All-weather Ewarts raise the bar to gallop ahead of the field

WHEN I arrived at James Ewart’s racing yard, near Langholm, horses were due to arrive back from a schooling session.

It was a crisp, autumnal morning and as I waited for them to make their way home I wandered out onto the newly-laid all-weather gallop. The lightly coloured Tapeta surface is just another in the long line of improvements James has made over the past few years.

A handful of the 40 horses currently in training appeared, with the trainer himself aboard Let’s Get Serious, a former Nicky Henderson-trained Cheltenham bumper winner recently recruited to the stable.

With the stable about to embark upon another National Hunt season, it’s a nervous time. Every season since James started training in 2004, the yard has exceeded the previous year’s winner and prize money totals. With 23 winners and more than £163,000 in prize money last year, the bar is being set increasingly high.

As we started to talk it was obvious that James doesn’t likes to sit still in one place for long. It was no surprise when I asked him later in the day what he does for relaxation, that he raised his arms to encompass all around him, and said “this”.

One of the major things that can get in the way of a horse’s training is the weather, hence James’s fixation on improving the gallops at Craig Farm.

“Our grass gallops, like many, can get very wet and, as is the case with any natural grass surface, can be uneven,” he explained.

“And I felt we needed to go for the very best alternative.”

That alternative was found in the shape of the Tapeta surface, pioneered by one of James’s boyhood heroes, legendary former champion jumps trainer Michael Dickinson.

The official opening of the new gallop, planned for November 14, will be attended by Dickinson and will inevitably attract attention.

“This will only be the fourth gallop of its type in the UK. Godolphin have two and Mark Johnston has the other,” the trainer explained with pride.

James spent five years in France with leading French trainer Guillaime Macaire, during which time he was champion amateur jockey in 2000/2001. He still has extensive contacts in France and buys a lot of horses from there, and also from Ireland, where his agent, Bryan Murphy, has a fine record at spotting potential winners.

“Every single one of the dozen or so horses Bryan has bought for us has won,” he told me.

Both James and his wife, Briony, are keen to emphasise the role played by the yard’s staff.

“We used to do everything ourselves, but that is impossible now and we rely heavily on our staff,” said Briony.

The quality of staff working at the yard was nationally recognised at the 2012 Godolphin Stud & Stable awards when Willie Cowe won the prestigious Dedication to Racing award.

In racing, there is a lot of pressure to produce results.

“I enjoy the pressure,” James revealed. “And I believe the only way to go about things is to go forward, to keep making things better.”

He paused and added: “The biggest pressure is when the horses are out there on the racecourse running and you know there’s nothing more you can do.”

Looking out over everything he’s created, James talked about the season ahead.

“All I care about is results,” he says, “I’d chop off my legs for results.”

And you get the feeling, as that determined look returns to his eyes, that results won’t be a problem for this progressive young trainer.