County Durham trainer Michael Dods is looking forward with confidence to the new season after a milestone year in 2022. He talks to PETER BARRON
IT’S a hallmark of Michael Dods that he wants every season to be better than the last – but he knows that 2022 will take some beating.
He hit the 1,000-winner mark for his 32-year career when Bold Territories won at Newcastle on August 19. The yard also achieved record prizemoney, and the admirable Commanche Falls scored historic back-to-back successes in the Stewards’ Cup at Glorious Goodwood.
“It was a memorable year but we’re always looking to improve the quality of the horses and we think we’ve done that for this season,” says the County Durham trainer. “There are a lot of new faces, the three-year-olds look a nice bunch, and we’ve bought some nice two-year-olds, so we’re hoping for another good year.”
As well as being ably supported by his wife, Carole, this will be his daughter Chloe’s first full season as full-time assistant trainer, having started the role midway through last year, after working part-time as a medical information specialist for a firm in Richmond for three years.
“She’s taking on more and more responsibility and she’s doing a great job,” says Michael, proudly. One day, the plan is that Chloe and twin sister Sophie will take over the licence, but not just yet.
“I still love the buzz of having a winner just as much as I ever did, although I don't try to do as much as I used to,” says their dad, recalling the time he spent the day working the farm on a combine harvester before driving south to stay overnight in a Travel Lodge to watch a horse called Northern Echo come third at Hereford the next day!
Dods, based at Denton, near Darlington, has trained Group 1 winners, and bagged some of the country’s biggest handicaps, so what’s his remaining ambition? “I’d love to win the Ayr Gold Cup because we’ve come so close,” he says without hesitation.
Commanche Falls was second in the race last year, failing by just a length to give lumps of weight to David O’Meara’s talented sprinter Summerghand.
As for Chloe, she’d love to see Dakota Gold become the winning-most horse at York – a title he shares with Tim Easterby’s Copper Knight, on six wins each.
“He’s been such a great horse for the yard and the owners – Doug Graham, Ian Davison, and Alan Drysdale – are such nice people. That would be great to see,” she says.
Chloe’s responsibilities include running the Dods Racing Club, which is growing in membership as a cost-effective way of getting involved in the sport. The club goes into battle for 2023 with prolific winner Langholm, Stallone, Atomise, and a two-year-old Dark Angel filly called King’s Angel. Chloe also runs Game On Racing, which has a promising three-year-old called Hale End.
The first of the stable stars to go into battle is BRUNCH, who has been a long-term entry for the Lincoln, Doncaster’s traditional curtain-raiser for the flat on April 1. The six-year-old gelding, owned by Fiona Denniff, was runner-up in the Lincoln two years ago but may instead be aimed at a listed race on the Doncaster card.
“I’ll discuss the options with the owner before making a decision. Whichever race he goes for, he’ll come on for the run but he seems well,” said Michael. “He ran some good races in defeat last year, and was unlucky when he was second at York, so we’re hoping for a good season with him.”
Michael thinks it will be “extremely difficult” for COMMANCHE FALLS to make it a three-timer in the Stewards’ Cup. He won the race off 101 and then 103, and he’s now rated nine pounds higher at 112.
“He could start off at Doncaster in the listed race and will also come on for the run. It’s going to be hard in handicaps but he likes to be surrounded by a lot of horses, whereas listed races tend to be smaller fields and more tactical. That said, he’s still strengthening, so we’ll see how the season progresses.”
AZURE BLUE finished off last season with a win in a listed race for fillies and mares at Newmarket, and there are hopes she can step up to Group 3 level as a four-year-old this year.
“She’s done exceptionally well over the winter. She’s strengthened up and grown so, hopefully, she can go on progressing. We’ll possibly set her off at Newmarket.”
The evergreen DAKOTA GOLD is well into the veteran ranks as a nine-year-old but Michael reports that “he seems better than ever”.
“He looks to have retained all his enthusiasm. He’s probably more suited to six furlongs now he’s older and not quite so quick, and he loves York, so we’ll look at that. He needs juice in the ground but I certainly don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.”
NORTHERN EXPRESS also likes York. He’s “a bit quirky” but he’s “pretty good on his day”, so he’s another one to watch on The Knavesmire.
Having trained Group 1 winners in Mecca’s Angel and Mabs Cross, the yard is mostly associated with sprinters, but Michael is hopeful that WOR WILLIE can make his mark as a stayer this season. He won three times last season – twice over 1m 4f and once over 1m 6f – and Michael hopes he can step up and be effective over two miles.
Michael has described GALE FORCE MAYA as the toughest horse he’s ever trained and this is likely to be the farewell season for Frank Lowe’s gallant seven-year-old mare, who racked up five wins last season.
“She looks really well and starts off on a rating of 106, so we’ll be looking at listed and Group 3 races with her.”
PRAIRIE FALCON has wintered well and races off a rating of 81. “We might set him off over six furlongs at Pontefract in the middle of April but seven furlongs or a mile could be his trip this year,” says Michael.
Of the two-year-olds, TAYGAR – owned by the three brothers behind Darlington-based Taylor’s Butchers – along with MIDNIGHT LIR, and MECCA’S DUCHESS get a mention as sharp, early types.