AFTER such a dire season in 2011-12 there was only one course of action for Liam Corcoran: a clear-out.
Two NH winners from the 21 horses he trained is a record that speaks for itself. "It was the worst season I have ever had by far – there are only so many times you can go to the races and see your horses tailed off," said the 35-year-old handler based at Lovington.
The outcome has been that the Irishman has shed 18 of the horses he had in his care a year ago and now hopes that with a new influx the good times will return.
He started last season at Charlton Adam near Somerton before moving four miles to his present yard 13 months ago as a tenant of local businessman Richard Prince.
Corcoran said: "I've got everything here: there are 50 acres, an all-weather gallop of four and a half furlongs, a grass gallop that's as long as you want it to be, an outdoor sand school, turn-out paddocks and lots of schooling facilities."
The dual-purpose licence-holder from Cork is also boosted by the fact that with 22 on his books he is up in numbers for 2012-13 and among the string this winter are horses owned by his landlord – including a Cheltenham Festival winner.
Four years ago when trained by Alan King Nenuphar Collonges took the Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle and Corcoran hopes he can rekindle that winning spark in the 11-year-old who had a brief spell as a point-to-pointer with Mandy Hodges last winter before suffering a minor setback.
At one stage it was hoped the gelding would be the type for Prince's son Philip to ride in the Cheltenham Festival Foxhunters but injury put paid to that.
However, now that he is back in work Corcoran has different targets: "Nenuphar Collonges is a big old-fashioned three-mile chaser who wants soft ground and who's got a touch of class. I have toyed with running him in cross-country races but at the back of my mind is the Welsh National – and veterans' races are made for him.
"If we can sweeten him up I hope we can coax the ability out of him. I'd like to think he would get us to the Festival."
He is still rated 148 over hurdles and 137 as a chaser, his last outing under Rules being in April, 2010, when he was a decent fifth of 19 giving lumps of weight away in a valuable Punchestown staying handicap chase.
No matter how Corcoran and his fiancee/assistant Clare Bowles handle the horse they are no substitute for the most crucial part of the team. Corcoran explained: "Nenuphar Collonges is very timid, so we gave him a goat as a companion – he's been a different horse since we put Billy in with him."
Mosstown was bought after winning a 12-furlong handicap on Dundalk's all-weather track for Irish trainer Jessica Harrington in March. The six-year-old is a versatile sort as he has also won over hurdles and been a close third in a Grade Three hurdle at Fairyhouse.
"I bought him and then turned him away. He has just started cantering and he will do both codes – and he has the size and scope to jump fences. Most of his form on turf has been on softer ground. He's got ability – and he's for sale."
After a disappointing stable debut in a three-mile Uttoxeter handicap hurdle that wasn't all the horse's fault, Irish import Iron Duke looks as though he's finding his feet with a second place on Wolverhampton's all-weather track last Saturday in a 17-furlong handicap behind Anthony Honeyball's Blue Zealot.
Iron Duke, who has been with Corcoran barely a month, won a Cork maiden hurdle in the spring only to be subsequently disqualified after a banned substance was detected.
Corcoran has fond memories of Will If I Want and, like Nenuphar Collonges, aims to rediscover winning form in the 11-year-old hurdler.
"I trained Will If I Want when I was in Devon and he has recently returned. He won for us at Fontwell Park over three miles and three furlongs in April, 2009, and was second several times. Hopefully he is well handicapped and will go for three-mile hurdles."
An unraced newcomer is Ice Cool Breeze, a five-year-old mare by 2003 Derby winner Kris Kin.
By David Briers