Early June 2023 brought the news that the hugely popular Oliver Sherwood would soon be bringing his training career to a close. Formerly a successful jockey – with three wins at the Cheltenham Festival – Sherwood enjoyed stints as Assistant Trainer to the legendary duo of Arthur Moore and Fred Winter before setting out on his own in 1984.
Based in Upper Lambourn throughout his nearly 40 years as a trainer, Sherwood has enjoyed a career of which most trainers would be envious. Now, at 68 years of age, it seems the time for change has come.
Numbers Simply Not Adding Up
As is increasingly becoming the case in the racing game, the primary driver behind this decision is not a case of falling out of love with the sport, but rather an inability to make it pay. Sherwood summed things up in his usual straightforward style when stating, “At the end of last season we had 30 to 35 horses, which sadly isn’t enough, and I’ve had no orders to buy horses, so there was nothing to replace the ones we were selling. The sums weren’t adding up, end of story, so we’ve had to be sensible.”
Hard-Felt Loss Brings a Change of Perspective
Whilst financial issues have played a significant role, Sherwood has also been affected by the loss of close friend, Richard Aston. Diagnosed with cancer in February of 2023, the successful breeder sadly passed away just two months later. With Sherwood himself having recently been given the all-clear following six rounds of chemotherapy, it is understandable that the experience has left him reflecting on his future, “I’m going to be 70 in 18 months’ time. I don’t want my life to go by without me having done anything apart from training horses, much as I love it.”
Not Quite Fully Retired Just Yet
Anyone who has ever witnessed an interview with the trainer wouldn’t have had to strain too hard to pick up on the love of horses which courses through Sherwood’s veins. Given that passion, it isn’t surprising that he’s not ready to disappear into the sunset entirely.
Sherwood’s time in the hot seat may be drawing to a close, but plans are already in place for him to take up the position of Assistant Trainer to the up-and-coming Harry Derham. The combination of Derham’s youthful exuberance and drive, and the vast experience of Sherwood would appear to have all the ingredients for a winning partnership, and it will be intriguing to see how the pair get on in the coming years.
I’d like to thank everyone for their kind messages and support, it’s been overwhelming and very humbling. It was a tough but inevitable decision and now I’m really excited about the new challenge.
— Oliver Sherwood (@OliverSherwood) June 6, 2023
Five of The Best: Oliver Sherwood’s Most Successful Horses
There are no doubt many memories still to be forged, but we conclude by looking back at five of the greatest horses to emerge from Sherwood’s base over the course of what has been a fabulous career.
5. Arctic Call
Rising to a chase mark of 163, Arctic Call won eight times in total for Sherwood, with the big highlight coming in the 1990 edition of the hugely competitive Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup. Going in the hands of Jamie Osborne – who rode more winners for Sherwood than any other jockey – the well-fancied 5/1 shot was up with the pace throughout before showing real guts close to home to score by two lengths and thrust Sherwood firmly into the national spotlight once more.
One of Sherwood’s most talented chasers made his racecourse debut in the year following Arctic Call’s Hennessy success. Pulled up in a lowly bumper in that first performance, Coulton would go on to much bigger and better things.
A dual Grade 2 winner over hurdles, including in the 1992 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, the strapping chestnut scaled even greater heights over fences. Hitting a peak rating of 175, Coulton won 15 chase events, including the Cathcart Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and the Graded quintet of the Aintree Chase, Sandown Silver Trophy, and Desert Orchid Chase twice.
3. Large Action
Sherwood may be more famous for the exploits of his runners over fences, but he is no stranger to a talented hurdler. Best of the bunch over the smaller obstacles was the supremely talented, Large Action, who won 11 of 17 starts between 1993 and 1996.
The big one of the Champion Hurdle may have eluded him – finishing third behind Flakey Dove in 1994 and second to Alderbrook in 1995 – but he proved himself to be a genuine top-notcher with Grade 1 triumphs in the Challow Hurdle (1994), the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle (1996), and the Cleeve Hurdle (1997).
2. The West Awake
Sherwood won a total of six events at the Cheltenham Festival, but only one of his horses managed to enter the winner’s enclosure on more than one occasion at the biggest meeting of the year.
Announcing himself on the big stage with a smooth success in the 1987 edition of the race now known as the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, The West Awake returned one year later in what is now the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase. That Wednesday afternoon back in 1988 was particularly sweet for Sherwood, with the trainer already having won the opening Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle with Rebel Song – both he and The West Awake being ridden by his brother, Simon Sherwood.
1. Many Clouds
Talented as the aforementioned quartet were, when modern racing fans think of Oliver Sherwood, the horse which immediately springs to mind is the tough and talented, Many Clouds. A winner of nine of his 18 starts over fences, this Trevor Hemmings-owned star was the definition of guts and determination at the racetrack.
Forever remembered as the winner of the 2015 Grand National – Sherwood’s only success in the Aintree showpiece – the CV of Many Clouds also included wins in the 2014 edition of the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, and the Cotswold Chase in both 2015 and 2017. That latter success marked his single finest performance as he mastered the seemingly invincible Thistlecrack in a rousing finish. Tragically it also proved to be his last, as he collapsed and could not be saved shortly after the race. A horse of a lifetime, best summed up by the man himself.