I’ll start this week not by talking about anything I’ve ridden or am going to be riding, but a different sort of engagement I’ve taken up next Tuesday night (26th), namely the FansBet Racing Cheltenham Festival Preview Night, which caught my attention not simply because of my ambassadorial role for the firm, but especially because it’s in aid of Racing Welfare.
I’ll be getting together with Shark Hanlon, Tom Lee and Conor O’Hehir to try and shed some light on what we think might unravel at Cheltenham in a couple of weeks’ time, it should be good craic and more importantly it’s another opportunity to raise some funds for a very important charity, one we should always support when there’s a chance to do so.
I know FansBet are live screening the event via social media, join us if you can.
Anyway, it’s been a typical mid-winter week for yours truly, with 27 rides in five days from Monday to Friday, which included putting a few more miles on my car with journeys to Carlisle, Wetherby, Doncaster, Sedgefield and Catterick.
My win on I’m To Blame for Keith Dalgleish at Sedgefield would have to be one of the highlights, making all in a small field to score in his first handicap, meaning luckily I’ve won on all four occasions up ‘til now that I’ve sat on this son of Winged Love.
He’s only just turned six so hopefully there is further improvement to come.
One that didn’t win but is always worth a mention is Waiting Patiently, for whom there are positives to be taken from his placed effort in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase last Saturday on ground that would have been plenty lively enough for him.
I know on this occasion he couldn’t get closer to the runaway winner, a massive improver in the shape of the deeply likeable Cyrname, and there’s no question the best horse won on the day.
However, don’t forget the quality and calibre of horses he had behind him when finishing second……there was a length and a quarter back to a dual Grade 1 winner in Fox Norton, plus a further two lengths down was Politologue, who himself has done the business twice at the very highest level!
Where he goes next is up to his owner and trainer, but I certainly haven’t lost faith in him in any way and you’ll see a big difference when he encounters softer going.
Looking ahead, it’s destination Newcastle for yours truly on Saturday afternoon, where there’ll be a big crowd on Eider Chase day.
I have a book of five mounts to look forward to, all of which represent different stables.
I kick-off on James Ewart’s Nikgarde in the opening bumper at 1.35pm, in what is probably a slightly stronger race than the one in which I was second on him at the same venue the last day.
Basildon, the horse who beat him by a neck there re-opposes, but fingers crossed with that experience in the bank my lad can reverse that form and get a first win on the board. Indeed, he flew home after getting squeezed for room first time out, and was ahead after the line.
My next ride is in the feature four miles and half a furlong Eider Chase at 2.40pm, a famous handicap which is one of the longest races in the calendar.
It’s a race I’ve yet to win but would really like to. This time around I’m on Progress Drive for my great ally Nicky Richards, the man who trained last year’s winner, Baywing.
Baywing tries his luck again in a two-pronged attack for the Richards stable, but I’m very happy to be on my fella.
He’s got a nice racing weight, showed up well last time on his first try over this sort of extreme trip when a solid third for me in the Borders National at Kelso in December, plus has had a wind operation since then.
Hopefully he can have a say in what looks an open contest.
Moving on, I’m looking forward to resuming my partnership with the Mick Easterby-trained Albert’s Back in the extended two-mile handicap hurdle at 3.55pm.
There’s no question this is a nice horse, though this is likely to be a big ask given not only has he earned a high rating from which to begin life in handicaps, but he’s also been absent from the track for 423 days.
Unlike him, one who has been relishing his time on the track of late is Charlie Longsdon’s Just Don’t Ask, a seven year old who I won two hurdle races on in early 2018.
Connections opted to put him away after that, earmarking this season for a campaign over fences.
First time over the bigger obstacles he was in the process of running a decent race for me at Uttoxeter in December, fading a little bit late on when I thought turning in he was going to be third.
After that his trainer opted to have him undergo a minor procedure to aid his breathing, something which did the trick as he gave me a nice spin to win at Wetherby six weeks ago.
That victory means he’s got quite a high mark to contend with on his first try in a handicap over fences at 4.30pm, but on the plus side he has previously won a Point-to-Point, so perhaps has a shade more experience than first meets the eye. Fingers crossed he can be competitive.
I round off my day out on the track with Bally Conor in quite a warm looking novices’ hurdle at 5.05pm for Waiting Patiently’s trainer, Ruth Jefferson.
He has the look of a nice young horse and I’m hopeful the track will suit him much better than when he was sixth at Market Rasen last time.
He is already a bumper winner and is one I hope can improve with experience.
Overall though, on a very competitive day’s sport I’d say Nikgarde in the opener is perhaps my best chance of riding a winner.
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