MERCIFULLY there is a chink of brightness to cheer Liam Corcoran after the bleakest of years.
One solitary winner – and that in the first days of 2013 – sums up an annus horribilis for the 36-year-old dual-purpose trainer based at Lovington near Castle Cary.
The Irishman went into the last NH season flushed with optimism after recruiting virtually an entirely new squad but injuries, disappointing performances and dollops of bad luck meant Murcar was his only winner over the sticks.
The eight-year-old with the broad blaze triumphed in November, 2012, and the chestnut has also been responsible for the yard's only success of 2013 in both codes when landing an all-weather Flat stayers' handicap at Wolverhampton on January 3.
"Since then we have been knocking on the door but despite a lot of places in the last few months we just can't get the winners," says Corcoran. "It's very frustrating and if people say it isn't, they're lying. There are times when you doubt everything – it's only human to do that – but a lot of people have been forced to stop in this current economic climate and we are still standing, so you've got to be grateful for that.
"At one stage when I was at Kingsbridge, Devon, things were going really well and I had some nice Saturday horses. Now we're starting again from scratch but if we can just get a few wins on the board that would generate new interest and hopefully new owners."
Corcoran, however, is convinced there is light at the end of his gloomy tunnel with an influx of fresh talent – the pick of which has come from his principal supporter and landlord Richard Prince.
The Podimore businessman's smart mare Sula Two has spent the last two winters at Lovington on holiday from the Flat training regime of Ron Hodges at nearby Charlton Mackrell.
But instead of returning to Hodges, who is winding down towards retirement, the six-year-old will remain with Corcoran who has hopes of her reaching listed status.
The daughter of Arc de Triomphe runner-up Sulamani has won eight times on turf and not only represents the highest-rated Flat horse to come under Corcoran's care but also reflects a rise in quality at the yard.
Corcoran said: "My understanding is that Sula Two will be staying here. I am delighted and very grateful to Richard and his wife Dawn. We haven't made a plan yet but she enjoys her break and needed it after the Flat season which she ended on a career high mark of 86.
"She acts on soft ground and if we can get her ready and there is a wet spring we could nick a decent prize, like a listed race because she's in that grade and playing with the big boys now."
NH is also a possibility as the mare has shown jumping ability at home and was once declared for hurdling only for Hodges to withdraw her.
Sula Two's regular rider Philip Prince – Richard's son – gets on particularly well with the horse who relishes the long, galloping straight at Newbury. Four of her victories have been there at distances ranging from 10f to 2m, the last of them in September and all with Prince junior in the saddle.
Corcoran has been delighted to welcome back for a second NH spell Advancement, rated 125 at his height and considered by him to be a Cheltenham Festival prospect in his Devon days.
"He won three hurdles in 2008 and was second in the listed Market Rasen Summer Hurdle that year. He had over two years off with a leg injury but came back and won at Taunton for Sophie Leech in March, 2011, before more leg trouble. Now 10 but not many miles on the clock."
Another valued patron of the yard is Murcar's owner Ray Antell with wife Valerie who have a decent NH prospect in Baron's Best, an unraced three-year-old by Lucky Story out of a winning mare.
Corcoran said: "I bought him at Doncaster Sales as an unbroken two-year-old colt and we've just fed him and watched him grow – he's a 16.3 gelding now. We won't rush him – he won't be a real horse until he's five.
"He'll probably start in an all-weather bumper or if there's decent ground, on turf."
By David Briers