By Steve Moran
In the absence of his high-profile trainer Sir Michael Stoute, Great Britain’s Convey - the horse nicknamed Bear - has had a low profile build-up this week to Sunday’s HK$16 million G1 Champions Mile.
His preparation has been entrusted to Kevin Bradshaw and Mark Westgate who, remarkably, boast a combined 67 years’ service to Stoute and whom, I suspect, have been happy not to be the centre of attention at morning track work. The sanctuary of quarantine and the demands of tending to your horse, which comes first, can have its advantages in avoiding media scrutiny.
Not that the two men have been invisible but they have had work to do. Both have consistently described the five-year-old gelded son of Dansili as “very laid-back, pretty chilled”. It’s a description which might also well fit them.
Bradshaw, 52, joined the Stoute team in 1980. “Straight from school,” he said. Westgate, 50, arrived in 1987. “The year the stable won the Oaks with Unite,” he said.
Nothing much, I suspect, fazes these two racing men. “Good bloke to work for,” says Westgate of Stoute, in classic understatement given his length of employment.
“I’ve been on a few good ones, a couple of Derby winners,” said Bradshaw, matter-of-factly. Indeed he has ridden champions, horses other stable employees might only dream of being aboard. The list might well fill the page given the horses who have graced Stoute’s yard.
“The good ones are those rated 125-plus,” he says with the hint of a grin, “need another one of those.”
Such an animal was the remarkable Shergar whose racing career began in 1980, the same year Bradshaw began work with the Newmarket trainer. Shergar, of course, won the Derby the following year and then, in Febraury 1983, was stolen at gunpoint from the Aga Khan’s Ballymany Stud and never seen again.
“I can’t say that I ever rode him,” Bradshaw said, “but Sir Michael and I were reminiscing at the stable Christmas party, last year, that we were the only two still at the stable who were there with Shergar.”
Bradshaw has ridden the likes of later Derby winners Kris Kin and North Light and says the remarkably successful globetrotter Singspiel, among a myriad of high class horses, may well be his favourite. “Took me around the world,” he said of the horse who won the Canadian International and Japan Cup in 1996 and then the Dubai World Cup, Juddmonte International and Coronation Cup in 1997.
Bradshaw has spent most of his working life in the saddle while Westgate has generally been the man on the ground. He too has dealt with many an outstanding animal but, interestingly, declares Convey as his favourite.
“I love this horse to bits. He’s my favourite,” Westgate says with ingenuousness you’d not expect from a hardened stable man, “he’s kind, he’s laid-back and he is a very genuine horse. That’s why we call him Bear, as in Teddy Bear. We refer to our reports back to home as Team Bear to Team Stoute.
“People have knocked him but he’s overcome a lot of issues, lots of niggles, breathing issues, a cracked pastern and now made his new owner very proud.
“Sarah Denniff, who is Sir Michael’s head lass, really has to take a lot of the credit. She’s done so much work with this horse,” Westgate said.
Much to Westgate’s relief the horse was not lost to the stable when offered at last year’s Tattersalls Autumn Horses In Training Sale. “I led him myself at the sales and was surprised when I was told I was taking him home again after Rupert Pritchard-Gordon bought the horse for Sir Michael’s client Mr Ng,” he said.
Stoute’s men can now look forward to Sunday’s race. “He’s had a very good week here on the track and while his past two wins were on the Polytrack, he ran to a very good rating on the turf last year, so we’re hopeful,” Westgate said.
Bradshaw is hoping to go one better than in 2009 when he accompanied Stoute’s Spanish Moon to Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Vase. He finished second to Daryakana. “I was asked this week ‘how long’s the straight at Sha Tin?’ I said “about a short head too long’,” he said in reference to Spanish Moon’s beaten margin.
Kevin Bradshaw atop Convey with Mark Westgate (right) at Sha Tin this morning.
Convey exercises on the Sha Tin turf track today.
Kevin Bradshaw receiving the Best Turned Out Horse prize from James Tien ahead of Spanish Moon��s 2009 Hong Kong Vase run.