Our 2016-17 NH season can be compared to a Network Rail sandwich…
It looks promising to start with but is disappointing when you get into it and is very unfulfilling by the end. We started on a high with Gwafa winning the Pertemps Hurdle at Haydock but through the core season we had to put up with countless pieces of moderate luck and disasters, before a little better fortune and some consistency has appeared recently.
Losing horses has to be expected in National Hunt racing but one can never be prepared or feel anything but empty sadness when it happens. During April we lost Orchard Boy and Hollow Bay on the racecourse and Rhapando with a freak fracture, while turned out in the paddock as he was on nearly every day of his life.The knock-on effect of two owners who went to heaven in late 2015 has been fully felt this season with a large but perfectly understandable reduction in their strings of horses. I have no doubt that the unique David Allen is sharing the celestial copy of The Racing Post with the most wonderful Alex Timpson. These special people are so missed and there horses are proving equally difficult to replace.
For probably the first time ever we were temporarily short of riding-out staff in January, which lead to five lots in the morning and precipitated the return to the saddle of the Trainer, for four lots sometimes. I really loved being part of the string and felt so better involved than from behind the wheel of the truck! I rode a couple of horses that to my ear had wind afflictions that weren’t audible from the ground and Ben Brain soon sorted those out! Then on 31st January, with my frozen feet out of my stirrups, Breath of Blighty put in a monster buck and I fractured my pelvis when landing back on the front of the saddle. An incapacitated trainer was not what was required during such a tricky winter. In some weird and spooky way within a week of my accident four new riders joined our team and equilibrium was quickly restored and our crisis over! I pay massive tribute to Ku, Trevor and all The Team for soldiering on through a depressing time.
The last few weeks have been far more cheerful with Fingers Crossed and Lemons Gent both being second,two bumper horses Dassett Gold and Boughtbeforelunch showing great promise and wins for Breath Of Blighty and Royal Debutante. So many of the horses have run well to be placed and the season can also be summed up by Copperfacejack who has managed to finish second on six consecutive outings! Poor “Jack” has done nothing wrong but has always found one horse going a tiny bit faster than him in the final 50 yards.
Miss Tongabezi has upheld family traditions with her two wins and she will soon add to that tally. She missed the break at Newbury and then made a very uncharacteristic mistake at the top of the hill at Cheltenham. Richie McLernon thought her wind was catching her, but a wind-test could find no problem. Her family have been in this yard for five generations over 54 years and she will continue to boost the family traditions herself.
We are looking for new horses the whole year round but the Spring sales are often the best opportunities to find young NH prospects. Boughtbeforelunch, Dassett Gold, Royal Debutante and Copperfacejack all cost £15,000 or less, so we know we can find nice horses for reasonable money even in these times of crazy prices being paid for Irish point-to-pointers.
The Tattersalls Cheltenham Sale last week at Cheltenham was very strong and we had a very nice ‘order to buy’ with a budget of 50k. but still ended up being under-bidder on three occasions. However, the fates did smile upon us after finishing as under-bidder to Frank Berry on Youknowell (pictured top of page), a lovely 4.y.o. filly by Gold Well. I merely said to Frank how lovely I thought she was and that if they had no trainer especially in mind… then a couple of minutes later Kieran McManus gave me the ticket to bring her home! A serious thrill to get a lovely replacement for Cantlow and obviously a sign the luck is changing!
We have The Goffs UK sale at Doncaster in three weeks’ time and we have found the he best value is usually in this sale, so we will be trawling through there very carefully.
After the dramatic 24-hour break which gives the Champions far too much time for resting on their laurels, the new National Hunt season will get underway! It will seem like the first day back at school, with the classroom’s black-board scrubbed clean. Rather odd to start off the new season when many horses have not yet be able to start their holidays in the field because of the delayed arrival of a warm spring although things look as though they might warm up next week.
It will always be a shame not to be able to go to Kempton in May with Australia Day, who still holds the chasing track-record but we have quite a ‘rapid replacement’ in New Agenda. He has run well there twice but does need to settle to properly stay the two mile trip. Lemons Gent may go to Warwick on Monday or wait until Sedgefield later in the week. We are also looking forward to Blue Revelation running at Ascot in an apprentice handicap of a rating of 78 on Wednesday.
So onward into the new season at full speed!