Gundry’s ready to face the NH hurdles ahead

A runner in the Aintree Foxhunters within a few weeks of launching a new career as a fully- fledged, licensed NH trainer managed to distract Polly Gundry from her retirement from race riding, writes Lee Glanville.

The horse, with hunter chase wins at Folkestone and Newbury under his belt, ran brilliantly to finish fifth.

Polly, 35, said: “Fort View travelled up the day before as he doesn’t travel well. I walked the course (the Foxhunters is over the Grand National fences) and the jumps were bigger, which is good, but more sloping, which isn’t, as it encourages the jockeys to go faster. I thought ‘Oh my God, he’s only a seven year old,’ but he did us proud, although it would have been nice to have snuck into the winners’ enclosure (4th placed and upward unsaddle in the winners’ enclosure).

“He made a mistake at one fence and ran a bit green on the softer ground, but it wasn’t a bad show, both the owner and the jockey were happy.”

And Gundry’s first visit to a point to point at the weekend also went well, “by 2.30pm I had a gin and tonic in my hand and I thought, ‘this is ok!’

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It can’t have been easy for the country’s winning-most female point to point rider to decide to give up, but, she says: “ I was gradually pushing myself towards it. I have been really pleased with how the riders here have been getting on in their races for us, Ed Barrett, especially, as he knows exactly what we want. And I had started thinking that there were plenty of other people who were more mad keen than I was to be riding in points. Everyone says that the moment you think about retiring is the time to stop but we are running a business here and it wasn’t quite that easy. There have been a spate of lads having awful accidents just recently, so I think I have done the right thing.”

Polly steps down as national champion lady rider, having been champ last season for the eighth time.

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She has always been interested in nurturing young riders, from pony club level upwards, and she has full confidence in those she can call on to ride for her. “I try and teach the riders here a bit, which hasn’t been that easy when I have been stiff and sore from falls, so that side of things should get better,” she said.

Her partner, Ed Walker, now trains the point to pointers, whilst Polly has charge of the four NH horses, Fort View, Teenage Kicks, Before The War - who may run in a novice hurdle today, Friday, and Flower Dew, who is owned by Richard Kelvin-Hughes and has come from Nicky Henderson’s yard as Henderson thought the horse would benefit from being in a smaller stables.

“I am used to horses running over three miles or maybe two and a half in points, so now I spend a lot of time sat in front of the computer trying to work out which horse runs best over which distance under rules! I am happy here at home getting the horses fit, it is just placing which is the challenge.”

“I will only aim to have about 10 horsees to run under rules at the most as I really don’t want to be going racing every day of the week. I am much better concentrating on getting the horses right.”

“I have a few bigger owners who said they would support me when I decided to get my licence and I will approach them. Robbie Henderson has been riding most under rules. He comes and rides out here once a week so he knows the horses. I am lucky in that I have been riding long enough to get to know a lot of the jockeys, but it is better if you have one who knows a bit more about the horse than just getting on it on the day. Robbie is able to build up a rapport with the horses which is good.”

“I am lucky that I am starting out at least with a bit of respect but I am not looking forward to trying to buy good horses for not much money - or even for a lot of money. I think I will be happier training what gets sent to me.”

Polly hails from Gloucestershire but decided to settle in Ottery when she and Ed were looking for a training base. My dad Robin is in Axminster which was important and, what we really liked around here was that there were so many bridlepaths to use. We have an all weather sand canter and a three and a half furlong uphill grass gallop, which Ed keeps in good order.”

She enters her new career with a massive amount of respect from her peers and no doubt there will soon be some prolific race winners based at Ottery St Mary.

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