Seven years of racing haven't dampened Celestial Halo's enthusiasm for the sport
The season is now in full swing and there’s some exciting, competitive racing.
My shoulder’s been playing up again — I landed awkwardly on it on Thursday — so I gave up some of my rides on Friday to make sure I was fine for Hennessy day. I’ve had some magic physio, though, which got me through.
Saturday was a good day. Celestial Halo won the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and he just loves the game. He’s rising 10 now and has been running since he was three, and you have to be a willing horse to be still racing at the top level after all that time. He’s a hard grafter, too — it’s not just the races, it’s six or seven days a week working up the Ditcheat hill.
It was great to get another win in the race for owner Andy Stewart — Big Buck’s has won for him the past four years.
Talking of Big Buck’s, he’s looking absolutely fantastic. He’s done three canters up the hill and you’d swear he hadn’t been off for a year.
I was absolutely gutted not to win the Hennessy Gold Cup. Rocky Creek finished second and I really fancied him for this.
The course is one of the fairest tracks and has beautifully laid-out fences — unfortunately, we just bumped into a better horse.
Three out, I thought we had every chance, and then I was hopeful when we got a better jump than Barry [Geraghty, on the eventual winner] at the last. But he had just that bit more in the tank. I know Barry had high expectations for Triolo D’Alene so 20-1 was probably overpriced for him.
Field sizes spark debate
Al Ferof jumped great and travelled really well in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot — and a win’s a win even if it’s only a two-horse race.
He needed a good blow for his first time back after being laid off injured for a year, and he jumped beautifully. He was still on his toes when he came back into the parade ring and we’re all set for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day now.
I felt a bit sorry for Amlin as sponsors, as it must be a bit disappointing to get such a small field. I suppose it’s partly due to timing, as Ascot sits between Cheltenham’s Paddy Power meeting and the Hennessy, but two runners does make it a bit of a Mickey Mouse race.
I didn’t want to be making the running — we really wanted to have a lead — but I didn’t have an option.
I know there were some grumbles and I can see everyone’s viewpoint. You don’t want to be watching a two-horse race, but at the same time owners and trainers don’t want to run if they don’t have a realistic chance of winning.
My ideal field size is about eight or nine, as it’s competitive but you get plenty of space. And for the crowd, it must be better to be watching four or five runners that are top-quality than 24 who aren’t so good.
It shouldn’t matter how many horses are in a race, as long as they’re good ones.
Champion Hurdle chances
The Champion Hurdle contenders are still looking interesting.
My Tent Or Yours looked impressive at Newcastle, whereas Melodic Rendezvous was a bit disappointing — on that run he’s not a Champion Hurdle horse. And Jezki, over in Ireland, wasn’t as impressive as expected. He’ll have to improve on this showing.
As I have a day off this week, I’m going hunting with the Portman. I’ll be riding one of Sally Alner’s point-to-pointers — hopefully one that won’t be trying to kill me…
I haven’t been hunting in ages, so I’m looking forward to flying a few hedges. Although I always get there, see them, and think “I’m not sure about this any more…”
The Tizzards deserve a mention, too, after Cue Card won the Betfair Chase. I saw Joe at Exeter the day after and he looked a bit ropey — I think plenty of lager was consumed in celebration.
Everyone’s getting emotional at the moment, even Colin crying on TV! Fair play to Colin, though, he never dodges a match — even if it’s against Sprinter Sacre. They went to Haydock all guns blazing and made the race their own, despite some doubters. It was a gutsy, well-deserved win.
This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (5 December 2013 edition)