Tom Symonds’ diary: an apology, and Festival anticipation

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I must begin with offering my apologies to the sponsors of the Racing Plus Chase. Last week I made a comment that seemed to denigrate the new sponsors of this race, which was not my intention. Sponsorship is possibly the most important asset that racing has at the moment, as it helps swell the dwindling prize-money fund and also enables racing to gain advertisement.

I was being an insensitive traditionalist who must realise that, as time moves on, racing must also evolve. For example, the Paddy Power Gold Cup has been run under many guises (Mackeson, Murphy’s and Thomas Pink), but it is the sponsors that enable it to remain the valuable prize that it is today. I never meant to discredit Racing Plus for their sponsorship, and I hope that they remain at the helm of this traditionally famous mid-season staying contest.

The lull before the storm

It currently feels as if the Ancient Mariner has shot the proverbial albatross. The lull before the Festival storm is palpable. While trainers etch the finishing touches on their masterpieces, they must feel as alone and nervous as the aforementioned Mariner as judgment day is soon nigh.

There is so much that can happen before battle commences. We have already been reminded of the apparently immortal Kauto Star’s fallibility. Fingal Bay is another who will not be able to display his talent on racing’s greatest stage. These losses are a reminder that training horses is not for the faint-hearted especially when the ultra media-friendly Paul Nicholls is lambasted for his alleged mishandling of Kauto Star’s recent fall.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds. This should not be seen as an error of judgement on Paul’s part, but rather confirm the unpredictability of an animal. Kauto may have been none the worse for his fall, thus no one would have known. If Paul had said anything, he would have been accused of falsely muddying the already murky waters. Certainly a rock and a hard place if ever there was one.

How different my life is a year on

What can happen in a year is astonishing. Last year I was a panelist at five or six Festival previews, as I was in a position [as assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson] that was deemed enviable and, looking at my former glories, it does remain so. I will watch fondly as the Seven Barrows team do battle at Cheltenham next week and, of course, I will watch excitedly as an old ally – Long Run – has his date with destiny on Friday 16 March in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. I was lucky enough to have a very sturdy lifeboat when I left the gargantuan liner that is Seven Barrows and, although the task ahead to launch my own similar fleet will be daunting, it’s all part of the challenge.

Monk ‘tearing up trees’

The one animal that has been “tearing up trees” (terminology for a horse that is working well) is not equine but canine. My father went planting trees on Saturday but, much to his chagrin, his over-zealous and eager-to-please Labrador Monk thought it necessary to uproot and return the newly planted saplings to his master’s feet. It appears that while father and son are conservationists, the dog is not.

No winners but lots of promise

While Monk destroys the plans for an arboretum, the horses are metaphorically creating an environment of similar content by performing with immense credit. Although none got their heads in front last week at the crux of the argument, they all came out of their respective races with much hope of future success.

Harry’s Boy ran a much-improved race and both he and his inexperienced jockey – in-house conditional Nathan Cook – appeared to have learnt from their Taunton debuts. Harry’s Boy has one more run until he is handicapped, which is where I believe his success will come.

Alpha Way appeared out of his depth, but again performed well in second place. He put in some spectacular leaps before coming up against another well-handicapped runner from the in-form Venetia Williams yard. When I congratulated her, Venetia smiled and cheekily thanked me for giving her horse a lead at a good pace. This is of course a tactic that we cannot begin to try and change with a hot head like Alpha Way.

I really feel that Venetia’s Aramstone yard will have some luck next week as her horses are in rude health. Never underestimate Miss Williams, and especially in handicaps. Surely I was going to learn something in my early tutelage with Venetia…

I really fancied our horse Young Hurricane to win the bumper, but he showed a lot of inexperience. However, he was closing at the finish under the highly talented conditional jockey Jeremiah McGrath. He finished second and displayed immense promise as he is still such a shell of a horse.

I may write my next blog after the Festival. In the meantime, success will spin itself a good yarn. While fortune appears to favour the brave, there is one ingredient that most will hope to have on their side next week, and that is a good dollop of luck. With that in mind, let the mayhem commence.

Originally published on horseandhound.co.uk