It’s quite remarkable that Mick Appleby finished only two winners behind last season’s champion Mark Johnston after the move to a new yard cost him vital ground in the early race to become Top All-Weather trainer, writes Simon Mapletoft.
Appleby, a Southwell specialist who had topped the leaderboard from his previous base near Newark in 2015/16, had sent out only a handful of winners by the turn of the year but finished with a respectable total of 41 come Good Friday.
“We didn’t move in until early December so it took us until the New Year to really get going,” recalls the Barnsley-born handler, who somehow managed to move his entire string of around 85 horses in just one day.
“There was a convoy of horseboxes on the A1 that day, but it was important to make the move as quick and seamless as possible,” he adds. “We’d put a new gallop in which was similar in profile to our previous one and the horses settled in really well.”
No surprise there. Appleby’s former polo yard has already been transformed into what, when completed, will be a state-of-the-art, self-contained training centre on the fringes of rural Leicestershire. A 6f Polytrack-style gallop climbs a stiff six furlongs and new light, airy barns accommodate the majority of his 95-strong team.
“Around 50 of them will run on the All-Weather,” he adds. “I’m happy with the numbers but the plan is to improve on the quality, which we’ve done over the past year with horses like Big Country, who won the Rosebery Stakes at Kempton and finished second in the John Smith’s Cup at York.”
Former jump jockey Appleby may have strength in numbers, but is under no illusion about the size of the task ahead if he is to wrestle back the title he won two seasons ago. “It’s not going to be easy taking on the likes of Mark Johnston and Godolphin. Not only do they have a lot of horses to run but they have that quality as well.”
He is hoping that the appointment of Luke Morris as his number one jockey will give him that vital edge – and perhaps help him achieve that elusive first Good Friday winner. “Luke’s the best there is on the All-Weather so I’m delighted to have him on board. He’ll come in and ride work once a week which will give him a good feel for the horses.”
Morris will be understudied by stable mainstay Alistair Rawlinson, who rode out his claim in the summer but is optimistic he can improve upon the 16 winners he rode for his boss last winter.
Here, Appleby nominates 12 horses to follow.