First things first, I’ll get back in the groove for 2019 by wishing all readers a happy and prosperous new year, let’s hope it’s one in which all horses and jockeys come back safe and sound and we get a bit of luck into the bargain!
After a busy festive period I nipped off to the Dominican Republic for a few days rest and relaxation, much needed after the hectic Christmas spell – it was 30 degrees and believe you me lovely to see the sun again.
Unlike some stables who are traditionally busy in the winter and then quieter in the summer, or vice versa, our set-up means we are on the go 12 months of the year, with the colder months dominated by our jumpers and all-weather Flat string, while when the summer arrives and the winter horses go out to grass, it’s the Flat turf runners who dominate, alongside some all-weather contenders and summer jumpers.
With that in mind it’s important to grab a quick break when you can, though you probably won’t be too surprised to learn my suitcase contained the entry books, a laptop and a fully charged mobile phone – you daren’t switch off for long in this sport.
While I was away I was observing the story about leading owners Paul and Clare Rooney choosing to suspend their runners from participating in races at Cheltenham on welfare grounds, instructing the many trainers they employ not to make entries at jump racing headquarters.
My own opinion is we should respect their wishes. I can see the frustration if you were a trainer of theirs and thought you’d identified a suitable race for a promising sort at the meeting rapidly approaching in two weeks’ time, but nobody should feel pressured to run anywhere, and they’ve done this for what they believe to be the best for their horses.
Personally, I love Cheltenham. We’ve had some great days there, such as when Hawthorn Cottage won there at the April meeting, as well as Kalashnikov’s great run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. They always give you a great welcome, look after owners well and provide the finest equine facilities, but the care of horses is vital and we shouldn’t criticise them for making a personal decision.
Speaking of Cheltenham, nine weeks from now we’ll be in the midst of Festival mania. Don’t wish your life away they say, but it is exciting!
I also noted the rise in riding fees for professional jockeys – the jumps boys will now be getting £173.59 per mount, which might sound a lot, but you wouldn’t get an elite professional to turn out for that kind of money in any other sport – pay them whatever it takes to keep them motivated, healthy, safe and well employed.
The Christmas period for us included some busy days, including taking new boy Well Smitten to Huntingdon on Boxing Day, where he delighted us by winning by seven lengths at our local jumps track.
We haven’t had him that long but Jack Quinlan said he gave him a great feel, and the handicapper has responded as I suspected he would, putting him up eight pounds. That’ll make life more difficult, but he’s a horse I like and I’m looking forward to trying him again in a deeper race at the same track on Friday (3.00pm).
The day after Well Smitten’s win there was understandably huge talk about Kalashnikov’s length and a quarter defeat to Dynamite Dollars in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park.
That meant my lad lost his unbeaten tag over fences, making two bad mistakes by the time they’d jumped three, giving himself a lot of extra work to do in the process.
In the circumstances I thought it was a mighty effort to get back into contention on a track that would be plenty sharp enough for him, plus don’t forget how far the front two came clear of the very useful 145-rated third horse!
All credit to the winner, he’s obviously a very smart sort and a horse I really admire, but he’s very much one we look forward to meeting again, especially on a left-handed track which it’s now clear Kalashnikov needs to be seen at his best. Roll on Cheltenham.
Aside from Well Smitten, we’ve got some handy each way chances on the Flat to look forward to over the next day or two, plus Mercian Prince’s return to Kempton Park on Saturday to run in the same race he won 12 months ago off a five pounds lower mark.
Lastly, everyone loves the hardy long-distance types among the National Hunt population doing their thing at this time of year, and Saturday’s Classic Chase at Warwick (3.00pm) has always been a popular race. I’ve no entry but given the chance I’d certainly be having my pound each way on the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Cogry.
A rock solid winner at Cheltenham on Good ground last time out, he stays further than the 3m 5f journey of this race, is set to carry less than 11 stone, has two course wins to his name, has previously been second in this race, plus placed in a Scottish Grand National. Throw into the mix Sam Twiston-Davies being on his back and you’ve got a fair recipe to be looking closely at him at likely odds around the 9.00 mark.*
*all odds are subject to change