Racing: A new Harwood takes control

Greg Wood on a top trainer's daughter now in charge at Coombelands stables
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The Independent Online
"I've never been to Manton," Amanda Perrett says as the Land Rover wades through the mud towards the highest point of the Coombelands training complex, "but they say that this place certainly rivals it."

It is not a point worth arguing. An aerial photograph on the wall of the main office, in which the buildings and boxes fill a space the size of a postage stamp amid a wrapping sheet of gallops and schooling grounds, gives an idea of the scale of Coombelands. Only from the top of the main gallop, however, is it possible to appreciate fully the transformation wrought on a hillside of Sussex farmland by Guy Harwood, Amanda's father, in the 30 or so years since he started to train horses here.

"We've got 150 acres of maintained gallops land," his daughter says, "four all-weather gallops which everyone says are the best they've ever ridden on, and numerous others on grass which can be irrigated from our ponds. We've got beautiful fences on the schooling grounds, a swimming pool, horse-walker, and an American bend which really helps with the two- year-olds.''

What they have also got, despite Coombelands' relative youth, is the whiff of history. The names of the horses which passed through Guy Harwood's hands here in the late 1970s and 1980s reduce punters of a certain age to a misty-eyed mood of reminiscence, rather like a football fan reflecting on the Liverpool side of the same era.

There was Rousillon, To Agori Mou, Kalaglow, Sadeem, Warning, and, above all, Dancing Brave, who swept through the summer and autumn of 1986 after being robbed of victory in the Derby at Epsom by a hideous pilot error.

It is tempting to imagine Harwood senior taking his daughter to this same vantage point above the estate at around this time and, with a wide sweep of the arm, declaring solemnly: "One day, Amanda, all this will be yours." Unlikely, perhaps, since solemnity is not an obvious family trait, but what is certain is that the day has now arrived. Two weeks ago, the licence at Coombelands passed down a generation, and at 26 years of age - a year older than was her father at the same point in his career - Amanda Perrett assumed control of one of Britain's finest yards.

Very few trainers start out so young, and even fewer with such facilities and experience behind them. Some might actually prefer to set off with a handful of horses in one of Lambourn's more anonymous stables, and find their way without the burden of history or expectation. For this new trainer, though, nowhere else would do, not least since her marriage to Mark Perrett, the stable's resident jump jockey for many years until his retirement in February and the man who rode Dancing Brave and Warning in all their work. Amanda's name is on the licence, but the push for success will be a team effort.

"Mark's had so much riding experience, which is a real bonus," she says. "He's ridden at almost every course in the country, so he knows which track will suit which horse. It's also a real art to judge how good a horse is on the gallops, and there's no-one better than him."

Between them, the Perretts have taken much of the responsibility for the stable's National Hunt string for several years. "We've had a really good grounding," she says, "and as Dad has gradually cut down to 40 or 50 horses we've had a lot more to do with the running of the yard. The only thing that will really change is that instead of us offering advice and Dad making the final decisions, it'll be the other way around. He can come on quite strong with his advice, but in the end he'll say, "it's up to you now, you decide".

There is little sense of pressure to succeed, just confidence that they will. "Obviously, we're expected to do well," Mark says, "but that's because of what's gone on here before. If it doesn't happen, I suppose everyone will put it down to ..." It is as far as he gets. "We will do it," Amanda interrupts. "We've got some really nice horses. We will do it." Once again, no argument is necessary.

The horses expected to do it during the winter months include Amancio and Fine Thyne, while the Perretts hope to hear within a couple of weeks whether they will receive any yearlings from Khalid Abdullah, the mainstays of the yard throughout its glory years. "Change is always difficult," Amanda says, "but the owners have been very supportive. We really like our owners to get involved with the training, and we want people to come down to see what we have to offer." Or, as Mark puts it, "if they come and see the horses for themselves, they know we're not telling them porky pies.''

As all too many owners have discovered down the years, impeccable breeding is never a guarantee of success on the track. Determination, though, often finds its reward, and there is no shortage of that at Coombelands. "I expect you'll be riding out three lots every day now, won't you, Dad?", Amanda says as her father enjoys his mid-morning coffee. "Well, you might get me on one," he answers. "Come on," she chides in return, "you know we don't employ part-timers here.''