Morrison remembering advice from late Sir Henry Cecil ahead of Saturday’s Investec Derby
As a young boy Hughie Morrison was given some sound advice by the late Sir Henry Cecil.
‘Go and learn about life before you think about training,’ the legendary trainer told the teenager. They proved wise words and ones Morrison reflected on this week as he contemplated the possibility of winning the £1.5million Investec Derby, a race won four times by Cecil.
If Morrison, 58, who worked for a healthcare group and a lighting firm before starting training at 37, can win the 240th running of the historic race with Oisin Murphy-ridden Telecaster, Cecil’s advice will have a neat symmetry.
Trainer Hughie Morrison says he is outnumbered in Saturday afternoon’s Investec Derby
They also helped shape Morrison to cope with everything thrown at him.
Two years ago, there seemed a big chance that Morrison would not be in a position to saddle a runner anywhere, let alone in the Derby.
When his moderate filly Our Little Sister tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid at Wolverhampton in January 2017, he potentially faced a minimum two-year ban.
But Morrison fought to clear his name, passionately arguing he was the victim of a ‘malicious plot’, a scenario supported by the seemingly motive-free, evidence-less doping of a poor performer in a case with no suspicious betting patterns.
An independent BHA disciplinary panel Morrison ultimately concluded the ‘on the balance, Mr Morrison was innocent of any involvement’ as he was fined £1,000.
Ironically, news about the case emerged two years to the day that Telecaster won the Dante Stakes to emerge as the top British-based Derby hope.
Morrison said: ‘It was very traumatic having spent all my life trying to be straight and honest to be accused of something which had absolutely nothing to do with us.
‘It was a slight on one’s character. I was upset and always will be.’
Morrison reckons fighting his case the cost him £150,000 and also horses. His Berkshire stables contain 70 horses but are no longer full to capacity.
They have also never potentially contained a horse like Telecaster, the son of 2008 Derby winner New Approach sent to Morrison when he a failed to meet his reserve at the 2017 yearling sales.
Morrison had trained Telecaster’s dam, 2012 Oaks runner Shirocco Star, and it soon saw the new recruit had inherited the family talent.
But the colt did not make the track until March, when second to Bangkok, another of today’s big hopes, at Doncaster.
For the past fortnight, Morrison and Telecaster’s owners have had to debate whether to pay the £85,000 Derby supplementary entry fee for a colt whose third career start in the Dante Stakes at York was only 16 days ago.
It is a calculated risk and a slightly frustrating decision given the then unraced Telecaster, a yearling Derby entry, had been scratched at the March forfeit stage when it was thought he was too immature to be an Epsom contender. Had he been left in it would have cost £7,860 for him to run.
So sure was Morrison that he would not be required at Epsom that he made plans to attend his nephew’s wedding in Stockholm this afternoon.
Morrison, who opted to run today Telecaster after discussions with Mark Weinfeld, head of his Castle Down Racing owners and MD of his Meon Valley Stud breeders, said: ‘We always thought he was a seriously nice horse and we had a long debate before initially pulling him out of the Derby in March.
‘The lightbulb moment was Doncaster. I thought he’d run very well and we’d also heard Bangkok was very highly rated.
‘Oisin then pressed the button and taught him to be a racehorse in his second race at Windsor. He is an intelligent horse. He picks things up very quickly.’
Morrison, who spent two years assisting trainer Paul Cole, caught the racing bug off his father James, the long-serving MP for Devises.
He owned and bred two Oaks winners – Juliette Marny (1975) and Scintillate (1979) – as well as breeding the 1978 St Leger winner Julio Mariner.
Morrison, who has trained for the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge’s parents Mike and Carole Middleton, for a short time found himself House Captain in charge of a Boris Johnson during his school days at Eton.
Given that background, it may seem strange to cast him in the role of underdog but with the might of Aidan O’Brien’s stable responsible for seven of the Derby 13 runners, in a sporting sense this afternoon that is what Morrison is.
The trainer joked: ‘I am a Southampton supporter and it’s a bit like Southampton’s five-a-side team taking on Manchester City’s first eleven.’
The sort of challenge Cecil would have relished.
Trainer Hughie Morrison says he is outnumbered in Saturday afternoon’s Investec Derby, but not outgunned as he saddles the leading British-trained hope Telecaster.
The Oisin Murphy-ridden winner of York’s Dante Stakes face the seven-strong challenge from Aidan O’Brien’s stable.