Richard Fahey stood by the Musley Bank gallop yesterday morning and gestured across the valley to where a long ridge swept into a melancholy sky. "That was Bill Elsey's place, up there," he said. "That's where all those good horses were trained."
At once you could picture future generations of hikers, pausing in their journey across Ryedale, and pointing this way instead. Elsey brought the Oaks, St Leger and Eclipse to Malton, whereas it was only last October – in his 18th season – that Fahey saddled his first Group One winner, Wootton Bassett in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère. Whether judged by words or deeds, however, here is a trainer palpably destined to make a lasting impression on his sport.
A new turf season on the Flat begins tomorrow – by an outlandish aberration, at Catterick Bridge – and it seems curious to remember how things looked only a year ago. Paul Hanagan, the stable jockey, is no longer a respected journeyman, but champion of Britain; Fahey himself is no longer just a regional power, but sends Wootton Bassett into the Qipco 2,000 Guineas unbeaten in five starts; and their stable continues its frantic transformation.
Six years ago, when Fahey arrived, there were 70 boxes. He now has 202 horses in his care. A new indoor school has just gone up; four unsightly barns are about to come down. And this is still just the first phase of a five-year plan, underwritten by bank loans taken out even as the industry quailed before recession. "It was all doom and gloom at the time we decided to do it," he said. "But if you stand still, you go backwards. We're looking for a wow factor. What we're trying to do is build the best yard in the north of England. And maybe the best in the whole country, if we can."
Even the more modest of those aspirations is provocative enough, if your name is Mark Johnston. "There's no rivalry whatsoever between us," Fahey said. "Though we probably do look to see where we are [in the trainers' table]. I do." He paused wryly. "Every day."
Fahey and Hanagan certainly landed running last year, sharing four winners at Doncaster on the first afternoon of the campaign. Hanagan was never headed in the title race, albeit ultimately all out to hold Richard Hughes. Fahey himself saddled 181 winners, but is not remotely daunted by the precedent. "We'll train more this year," he said breezily. "It is a bold prediction, but you have to be positive. Pressure is for tyres. We've already had 32 winners on the all-weather, compared to seven this time last year."
His optimism is fuelled by an expanded juvenile team of 80, while as many as half a dozen horses may make the cut for the William Hill Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster on Saturday. "It's tricky for Paul, and they've got to work tomorrow, but I'd say he'll ride Irish Heartbeat," Fahey said. "He's a very flexible horse, from six furlongs to a mile, and he's in good order. On work, he'd go with Our Joe Mac, but he only beat one when we thought he'd win at the Curragh the other day."
A first Classic is the next challenge, but Wootton Bassett's preparations have been interrupted by the setback that cost him three weeks' work in January. "He'd ticked over all winter until he had this little blip," Fahey explained. "I would have liked to run him in a trial, but it's not going to happen now. He will still have to go for one or two spins somewhere, though, because he is so relaxed here."
The colt certainly exuded glossy well-being yesterday. He has a different work companion every day, as he might otherwise demoralise his leads. "I remember his first gallop," Fahey said. "There were six winners in it, and he came up hard on the bridle. When you see one like that, you think it can't be right. But then he did it again, so we started working him with older horses. And he takes no training. It's easy with a horse like him."
Fahey saddled a Royal Ascot winner when given a chance by Highclere last year, and now numbers Sir Robert Ogden and Sir Alex Ferguson among his patrons. But it remains a mystery why the sport's superpowers have yet to try their luck here.
"It is more difficult to get them in the North," Fahey acknowledged. "But nobody's got any right to expect anything. I'd like to have 10 Wotton Bassetts. When I was at the Curragh the other day, Aidan O'Brien had 24 horses working, and I would have loved any one of them. We're way behind those lads at the moment. And when Henry Cecil says Frankel is the best he has had a long time – well, it has a different ring to it, compared with me saying the same. But it's great even to have one to take them on."
Giant O Murchu (3.20 Taunton)
Irish import who showed improved form on his second start for his new stable, pulling clear of the rest with a thriving winner. May do better again with the greater emphasis on speed here.
Orion Express (4.20 Taunton)
May well need this, after an absence, but has ideal conditions here.
One to watch
Alben Star (Richard Fahey) is recommended by his trainer as a sprinter to follow, having returned from his first defeat last autumn with a pulled muscle.
Where the money's going
Fremont, a useful juvenile in 2009 who disappeared after two disappointing starts last spring, is 14-1 from 20-1 with the sponsors for the William Hill Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster on Saturday.