Cooler this morning, expecting a brief cold snap so goodbye spring, hello again winter. An excellent run from Calivigny at Carlisle yesterday to finish 2nd only beaten by a blot on the handicap from the South, pleased that yesterday’s theory that he would improve for a return to better ground proved correct for once. His jumping wasn’t as slick as it had been on his first two starts over fences, I think a little nervousness may have crept in after running on bad ground and I would hope that he will be more confident in future, he should have a good future over fences now, God willing.
Brian Hughes was delighted when he jumped off him and just said “it was a shame he’d bumped into one” – agreed, and it was noticeable that 4 of the 5 handicaps at Carlisle yesterday were won by Southern trained horses, I’ve never been a huge believer in the theory that there is a bias in their favour and the detailed analysis of the statistics that we carried out as part of the Northern Review Group indicate that this exists but it is very marginal, the handicappers are monitoring this closely and promise to make adjustments if they deem them necessary, time for an update I feel.
Their work on this has been led by the senior handicapper, Phil Smith, who last week was subject to a sustained and personal attack from Ryanair and Gigginstown supremo Michael O’Leary following the announcement of the Grand National weights. Whilst I suspect many found the spat mildly entertaining what I found totally extraordinary was O’Leary’s apparent lack of understanding of the way in which the Irish and British handicap systems inter-relate and his equally poor understanding of the basic mathematics. Well he certainly isn’t stupid and in my opinion he was being a disingenuous bully, no surprise there and his outburst was thoroughly unbecoming of a leading racehorse owner. I hope most will side with with Phil Smith who deserves credit for his work in turning the Grand National into the exceptionally competitive top class handicap that it has now become, he mustn’t feel intimidated by this ignorant tirade. Good news for Lucy yesterday as her consultant decided that no operation is required on her cheek-bone, she needs to allow the fracture to heal and will hopefully be back riding in a few weeks. No runners this week until Newcastle on Saturday and the Corbridge point-to-point on Sunday, a quick flit to London required for some industry meetings. To be honest it is difficult making time to go down there when we are so busy here and I don’t enjoy sticking my oar in but I am passionate about jump racing in the North and somebody needs to go down and attend these meetings otherwise there is a real danger that Northern issues will be overlooked, there is a momentum behind raising the game up here and thanks to the hard work of a lot of people the picture is improving all the time but we need to keep at it….
A lovely mild, spring-like morning, quiet on the yard with just a couple of the horses being ridden, the rest either out in the paddocks or on the walker for 40 minutes. And a treat tonight for jump racing fans – “Being AP” is on BBC Two at 10pm tonight if you haven’t already seen it, it is excellent. One runner at Carlisle tomorrow, Calivigny in the 3pm, 8 run and Brian Hughes rides.
I was delighted with his first two starts over fences but his next two were disappointing and hence he feels he has lost his way a little, we are fairly confident that the holding ground was against him so with the conditions tomorrow described as good to soft we are hoping for a much improved effort. I also think that over fences he is better going right handed so it’s back to Carlisle where he began his chasing career over course and distance in October, his race that day has worked out well and as I regard 2m 4f as his minimum trip we have taken the hood off.
Calivigny is one of a few horses of ours that won on very soft ground last season and I have therefore presumed they like those conditions; however once they are forced to race at a higher level they are being found out by it, whilst they can get away with imperfect conditions in novice company they may not necessarily handle those conditions in hard run handicaps, one also needs to appreciate the difference between autumn/early winter rain softened ground and holding, deep, post-frost ground that we have a lot of at this time of year.
Cooler today but fine weather for the time of year and spring is a week nearer. Good sport at Kelso yesterday and both of our runners ran above my expectations which sent me home in top form, Landecker didn’t travel especially well on the tacky and holding ground but still appeared to run to his best to be 2nd, he should improve again for better ground next time but I have to say I was surprised how well he handled conditions yesterday so now need new excuses for poor runs in the past!
Wicklow Lad loves that ground and he ran an exceptional race to finish 3rd, only beaten a short head and a length by last season’s champion UK point-to-pointer and a £90k purchase out of the champion trainer’s yard and well clear of the rest of the field; I had wondered if Wicklow had lost his sparkle and had been wondering whether to retire him so to see him run as well as that at the age of 13 on his 67th start gave me a huge buzz, both were given excellent rides by Kit.
On the other hand I think I ought to retire Here’s to Harry who’s breathing couldn’t handle the deep ground at Newcastle on Wednesday, trouble is I worry about his legs too much on good ground so that’s that I suppose… didn’t stop me having a decent bet on him mind you at 66-1, when will I learn. Clan Legend ran well in his first handicap chase, he jumped exceptionally well and whilst his exuberance at that level led him to tire in the closing stages there should be plenty more to come from him.
So, no winners this week but six of our eight runners were placed and for a change nothing surprised me by running below par, that leaves me in a better frame of mind than I was a week ago, hopefully the consistent form that we had become accustomed to in the past is coming back in what has been a tricky season for many yards, let’s hope so – fingers crossed! Nothing this weekend, will be catching up in the office as we hope to have a couple of runners at Carlisle on Monday and Wetherby on Tuesday, will depend on the weather.
Cooler this morning, a breezy old night, the odd shower about and off to Kelso today where we have two runners on ground that will be hard work, heavy with soft places, again a wee shower would help after a drying couple of days.
Four time course winner Landecker runs in the 3.35, Kit rides and 7 run, he seems in great form and this is his course but, and it’s a big but, historically he has not shown his best form on this ground and I would be pleasantly surprised if he does today, everything else about the race is perfect for him though which is why he is taking his chance. On the other hand the ground will be perfect for Wicklow Lad in the 4.05, his best form is all on heavy and he ran well at Alnwick last time, he should have come on again for that run and although 13 now he has a decent chance of being placed but no chance of beating the odds on favourite.
I have always commended Kelso’s boldness in putting on good races for decent money and successfully upgrading the quality of their sport and would consider them a role model for what racing in the North should be aspiring to but today it has all back-fired on them a bit with small fields and very short-priced favourites. This can happen anywhere but it is disappointing for them nevertheless, especially when they attracted such good entries and it looked like being an excellent card. In framing races to attract the better Southern horses they obviously exclude the vast majority trained in the North and that’s fine when it attracts really good horses but when they themselves end up shying away from each other or deciding its too far to travel a month away from Cheltenham or the ground is wrong it ends up creating easy money for slightly second tier horses leaving many of us scratching our heads as to whether this really is the best deployment of funds.
Spring-like at Ayr today and the course in great condition for the time of year, ground not much worse than soft though a bit tacky and I was pleased with our 4 runners in one way or another, a muddling pace didn’t suit McGinty’s Dream but he stayed on well to be 4th, only beaten a length for 2nd behind a well-handicapped winner. Off the Hook also stayed on well belying her odds to be 4th, further will suit her in due course as it will Just Brooke who did well to complete after a year off and can only improve for the run. Finally Another Mattie ran another solid race to be 3rd, just fluffing his lines a little at the hurdles in the home straight.
A quick turnaround tonight before heading to Newcastle tomorrow where we have two runners on ground that is likely to be very testing – heavy and holding, a shower would do it the world of good. We start with the “triumph of hope over experience” that is Here’s to Harry in the 2.50, unlucky last time when nearly brought down at the first fence he really needs to record a number rather than a letter by his name tomorrow as hope is fading, gluey ground will be the excuse this time no doubt, Grant Cockburn rides, 11 run and I know the owner will be very disappointed if he doesn’t run considerably better than the 33-1 odds suggest he will. Our other runner is Clan Legend in the 4.20, 5 run and Will Kennedy rides, this is a nice race for him but he won’t get his own way in front and it still feels daunting having to run him at this level, perhaps he will surprise me.