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A weekend to remember!

It always makes it easier going into a big Festival, (which is what the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival at Newbury is fast becoming) when the horses are in great form, and they had certainly been that throughout November.

To have a horse like Paisley Park in the yard is both a privilege and an added a pressure but is one that we are more than happy to embrace on every level.  Newbury on the Friday was possibly the most pressure I had every felt going to the races.  Paisley had achieved so much last season and caught the public’s imagination in a way that we have never experienced before, and, although we knew there would be improvement to come, we still didn’t want to let anyone down by producing him in a way that didn’t allow him to do himself justice.  He had eaten a lot of ‘pies’ across the summer (!) and it took a fair amount of slow fitness work to get him to change shape in any way at all.  Then once he started to come into himself and remembered he is a finely tuned athlete it was then a case of getting him on a lorry and away for a racecourse gallop.   Newbury were very kind to allow us to give him a gallop before their fixture on 7 November, but the way he behaved in the paddock making divots on their beautiful grass they may have regretted it!  He just needed to go and chill out again after having had the experience of the Cheltenham Festival and I think his trips to Newbury made a big difference in getting his head right for the start of this season.

We were so proud of how he ran, and under Aidan he travelled as well as he ever had, jumped beautifully and galloped all the way to the line, and in classic Paisley fashion as soon as he got to the front pricked his ears to suggest he was extremely happy with where he was.  There is no doubt he had a good blow afterwards and will improve for it, but it was a great race and lovely to see a horse as tough and genuine as Thistlecrack chasing him home.   Barry has been instrumental in the preparation of Paisley and he was every bit as nervous as I was, but every bit as proud.  Paisley has come out of the race unbelievably well and extremely fresh so the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot before Christmas is firmly on his radar and hopefully his season will continue how it has started.

The relief of Paisley’s victory led to a few impromptu drinks at our local Silks on the Downs, so there were definitely a few sore heads the next day in the yard, and rightly so.  However, we kicked on and got through the morning and headed back to Newbury for De Rasher Counter in the Ladbrokes Trophy.   As I said before it is so great going to the races when you know your horse couldn’t be in better form, what we didn’t know was whether he was good enough to win a race like the Ladbrokes Trophy – and he answered that question in no uncertain terms!  He was given a lovely ride by Ben Jones and travelled and jumped beautifully and ran all the way to the line and was a huge result for the yard and a day never to be forgotten.  Rasher’s owners were all able to make it and the scenes of pure joy that followed are what racing is all about.

We are extremely lucky to be training from a yard with such a rich history as this one, and it made us very proud to have kept up tradition by producing a third winner from here of the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly the Hennessy Gold Cup).   Rasher has also come out his race very well and having been raised to a mark of 160, our first choice will be to have a look at the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January and decide from there whether he is likely to be a top class handicapper or potential Gold Cup horse – how exciting!

What has been so rewarding is that the back-up team to Paisley and Rasher are every bit as strong. Hang in There was hugely impressive winning the Grade 2 SkyBet Sharp Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham (17 November) which was also a fantastic day.  He is not especially big but is as tough as they come and all he wants to do is please.  He jumped and travelled with enthusiasm and galloped all the way up the hill in rather unpleasant weather, but in no way did it stop him.  I think he is probably a horse that is better on better ground, but the fact he seems to handle pretty much any conditions means his versatility should stand him in very good stead.   Our plan is to head to Sandown in the New Year in the Tolworth Hurdle and see how far he can go in the two-mile novice hurdle division.  He has already shown in Ireland that he stays further, and he is a horse to be very excited about.

Another exciting novice is Éclair Surf who ran at Exeter (13 November) and is the complete opposite to Hang In There in that he is extremely tall and leggy and still very much a frame, but what he does share is an ability to travel and jump, but over some-what further.  He loved the soft ground and never really came off he bridle to win under Adam Wedge.  His future will lie over fences, but he is a horse we think very highly of so we will head for the Challow Hurdle at Newbury on the 28th December and see how far he can go.

Another nice novice who hasn’t got his head in front yet is Namib Dancer and who has run two fantastic races to finish second on both occasions.  He looked all over the winner at Wincanton (27 October) going well clear before the last before then making a complete horlicks of it, and then regrouped himself to still finish a clear second.  He then went to Kempton on ground that was a bit too soft for him and ran a great race just beaten by a horse with more experience.  He has plenty speed as well as size and scope and is one to very much look forward to.

Shang Tang is another who ran with huge amounts of credit when second at Chepstow (20 November) finishing like a train.  We wanted to start him off the right way by getting him to settle but when he missed the third last it just meant the winner got away on him, however I do not think he will be long in making amends.

The handicappers have also continued to shine, with the likes of Misty Bloom winning for our Bonita Racing Club at Wincanton (9 November).  She won easily and gave her team of owners a wonderful Saturday out.  Her next start is at Cheltenham this weekend and for a mare that started off on a pretty lowly rating it is so exciting to see how far she has come, and how time makes such a big difference to some of these horses.

Our American import – Highly Prized – who did us all proud across the summer, stepped out on slightly softer ground at Huntingdon (12 November) and took it in his stride by winning a valuable handicap. He has an incredibly high cruising speed and is very nimble from A to B over his hurdles and definitely puts his rivals to the test.  He won again impressively, with Ben Jones in the saddle, and I think is a horse that could take a pretty high order in two-mile handicaps. Even though Huntingdon was softer than he has experienced before I don’t think he is a horse that will want it too soft, and we will look at some of the more valuable spring contests as it would be fantastic to bag one for his enthusiastic owners.  He is a horse that likes to run fresh so we have just kept him ticking over in the hope that these storms will blow over and there might be some better ground at some stage before March!

The other end of the scale was Belle Empress who loves the mud to fly and the further the better, as demonstrated at Exeter (6 December) last week when she came home to win by a neck.   Her owners have not always had the best luck with their horse’s, and I was so pleased for them as well as Belle that she won and picked up a descent prize in the process.  There is no doubt she knew she had been to the races, 3 miles and 6 furlongs on soft ground is a long way to go and I think was more than happy to have an easy couple of days afterwards, but she is back now and we will look for a similar contest early in the New Year.

Pemberley is a horse close to my heart as I ride him regularly.  He is full of personality and although the distance at Hereford (27 November) was ultimately on the short side for him I was thrilled to see him get his head in front and once again we saw Ben Jones to great effect.  He has obviously modelled himself on Paisley based on the fact that as soon as he got to the front he pricked his ears, but he has a long way to go before he can truly claim equal status!

There have been some nice performances that haven’t resulted in victory but will certainly be improved on.  This included Fonsanta who jumped beautifully around Newbury in a novice chase finishing behind Champ and learnt so much and I am very much looking forward to him running next time.  Flemcara was only just ready to run at Sandown (7 December) following recovering from an accident in his field when on his summer holidays. The ground was desperate and it caught him out fitness wise, however Chepstow during the Christmas period is his next target.   Closing Ceremony was another I was delighted with at Newbury, he is a horse that has been difficult to keep sound over the years but his run was full of promise and that should set him up for Haydock on 21st December, which is a track he always saves his best for.

It was also good to see Fortunate George put some effort into his race last Saturday at Sandown.  He had started to resent wearing headgear so leaving it off definitely helped, as did Henry Platt’s 10lb claim.  George finished third in the Pertemps Qualifier and will also head to Ascot in a conditional jockey’s hurdle.  Henry has now had three rides for us finishing second and third twice on Water Wagtail and Private Malone and he is now aiming for the winner’s podium, and hopefully it will not be long in coming!

We cannot thank people enough for their very kind responses to our awesome weekend at Newbury.  We have had some lovely cards, emails and messages, some of which have been very humbling and hopefully the season will continue in the same vein and we can say thank you for many more!


Rolling into the jump season!

As we look out the window and see rain, rain and more rain you might think we’ve had enough of the wet stuff, however where it has been so dry for so long, for a lot of tracks, it has been fantastic.  It means we’ve had some lovely ground in the early part of the season which we have been lacking over the last few years and so have actually been able to get on and run horses without being wary of how quick the surface might be underneath.  It has made a big difference being able to get the horses fit and keep them rolling all the way to the races, whereas in some years we have had to stop and hold them for a while as there just hasn’t been the ground to run on.  Most importantly they do seem to be running well and look fantastic, so if we can keep this up for the whole of the campaign it will be a very enjoyable winter!

As it has been a while since I have updated the blog, I need to (embarrassingly!) go all the way back to the end of August to highlight Highly Prized  impressive win over hurdles at Newton Abbot (31 Aug), along with Manofthemountain, who was making his debut over fences and for us.  It was a double on the day and a lovely start to the campaign.  Irish Prophecy also had his first start after a significant wind op and it was amazing to see him gaining in confidence through the race. Although he got a little tired at the end, he got to the point of testing his wind, questioned whether he was going to get enough oxygen in, and when he did, he then ran on for another couple of furlongs before getting tired.  It was a big test for him and a very good result for us, even though he only finished fourth it gave us great hope he would continue to improve going forward.  He did just that at Wincanton (9 October) a month later when winning. It had been a long time between drinks and it really was a very satisfying day for his owner Nick Mustoe as well as the team here who have put so much work into him.  He has certainly been very pleased with himself since his victory and I am hoping he can just keep building on this and get back to the horse we always thought he could be. 

Lady Markby made her debut over fences at Worcester (1 September), she jumped beautifully and although the race was won by a highly rated novice, she still ran a binder to not be beaten far for second, finishing a very promising third.  However, sadly it transpired she had given herself a small area of tendon damage and I think the reality is that it will be the end of her career as a racehorse.  Having won a bumper and a hurdle and by Oscar as well as being from a nice family she will head to the paddocks and will hopefully have a chance of breeding something very nice.

September is a funny month as it’s the time of year where all the horses are still swans, the excitement is building, and with very little jump racing through this month it gives little chance for anything to disappoint! I did though make an error with The Sweeney when I ran him over three and quarter miles at Newton Abbot (9 September).  Although he is by Oscar he is not really bred to stay that distance, and despite travelling well he didn’t get home and it possibly took more out of him than I gave him credit for, as on his return at Fontwell (9 October) over a shorter distance he did not yield the result we were hoping for, and accordingly he is now having a well-deserved holiday.  Although not big, he is a smashing jumper and we will give him a school over fences once back from his break and probably head chasing with him.

Misty Bloom kept the show on the road by winning on her seasonal reappearance at Warwick (23 September). She has been an absolute star for our Bonita Racing Club and is so unbelievably consistent and with her usual terrier like characteristics she jumped beautifully and battled all the way to the line.   Having come out the race so well I sent her to Ludlow (9 October) a fortnight later where she ran another gallant race to finish third.   If the rain comes she will certainly handle the softer ground and will continue to run with credit throughout the year.  She is now qualified for the £50,000 mares challenger final at the end of the season at Haydock, which is the race she was second in last year and it would be lovely to think with a year under her belt and being stronger it could be a race she could win.

Having run on relatively quick going at Newton Abbot at the end of August, Manofthemountain went to Southwell (1 October) where he definitely encountered the opposite end of the ground spectrum.  The rain had been torrential and in a four-runner field where each horse had won their last start it looked a very competitive affair, however Manofthemountain bossed them from start to finish and ran out the comfortable winner. He is a horse we like very much and should have a bright future in staying chases. 

Jubilympics made her debut for us at Warwick (3 October), she has decent form in the past, but just lost her way a bit last season which did result in a favorable handicap mark. She jumped beautifully, travelled well and finished a very gutsy second.   She is out again tomorrow and hopefully will step forward again.  Tough and genuine fillies and mares are a joy to train as they come out and run their race each time and I think she is very much cut from the same cloth as Misty Bloom.

Jemima P also made her debut over hurdles on the same day and although running green she was certainly an eye catcher.  I don’t think we will see the best of her until she goes over a fence however, she should be able to get her head in front over hurdles.

The beginning of October has certainly been as busy as September was quiet.  We moved on to Fontwell (5 October) where Freedom Run was a very encouraging fourth and who is another lovely mare in the Bonita Racing Club.   We then headed to Stratford (7 October) for the seasonal debuts of Boreham Bill, Gunfleet and Celtic Joy.  Ideally I never choose to run two horses in the same race, but when you have a pair that want similar conditions and before the season gets really started and options are more plentiful you have to take opportunities when they present themselves and so Boreham Bill and Gunfleet took each other on.  Boreham Bill on this occasion ran out a lovely winner, with Gunfleet a fast finishing fourth beaten six lengths, so it was difficult not be extremely happy with them both.  Bill seems to be a different horse this season, he is relaxed and has kept his condition and has done everything in a way that suggests he could be in a better place and Henry who rides him every day has done a very good job with him.  He will head to Cheltenham on Friday where he will be take on a stronger field again and it would be lovely if he could show them all a clean pair of heels as well.   It was also a massive confidence boost for Gunfleet, who I don’t think really enjoyed his last few runs, and I think the race helped him get him back on track mentally as much as anything as he finished out the race brilliantly and seems incredibly happy after it, which is a big change from last season. I think this should set him up for a more enjoyable campaign all round.  Celtic Joy in the handicap hurdle ran a beautiful race and was just beaten by a speedier type.  He galloped all the way through the line, and I could not have been happier with him and as it happened was the perfect warm up for his debut over fences at Kempton (20 Oct) at the weekend.  I was so delighted with his performance there, with still so much improvement to come from him with his chasing technique it was the perfect start to his career over the larger obstacles winning a shade cozily.  The crew are back dreaming of the Claret Cloak days – let’s hope they’re right!

The thing about racing is it’s a great leveler and boy did we get levelled with Hang In There at Exeter (10 October)! He is the most lovely horse – a real athlete, and at 2/1 on, and making his debut for us in a novice hurdle we just felt it was the perfect starting point.  So, as you can imagine there was a fair bit of frustration when Adam Wedge got knocked off him by a 100/1 shot running down the first hurdle.  You win some, you lose some, but that was frustrating.  Thankfully he came out of the race well and being sensible he jumped the second without his rider he then took the view to go around each hurdle as a much easier option.  He still finished several lengths clear with his head in his chest but missing his all-important rider! I am pleased to say he will be back out tomorrow, in a tougher race but he does seem really well so hopefully we can at least get further than the first this time.  

One of our very nice novice hurdlers; The Domino Effect, made his debut at Hereford (15 October), but he was just too green to do himself justice on the track. Having not been through the point-to-point academy and with only one run in a bumper he just seemed to find it all a bit too much.  He travelled and jumped well in the early stages of the race, but lost his pitch midway before staying on after the last.  I have no doubt he will leave this run a long way behind him going forward but there is no doubt some horses need more education than others, which he can only gain by going to the track.   Belle Empress also had a nice pipe opener, jumping in the main very well over fences, and once the ground gets a bit softer I hope she will be back in the winners’ enclosure.

De Rasher Counter’s target is very much the Ladbroke at Newbury at the end of November and so to preserve his chase mark he travelled to Uttoxeter to run in a stayers handicap hurdle and get some much needed match practice.  He jumped his hurdles beautifully until the third last where he just left his back end behind and a combination of that and starting to get tired put an end to his winning chance.  He had a nice blow after and Ben Jones who rode him was delighted with him and I think it will have brought Rasher on enormously – roll on the Ladbroke! 

It was a busy weekend for us with Thoor Castle heading to Market Rasen (19 Oct) and becoming our first runner for Trevor Hemmings.  Having watched Mr Hemmings’ horses running for many years we were very proud to see his colours on one for us and she is a mare that I think will give us a lot of fun.  Having won a point to point in Ireland over three miles she was just tapped for toe turning in by some very smart mares but stayed on in determined fashion to finish fourth and I think will only improve.  Hopefully it won’t be long before it is not just a runner in the famous colours but a winner as well.  Doc Penfro also made his debut for us at Stratford.  He is a fine big horse who has had knee issues in the past but shows plenty at home.  He had done his pre-training work with Timmy Murphy and he came in looking magnificent so it was lovely to get him back to the track and see him run such a nice race.  He travelled well in to the contest and although the winner won easily he should have been a nice second had it not been for a proper Horlicks at the last – fourth was where we ended up but ultimately he will improve no end on this run and if we can keep his knees right he is another exciting prospect for the coming season.  Private Malone knows more about racing than any of us and I have a feeling that could be the problem!  He has been in such good form at home and so we were hopeful of a good run with him but having jumped really well, once it all got a bit harder and he got a little tired he weakened out of the race and Leighton sensibly pulled him up.  He is most definitely entering the ‘last chance saloon’ and I will leave no stone unturned with him but as he is the best ride and the sweetest natured horse, I have no doubt that if he does decide that racing is not for him, he will be very easy to rehome.

I had already mentioned Celtic Joy’s victory at Kempton yesterday but to double it up with Vendredi Trois made it a very special day.  VT has been with us a long time now and to see him flying the fences and sticking his head out all the way to the line was a very memorable moment.  Adam Wedge rode them both and having another winner on the day gave him his first ever treble so it is hard to imagine for any of us a better start to the season.

Now all we have to do is keep it rolling…..

Photo: Misty Bloom and Laura Scrivener and taken by Hope McSnowy


Holidays are over

The holiday season is well and truly over and having had a lovely summer, with the majority of the horses out and relaxing it always comes a bit of shock to the system when they come back in fresh, fat and well!

The horses have all summered fantastically, it was a lovely time for them with plenty of grass and not many flies – an ideal combination.

As ever with us our summer campaign is always on the light side.  But those that have been in and running have done us proud.  The Sweeny has won two £20,000 handicaps at Market Rasen.  He is so tough and terrier like and for him there is no doubt his wind operation made a big difference, I am not the greatest fan of wind ops unless they really need them, and the confidence he has gained in having it done is remarkable.  He is not very big, but he is all heart and will head back to the races in the not too distant future.

Prophets Prayer has knocked on the door all summer and will run this week where hopefully the door will finally open for her over hurdles and she can get her head in front.  Shiroccan Roll is another who ‘s form is coming back and having run two much better races he is also one that should be back in the winners enclosure before too long.  There are a few that are also just about ready to run and so bit by bit the yard is starting to emerge from its summer recess. 

We have had a few flat horses this summer which has made an enjoyable change.  Le Torrent finished second on both of his starts, and Vixen also finished in the runner up spot and then disappointed slightly in her last two starts.   I am hoping we will have her back on track next time.

As ever this is the time of year of dreams. The strength in depth of horses that we have in the yard this season is far beyond anything that we have had before and that has given a real buzz around the place. Barry and I, and the whole team cannot wait for the season to start properly with so much to look forward to.


Five to Follow – The Result!

Congratulations to Gordon MacIntosh – the winner of our 2018/19 Five to Follow competition!

Gordon scored an impressive 85 points, with Mike Powell in second with 76 points and in third Anne Lavelle (well done mum!) on 75.

Well done and thank you to everyone who took part. Details and entry forms for the forthcoming competition for the 2019/2020 season will be available in late summer. To view the final leader board please click here.


Deserved summer hols for Paisley

The star that is Paisley Park enjoying his summer holiday and looking rather fabulous for it!


Summer holidays

Some lovely snaps, taken by Jules who works in the office of some of the boys and girls enjoying their very much deserved summer holidays.

For more holiday snaps and of Bonita Racing Stables please visit our gallery here.


2018/19 season round up

Some years the seasonal round-up has needed a bit of help on the positivity stakes – but certainly not this time – it has been a magical year!

Paisley Park was obviously a highlight and his amazing achievements have been well documented but what is also very exciting is the strength in depth of the rest of the team and is certainly the best that we have ever had.   Interestingly, even if Paisley Park had not won a pound for us, the team has still earned considerably more in prize money this season compared to last, proving the point that there are some extremely nice horses waiting in the wings.

De Rasher Counter’s victory at Uttoxeter (16 Mar) on the Saturday after Cheltenham was hugely impressive.  It was a big disappointment that we were then not able to go to Ayr with him for the valuable novice handicap chase at their April meeting, but we were just not prepared to risk him with the ground being so quick.  The Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury will be his early target for next season, he has just got better and better and is a horse we are very excited about going forward.

There have been plenty of other notable success towards the end of the season, with the likes of Highly Prized (14 April Wincanton), Boomarang (20 April Newton Abbot), Forget Me Knot (22 April Chepstow) and Statistical (Kempton 25 April) all getting their heads in front.

Highly Prized looks a smart horse for the summer and has taken an interesting route to arrive here in training via America. His accuracy when jumping and speed makes him look like a potent force for the some of the races later in the summer season.

Boomarang is another pacey horse who jumped so much better when winning at Newton Abbot and gave his owners much to celebrate on the bank holiday weekend.  Forget Me Knot, again, jumped well and is the most beautiful filly, but has a large frame, which has yet to be fully furnished and she will definitely jump a fence in time.

Statistical’s race was one of the more entertaining occasions – he went to post in a two-runner race where he jumped off in front, only for his sole adversary to decant her pilot at the first fence.   He then had to run over two and a half miles jumping the fences all on his own, a commentator’s nightmare – especially with a name like Statistical! However, a win is a win and was celebrated accordingly.

Pictured L-R; Misty Bloom (second from left), Fox Appeal and Paisley Park


Other recent runners that should be mentioned are; The Sweeney, who so deserves to get his head in-front having run two solid races in valuable handicap hurdles and there is another not far away.   Vendredi Trois, following his winter break came back (23 April) and ran a super race to finish second in a valuable handicap at Ludlow, he again will ply his trade through the summer.   Misty Bloom has been a model of consistency all year and has given the owners of our Bonita Racing Club so much to shout about this season.  She ran a great race in the £50,000 Challenger mares final at Haydock (20 April) finishing second, she is as tough as they come and deserves a break now having done nothing wrong all year.  Talent to Amuse is another who looks to be getting back on track and finished fourth in the mares listed race at Cheltenham (18 April), and there is much to look forward to with her.

As ever at this time of the year there will always be a few to say goodbye to. Javert who has struggled with soundness over the years, but not ability, very sadly tweaked his tendon again and will now be retired.  Fox Appeal who has been a complete star for us over the years, amassing over £180,000 in prize money and running 54 times – has also been retired.  He loves racing and being in training, but he is not as good as he once was, and the time has come for him to retire safe and sound and start an alternative career.

The sales season is about to start and we will be there sourcing the next Paisley Park – as ever we are always happy to take your order!


Festival celebrations courtesy of Paisley!

What a day last Thursday was at Cheltenham.  The build up to Paisley Park running in the Sun Racing Stayers Hurdle had been massive, and the expectation could not have been higher, but as we all know Cheltenham is Cheltenham and it is never easy. We were lucky in that Paisley had the most brilliant preparation, but with eighteen runners going forward at no point could anything be taken for granted, and as ever with Paisley he likes to give you at least one heart stopping moment in his races!

I am not a particularly superstitious person but having watched Paisley run in the Cleeve hurdle back in January from the Owners and Trainers stand, I decided it would be the right place to watch him run again.  Barry would be the same as me in the superstitious department and having watched our previous Cheltenham winners from the owners and trainers marquee, he decided that would be his spot this year as well.  I imagine from now on all races at Cheltenham will be viewed separately and from those same areas!

The sheer relief, elation and pure joy of that moment when Paisley and Aidan crossed the line in front, is very hard to explain – but it was without doubt a moment we will never forget.  Paisley lapped up all the praise and walked ears pricked down the walk way receiving all the adulation with Aidan – what a great, great day.

My brother had flown all the way from Australia to be part of the action and as it was a chance meeting with him that had sent Andrew in our direction in the first place, it was extra special that he was there.  The support from both family and friends was unbelievable and so lovely that the day could be shared with so many – it was a day that racing should be proud of and one that we were so proud to be part of.  All Andrew could say to me was it was the best day of his life, and to be honest I think it was for us all.

Paisley has been an extraordinary horse, taking us on an emotional roller coaster and he’s run his little heart out for us all season – we are very honoured to have him.  He won’t run again this season, as at only seven, I hope he has plenty of time ahead of him and it would be magical to have him back to defend his crown next year and take the traditional stayer’s route to get to that point.  I expect he will be parading at various racecourses before the end of the season, together with those big ears pricked and our heads held high – what a horse.



Countdown to Festival Thursday

There is no doubt that in all my training career we have never had such media attention, thanks to Paisley Park and his lovely owner Andrew Gemmell.  They have been the most fantastic way to showcase the yard and I am very sorry to any of you who are now bored of looking at our faces both in publications and on the television – it will all be over soon! It is of course very exciting, and Barry and I remind each other, as much as there is pressure, it’s pressure to be enjoyed, however both of us are now willing Thursday to arrive.

February has been an interesting month, starting with the snow, which put pay to a lot of racing and that was closely followed by ‘flu-gate’.   Throughout my time training, I had always given the horses their annual boost as and when they needed vaccinating, be that in August, November, January or whatever the date was and worked around it. This year I thought I would be really organised and get all the horses flu vaccinations done in the summer, so that there would be no interference in training during the season.  How typical that this was the year that flu was on the horizon and the new ruling was that we needed to get them vaccinated in a six month period and therefore not one of our horses was eligible to run! In fairness it certainly doesn’t seem to have done the horses any harm to have their vaccines and along with some great advice from our vets Simon Knapp and Clive Hamblin, not one of them seemed to show a reaction to it – anything that didn’t win I can’t blame that anyway!

When racing did resume one of our first runners was Viva Vittoria at Market Rasen (17 Feb, pictured) and what a great run it was.  Although she still has plenty to learn in the jumping department it was so lovely to see her finish with her head in front.  There should be lots more to come from her.  Junction Fourteen, who headed to Doncaster (20 Feb) to run in his first veteran’s chase also ran a stormer, he jumped superbly and was only collared on the run in, finishing an honourable second – it was a great run back for him.  It gave all of us confidence and it may well be that the National fences in the Topham Chase at Aintree beckons for his next outing.

Flemcara having run a super race to finish third in the £100,000 race at Sandown earlier in the month, then went to Exeter (22 Feb) in a Pertemps qualifier. He needed to run very well in this to gain a place in the final at The Cheltenham Festival, as off his then mark he wouldn’t have got in.   He could not have run better, winning with any amount in hand and still only going up four pounds.  I think he has a very good each-way chance tomorrow in the final.

Thunderstruck also ran a great race at Fontwell (24 Feb) finishing second again in his bumper.   He travelled so well, and just got nailed on the line – beaten a head.  He is a horse with any amount of ability and so deserves to win, but a summer out at grass will also benefit him and his best will not be seen until he jumps a hurdle.

Boreham Bill was another to head out, this time to Uttoxeter (25 Feb), he again did everything right with Paddy Cowley riding him for the first time.  He jumped beautifully until the last when he rose in front but came back down on top of the hurdle and taking it with him.   He kept galloping but it cost him the race and finished third. I have not doubt there are races to be won with him and it was a very good ride from Paddy, so hopefully it won’t be long before he also gets his head in front.

Talking of getting heads in front Old Rascals certainly did that in no uncertain terms at Wincanton (27 Feb).   He cantered through the race jumping spectacularly before sweeping past to win by an easy fourteen lengths.  He is such an honest horse and has a great way of going and really could be anything.  His team of enthusiastic owners have not had a huge amount to cheer about since the days of Andy Kelly, so it was a great result for them, and I hope the start of many more.

The first weekend in March was a big Saturday for us at Newbury (2 Mar) with both Fortunate George and Private Malone needing to un-blot their copy books.  Private Malone looked to be the one taking control turning for home, but he then weakened quickly, and I think there may be an issue with his wind.   Fortunate George on the other hand having travelled some what on and off the bridle finished off the race strongly coming in a good third and I have no doubt will build on that.  He is a horse with huge amounts of talent but is not always keen to share it – I think in human terms he would be a comedian!

Javert also ran in the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury and probably found the ground just slower than ideal, but again he ran a great race to finish fourth beaten only six lengths. He has improved for that run and his next start is most likely to be at Ayr or Aintree.

With the ground riding on the quick-side, I pulled Gunfleet out at Doncaster (2 Mar) and he will have plenty of options going forward.  Boomarang went there and started off favourite and travelled and jumped as a favourite should, however coming up the home straight, for whatever reason, he completely forgot himself and started jumping violently to the left and accordingly was unable to sustain his challenge.  Considering what he did he was only beaten seven lengths, and this is a horse to take note of once we iron out these little issues – he is booked for an intensive course of schooling!

We have been lucky enough to run some extremely nice bumper horses of late, with Namib Dancer stepping up markedly on his first run, at Huntingdon (3 Mar) for a fast finishing third place.  The Domino Effect ran a beautiful race at Southwell (4 Mar) on his first attempt finishing fourth and Hawk’s Well was not quite strong enough yet to handle to soft ground at Wincanton (7 Mar), but nonetheless stayed on stoutly for third.  They are all horses to very much look forward to.  Pemberley just got beaten a neck into second, also at Wincanton and should be winning races in the future.

It would be too easy to think that all of them have put their best feet forward and Full Irish is definitely a head-scratcher.  He works so well at home and jumps beautifully, but he just doesn’t seem to want to put it in at the racecourse. At Sandown (8 Mar) he galloped around happily and finished with his ears pricked, the problem being plenty of others finished in front of him. A stern word will be needed with him!

It was also a very sad day at Hereford (9 Mar) where The Bunnyman struck through his tendon and had to be put to sleep.  He was a horse with huge potential and never got the chance to really show it.  It’s a loss that has hit us hard and I know it’s also hit his owners hard and is something that is always difficult to come to terms with.  Racing really is an emotional roller-coaster as having gone through that, Fonsanta ran in the last on the same day and never came off the bridle to win by eleven lengths, looking hugely impressive in the process.   It was a positive note to finish the week on and to give us confidence ahead of this Thursday at the Cheltenham Festival.

Touch-wood Paisley and Flemcara have had perfect preparations now all we need is some luck!






Paisley Park wins at Cheltenham

Wow what a January it has been! It’s been emotional, but for once in a really good way.

To see Closing Ceremony winning at Haydock (19th January) was probably one of the most moving races of my training career so far.  He has had a catalogue of issues and is owned by the most patient owners, Paul and Alan Weston.  They have given him time, time and more time, and what made the win even more poignant is that Paul is going through treatment for aggressive lung cancer and so if ever there was a pick me up needed, this was the best that could happen.  Both he and Closing Ceremony are proper little fighters, and now that one has got to the winning post, I am sure the other one will too.  Closing Ceremony is a joy to watch – he is so honest, his jumping is exceptional and he corners round Haydock like a motorbike – what a horse!

Paisley Park has just been magical, and he has done nothing but improve and improve all season and has given us the most unbelievable thrills.  For his owner Andrew Gemmell, blind since birth, it has been amazing and the publicity has been fantastic, he is a great man and we are all loving the journey.  Barry has been brilliant preparing Paisley, riding him every day and producing him just right on each four occasions this season – now he has the big one – the Stayers hurdle at The Cheltenham Festival – so no pressure on him! Laura Scrivener who looks after him has not only been with him for each of his outings but has also been cleaning up with the best-turned outs – who says if you win the best turned out you don’t win the race?! He has come out of Saturday’s race at Cheltenham (26 January) unbelievably well and when Barry gave him his first canter back he said he didn’t feel like he had been to the races at all – and to be honest looking at those ears on the run in I am not sure Paisley thought he was at the races either!

Others in yard have been flying the flag as well.  Tierra Verde won at Taunton (9 January) and backed it up with another good run finishing third in a better-looking race at Kempton (28 January).  She is a lovely looking mare with a great attitude and will certainly jump a fence in time.

Fox Appeal has also been super.  He and Paddy Cowley have found a great bond, and if only he had jumped the way he did at Taunton (9 January) in all his other races previously we might have had many more wins in the bag.  It was a joy to watch the pair and he heads back to Taunton next week where I hope he will be able to get another win to his name.

Down The Highway also ran a blinder at Chepstow (18 January).  After disappointing at Sandown before Christmas, he came home and just wasn’t right and had a bit of a snuffley nose, however, he recovered well and then ran an absolute stormer.  He is a gorgeous horse with a big future and will definitely go chasing next season.  If this snow doesn’t get in the way, he will go to Newbury next weekend and run in the 3 mile handicap hurdle and if that goes to plan, next stop Cheltenham…

Viva Vittoria backed up her run at Plumpton when finishing second at Warwick (21 January) behind a descent mare and she is sure to win her races going forward.  Dollnamix (Taunton 19 January) and De Rasher Counter (Chepstow 18 January) were others who filled the runners-up spot but ran extremely well in doing so.  De Rasher Counter just keeps growing in confidence and is another with a big future.

It was also nice to get some of the youngsters out on the track.  Namib Dancer ran a race full of promise in his first bumper at Newbury (16 January), as did Shang Tang who finished third in a descent bumper at Exeter (20 January).

As I said it has been a great month and hopefully a stepping stone to even better things.