Owen Burrows: The trainer entrusted with Sheikh Hamdan’s Kingwood House Stables
Owen Burrows comes across as honest as the day is long, and as patient as if that day were to go on forever and he was getting paid at the end of it.
Those two obvious attributes clearly stood him in good stead when he was the only person interviewed for the role in the autumn last year to be Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s retained trainer at Kingwood House Stables.
Burrows, who as of February has presided over around 50 blue-blooded thoroughbreds in the Lambourn Valley, hopes to become the first trainer since Mikel Delzangles to win Saturday’s English 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket with his first runner, the Minister of Finance’s Massaat.
Burrows’ patience and honesty stem from the fact that, at the age of 41, he is not some hot-headed new kid on the block trying to make a name for himself.
He understood the reality at the age of 26 that he was never going to be good enough as a National Hunt jockey to trouble the best, and his ability to bring a horse along slowly was gained working for 12 years at Freemason Lodge in Newmarket for nine-time champion trainer Sir Michael Stoute.
Now married and with two children, Burrows comes across as a safe helmsman to steer the stables Sheikh Hamdan refurbished for the autumn years of Major Dick Hern nearly 30 years ago.
Burrows owes his position to tragic circumstance that was triggered by the death of then incumbent Kingwood House trainer John Hills, son of Barry, brother of trainer Charlie and jockeys Michael and Richard in June 2014.
Following the death of his son to cancer, Barry Hills was drafted in to once again train for Sheikh Hamdan and set up a succession plan, that eventually involved Burrows, who was head-hunted from Stoute’s yard where Sheikh Hamdan has horses.
“When I quit being a jockey in 2002, if somebody had said I would have been training for Sheikh Hamdan down the years I would have said they were a complete lunatic,” Burrows said.
“It is amazing how things work — all those years at Sir Michael’s have stood me in good stead. It is very fortunate that everybody in the Shadwell team believed in me, and I just hope I can repay that faith.
“Over the past few months sometimes I have just sat back and thought how lucky I have been.
“It is nice to know that they think enough of me to give me this chance, and that is a big vote of confidence in itself.
“It was tragic why Barry had to take over. Ever the professional, Barry never let it show. He is a wonderful man. He kept his personal feelings to one side.
“You never want come in and get a job in those circumstances. It was very sad. There was still stuff in some of the boxes that belonged to John and there are still memories around here that for Barry and his family must still be very hard.”
Richard Hills, Sheikh Hamdan’s former retained rider, also played an instrumental role in the recruitment of Burrows.
“He was the first one who came to mind,” Hills said. “I’d known him for 10 years having ridden for Sir Michael, and he was a fundamental part of the yard and was a well respected guy. His professionalism and knowledge of horses — and his general manner — impressed me, as did the way he went about his business.
“Angus Gold and I both discussed it and spoke to Sheikh Hamdan, and that was it.”
Burrows is a chip off the old block in terms of how he trains.
Talking to him about how he has prepared Massaat for the 1,600-metre Classic, he may as well have read his words out from a training manual written by Stoute and Barry Hills.
Last May, Massaat had yet to canter on grass, but the first time that he did, Burrows saw a significant amount of promise.
Massaat then made a pleasing debut at Sandown in July when he cottoned on to racing all too late to finish second.
He lost a shoe before a maiden race he never ran in before finally getting off the mark in a lowly maiden race at Leicester in September.
To finish second to Air Force Blue, Saturday’s overwhelming favourite, in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes in October off the back of such a preparation was a Herculean performance.
As much as Barry Hills had done previously in 2009 with his 1,000 Guineas winner Ghanaati, Burrows took Massaat for a racecourse gallop at Newmarket during the Craven meeting earlier this month, which the big-framed horse duly needed.
Last Friday Paul Hanagan worked the Shadwell-bred son of former champion juvenile Teofilo at Hills’s Lambourn gallop, and Burrows said he now has his stable star in rude health.
“Air Force Blue beat him by three-and-a-quarter lengths in the Dewhurst, but the winner was match-hardened then while Massaat was big and raw and was coming straight from a maiden race,” Burrows said.
“I would like to think that we will at least be able to narrow the gap.”
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