Owen Burrows begins his third full season as a trainer in 2018, with high hopes to build on the success of 2016 and 2017. Here he shares exclusive insight with Course-Specialist, on his career to date and the season ahead.
The Master of Kingwood came into the role, following the tragic passing of John Hills in 2015. Among the talented horses John left behind, was the fledgling Massaat, a powerful colt, who would finish second in the Dewhurst Stakes, when John’s father Barry, had temporarily taken over the trainer’s licence, to the end of the year.
Owen took over the training licence over the winter, saddling Massaat to finish a brilliant second to Galileo Gold in the 2016 Qipco 2,000 Guineas. Not a bad start, but Owen was hardly new to the sport and his blood is steeped in racing history.
“I was born into racing as my late father was Head Lad to David Nicholson for 12 years through the 80’s, so racing was in my blood.
“I rode as a conditional jockey for 7 years, having between 600-700 rides with 43 winners. I packed in riding in the summer of 2001 and started my time with Sir Michael Stoute in March 2002.
“During that time we had many wonderful horses, three Derby winners, a 1,000 Guineas with Russian Rhythm and Breeders’ Cup winners.”
Over time, Owen’s role with Stoute evolved, as he rode out less and began to concentrate more on management.
“When I first started at Sir Michael’s, I used to ride two lots out, but then gradually progressed up to be his assistant.
“His eye and patience with horses is his main attribute, he was old school, but wasn’t afraid to move with the times and used to love taking on the best around the world, quite often beating them. He took immense pleasure from his successful foreign trips!”
At Kingwood, Owen’s largest patron is Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, who of course owns Masaat. But that connection was made during his time working for Sir Michael.
“It was through working at Sir Michael’s that I got to meet the team at Shadwell, meeting Sheikh Hamdan numerous times, so with the tragic death of John Hills I was approached to see if I would like to take over at Kingwood.
“The plan was to have a season under B W Hills (who had taken over the license temporarily on John’s death) with a view then to taking over after.
“By the time I started (January 2016), the majority of the team had stayed. Marcus (Tregoning)’s old head lad, who’d been with The Major (Dick Hern), was still here and is a major asset.
“Back then we had about 36 horses and now we have nearly 90 so the team has had to expand. I’m very proud of the team we’ve gathered here, and as the old saying goes, you’re only as good as the team behind you!”
Whilst Owen had an excellent grounding in racing, taking over at the helm of the stable is a different challenge altogether, but it is one he is relishing.
“Obviously with training comes different responsibilities, the biggest change is that the final decision comes down to you! Whereas before you could add your opinion, now everything down to race planning, training methods, staff, veterinary practises, is all in your hands.
“Fortunately I’m not too bad when it comes to handling pressure! I experienced it quite quickly when Massaat ran such a fine race in the 2,000 Guineas.
“Having such a good boss and a great team around you helps as none of them put any pressure on you. The most I feel probably is from myself. I hate losing and even if they run well, you’re pleased, but nothing beats having winners!”
Before taking over he licence at Kingwood, Owen was able to tap into the vast experience and skills, not only of Sir Michael, but also Barry Hills.
“Having the season under B W Hills was a great help allowing me time to get to learn the gallops, Barry got me to ride up each one so I could get a feel for each of them.
“I’m very fortunate as I have 5 different strips of grass to choose from, each one slightly different.
“Barry was also very old school and I have massive respect for him as he’s been very successful from the different yards he’s trained from all over the country. He built himself up from the well-documented coup he landed back in the day, to fund his first yard purchase, to now having the wonderful set up he has at Farringdon Place.”
After his tremendous run in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas, Massaat disappointed in the Derby, before suffering a setback at Salisbury in August 2016, which kept him off the track for a year.
Course-Specialist caught up with Owen at last season’s July Festival, where the trainer hoped to have Massaat ready to return in the Group Three Hungerford Stakes. He was good to his word, as Massaat put up a brilliant performance to win impressively.
He later ran a fine third in the Prix du Moulin and second to Limato in the Group Two Challenge Stakes, back at Newmarket.
Hopes were high for 2018, but sadly it was not to be.
“Unfortunately Massaat is out for the season and I would imagine he will now be looking for a stud job somewhere. He was a very talented horse but very fragile!”
So Owen enters the 2018 Turf Season looking for a new superstar to champion the yard. Like all training centres, Lambourn suffered greatly from the Beast From The East and the cold, wet spring, but Owen’s team has started the new campaign with great promise.
“This spring has been very challenging, with having such a cold winter to a chilly spring, we’ve just had to be patient with the horses, but I think they are just starting to come right now.
“Fortunately we have a few nice three year olds to look forward to; Tabdeed, who won yesterday, and Wadilsafa are exciting.
“I’m also looking forward to seeing Laraaib back on the track, hopefully soon.
“Sawwaah won the Wood Ditton nicely; depending on how he works this coming week, we may give him an entry in the Heron Stakes at Sandown on 24th May. That would tell us more on whether he’s up to that class.”