The star that is Paisley Park enjoying his summer holiday and looking rather fabulous for it!
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.
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!
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.
Sixteen year old Meg Lyth, who joined the team in December 2018, was featured recently on the Racing to School blog on her journey into horseracing and becoming a Racing Groom. It’s a great read and please click here to for the article. Meg is pictured with Junction Fourteen one of her favourites here at #TeamLavelle.
I cannot believe it has taken me until now to update our blog since the victory of Paisley Park, but I think I am only just coming back down to earth! I cannot emphasise enough how significant a grade 1 win like that is for us as a team and how much everyone has put in to make it happen – not least Paisley himself who is such a laid-back character and has taken everything in his stride.
Barry rides him every day and has been key in his development – he was in fact the one that would not leave the Goffs Landrover sale if we didn’t have him, so Gerry Hogan and I were under no illusions as to what he thought of him even as a three-year old! He is a charming horse and has become very relaxed through his races, only doing what is required of him when asked and then wondering what the fuss is all about after, which is a great way to be. He and Aidan Coleman have built up a great relationship and it was as significant a day for Aidan as it was for us – a day that neither of us will forget! It has been well documented that the plan for him now is the Stayers hurdle and at this stage our aim is to go to the Cleeve first if the ground is right and have a taste of Cheltenham. When I suggested this to Andrew Gemmell (his owner) he informed me that he had already cancelled his flight to Australia for this year and also thought it was the logical race – our race planning ideas continue to align so hopefully so will Paisley’s successes!
It was a lovely end to the year to have De Rasher Counter win the last ITV televised race of 2018 at Newbury. He had been a bit unlucky this season having run a lovely race in his first novice chase to finish third and then get nearly bought down by both the prostate jockey and then loose horse falling on his second start. It really dented his confidence and Exeter was all about trying to get that confidence back. Adam Wedge gave him a beautiful ride at Newbury giving him time to see his fences and he galloped home strongly to win in determined style and thus allow Richard Hoiles to use his ‘bringing home the bacon’ pun – hopefully he can work on some more before the next time he wins!
There were plenty of other magical moments from 2018 such as Javert coming back from two and half years off the track to win at Uttoxeter, and the winning performances of Blushing Red, Down The Highway, Misty Bloom, Buster Thomas and Majestic Moll amongst many others, all of whom helped make 2018 a year to remember. It would be wrong not to mention the passing of two of our owners last year, Sarah Stevens and Clive Colquhoun, both who were great supporters and even better friends of the yard and they will be very sorely missed.
The weather has been somewhat unusual this winter, in that it has stayed so dry and I cannot believe even in January I am still praying for some rain. We have a lovely team of horses still waiting to perform but are unable to on this ground, hence we have had a quiet start to 2019. We have plenty of entries coming up though and there is much to look forward to, so fingers crossed that this year continues on the same upward trajectory as last.
It has been a pretty busy few weeks for us with lots of horses running and people heading in all directions going racing. It puts plenty of pressure on the team at home but everyone has been amazing and it really does show what can be achieved with all things pulling in the same direction.
For years and years Bonita Racing Stables has been associated with its fantastic grass gallops, but with the dry weather we have not really been able to use them, so it just goes to show how effective both the carpet hill gallop and the new addition of the sand gallop are. The sand has enabled us to get the core fitness in and the carpet the speed, and they have over lapped beautifully. However, the disadvantage of not being able to use the grass gallops has shown with the bumper horses, as many of them have not yet been on them, and it is impossible to state how important it is for them when they are heading to the track for the first time. Certainly, this showed with the likes of Shang Tang, who was very green before staying on to finish an admirable sixth at Chepstow (6 Nov) and I think the result would have been very different had he encountered the undulations and openness of the grass gallops.
Jemima P would also fit into this category, she ran a lovely debut race to finish seventh at Warwick (7 Nov) and travelled supremely, but just hadn’t had enough experience to know what to do when asked to quicken. She is also a lovely horse for the future and one to be excited about.
On the other hand, Prophets Prayer had the benefit of having had a very nice run when finishing fourth at Market Rasen and then went to Southwell (25 Oct) and won in impressive fashion. Being a full sister to Irish Prophecy she is entitled to be a nice mare and will soon embark on a hurdling campaign. She is not one to be running on very soft ground, so she will have a run before the wet weather (eventually) comes before a mid-winter break.
I was also delighted with the run from Thunderstruck, where the ground had turned heavy at Sandown (11 Nov). It is a hard task for a four-year old to come up the Sandown hill in front on very soft ground but he stuck on with great tenacity having travelled very strongly throughout the race to finish second. This is another horse I think will do nothing but improve and one to be excited about – probably more so next year, but he’s a natural athlete with a great attitude.
The hurdlers have been really strutting their stuff and it’s exciting to have some promising second season hurdlers as well as the novice horses starting to run. Paisley Park was unbelievably impressive when winning at Aintree (28 October). He jumped extremely well and travelled into the race using no energy before winning as he liked. His next stop will be a valuable hurdle race at Haydock this weekend and as he has come out of his race thinking that he is king-pin so we are excited about it.
Misty Bloom, owned by the Bonita Racing Club, put her best foot forward at Exeter (6 Nov) to win doing handstands. Under the circumstance, it was key to get her out again as soon as possible, so going to Taunton (15 Nov) and incurring a seven-pound penalty rather the fourteen she had been put up, made sense. Although it did turn into a bit of a cat and mouse sprint she was unbelievably gutsy to win by a nose – not good for my heart! She was given an excellent ride by Patrick (Paddy) Cowley, who also rode Fox Appeal on the same day to finish second, who jumped consistently better than he ever has in his entire eleven years – so full credit to Paddy on that. (photo below of Misty and Paddy).
Shiroccan Roll just keeps getting better and better, and although it was frustrating to finish second behind Paul Nicholls (again!) at Wincanton (10 Nov) it was still another step in the right direction for him and I think we will be looking for a decent handicap to run him in next time. He is still only a four-year old and has a huge future in front of him. Talent To Amuse also showed she was on the way back when running a cracking race to finish third in the £25,000 mares handicap hurdle on the same day. For her the ground had probably just gone slow enough with the rain that came down, but she has come out of it in such great form that she will head to Ascot tomorrow – for her I hope the heavens don’t open!
Blushing Red is another who is absolutely going in the right direction. Having won at Ludlow he then came out and did it all over again in even more impressive fashion at Kempton (12 Nov). Again, under Padddy Cowley, he travelled strongly through the race, jumped swiftly and won very nicely, which means for the moment I am in my father’s good books! Also, at Kempton Old Rascals had his first run for us, where in the main he travelled and jumped well to finish an eye-catching third. The best of him won’t be seen until he goes over a fence, but he is another decent looking novice and I am delighted that his owners The Optimists have another nice one to have fun with. Old Rascals finished second in his point-to-point behind Down The Highway, so it was a good franking of the form when he (Down The Highway) made his winning debut at Lingfield (13 Nov), travelling powerfully, jumping brilliantly and winning impressively – what more can I say.
It has not been quite as plane sailing with the novice chasers. De Rasher Counter was badly interfered with by a falling loose horse at Hereford (13 Nov), when starting favourite in a valuable chase, which knocked him out of the race. However, he has come out of it well, so we won’t delay in getting him back out on the track. Irish Prophecy burst a blood vessel also at Hereford, which was gutting for us all. He is a horse with so much ability and has shown so much promise that we will work our hardest to get him back to where he needs to be. Flemcara jumped and travelled at Ffos Las (11 Nov) until even he found the ground just too deep and tiring. He has come out of the race well and it is onwards and upwards with him and to find some ground that’s somewhere in-between bottomless and soft.
Enniscoffey Oscar has found the bigger fences just a little bit scary and I think although he jumped very safe, bar one, in the novice chase at Kempton (12 Nov) he is just not as quick over his fences as he was over hurdles. We will bring him back over hurdles to give him a confidence boost and make a plan for him going forward. He did very little wrong last year so I am looking forward to a successful second half of the season with him.
Thank goodness for Gunfleet! Who jumped beautifully and ran an absolute stormer in the big novice chase at Exeter (14 Nov) to be beaten by just a head. He will quite clearly be a horse to be reckoned with over fences and is very exciting. Buster Thomas also ran an absolute cracker at Wincanton (10 Nov). He jumped beautifully and had the horse he had been battling with beaten, before Bryony Frost swooped down the outside and won by half a length. He nonetheless showed just how much ability he has and deserves to win another few races this season.
Last but by no means least, Javert deserves a very big mention. He stepped up into graded company when finishing second in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree (28 Oct), travelling and jumping superbly and only just getting beaten before heading to Cheltenham for the BetVictor chase. Again he jumped brilliantly in what was a race full of mishap but just found the Cheltenham hill over 2m4f too much of a test of stamina for him but was still an admirable sixth. He doesn’t want the ground too soft and so we will freshen him up and monitor what the rest of the winter has in store for us weather wise!
It’s great to have the team in such good order and long may it continue.
Photo by Pinnacle Photo Agency.
It must be said that farmers and racehorse trainers are the two groups of people that spend more time talking about the weather than anyone else, and as nice as this warm Autumn sunshine has been, consistent rain is really what we need. There has been some unbelievable deluges, but it has just not been enough to make the ground soft in relation to what the winter horses need. We are now very close to the last quarter of October, and another ten-day forecast of dry weather is not what the doctor ordered. I am hoping by the end of this month things will start to change and we can get some of our lovely winter horses out on the track.
However, our better ground horses have been flying the flag in no uncertain terms and I have been delighted with how so many of them have run. It was fantastic for my father and John Crook to see Blushing Red get his beautiful orange and white body home first at Ludlow (10 Oct). I’ve said it before, but Ludlow does deserve huge amounts of credit for producing such fantastic prize money year on year and we were delighted to take a nice chunk of it home. Blushing Red is the most striking horse, bright orange in colour with white everywhere including his stomach, and he’s become a real yard favourite as not only is he stunning to look at, he is full of character. There was much celebration following his victory and hopefully he can continue to build on that performance.
Dissavril on the same day went to Southwell, where the ground was beautiful, and they’d done a really good job. However, she possibly showed the effect of not being able to school on the grass at home, as although in the main she jumped well, she could have been a lot slicker. She was so impressive when winning her Listed bumper on heavy ground at Market Rasen last season, and it was far removed running over two miles on good ground at Southwell – she just looked tapped for toe in those conditions last week. She was also a little keen in the early part of the race and when they quickened from the front up the straight, she could not get there. She’s come out of the race very well and although I wouldn’t be averse to running her over two miles again it would have to be on softer ground or on a more galloping track, and hopefully by then we will have been able to do more schooling on grass.
The following day saw the debut of Majestic Moll over fences at Worcester. She was like a bunny rabbit, never missing a beat and won the mare’s novices chase in emphatic style. It was a lovely start for her over fences and if the ground remains as it is I expect we will get her out again soon as she is one that loves to hear her hooves rattle. I hope at some stage we can get some black type for her as she has a lovely pedigree and ultimately will head off as a broodmare.
Our Bonita Racing Club horse – Freedom Run, also ran in the bumper and finished fourth. She looks like she wants a trip and over hurdles and possibly a bit more juice in the ground, she travelled well through the race and quickened up the home straight, but just couldn’t quicken again. She’s come out it well and will now go hurdling, which I am really looking forward to.
Shirrocan Roll also ran a stormer on the same day. His jumping was much slicker, and he continues to show huge amounts of enthusiasm at the races, sometimes a little bit too much on occasions (!). He galloped all the way to the line to finish second to a horse with much more age and experience than him, and they pulled along way clear of the rest of the field. I feel he is an exciting horse for the future.
We have now run a couple of the novice chasers in Enniscoffey Oscar and De Rasher Counter. They too have probably shown a little of the effects of not being able to school on grass. De Rasher Counter ran a cracker to finish third at Uttoxeter (7 Oct), but was just a little bit big over some of his fences. Although he was very sure on what he was doing, he will get better and I can’t wait to get him out again. He handles any ground apart from extremes and I’d be disappointed if he didn’t go very close.
Enniscoffey Oscar ran at Chepstow (14 Oct) and just scared himself at the second where he really let fly at the fence. He then jumped out to his right, never ideal on a left-handed track, but did run incredibly well to stay in contention turning for home after giving away some ground by his drifting. He has come out of the race well and will have another couple of schools before he goes back over fences, where we will go the other way to help him.
We are going to be governed by weather conditions as to where we go with a lot of the horses that are ready to run. I’m pleased to report that Javert has come out of his race extremely well and I just don’t think I can’t keep him ticking over until the November meeting at Cheltenham. All things being well he will head to Aintree for the Old Roan Chase where I hope he can continue his upward trajectory.
We’ve got plenty of entries coming up, but things are going to have to soften up for many of them to take their chances – here’s hoping!