Rebel Racing's quest for the best achieved at Doncaster
Mark Scully talks to trainer Richard Spencer about his success at Goffs UK
When telling the story of Rebel Racing, it is impossible to overlook the significance of the sales in Doncaster.
Cockney Rebel, the dual Guineas hero of 2007 who ignited the passion of owner Phil Cunningham, was sourced from the St Leger sale of 2005, with Bobby O'Ryan going to 30,000gns to secure him from the Trickledown Stud draft.
Fast forward 13 years and Rebel Racing, the operation that brings together Cunningham's racing interests, continues to enjoy significant success with horses sourced from Doncaster and as far as the methodology goes, little has changed.
"We're lucky that Bobby O'Ryan goes around and looks at everything for us," explains Richard Spencer, now in his second full season as Rebel Racing's trainer. "Everyone knows what we're striving for and the formula has been working well, so hopefully it can continue."
Working well it certainly has been. In his first season, Spencer and the team toasted big-race success on arguably the world's biggest stage as Rajasinghe caused something of an upset to land the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot. That colt was an £85,000 Goffs UK Premier buy in 2016 by O'Ryan and Rebel Racing, once again from Trickledown.
The Group race glory has continued into 2018, with the thoroughly likeable and no less talented Rumble Inthejungle running away with the Molecomb Stakes at the Qatar Goodwood Festival this month. He was a graduate of the same sale 12 months ago, the team going to £70,000 to bring him home.
Recalling Rajasinghe, Spencer says: "He had the combination of a good page before we even clapped eyes on him and then as soon as we saw him, we liked him as a specimen.
"From day one, he looked a proper horse, with a good shoulder, a good backend and a great attitude. Everything you would want, he ticked the box, and it's not often you can go to the sale and find that."
A year later, Cunningham famously reserved the name Rumble Inthejungle, so determined was he to take home the son of first-season sire and now fellow Molecomb scorer Bungle Inthejungle.
Spencer says: "Rumble Inthejungle was very good looking and had a nice page to back that up. He was just a stand-out for us. We looked at him the day before he went through the ring and Phil had reserved the name for him the evening before we tried to buy him, so it was one of those things where I knew somebody was going to have to have a big cheque book to buy him because Phil was adamant he was bringing him home."
The success extends beyond those two runners, with the likes of two-year-olds You Never Can Tell and Louis Treize, bought last year for £30,000 and £120,000 respectively, getting their heads in front in recent weeks with the promise of better to come.
"You Never Can Tell just looked a yearling that could make a two-year-old," says Spencer. " A lot of Elzaams aren't great walkers but it's not a walking race at the end of the day and he can certainly gallop. He could be one to look out for at the back end of the season.
"We all liked Louis Treize when we saw him last year and he's done well for us so far. He was a popular horse on the day, with a few people in for him but luckily we got him."
What then is the formula applied by the Rebel Racing and O'Ryan team, who will descend on Doncaster again this month determined to ensure there are more big days in 2019 and beyond?
All three men, O'Ryan, Spencer and Cunningham, compile their own lists, which focuses attention on horses the trio are drawn towards but the process ultimately does not exclude any horse from the catalogue without careful consideration, so determined is the team not to allow a good opportunity to pass them by.
Every horse, therefore, needs to be seen, not merely discounted due to whatever could be on its page in the catalogue.
"As my old boss Barry Hills used to say me, 'you can't train a piece of paper'," says Spencer. "So if a nice horse is put in front of us without much of a page, we're not scared to go and buy it. We've got a certain type of horse we like and I think it works well."
That mantra applies too to the first-season sires and while Spencer acknowledges he has a view about the potential merits or otherwise of this year's crop, he is in no mood to discount anything at this early stage.
"I wouldn't see any first-season sire's stock properly until we go to the sales, so you can only really find out your opinions on them all when you start seeing them," he says.
"There's certain ones I'd like to look at but I don't like judging anything and discarding them just by the page. I'd rather look at everything at the sales so we don't miss one just because the page looked horrendous.
"At the end of the day, there's no point buying something at the sales that you have to look at for the next two years and don't like. Each individual trainer will have different types they like, so it's all about buying something that you can work with seven days a week, 365 days a year.
"Everyone knows what we're striving for and the formula has been working well, so hopefully it can continue."
Unsurprisingly given Rumble Inthejungle's success, the Rebel Racing team will head to Yorkshire with a spring in their collective step and it would be no surprise to see them spend a healthy sum once again.
In 2016, O'Ryan/Rebel Racing parted with £296,000 to get their hands on six yearlings, including Rajasinghe, for an average just north of £49,000. That increased last year, with eight yearlings bought for a combined £545,000, the average nudging £70,000.
Spencer hopes to be hitting all of the summer sales with even more orders to fill in 2018 and so it would be no surprise to see those figures jump again and the trainer says: "By the sounds of it, this sale is even more popular than ever this year, with a lot more horses they had to whittle down to the final catalogue, so I'd like to think the quality will probably be up from last year and previous years.
"They always look after us well up there and with the likes of Harry Angel and Laurens, the results speak for themselves - the list is endless. Whether it's the Premier Sale or the Silver Sale, they put forward a good quality type of horse and so we'll be heading there again with an open mind hoping to buy a few.
"We're still in the early stages of Rebel Racing as a business [established in 2014], and it's my second full season training. We're setting the bar quite high, so we've got to keep the ball rolling."