of the Irish and French fields, Germany is the new market, Von Der Recke in charge of the main stall.
"We don't train jumpers, we just produce them. This is a Flat yard." he said. "And I don't produce bumper horses or chasers, these huge elephants."
Von Der Recke will be at Cheltenham next month, just as he has been for the last 10 years, whether he has a runner there or not. By then he may no longer be a part of Moneytrain. He will, though, still be stoking up the gravy equivalent.
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