Loder pursues a winning pattern

RACING: A trainer whose giant strides have taken him to Royal Ascot success has a simple aim - perfection. Greg Wood reports; 'When you get to the yearling sales without a single order you think this isn't quite as rosy as I'd anticipated'
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He has sent 57 horses to the races this season. Twenty-two have returned as winners, a strike-rate of almost 40 per cent which no other British trainer can even begin to match. It is a little surprising, then, to discover that according to one of his own measures of achievement, David Loder is something of a failure.

"I started the season with two targets," he said yesterday, "to have a 100 per cent strike-rate, and to win 10 Group races. As long as I'm training, 100 per cent is what I'll be striving for each year, to run my horses on their merits all through the season and never get one beaten. I'm realistic enough to know that it's very unlikely to happen, but I won't say it's impossible. It's a good ambition." If Loder played golf, he would probably aim to get round in 18 strokes.

Loder's ambition would sound like the arrogance of youth - he is 31, and has held a licence for less than three years - were it not for the fact that he is far closer to realising it than any of his rivals. The achievers in any walk of life are usually those who work hard, ride their luck and chase perfection. Loder qualifies on all three counts.

The luck started early. He was born into one of the turf's most prominent families, with extensive interests in ownership and breeding founded on the success of the great mare Pretty Polly. "It makes life easier if your family is involved," he says, "it gives you some contacts and people you can ask for advice, which is what you need when you start."

The hard work began with four years as Geoff Wragg's assistant, and then good fortune kicked back in when Loder took out a licence of his own in September 1992, and saddled Lupescu to win a Listed race four weeks later.

"It was just luck that she was much better when she was fresh," he says. "It was fluke, I didn't know that. I'd only had her a month and I thought, we've got to have a go as there wasn't another race she could run in that season. I had three weeks to get her fit, and it just turned out that she was better fresh and she went and won it, having not run for a year and a half."

Fluke or not, it was a priceless advertisement for Sefton Lodge which appeared at a vital moment. "When you decide to start training, you think, right, I'm ready. Then you get to the yearling sales without a single order and you think, this isn't quite as rosy as I'd anticipated. Having been used to walking around the sales with Geoff Wragg looking at expensive horses, it wasn't quite the same.

"But I knew that I had to have the horses, if you have half a dozen you're not going to make an impression. So I decided to take a punt and make sure I got at least 30 horses, even if I had to punt some of my own money. Luckily they were all right, and we had 46 winners that season. The punt paid off and we've been full ever since."

The story is told quietly and simply, with no hint either of boastfulness, or of the pressures which those early weeks and months must have brought to bear. And a successful first season brings problems of its own, not least the thought that anything less the following year will be judged a failure. "I was very worried after my first season, I though, how are we going to do this again? But then you realise that you can't force them. You need to be relaxed, let the horses come right and find the races for them. If you do that, they should keep winning."

From an early stage - and here is a clue to his outstanding strike-rate - Loder has set out to win Pattern races. "To my mind, Group races are the testing ground and they are the ones you are judged on. Your ability to train Group winners is what the big owners are seriously interested in. They really make you feel good when you win them.

"I train for a lot of owner-breeders and that's what they want, black type. I never think, I'll give that three quiet runs and go for a handicap at Yarmouth. I'm always thinking, how can I make this into a Group horse."

Some trainers might reflect that Loder is fortunate to have the horses and the patronage to pursue quality rather than quantity. The care of 45 well-bred animals involves burdens too, however, since the leading owner- breeders remain at the top by demanding, and getting, results.

Three Group-race prizes have returned to Sefton Lodge stables so far this season, and with the campaign approaching half-time, the rate of return will need to increase if Loder is to achieve his target of 10. The robust servants of his early years, Overbury and Prince Of Andros, will soon need to be replaced, although the current crop of juveniles, including the recent Royal Ascot winner Blue Duster, should be up to the task.

And there is one vacancy in particular which Loder is aching to fill. "All the time I'm looking for a big horse. He wins, then he wins the next time, and he keeps on winning." In other words, a strike-rate of 100 per cent.