Fergal O’Brien: Cranking up the gears *H&H VIP*

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  • Opinion

    The National Hunt season proper is now under way and it was great to see a lot of the big guns out over the weekend at Cheltenham and Aintree.

    This season has been ‘so far, so good’ for us. We’ve had 26 winners, our best start yet. Last year we finished on 60, so this year’s aim is 61! We’ve had a good level of consistency the past couple of years, so we’re just out to win as much as we can.

    We had a good winner with Poetic Rhythm in the Grade Two Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow a couple of weeks back, which was a great start to the campaign. The ones that aren’t winning are still running well, so we’re not scratching our heads wondering what went wrong.

    We have 55 horses now; we had around 30 last season, and have even built 10 new boxes at the yard, so there are plenty of new ones to keep an eye on.

    We’ve been based at Upper Yard at Naunton in Gloucestershire for a couple of years, and one of the best things about it is that it’s such an open yard. We have 15 to 25 people up at the yard every Saturday, watching the horses and enjoying themselves. I’m sure that’s helped by the fact there’s always cake, which started a couple of years ago, when Great British Bake Off was on, and one of our owners said if you wanted to watch the horses you had to bring cake. We don’t judge them (though I’m the best taster), but it’s become a fun tradition.

    Early-season form

    It is always lovely to be back at Cheltenham and the track looked magnificent at the weekend. The ground was safe and they were rewarded with plenty of runners. There was a great atmosphere and a decent crowd — showing the sport is in great health especially at this stage in the season.

    Herecomestheboom won the bumper at the meeting on Saturday (28 October). We bought him recently — he’s a five-year-old son of Darsi and we’re excited about his future.

    It was lovely to see Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horses do well too — especially some that didn’t bring such good news last season. Foxtail Hill, who Nigel’s son Willy had a bad fall on, and Cogry, who injured Ryan Hatch, were both in the winner’s enclosure — it was good to see them well for their owners.

    Another one to watch is Philip Hobbs’ Gumball. He was very impressive winning at Chepstow a couple of weeks ago and he’s a smart-looking horse.

    Ones to watch of ours this season would be Herecomestheboom, Cap Soleil, Global Stage, Oscar Rose, Barney Dwan and Colin’s Sister. Alvarado is back in form as well.

    It’s early to talk about trainers’ titles, but it’ll be between Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. Dan Skelton won’t be much behind — he’s given it a good go over the summer — but whether or not it’s a year or two too soon, we’ll see. Nicholls says he hasn’t got the horse power, but don’t take that at face value. He has a great group of owners and jockeys and isn’t to be underestimated. Let’s wait and see.

    Hats off to O’Brien

    I have to mention Aidan O’Brien’s achievements [winning 26 Group Ones in a season] this week. People throw around accolades like “genius”, but really there aren’t words to describe him. You could say it’s because he has the ammunition, but you have to use it. He always praises his team around him, his wife, brothers, nephews; and it’s a system that clearly works.

    To beat Bobby Frankel’s record is special. He’s similar to AP McCoy in that the likes of them won’t be seen again.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 2 November 2017