Bill Turner is set to slug it out against the big yards in a bid to land the Brocklesby Stakes for a record seventh time when the 2022 Flat season starts at Doncaster on Saturday.
Turner, who trains on the Dorset-Somerset border at Sigwells, has always been known as master trainer of juveniles, and invariably has at least one speedball ready to run in the traditional season-opener.
That will be no different this weekend as he bids for his first success in the SBK-sponsored five-furlong dash since Mick’s Yer Man scored in 2013.
“I have got one I’m hoping to run – he is a little cheapy and he is not very big, but I have got to have runner as I am getting older and I don’t know how long I’ve got left! I have got to keep trying,” said Turner.
“He is called Knowwhatimeanharry. The lad who owns him is called Harry, but he missed the registration, so he has got to run in my wife’s name (Tracy).
“He tries hard and is an honest little sort. There will probably be horses who cost £100,000 or more in there against him, but we are going to have a go, anyway.
“I’ve won it six times and I don’t know how many times I’ve been second, probably five or six times.
“I’m not sure how many will be ready to run, as it has been a very mild winter, and that will help everybody, especially the Newmarket horses.”
Turner, fiercely proud of his Romany roots, will turn 75 in August and has 14 horses in his yard. Sadly, he has already lost his flag-bearer for the bulk of the season.
“I’ve only got about five two-year-olds,” he added. “We have got a nice Lightning Spear colt, which we gave a lot of money for.
“When that storm came in, with all that thunder and branches flying everywhere, I couldn’t get them settled, they went mad for hours.
“He went and knocked his joint in the box. He will be out for a while. He was a nice colt and cost forty-five grand.”
The lack of staff, compounded by the impact of Brexit which has seen many good riders and stable staff unable to obtain or afford visas, has compounded a problem, particularly for small yards such as Turner’s.
“We are like everybody else – we are so short of staff,” said Turner.
“Harry Kimber comes in and rides out for me and Liam Browne, the lad from Richard Hannon’s, he came down the other day but he can’t get any time off, because of the lack of staff.
“Getting staff is a nightmare and I’ve had one lad off with a broken arm for five months.”
The lack of staff necessitates that he has to keep going and Turner still rides out three lots a day. Not that he would have it any other way.
“Dad, bless him, told me, ‘Don’t retire, because there are two chairs that will kill you – the electric chair and the armchair!’
“I’ve got no hobbies. I couldn’t take golf and the only other sport I like is boxing. I watch that.
“Dad (also named Bill Turner) was champion amateur in the army. He used to go round the (fairground) boxing booths years ago, when old Jack Taylor used to run them.
“Jack was a professional light middleweight and it was a con, really. There was a little fella up the front giving it all the flannel (known as a barker or spieler), saying, ‘Who’ll fight my man for a white fiver?’ as it was in those days. But when you went round the booth, you were not fighting him at all, you were fighting a professional.
“My dad never, ever came out without a white fiver! You didn’t have to beat them mind, you only had to stay in the ring with them for three minutes. But he was good and they were all professional fighters.”
Knowwhatimeanharry, a gelded son of Havana Grey, will bid to land a knockout blow to the powerhouse stables who have increasingly farmed the race in recent times.
He will be partnered by Browne. Turner said: “Liam came and put a few through the stalls. He will claim the 7lb as well.
“He has ridden four times for me, he rode two winners and the others have been placed.
“He’s a good rider and I hope the horse gives him a good spin. The Brocklesby is a lovely race to win and I’d love to win it again – and keep going!”