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Webber calls time on long and successful training career

Webber calls time on long and successful training career
Webber calls time on long and successful training career

Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot-winning trainer Paul Webber is to relinquish his licence in early June, ending almost 28 years as master of the picturesque Cropredy Lawn racing stables and farm.

Webber’s decision was accelerated by the death of his mother Diana in 2022.

She was an equal partner in the 227-acre property near Banbury and so her share had to be divided between Paul, brother Anthony and sister Sally.

The whole property will come on the market next month and mark the end of a personal era, as 65-year-old Webber has lived there all his life, apart from what he calls a “hugely enjoyable” period between 1983 and 1995, when working as assistant to Jeremy Hindley and spending 10 years with the Curragh Bloodstock Agency.

While he and his wife Ku will leave the stables with sadness, Webber will not be lost to racing, as he plans to help neighbouring trainer Billy Aprahamian.

Some of Webber’s owners are looking forward to moving their horses to Aprahamian, who is based at Adstone, near Towcester, and was assistant to Nicky Henderson for three years. The remainder of Webber’s string are bound for the upcoming Goffs UK May sale.

Paul Webber (right) with Martin Pipe after Indefatigable won at Cheltenham in 2020
Paul Webber (right) with Martin Pipe after Indefatigable won at Cheltenham in 2020 (Tim Goode/PA)

Explaining the reasons behind his decision, Webber said: “Ever since my father died suddenly in May 1995, I felt I was a ‘guardian’ here and that one day my mother’s will would have to be satisfied.

“We developed the yard from 34 stables to 62, built an equine swimming pool, an all-weather gallop, turn-out paddocks and a water-walk, whilst still knowing the day of reckoning would come.

“It is a terribly difficult decision to sell, but no matter how we struggle with permutations and ideas, the sums just don’t add up and there is no other way. Sadly, our numbers have dwindled in the past couple of years and we are not doing well enough to keep the place going.

“Cropredy is a gorgeous place to train from, but the upkeep is never-ending and whenever things go well, most trainers just plough it back into their business. Ku has her very successful glamping business, which we hope to continue somewhere, and I have my racing and bloodstock contacts to pursue.”

Reflecting on his time as a trainer and looking forward to the final weeks ahead, Webber said: “It is very difficult to split the level of enjoyment between winners at Royal Ascot and Cheltenham. Then there were the winners at St Moritz, San Sebastian and even a bumper winner at Seiches-Sur-Loire.

“I’m now in the home straight, still on the bridle and aim to have some final runners through May, possibly finishing up at Dieppe in early June.”

For most of Webber’s tenure, Cropredy Lawn has housed multiple winners under both racing codes, including Royal Ascot scorers Ulundi and Full House and Festival winner Indefatigable.

Ulundi triumphed in the Wolferton Stakes in 2002, Full House in the Ascot Stakes five years later and Indefatigable in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

But while that particular winner should have elevated Webber’s fortunes, it came at the wrong time to do so.

He explained: “It was the last race before the Covid-19 pandemic struck and we were not really able to capitalise on it in the way we would have done in normal circumstances.

“We actually didn’t benefit in the way that might have seen us getting back to having ‘Saturday winners’. I must admit though, that winner helped to keep us cheerful for the first few months of lockdown.”

Flying Instructor was a real stalwart for Paul Webber
Flying Instructor was a real stalwart for Paul Webber (PA)

Webber paid just 15,000 guineas for Full House out of his friend Paul Cole’s Whatcombe yard, but in the main carried on some of the traditions laid down by his father John, who was a strictly National Hunt man.

He landed two Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase wins with Patricksnineteenth and Hoh Express, three Red Rum Handicap Chase victories courtesy of Flying Instructor, Jungli and Tidour, whilst also saddling Time For Rupert to finish second to Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle.

He added: “There were also some big near-misses. If Big Buck’s hadn’t fallen in the Hennessy, he would never have gone back hurdling, while Tidour was absolutely cruising behind Well Chief before falling in the Arkle.

“My biggest regret, however, was Ulundi flashing home down the outside when beaten two necks and a head in the 2002 Arlington Million, not bad for a Scottish Champion Hurdle winner! We loved those dual-purpose heroes, another being Australia Day, who held two track records over hurdles and fences.”

Webber emphasises that Cropredy Lawn will be advertised for sale far and wide, rather than solely to the racing industry, saying: “There are all sorts of uses for this place, as it is so private and secure in its own setting.

“It has every facility for training horses but would also be a beautiful stud farm or just a special family residence in a superb location.”

Webber will help out  Billy Aprahamian
Webber will help out Billy Aprahamian (Mike Egerton/PA)

Aprahamian is in his second season with a licence and said: “A couple of the horses coming here will be given a summer campaign and the rest will join me in July, while Paul will come on board in a consultancy role, rather than as an assistant, being there in the mornings to help out.

“We get on very well professionally and he has huge experience which I can glean from as we talk things through and make plans. It should be to the benefit of both of us.”

Webber said of the arrangement: “Two months ago, Billy came over for a chat wondering whether we might be able to help him in some way and his timing was clearly clairvoyant!

“Some of our owners are happy for their horses to move over to him, knowing that I’ll be there to help out in any way. Hopefully, this arrangement will propel Billy forward and continue to give me an involvement, but it will be Billy’s name on the licence.”

Before training, Webber was a respected bloodstock agent and he hopes the new career developments will free up more time to do bloodstock work and renew previous contacts.

He said: “Most importantly, I wish to thank the wonderful members of my team that have made everything possible over the years.

“Their hard work and support have been completely invaluable and critical to any and every success we have enjoyed together.

“I also express enormous gratitude to the myriad of owners for whom we have trained, and whose patience I must have severely tested over the years.”

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