Such elements are more profound indicators than mere success and failure. Every yard will have its hot streaks and its periods in the freezer. It comes with the territory. But a good trainer will impose more permanent virtues that create an atmosphere of teamwork and positivity. I have felt that atmosphere on every visit to Sandhill.
The staff are not only smart but smiley. Unlike some of the sour, slovenly types I see elsewhere, they look as if they enjoy their job, and their role in a Premier League jumping team. The horses are well presented and demonstrably happy. And there is a cordial, relaxed feel around the place that never descends into lazy standards.
Racing is a transient industry, sometimes casually so. Horses, staff and owners come and go. Yet the talent of Philip Hobbs is in looking after each category with equal thoroughness, so that few leave and even fewer improve for doing so.
He used to tell me he would not allow any owner to have more than six horses, for fear of a dominant force causing envy or resentment. Time and success has brought a different perspective but the arrival of more prolific owners has not harmed the atmosphere. Philip makes sure of that by giving every owner, large and small, his share of attention.
Maybe it helps to have such a splendid place to train from, and a house that feels welcoming as soon as you enter the kitchen. Recently, just after dawn on a winter’s day, my car was rammed as I turned into the drive to Sandhill. Shaken, I reported to the house. Within minutes, I had been given tea and headache pills by Sarah Hobbs and the broken number plate of my car was being repaired by the resourceful travelling head lad, Seanie Mulcaire.
There is a family environment here, one that stretches beyond the Hobbs clan itself but clearly begins with them. Sarah is a vital cog, the sort of effervescent wife any sensible trainer would want to represent him with owners and on the racecourse. Philip’s daughters ride out at the yard, where Seanie is just one of the long-serving squad.
Another, Johnson White, is the type of loyal, organised and uncomplaining assistant for which most trainers would give a great deal. And then there are the jockeys. Richard Johnson and Tom O’Brien are a team, too, and the fact both have spent much of their careers here says much for mutual loyalty.
Philip deserves enormous credit for building this thriving business from nothing. He was initially helped by a clandestine trip to Martin Pipe’s yard, where he and Sarah measured up his gallop and promptly copied it at Sandhill, a stunt that amuses Mr Pipe now that he is finally aware of it! More orthodox methods have brought such consistent results that, last season, Philip passed 2,000 career winners.
If it was not, otherwise, a season of conspicuous glory, you would not have divined any great change in the trainer. Philip has always treated triumph and disaster with the same equanimity. No great shows of celebration for the big winners, no morose excuses when things go wrong.
They went wrong a fair bit last season, with high-profile horses not firing as anyone might have anticipated. Yet there were enough shafts of light along the way – notably from the exciting Fingal Bay - for nobody to be very surprised when P.J. Hobbs once again pulled off the treble that other trainers find so elusive, turning out winners at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown festivals.
Sandhill is full again for the coming season, a healthy complement of newcomers swelling the numbers at a time when many other stables are struggling. It is a measure of the ongoing respect for a trainer who is always among the first mentioned, by those in the know, whenever a newcomer to jumping asks where he should put his first horse. Once installed at Sandhill, very few are disappointed.
2013-14 NH WINNERS
2012-13 NH WINNERS
Cheltenham Festival winners
Aintree Festival winners
Punchestown Festival winners
Grade One winners