It’s been rather quiet of late runner wise, but here are some photos of everyone enjoying their holidays here at Bonita Racing Stables. Happy Days!
Please visit the gallery to see more photos.
With so much racing being abandoned, up until last week, we’ve had very few runners and I am afraid it has been rather too long since our last blog and for that I must apologise! However, in the last week or so things have taken off again, with lots of runners and some nice winners as well.
We had a some-what abortive trip to Fairyhouse (1 April) with Woolstone One early in the month. Having always been a little tricky when she comes into season, we had done lots of tests to make sure that was the last thing she was thinking about, but in the race she never picked the bridle up, finishing sixth in the Grade 1 hurdle, and returning to the racecourse stables in full season – if only they could talk! It was such a shame as she had been in fantastic order and although beating Laurina would have been a long shot, she was more than fancied to finish second to her and that would have been an amazing result. Instead, after a good chat with her owner, Paul Jacobs, she has now gone off to visit Jack Hobbs and having been such a good mare winning three hurdle races, one being a listed, and two bumpers she should have a fantastic career as a brood mare – hopefully she will be in foal with the next champion!
On the same day, Shotgun Paddy ran at Ffos Las in his third national of the season. He ran his little socks off as ever and finished a gallant third. Having competed in all the big staying chases in the last five years, we all felt he was not getting any quicker and that the time had come to retire him. For a horse whose jumping had always been crabbed, it’s extraordinary to think that in his distinguished career he’s never fallen and has also never taken a lame step. He has been an absolute super star for us and will be sorely missed. One of the best things that happened for Shotgun Paddy this season was having a good few days out hunting with Ryan and Meg Bliss and he certainly fell in love with them and I think they fell in love with him, so he has left us and will spend his retirement with them, hunting and generally having a lovely time. Having seen the pictures so far, he has definitely taken to retirement well!
The Grand National Festival as ever was a fantastic spectacle. It really is done superbly with everyone, both equine and human, receiving first class treatment. The ground was obviously a tricky issue for any of ours with it remaining heavy, but as is always the case when the Grand National is completed with all returning home relatively unscathed there is a huge sigh of relief and it was a brilliant race to watch. Us English are going to have to try harder, with the Irish winning it this year, the Scottish last, at this rate I can see it going to Wales next year!
Dissavril was disappointing for us in the mare’s bumper at Aintree (12 April) having been so impressive winning a listed bumper at Market Rasen. I can only put it down to having an off day for her, as she has come out of the race well and our only change was to put a cross noseband on her, which maybe she just didn’t like. Fortunate George (14 April) didn’t stay in the three-mile handicap hurdle on Grand National day, having travelled and jumped extremely well throughout the contest. He is now off to have a very well-deserved holiday and will back to mix if over fences and hurdles next season.
Casino Markets returned to the track at Cheltenham (18 April) having spent his summer in America and he ran much better than his finishing position suggests. He travelled into the race beautifully before making a mistake at the top of the hill and then stayed on again. On how he seems to have come out of that race I think we should have plenty of fun with him over the next few months.
Majestic Moll also had her first start back since a winter break at Cheltenham (19 April). Having been waiting for good ground for a long time, it was perfect for her and she jumped magnificently out front before tiring at the back of the last, she still kept going to not be beaten far. She’s another one I am thoroughly looking forward to having some fun with this summer, and I think she is still ahead of her mark. It was an interesting day for Cheltenham as they had to deal with extreme heat changes and the effect that had on some of the horses running. Personally I think they got the balance right by not running the staying chase and although I totally understand the frustration if you had a runner lined up for the contest and not being able to run, horse welfare is paramount and not just in today’s world.
Poor Junction Fourteen is still shocked that he found himself on the floor at Fontwell last Friday (20 April). He jumped superbly until the second last when he just got in tight and took a horrible fall. Thank goodness he was fine other than taking a bang to his head, and he is back mixing trotting and going out in the field and I would imagine we will look to get him out again a bit later in the summer. I am just very grateful that he is fine.
Sunday (22 April) was a very busy day for us, with plenty of runners at Wincanton and one at Stratford. High Noon is still a big raw baby and won’t be seen to his best effect until he jumps a fence. He got interfered with when a horse fell in front on him, which stopped him in his tracks. I feel a summer of grass will be the making of him and I look forward to seeing him over a fence next season. Water Wagtail also had his first start for a while in a handicap chase. He jumped as ever very well, but I think just needed it slightly, having not run for a bit. He is worth his weight in gold around the yard and we all breathe sighs of relief when he comes home safe and sound ready to lead the schooler’s and naughty ones around the place!
Blushing Red stepped up on his first run jumping very well and settling if not perfectly definitely better than on his hurdling debut. He is learning all the time and another we should have some fun with over the summer months. We were perhaps a bit disappointed with Irish Prophecy, who had jumped and travelled well through the race, but just kept going rather than quickening. I think because he has such a high cruising speed I’ve been conned by him in to thinking that he’s a two miler, where two and half miles is more his trip. He remains a very progressive horse but one that needs to step up in distance going forward.
The Sweeney started the day the way it should be done, by winning the two-mile five handicap hurdle nicely. We had always thought plenty of this horse, but he just hadn’t been able to quicken at the end of his races on the very soft ground that he had endured all winter. On this better ground he did so nicely and did it well. This horse loves his racing and one I think we will keep going a little bit longer although I wouldn’t say he will necessarily still be racing by mid-summer. Then it was the turn of Buster who is another we have always thought a lot of, and who hadn’t quiet delivered this year so far. Being a half brother to Shotgun Paddy I had put him in the same bracket as him and imagined he would want the same soft ground. In reality his jumping just hadn’t stood the test on that, whereas when he got the security of nicer ground at Wincanton he jumped superbly, travelled very well and although he may have been a shade lucky when The Last But One, who was upsides him fell at the last, he went on to win with ears pricked and has come out of the race in extremely good order. Having finally got his ground and at last worked him out, I think he will be another that will have another run before the end of his campaign.
Having enjoyed lovely ground at Wincanton, poor Newton Abbott did not have the same fate, with the weather gods not being kind to them. At the end of last week, the track was still waterlogged and although it was drying out they couldn’t get the machinery on to it to cut the grass, so it was long, and the ground was unbelievably holding. Therefore, for both Vibrato Valtat and Rooster Cogburn it was definitely not ideal. (23 April). Vibrato just couldn’t get out of the ground to jump the fences, and although he finished a valiant third, it was not his running, and I can only hold the ground responsible for that. To a certain degree Rooster suffered the same fate, although he jumped beautifully, and I can’t wait to get him out again when the ground is in his favour.
It looks like we will have a busy few weeks with still quite a few horses in training, having not had the ground we wanted until now – so onwards and upwards!
It seems so dull starting another blog talking about the weather, but it has just been indescribable of late – to have had another dollop of snow, even after The Festival, was very depressing and has claimed even more fixtures. Cheltenham did seem to be blessed though, as it was neatly sandwiched between the two white periods, however it really was very soft going and something we have not seen for a very long time. I am not sure how edifying it was watching the races run on such horrible ground, and it certainly didn’t suit our runners, but there were some great races and outstanding horses performing.
The Gold Cup was an exceptional race and to see Native River just outstay Might Bite, perhaps a different story if the ground had been better, was amazing to watch, and they are two sensational horses. Laurina I feel is a mare to be reckoned with and looks to have the world at her feet, as does Samcro. It was a masterful training performance by Nicky Henderson to get Altior home in such impressive style in the Champion Chase, only having had the one run in preparation, followed by a foot abscess and on ground he wouldn’t have ideally chosen. Furthermore, and as was the case of last season, there was a fair bit of Irish domination, so we are going to have to pull our socks up!
Flemcara (14 Mar) did us proud to finish mid division in the Coral Cup with Patrick (Paddy) Cowley giving him a lovely ride. He just looks like three miles is his trip and probably needed those extra couple of furlongs, as he was staying on hand over fist in the final stages of the race. Neither Enniscoffey Oscar or Paisley Park (16 Mar) could handle the very soft ground and with the latter suffering a nasty over reach it was not a successful Cheltenham for them. Enniscoffey is likely to head to Aintree and I would be keen to give Paisely Park one last run before the end of the season, although I will probably look to bring him back in trip, as at Cheltenham he ran just a bit with the choke out. For all three of these horses I also can’t wait to see them jumping a fence next year.
With the excitements of Cheltenham over, our next runner was Belle Empress, (pictured) who headed to Fontwell (17 March). I was absolutely delighted with her performance as she jumped beautifully, settled well, and won easily. It has not been an easy road with her, as she’s had previous injuries and then did not get in foal. However, sometimes these things happen for a reason, as she’s got better with each run and I feel she is a mare to look forward to when she goes over the big fences.
Our next runner was at Chepstow (21 March) where Reelingintheyears made his racing debut for us having bought him at Doncaster sales a couple of months ago. We purchased him for Clive Colquhoun as a replacement for Caulfields Venture, who after giving us so much fun over the years has earned his retirement. Reelingintheyears looks perfect to fill his shoes as he is a great jumper, has a lovely attitude and won very nicely. He could not be any more straightforward and seems to have come out of the race squealing, so having said this may be his only run this season, if this weather persists and the ground stays soft he may have another race over hurdles as he really is in fantastic order.
We made a return journey to Chepstow (22 March) the following day with Viva Vittoria, who was the first of our store horses from last season to race and she ran in the mare’s bumper. She had given us a very good feel at home whilst never really asking any serious questions of her and went to the races well backed. She ran an absolute cracker, just showing a bit of greenness when asked to quicken and find top gear, and by that stage the winner had flown, but she stayed on very nicely to finish second. She is beautiful, and I am looking forward to seeing her jump a hurdle next season and again is one to be excited about for the future.
Our trip to Newbury (23 Mar) on Friday continued the theme of seconds, with both De Rasher Counter and Private Malone filling the runner up spots. They could not have run better, both travelling and jumping well but just coming up against one. De Rasher Counter will now go on his holidays and will then go novice chasing. Private Malone on the other hand will head back to the track, as he is thriving on his racing and having finished second three times this season I would dearly love for him to get his head in front.
Fox Appeal was our last runner of the week, heading to Ascot (25 Mar) for the Veterans race. It would not be Foxy if he did not take at least one fence with him and so the sixth had a good old battering! He actually jumped really well after that and ran a solid race to finish fourth on ground that would not have been ideal, and I think could well be back to the point of winning again come the Spring (if it ever does come!).
We have so many decent ground horses ready to run, that the sooner this rain stops the better. They all look very well and seem to be in good order, so I can’t wait to get them out and I hope the winners will continue to flow and we will have a bumper spring!
(With thanks to Fontwell Racecourse for the photo).
With all jump racing abandoned lately due to snow, ice, and the aptly named Storm Emma it seemed a perfect time to update our blog. It really has been bitter, but we have managed to keep everything going and as ever full credit to the team.
We haven’t had a huge number of runners, since our last update, however, Balibour has kept improving and ran a super race to finish second at Sandown (16 Feb). Our conditional jockey Patrick (Paddy) Cowley continues to get better and better as the season has progressed and rode a super race on him to only be beaten by a length and three quarters. I think we will see the best of Balibour once he goes over a fence, but he has come a very long way this season.
On the same day however, Mosspark blotted his copybook once again and is heading off for alternative employment! He has such natural ability but not the desire to use it, so I think we will all be happier to see him in the hunting field. The Sweeney also ran a nice race at Sandown, finishing behind two extremely well in and well handicapped horses. He travelled and jumped and seemed much happier over two and a half miles.
I then headed up to Haydock (17 Feb) with De Rasher Counter, having debated whether to run him in the graded novice or the Pertemps qualifier. As it happened I ran him in the Pertemps and he just travelled too strongly on the unbelievably soft ground and didn’t see the trip out. In fairness he would have had to have been versatile in the extreme to be able to finish second over two miles on good ground at Doncaster and still be able to compete off a mark of 140 on bottomless ground in a three-mile race at Haydock in the same season! We will find a nice race for him before the end of the season, but he, like Balibour, will be a nice horse over fences.
We had a winner for the third Saturday in a row with Fortunate George who did the business at Wincanton (17 Feb). He again was ridden by Paddy, and although at one stage it looked a little unlikely he came through to score by a comfortable five lengths. Although George had given us a fantastic day when winning over fences earlier in the season, I know Barry just felt he spent too much time in the air at them and having discussed it we felt it would be better for him to go back over hurdles. It was a good decision as it was a nice race to win, and he gave his team of owners a great day out – what a star he is!
Belle Empress headed to Lingfield (19 Feb) where the ground was barely raceable. She stepped up on her debut at Newbury and finished third, she jumped very well and was far more settled, so I think she will continue to go in the right direction.
For the first time in a long time, having taken three runners up to Doncaster (21 Feb), we failed to come back with a winner! In saying that, I was very happy with Rooster Cogburn who finished fourth in the bumper and Demographic who was returning to the track after a long lay-off. The ground would have been softer than ideal, and he got tired in the last few furlongs, but he jumped beautifully and travelled strongly and there will be races to be won with him.
Fox Appeal on the other hand, ever though he is eleven, can continue to surprise us! Running in the veterans chase he jumped off keenly and found himself in front and basically took control and ran at a two-and-a-half-mile pace over a three-mile trip – naughty Foxy! He couldn’t sustain it and Nick Scholfield very sensibly pulled him up. He came back bucking and kicking and will be back out again once this snow disappears.
Probably the horse that pleased me the most over the past fortnight was Shotgun Paddy who ran an absolute stormer in the Devon National at Exeter (23 Feb). Having jumped as well as he ever has, he just slightly missed the last and finished second beaten only two lengths. It was lovely to see him out on the track with his ears pricked loving his racing. It really does show that a bit of hunting can massively sweeten a horse up and we were extremely grateful to Ryan Bliss for taking him out for a few days. By all accounts he was a natural and will give him a job when he retires.
I was also very pleased with Vibrato Valtat running in the Betdaq Chase at Kempton (24 Feb). When the race is run at that tempo he probably doesn’t quite stay three miles, as he travelled into the race with every chance at two out, but just didn’t quite get home. On that running there is a big handicap still in him, and once we find the right race I think we will get his head back in front.
It has been a hard week with all the snow and ice and it has definitely made a huge amount of extra work.Therefore, we are very glad to see the back of the snow and the return of spring – who is here to stay!
I remain so proud of everybody here, both human and equine, to have kept the show going during the horrible weather conditions we’ve been having. One minute its snow, the next torrential rain, with some beautiful clear sunny days in between, but it hasn’t been particularly warm!
Thankfully the horses have remained in tremendous form and, although over the last ten days or so we have not had hundreds of runners, what has run has been brilliant.
In these kind of conditions, with temperatures rising in the day and falling sharply at night and some horses being more naturally warm than others, trying to get the right number of rugs on the right horses has been a challenge. It’s a credit to the team that they seem to continually get it right, and I think it’s these details that allow the horses to continue to perform at the top level.
Having won three on the bounce, Flemcara went to Sandown (Sat 3 Feb) for the £100K Betfred Heroes Handicap Hurdle. The rain poured down all morning, which conditions wise was perfect for him. However, with a full field and not much pace it was a very messy race and Flemcara seemed to get the worst of the argument and found himself shuffled to last turning for home. He stayed on to only be beaten twelve lengths, and as ever was an absolute toughie. He has come out of the race very well and there is a chance he could go to Haydock this weekend.
On Sunday (4 Feb) Private Malone went to Taunton and ran a beautiful race to finish second galloping all the way to the line. Richard Johnson was due to ride him, but he had taken a nasty kick to his knee when unseating in the race before, so Gavin Sheehan stepped in for the ride and very nearly managed to get him to win. His turn should come shortly as he is managing to run consistently well and keep his condition, which I couldn’t get him to do last year, so a win must come for him in the very near future.
It was a quiet week runners-wise until Thursday (8 Feb) and as ever a lorry load headed to Doncaster! It’s been a great track for us for many reasons, partly because it’s big and galloping, and partly because it’s one of the only courses where there is a chance of getting reasonably decent ground at this time of year. Bar the odd one that relishes very soft going, I feel the vast majority of horses prefer to have a sound surface of sorts and that’s something Doncaster usually has.
Buster Thomas, running for the first time in a tongue tie, and on ground that was considerably better than he has run on all season, was very unlucky at the first, when a fallen horse stood up and brought him to an absolute stand still, and his chance of winning was basically over from that point. He jumped superbly and travelled beautifully into the race and although he only finished fifth, it was a much better run and perhaps demonstrated that the going is more important to him that I had given him credit for. I think we will see an improved horse going forward.
Our next runner was Paisley Park who I had wanted to give one more run to for experience before thinking of the Cheltenham Festival. He is learning run by run and in the main was slicker again with his jumping until the last when he probably just had too much light and stuttered into it – this combined with giving the winner seven pounds definitely made the difference between winning and losing. It was still a very good run and we will keep The Festival on the agenda and see how we go between now and then.
Gunfleet then tackled three miles for the first time in the handicap hurdle. He is a horse with a huge amount of potential as he is far from the finished article, and he jumped, travelled and galloped all the way to the line to win by a cosy half length. It was only his fifth ever run of which he has won three of them, and he is a horse that I can’t wait to see jumping a fence in time. He is certainly one to remain excited about.
Freedom Run made her racing debut at Huntingdon (8 Feb) for our Bonita Racing Club in the mare’s bumper. She was so green to start with, that there was a concern at one point that she might just drop off the television! Thankfully, that did not happen, as after being reminded by Brian Hughes why she was there, she took off and passed six in-front of her up the home straight and finished out the race very well. She seems to have enjoyed the experience and I expect she will leave that run well behind her.
Our only runner over the weekend was Woolstone One at Warwick (10 Feb) and what a runner she was! She was an absolute star, winning the mares listed race and has just got better and better. She travelled almost too well, making the odd mistake, however, when push came to shove she put her head down and galloped to the line winning comfortably. She is a mare on the up, a pleasure to have around and a great addition to the team this season.
The weather continues to play havoc trying to get runners out, but I am hoping we can have a busy end to the week, so fingers crossed the horses remain in this rich form!
Historically, January hasn’t’ been the best month for the yard winners wise, but we have turned that trend on its head this year – it has been fantastic! Perhaps less so for a couple of our owners, who thought dry January was a good idea until they had some winners. One, I know, has stayed on the wagon and one fell spectacularly off it!
The girls have been keeping their end up, with Dissavril being unbelievably impressive winning the mares listed bumper on her debut for us at Market Rasen (17 Jan). She travelled like a dream and quickened away to win without coming off the bridle. She does look a very decent mare in the making and appeared to be very straight forward through her race. She is certainly one to get excited about with her next target being the graded mares’ bumper at Sandown in March.
Whilst I had travelled to Market Rasen, Barry went down the road to Newbury to watch Belle Empress also make her debut for us, 990 days since her initial point-to-point win. Having missed two seasons owing to injury, she had four visits to Mastercraftsman (much to her delight but without any product for her enjoyment!) so she then reverted back to training. She made it all the way to Plumpton on Monday, before it was abandoned due to waterlogging, and so then went to Newbury instead. It was a very hot race but she ran well to finish fifth and thankfully has come out it fit and healthy so she will now have to do it all again soon! Private Malone also went to Newbury and finished fourth in the handicap chase – he just keeps coming up against some extremely stiff opposition but his turn for winning will come as he is running consistently well.
Fortunate George went back to the scene of his greatest victory, with a run in the valuable handicap chase at Ascot (20 Jan). He travelled and jumped well early on but just struggled with the downhill fences, and then when colliding with a fallen jockey, it well and truly put him on the back foot (and wasn’t that comfortable for the jockey either!). He stayed on hand over fist in the home straight to finish third but I think we will try and find a slightly easier option next time just to get his head in front as he has been a little star this season!
In the category of stars, or stars in the making, I was thrilled to bits with Fontsanta’s performance at Fontwell on the Sunday (21 Jan). It was the wettest I have ever seen the course, and by the end of the day it was difficult to tell if we were running on grass or plough. Nevertheless, Fontsanta, who was making his debut, won the bumper beautifully. He behaved impeccably, bar being somewhat surprised seeing his jockey coming towards him in rather brighter colours than he is used to at home! Once he got over that excitement, he was brilliant. He is still green and raw, but I have no doubt he will make up into an extremely nice national hunt horse.
With so much rain falling across the country there were plenty of fixtures lost due to waterlogging so at the start of last week we didn’t have very many runners. On Thursday we went to Warwick (25 Jan) with Not Normal. He is a horse with a massive engine but is sometimes a little wayward at home so I was thrilled with his run where he finished second, only beaten a length, with the front two pulling well clear. Barry rides him every day at home and he is a handful, but you are prepared to put up with all of that, when they perform so well on the track. I think he will continue to improve and his next target will be the sales bumper at Newbury in March.
My car now doesn’t need me to drive it to Doncaster, it just knows! Having been up there on Tuesday, where I was delighted to purchase Reelingintheyears for Clive Colquhoun as a replacement for the retired Caulfields Venture, it was back up to Doncaster again on Friday (26 Jan). Allez Jacques failed to jump with his usual alacrity and came home with some cuts and bruises, but will be fine with a little time.
On Saturday I went back up to Doncaster again for what was always going to be a big day for the yard. Eniscoffey Oscar (his owners pictured) is not overly big but has the heart of a lion and he ran an absolute stormer to win the Grade 2 River Don novices hurdle. The ground was much softer than ideal for him but nonetheless his desire to win and natural ability enabled him to get his head in front. We have now entered him into the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, where under normal circumstances he should get his preferred better ground, and I would like to think with his sheer toughness that he should be competitive.
Vibrato Valtat couldn’t handle the soft ground over three miles in the Sky Bet Chase. Having made some jumping errors, it just stretched his stamina. I have no doubt that three miles is the right distance, but he does need nice ground to truly stay the trip. We also debuted a beautifully bred filly in Truly Amazing. She ran a lovely race finishing sixth, in what I imagine will finish-up being an extremely hot mares bumper. She travelled brilliantly but having never been off the bridle at home, was caught for experience when they quickened and then stayed on with purpose at the end. She is mare that I think will have no difficulty in winning her races.
Barry went to Cheltenham on Saturday, where Full Irish continued to be a bit of an enigma. He just spent to much time in the air over his fences, and so didn’t travel as well as he can do and finished fifth, well beaten in what was a very competitive handicap. When we get everything right with this horse I know there is a big day in him, it’s just a case of trying to get all the stars to align on the same day.
De Rasher Counter ran an absolute stormer and was staying on very well in third, when clipping the top of the last hurdle and slithering on landing. It’s such a shame as he didn’t deserve it and was back on his feet in a second but having so run so well it seemed very unfair that he didn’t get the reward he deserved. It seemed even more unfair on Tuesday morning when the handicapper raised him seven pounds to a mark of 140! But, what it does confirm is that he is a horse capable of running in top level races, which makes him extremely exciting going forward.
There were plenty of sore heads at Bonita Racing Stables on Monday morning, as a win in a Grade 2 race needs celebrating – they don’t come along that often – although, judging how the team were on Monday morning perhaps that’s not a bad thing!
We have plenty of youngsters that are just about ready to make their debuts in bumpers. We ran a nice horse at Hereford on Monday (29 Jan), Pemberley, who was a little green but ran a very promising race to finish fifth and Misty Bloom, who was beaten ¾ of a length to finish second at Lingfield on Tuesday (30 Jan). We look to have a strong team of novices, which is very exciting, and long may it continue!
With Christmas festivities and New Year’s celebrations out of the way, I was very embarrassed to see how long it has been since our last blog. So, we are now back on track and ready to make up for that!
The horses have continued to run very well and since our last update De Rasher Counter ran a super race to finish second at Doncaster (16 Dec), and then stepping up on that, won at Fontwell (8 Jan) convincingly. He is a horse with plenty of ability, is hard as nails and more importantly seems happy to run on anything, which makes him very exciting for the future.
Vibrato Valtat also ran a blinder at Doncaster (16 Dec) to be beaten by just a neck in a valuable chase up there. It was his first attempt at three miles and he stayed every yard of it. The plan is to go for the SkyBet chase with him on the 27 January back at Doncaster, where hopefully the ground will not be too horrendous. I think he probably prefers if not good going, at least ground that he can get some help from.
Gunfleet also won nicely at Southwell (17 Dec). He is a horse with huge amounts of natural ability, but is still going to need some time to strengthen up. The ground was softer than ideal for him, but he could not have been any more honest or jumped any better throughout the race and I think he is a horse that will make up into being very decent in time – an exciting one for the future!
We sent Irish Prophecy to the Christmas Festival at Kempton (26 Dec) to run in the novice’s hurdle. He was very lucky to stand up having been badly interfered with at the third last when one fell in front on him. It effectively put paid to his chances, however, I think with the ground on the soft side, it probably did not help him either. He is a horse with so much talent, but standing at over seventeen hands, he is just still a bit too immature to do himself justice when the ground is slower than ideal. If we eventually get some dry weather, I would love to run him again, and then decide about The Festival, and if not, the route maybe the EBF final before looking at Aintree in April. When he strengthens up he will be a serious horse.
Flemcara (pictured) has been a revelation this season and is certainly at the top of Paddy Cowley, our conditional jockey’s, Christmas card list! He has now won three on him and just seems to keep improving. He travels, jumps and only does as much as he needs to when he gets to the front but by winning his third race this season at the re-arranged Welsh National fixture at Chepstow (6 Jan), it makes him looks like a force to be reckoned with. He gave his owners – Andy and the Frisky Fillies plenty to cheer about – their interview after the race has become legendary!
On the same day, Fox Appeal did something he hasn’t done during all his time racing, (although on occasions it has looked rather more probable!), he turned an absolute somersault at Sandown in the veteran’s chase. He was in a great rhythm and travelling beautifully, but he gave the downhill fence no respect, and paid the penalty. He was furious about it, as he got up galloped around and then dragged Laura, our travelling head girl, back to the stables! He has come out of it unbelievably well, and it will not be long before he gets to make a mends. He has no idea he has now turned eleven and he is as mad as ever but an absolute joy to have around the place.
Another veteran, Shotgun Paddy has just decided if he can get away without doing any more than he has to, life is a great deal easier! When he ran somewhat disappointingly at Plumpton (7 Jan),we decided we needed to try something different so he has gone off to have a few days hunting to see if that sharpens him up and gets the enthusiasm back into him. I hope he loves it and behaves himself, otherwise Ryan Bliss who has taken him, could well have the most interesting days hunting he has ever had!
Woolstone One has also been a little star for us this season. Having won her first start, she was then second on her next outing before winning a sixteen-runner handicap at Doncaster (9 Jan), galloping as hard as she could all the way to the line. She seems to love her racing and the mare’s final later in the season at Newbury could well be her target. It was nice to see her winning on ground that wasn’t bottomless, as she has shown she can handle the very wet stuff and on this occasion the slightly nicer ground as well.
One of our most exciting runners this season, has come in the form of Paisley Park. He nearly died last year after his very good second in his first bumper. He had what appeared to be a grumbling colic, which went on and on, and he got thinner and thinner and spent a month at the vets. They did the most amazing job with him and although he came back as skinny as a rail, he hadn’t had to be operated on and most importantly seemed fine. We spent the summer fattening him back up and he made his seasonal debut at Hereford (16 Dec), where he won beating the odds-on favourite. It would be unusual for us to run one next time in a Grade 2 hurdle, but he has always shown us plenty at home and we thought he was worthy of a try at Warwick (13 Jan). After Barry’s splendid interview on ITV before the race he had to run well (!) and he certainly did that going down by only a length to finish second, having just lacked the experience of the winner. He has come out of the race very well and I think the sky could be the limit for this horse which is very exciting for us all. Barry was the one that was adamant we should buy him at the store sales, having fallen in love with him at first sight.
We have a lot of youngsters coming on in the wings, and it really is a very exciting time for us, so long may it continue. We have a few runners this week and fingers crossed we can keep up the momentum.
The horses have been fantastic over the past couple of weeks which has created a real buzz around the yard.
The end of November finished off as strongly as the start of December has been, with Full Irish winning the £20K chase at Lingfield (28 November) barely coming off the bridle. He really does love uber-soft ground and stepping him up to three miles was a great idea from Barry. I had been concerned that last year he wasn’t quite finishing out his races and I felt dropping him back in trip would make more sense, however Barry has been riding him every day and felt he had started to settle and ride more like a three-miler. He could not have been proved more right, as Full Irish was very impressive, jumping beautifully, of what there was to jump, as all bar one fence was removed in the back straight due to low sun! What was in front of him he was very good at and as-long as the ground is very soft there should be plenty more races for him to win.
Ladbrokes weekend at Newbury or two days at Doncaster? Obviously the latter when Newbury is just down the road! Doncaster has been a very good track for us, it provides decent ground even in the depths of winter and is a proper galloping track so we sent some nice horses up in that direction.
On the Friday (1 December) Enniscoffey Oscar (photo by Tony Knapton) went there and ran in a 2.5-mile novice hurdle. He had improved so much from his run at Kempton and routed the field by 15 lengths. He never missed a beat with his jumping, is as tough as nails and as honest as they come. He wouldn’t want the ground too soft, so we will try to find somewhere for him to go over the Christmas period and then look at the River Don back at Doncaster at the end of January. Vibrato Valtat did stay closer to home at Newbury and ran in the valuable 2.5-mile chase. He also ran a stormer to finish fourth and he heads up to Doncaster this weekend to run over three miles for the first time. I think his last run suggested he might just get further and he could just be getting himself dangerously well handicapped!
Saturday (2 December) morning for me was spent on the road back to Doncaster with several nice horses. Irish Prophecy has always been held in very high regard by us and up until this point never really had a race to win. I think the experience opened his eyes and ours, and he probably just wasn’t as far forward in both maturity and fitness as we thought. The field crawled and then sprinted and although he jumped well, he came there to deliver his challenge and was just not able to sustain it all the way to the line. Leighton was pretty easy on him when he knew he wasn’t going to beat the winner, Kalashnikov, who is obviously very good and all of us have learnt a lot on what Irish Prophecy needs to be doing. He’ll run over Christmas but at 17 hands and only four years old, he will only get better with time.
Having been a little bit down at the mouth after Irish Prophecy was beaten, Majestic Moll saved the day by jumping with her usual accuracy and enthusiasm and beat a decent field of mares to win the following race. Equilibrium restored!
Chelsea Flyer has just not quite delivered to date this season and having had a few issues with his feet, I am hoping that we are not to far away from getting him back on track. Barlow ran nicely to finish fourth, but probably didn’t quite get home over the extended three and a quarter miles. And, I was delighted with Shiroccan Roll’s debut run, being beaten just over five lengths. He is a lovely three-year old who should have a very bright future.
Junction Fourteen also ran a super race at Newbury, staying on for fourth. He jumped as beautifully as ever, but the ground was too slow for him. He will now wait for the better ground in the early spring, when I also think he may have himself on a decent handicap mark.
Not Normal also made his racing debut travelling all the way to Bangor for a bumper. He was a bit keen early on and Nick Scholfield did a good job of settling him, but once he got the hang of what this racing game was about he finished very strongly to finish third, after suffering a bit of interference. By all accounts it was a pretty decent bumper with lots of people being very keen on their horses. Not Normal is beautiful and if he can build on this run, he can hopefully get his head in front next time.
Sunday (3 December) saw a trip to Leicester to watch High Noon and Fox Appeal. High Noon is a fine big chasing stamp and having run well at Chepstow, on the face of it he was disappointing at Leicester. But in fairness to him, he is still very raw and was just too immature to handle that sort of ground on the hurdle course. It was very holding, and he just couldn’t get his feet out of it, in time I think he will enjoy that ground, but for the moment he is just too much of a baby and a next year horse. Foxy ran another corker to finish second in the veteran’s chase. What a star he has been for his team of owners. As long as the ground is not horrendous he will go to Sandown for the veterans chase final in January.
Having had a few days where pretty much everything finished in the placings it was a trip back down to earth at Haydock and Ludlow (6 December), where we gained letters rather than numbers! Buster Thomas fell at the last at Haydock. It was very holding ground and he just got tired and crumpled on landing. He has come out of the race fine and unscathed and just needs to learn not to be such a bull in his races and let the jockey tell him the speed and when to jump rather than taking matters in to his own hooves! Hopefully his fall may stand him in better sted for the rest of his campaign. He is a horse I regard highly and I think will come back with a vengeance.
At the other end of his career, Caulfields Venture honourably retired at Ludlow. He has been such a fantastic servant, who loved Exeter racecourse. Sadly, he didn’t get a chance to run there this season as the ground had been too soft this Autumn, but we went for a last run with him at Ludlow. During the race as his jockey tried to make him go faster, Caulfields had his ears pricked saying you must be joking and so we decided it was time to call it quits while he was still in one piece. He is ecstatic to know that Laura, who has looked after him for the past four years is going to keep him in his retirement. He already has more clothes in his wardrobe than I do so I think he will enjoy his dotage!
I was thrilled for Paddy, our conditional jockey, when he and Flemcara recorded their second win together of the season at Exeter (8 December). Flemcara was extremely impressive jumping and winning as he liked on ground that was unbelievably testing. He was the only one that was on the bridle coming to the last and won very nicely. He is very much on the upgrade, but might well have to be with the handicapper putting him up 10llbs.
The weekend saw a trip to Chepstow (9 December) where I Am Sam jumped and travelled well before tiring in the ground. The Sweeney ran a lovely race to finish third in the novice hurdle. And Shotgun Paddy said “Really? three miles is just not far enough for me anymore”! and finished with purpose to be only beaten six lengths, having made up a huge amount of ground in the home straight, with the race just finishing to soon. He is coming down to a mark where I think he could be extremely competitive and I’m looking forward to getting him started in veteran chases when the ground is very soft.
Mythical Legend ran a stormer first time out in nearly 600 days at Fontwell Park (11 December). She finished third behind a couple of decent mares on very wet ground. She has thankfully come out of the race well, so I am looking forward to getting her back out. She is a beautiful mare and it hopefully won’t be long before she gets her head in front.
The snow arriving here at the start of the week was definitely unwelcome and -7 the following day did not make my mood any better! I am very pleased to say that things have improved considerably and we were back on the grass this morning so I am very much hoping that the winners will continue to flow….
What an amazing day last Friday at Ascot (24 November) was for Fortunate George, the team here and all of George’s owners.
George was the most brilliant jumper of a hurdle and at the start of this year we were so excited about him going over fences, however, it has taken a bit of time to get his confidence over the big ones. You could see him gaining in confidence during his run at Newbury, but when you look at the lengths he gave away in front of the fences versus the distance he was beaten, he really should have almost won that day.
He really pulled it all together at Ascot on Friday and I must say that Johnny Burke gave him a super ride. At no point did he let him think anything but forward, and in doing so his jumping improved ten-fold. As I said to Johnny, I thought he may have lost his wing mirrors at the finish, as he won the race by sixteen lengths!
It was obviously great winning such a valuable race at Ascot, but the icing on the cake was the presentation, which was made by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. George is owned by a great group of people, who absolutely adore him, and I love the fact that each member of the syndicate got to have a conversation with the Prince and Duchess about their precious boy. George, and I’d expect most syndicate owned horses provide such a positive impact to the people who are involved with them and their own life challenges.
He went up 10lbs which is probably fair and I hope George has many more wins to come over fences. He has since had a constant stream of visitors plying him with polos and carrots, so if there were ever an incentive for victory, I think he has that!
Earlier in the week at Fontwell (19 November), I was delighted with Private Malone, who looks like he is getting back to his best. We really struggled to keep condition on him last year and hence I never really felt I had him right. This term he has been so much better and easier to train, and I hope he’ll now go from strength to strength. He certainly has the ability if he can get it all together.
Both Water Wagtail and Balibour ran well at Wincaton (23 November). Wagtail probably found the ground just a bit to testing and having put himself in with a shout at the third last, he made a slight error and that was him cooked, but he still finished an honourable third. Balibour has done nothing but improve this term and also finished third in his race at staggering odds of 80/1!
Racing is nothing if not a leveller. Having had a very good week, Woolstone One headed off to Uttoxeter (26 November) on Sunday. And at odds at 3/1 on, there was no doubt that we anticipated she would continue her winning ways. However, in a three-horse race it can always finish-up being tactical and she just got run out of it to finish second. There will be other days.
We have a busy week ahead of us, with plenty of runners especially up at Doncaster, where the plan is for Irish Prophecy to head north for the two-mile novice hurdle up there. Fingers crossed things will go to plan!
At last it looks like we have properly found our feet, and the horses are running very well. We’ve had a slower start than usual, in that in only our second season here, we were able to get on the grass earlier last year and get them fit from that, but with the dry Autumn this term it’s meant we needed to work out exactly how much we needed to do on the all-weather. Thankfully, I think we have that cracked now and the horses are running in a way that we would be expecting, or at least hoping!
We’ve now run some of our lovely novices, and horses such as Enniscoffey Oscar proved that we were a little bit off the pace when we first started out with them this season. He ran two nice races at Wincanton and Aintree but just got tired in the last few furlongs, whereas I was delighted with him at Kempton (13 Nov) as he showed us much more of what he’s all about when he ran a super race in a hot novice to finish third, only beaten by a couple of lengths. He is electric over his jumps and a horse that benefits from nice ground. I think he will leave these runs behind him as the season progresses and is a horse for the future.
Majestic Moll is another super bumper horse from last season, and has run two lovely races over hurdles this term. In her last race she was beaten only a length and half into second at Ludlow (26 October). Again, she has come on for that and like Enniscoffey is another that will benefit from decent ground.
Andy and the Frisky Fillies have been very patient owners with Flemcara. I was delighted to see him win on his first handicap start, ridden by our conditional jockey Paddy Cowley at Worcester (14 November). It was a great result all round, he is a super jumper and will enjoy the winter ground and will only go forward. The way he jumps his hurdles suggest chasing will be his game, and is another nice prospect for the stable.
One of our most popular winners of late was Water Wagtail at Warwick (10 November). He has been with us forever and is owned by Ian Bare who has been a great supporter of national hunt racing for many years. Wagtail is one of the most important horses in the yard for us, so to see him winning was fantastic. He leads all the babies over hurdles and fences at home and as well as that teaches the young jockeys how to do it. So, when Racing UK described him as a brilliant jumper it would have been a sad state of affairs if he hadn’t been! It was great for him to get this head in front, he looks marvellous and has come out of it very well. Hopefully he will be able to do the same again at Wincanton later this week.
Dark Mahler is another who also rewarded his owner’s patience. He was big and weak last year, but touch wood has been a lot better this time around and won a valuable handicap chase nicely at Ludlow (16 November). I must give Ludlow Racecourse a huge amount of credit as not only are they able to put up a huge amount of prize money, but their ability to feed us so well is magnificent! They are an example to many other racecourses and deserve all the support they get.
Buster Thomas was another one of our nice novices last year that debuted over fences at Exeter (15 November). In hindsight I shouldn’t have run him over three, as his jumping was so quick and the pace he naturally travels at on that soft ground, meant he was probably always doing a little too much through the race and was unable to sustain this effort to the line. I was absolutely delighted with him and I can’t wait to get him out again as he is a very exciting horse for us going forward and has plenty of quality.
Talking of horses with plenty of quality, it was an exciting / unbelievably nerve-racking day getting Irish Prophecy out for his first run over hurdles. He has always been an exceptional horse at home, and showed that when winning his two bumpers last season so, not surprisingly, there was much anticipation for his hurdling debut. He was extremely impressive, in what was an extraordinary race in that nothing seemed to want to get near to him from the beginning. This meant it was quite tough on him to be out on his own jumping in front for his first time over hurdles. He did look quite green in the early part of the race, but he could not under the circumstances have been more impressive, whilst having a racecourse gallop and jumping a few hurdles and finishing without really coming off the bridle. He also has come out his race very well. With so much natural pace he probably wouldn’t want to be inconvenienced with the ground being too soft, so we will be careful as to where we go with him and try and find another novice race and run him with a penalty. Looking at our options that is likely to be at Doncaster on the 2nd December, and then if all goes to plan look for something more testing over the Christmas period. Fingers crossed.
I am very pleased to report that Caulfields Venture was none the worse for his tip up at Ludlow (16 November). He was running the best race he’s run for a very long time, and it was unfair that he just clipped the top of the fence and knuckled on landing. Having gone there with the thought he would retire, I feel it would be the wrong way for him to end his career and deserves one more run if we can find a race where the ground is good.
There have been plenty of other lovely horses that have run recently that will no doubt improve on their debut efforts, The Sweeney definitely being one and Allez Jacques and Private Malone showing the benefits of that first run by both finishing second and leaving their debut efforts well behind them. I am keeping everything crossed that the horses will continue in good health, and that the winners keep on coming!