AS she looks out of her office window at her training base midway between Darlington and Sedgefield, Rebecca Menzies is delighted to see raindrops bouncing off the stable yard before cascading into puddles by the side of the road.

“Finally, we’ve got a bit of jumps weather,” says the 29-year-old, who hit the headlines as Britain’s youngest trainer when she first took out her licence in 2013. “It’s taken a while, but we might actually be able to get going.”

As the weather changes and the nights draw in, so thoughts turn to the jumps rather than the flat. Menzies increasingly excels in both spheres, and the latest flat season has been her most successful yet, with Von Blucher’s Class Two victories at Newcastle and Doncaster providing a couple of notable highlights.

The make-up of her dual-purpose yard at John Wade’s former base in Mordon reflects a subtle shift in emphasis towards the flat, with jumpers now making up around 60 per cent of the string.

There are compelling reasons to shift towards the flat – horses don’t get injured as often, owners tend to like the fact that their horses run much more regularly, and the prize money, particularly at lower grades, tends to be much better – but deep down, Menzies remains a jumps enthusiast at heart.

She cut her racing teeth as assistant to Ferdy Murphy in West Witton, and still regards Cheltenham rather than Ascot as the Holy Grail. Not, however, that she can ignore the changing trends in the North.

“I think it’s getting harder to run a jumps-only stable full stop, but certainly here in the North,” she said. “The prices to buy a top jumps horse have gone through the roof recently, and it’s hard for an owner to spend a fortune on a horse that has to be a five or six-year project, when the alternative is to buy a flat horse that can be out in a couple of weeks’ time and run all year around.

“I was going to go to France earlier this week to look at buying a couple of jumpers, but I changed my mind and when I looked at the prices, I’m pleased I did.

“As a trainer, you have to work around what your owners want. And increasingly, that’s meaning flat horses that can run all year round and pick up decent prize money.

“Newcastle’s move to the all-weather has also played a part in that, because suddenly we have the best and fairest all-weather track in the country right on our doorstep. Their prize money is pretty good, and owners like to go there. We’ll have more of our flat horses running right through the winter than ever before, and that’s mainly because they can pop up to Newcastle and run there instead of having to trek down to Wolverhampton or Southwell.”

Even so, standing in a muddy field, watching a couple of her youngsters schooling over a hurdle for the first time, Menzies still gets a tingle of excitement from the jumps game that is hard to replicate elsewhere.

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“There’s still something special about bringing a jumps horse through,” she said. “You’ve got to go a lot slower than you would on the flat, and there’s a lot more to think about in terms of teaching a horse how to race. These two are babies really, but they’re learning every day.”

Patience is the byword, along with progress. When she started training on the outskirts of Easingwold, Menzies had the most rudimentary of facilities.

Now, following her move to County Durham, she presides over a state-of-the-art base with 48 boxes, a picture-perfect all-weather gallop and a new one-and-a-half furlong deep sand ring that was installed this summer. The hum of lorries across the yard confirm that further improvement work is underway.

She has received steadfast support from Wade, who still harrows the all-weather gallop every morning despite having officially retired a couple of years ago, but the growth of her yard is also a reflection of the way in which her reputation has blossomed in her five seasons as a trainer.

“We’ve come a long way in a short space of time,” she said. “Sometimes, you have bad days, and you curse your luck, but then you look back to where you’ve come from and get a bit of perspective.

“The other day, I was looking through the worming books from two or three years ago. Compare the standard of horses we had then to what we’ve got now, and it’s chalk and cheese really.

“We’ve managed to get some much better horses into the yard. You’re always waiting for that one to take you to the next level, and it would be lovely to think at some stage that we’d get a horse that could take us to the big days at Cheltenham or Aintree. Who knows? We might have one coming through now. But if we don’t, I think we can be happy that we get the very best out of what we have. In the end, that’s the most important thing.”

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Is it feasible to think she can continue to do that with jumpers in the North though? With ten permanent members of staff, Menzies has to be busy all year round, and flat horses enable her to do that.

Jumping in the North has taken a battering in recent years, with the best horses heading to Ireland or the leading southern yards of Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, Alan King and Phillip Hobbs. Recently, though, there have been signs of a Northern resurgence, and Menzies is confident the training talent is out there, even if the odds remain stacked against horses trained in this part of the country.

“There are still problems,” she said. “The calendar for jumps racing in the North is a bit of a mess really. We’ve got horses where there isn’t really a race for them in the North before Christmas, and that can’t be right.

“But Northern trainers are making a really good fist of things. You had Brian Ellison winning at Cheltenham last weekend with Nietzsche, and Simply Ned running a cracking race too. Philip Kirby had a treble on Charlie Hall day at Wetherby, and that’s before you get some of the real big guns coming out.

“Ruth Jefferson could have an amazing season with Waiting Patiently, and look at Iain Jardine up in Scotland. He trained Bedrock to beat Samcro at the start of the month. If that had been a Paul Nicholls horse, you would never have heard the end of it.

“So I don’t buy in to the fact that jumps racing in the North is struggling. Yes, there are issues, and when we do have some success, we probably don’t shout about it loudly enough. But we’re as good as anyone if we can get the horses. Jumps racing is part of who we are.”

And with that, with her wellies pulled on and her hat over her head, Menzies heads through the door, and back into the pouring rain.


Champagne To Go

She’ll go for the two-and-a-half mile mares final at Carlisle’s Northern Lights Finals day at the start of next month. It’ll be a hot race because it looks like there’s quite a few southern horses coming up for it, but she should have a chance. After that, we’ll probably be looking at mares only novice handicap chases. She’s a lovely horse. We bought her out of Kim Bailey’s for a grand, and since then she’s hardly been out of the front three.

Garde Forestier

John Wade bought him out of the Ascot sales, and we gave £5,500 for him. He ran in a really hot novice chase at Carlisle a couple of weeks ago, and to be brutally honest, he probably got a little bit outclassed. But he jumped really nicely and once we get him into novice handicaps in the North, he should be really competitive.

All Hail Caesar

His bumper form from his debut at Ayr in the spring is really good. He finished eighth, but there have been a host of winners to come out of the race. Pretty much everything that finished ahead of him has gone on to win. He then went and ran in a bumper at Cheltenham, and the track got the better of him. His legs were all over the place coming down the hill. He’s still pretty raw, but we’ll look to get him another chance in a bumper in the North. Hopefully, he’d be really competitive in that.

Emerald Chieftain

He fell on his first run of the season at Ayr, but he’s come out of that fine and hopefully he’ll learn from the experience. We haven’t wanted to do much with him because he hasn’t been able to get his ground. Once things start turning a bit more testing, he should be a nice chaser to follow.

Halcyon Days

He’s been an absolute star for us – he never runs a bad race. He won last time out at Carlisle, but he’s only been put up a pound for that, so hopefully he can still be competitive off his new mark. He’s rated 109 now, so he’ll just get into a 0-110 race, which should help him. He beat Ryalex of Lucinda Russell’s in his last race, and that horse came out next time and won by nearly 30 lengths. That suggests he’s still on a decent mark.