January is always a reasonably quiet month and the weather has been so bad that quite a few meetings have been cancelled, which is frustrating.
It was great that Chepstow’s Welsh Grand National went ahead on 9 January, and it’s thanks to the British Horseracing Authority and the racecourse that we are able to reschedule these big races.
It was quite a slog, a real test and there was nowhere to hide. You could barely recognise the jockeys when they came back they were so covered in mud.
We’ve said it before but it is nice to see the older horses winning. Mountainous won the race two years ago, so to regain the title was fantastic to see.
It was also good for trainer Kerry Lee, who has just taken over the licence from her father, Richard, in Herefordshire. For her to have the Welsh National winner, plus a winner with Bishops Road at Sandown (2 January) and the Warwick Classic Chase winner, Russe Blanc, last weekend (16 January) — all within her first few months — is an achievement. It’s a real family effort and I’ve ridden plenty of winners for her father, so it’s great to see.
Reaching a landmark
I was thrilled to reach 3,000 winners under National Hunt Rules (Richard is the only jump jockey aside from AP McCoy to reach this figure).
It was a slight surprise — I’d hoped I would reach that number this year but I didn’t realise I was quite that close until the press highlighted it the night before.
It seems a long time ago since I had my first winner, Rusty Bridge, back in 1994, trained by my granddad. If you had asked me then if I thought I would ever reach 3,000 I’d have said you were mad.
It’s fantastic but it’s all down to other people really: Dave Roberts my agent for securing me rides, and trainers such as David Nicholson and Philip Hobbs. I’ve been lucky to have massive support.
Philip’s horses are in good form at the moment. Champagne West and Fingal Bay should be out in the next couple of weeks and are ones to watch out for.
Balthazar King, who is such a popular character, is in wonderful order and is still full steam ahead for the cross-country race at the Cheltenham Festival. He has fully recovered from his fall at Aintree last season and is back schooling at home.
When the weather improves we’ll take him for a spin at a cross-country course to let him enjoy a play over all the different fences he might find at Cheltenham. He’ll be more than ready come March; he’s an enthusiastic type and is loving life.
Whip rules are working
After the King George VI there was some backlash regarding overuse of the whip, when both Paddy Brennan on the winner Cue Card and Ruby Walsh on runner-up Vautour picked up bans and fines.
There has been the urge from some to try and change the rules, but I think, on the whole, they work. Jockeys are taking well to the current rules, which were beefed up in 2011, and always do their best, so it was good to hear the news that whip offences were down 9% last year on 2014.
It’s always going to be hard with the same rules for a 2m hurdle on fast ground and a 4m chase on heavy, but jockeys have worked hard to adhere to them.
I don’t think jockeys go for the whip now unless they really need it, and as we’re not breaking the rules as much I think it puts riders in a better light.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 21 January 2016