There’s been a lot of top-class racing on during the past couple of weeks and we’ve seen some interesting races from potential Cheltenham Festival horses.
Christmas is mainly about Boxing Day racing for jockeys; I slept for most of Christmas Day and it was brilliant. The lowest weight I had on Boxing Day was 11st so I could enjoy my Christmas dinner.
Some of the other lads weren’t so lucky — Tom O’Brien went over to Ireland to see his family but had 10st 2lb on Boxing Day, which meant no dinner and a Christmas Day sweat for him.
Before Christmas I had a brilliant evening up at Olympia. It’s such a good show and it was great meeting top riders such as the Whitakers and Nick Skelton. They are seriously impressive sportsmen.
I had to give out the rosettes in the Shetland Grand National which is great for young riders.
Dodging Bullets [who won a grade two novices’ chase at Kempton on 27 December], was the stand-out performance of the festive period for me. He’s a straightforward horse and I was very impressed with him.
He will probably go to the Arkle now. He was bred by Frankie Dettori and I bet he wasn’t expecting his horse to be one of the favourites in a chase.
Boxing Day was great for the Ditcheat yard, with Silviniaco Conti winning the King George VI Chase. It was Paul Nicholls’ eighth win in the race.
Silviniaco Conti is a top-class three-miler and has to be in the mix for the Gold Cup — he’s an extremely good horse.
I finished third on Al Ferof. He came out of the race fine, he just didn’t handle the ground well and jumped a bit left-handed. He’ll come on for the run, though it’s not been decided which race he’ll go for at the Festival yet.
Last season’s Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth was very impressive in the Lexus Chase [28 December]. He showed a lot of speed and got into a position to win nicely.
I think it’ll be between him and Silviniaco Conti in the Gold Cup now. Nothing else really stands out. I’m not sure if Cue Card will stay the 3m 2f, especially up the hill, if he goes for the Gold Cup.
On New Year’s Day, Zarkandar and I were up against unbeaten Irish raider Annie Power again, this time at Cheltenham. We changed our tactics and sat in behind, but she’s the better horse . She’s an extremely talented mare — big and imposing — and could be a serious force at the Festival.
In the Champion Hurdle, Hurricane Fly’s the one they’ve all got to beat. He won his 18th Grade One [in the Ryanair Hurdle on 29 December] and it’s absolute madness people saying [that at 10] he’s too old.
He’s been well trained by Willie Mullins and everything else will have to up their game to get to him.
I didn’t think My Tent Or Yours and The New One were particularly impressive at Kempton. Jezki and Our Conor — who were also in the Ryanair Hurdle — need to step up, too, to be in for a chance.
The weather’s been dire. Racing at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day was a different experience — we were galloping through a river almost. It was completely safe ground, though, and you’ll hear no complaints from the jockeys, it was a real buzz.
The rain has meant lots of fixtures have been cancelled, which is a shame. It hasn’t had too much impact on our yard, as we haven’t had that many entries.
I had flu over the weekend, so I wasn’t too sad to see Sandown and Wincanton off. I don’t think I would have been up to it anyway and wouldn’t have liked to miss any rides.
I know jump jockeys are meant to be tough, but that flu was something else. It was good for the weight loss, however.
The worst part of the weather is exercising the horses in it. It’s rough — cold and wet. We don’t enjoy it and neither do the horses. Fair play to the stable staff, they love their horses, but this takes it to a different level.
I’ve been a bit of naughty boy recently, too. I’ve had four two-day whip bans in the past three months. Now I need to be extra careful, as if I get another one I could be out for up to a month. I think I need to improve my counting…
We were all very sad to hear the news about Terry Biddlecombe, who died on 5 January aged 72 [see news, p5].
I rode for Hen [Knight] and Terry a few times and he was always very professional to deal with. He was a great rider and a top-class bloke. He had a lot of sense and was a real character. He will be sadly missed.