Fergal O’Brien: Snow, Frost and Spud *H&H VIP*

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  • Opinion

    Boxing Day is all about Kempton and the King George VI was a good race this year, as Might Bite was very impressive. It was disappointing for Nigel Twiston-Davies that Bristol De Mai didn’t run well, finishing sixth of seven, especially after his 57-length victory in the Betfair Chase.

    He also lost his chance for the £1m bonus for the Triple Crown (the Betfair Chase, King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup). However, the Twiston- Davies-trained Imperial Commander ran badly in the King George twice; after the first he landed the Ryanair at Cheltenham in 2009, and after the second he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2010 — so I wouldn’t write Bristol De Mai off yet.

    Might Bite looked the real deal though — he travelled and jumped really well. He’s also won at Sandown, which cements his ability, as Kempton can be a specialist track. Another highlight was Bryony Frost winning on her first Grade One debut— the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. She’s struck up an excellent partnership with Black Corton and has a good boss in Paul Nicholls, who has kept the faith in her. Black Corton is a wonderful horse, and the result was really good for racing, as she’s a great ambassador.

    Welsh hopes

    The weather’s been causing problems again. We woke up to four or five inches of snow on 27 December — we’d been predicted wintry showers so it was a bit of shock. It’s a pain, but it’s the same for everyone.

    It meant the Welsh National meeting at Chepstow was called off, which was a shame. We were hopeful for Chase The Spud, but he should be good to go for the rescheduled race on 6 January.

    He should love the ground and trip; he has plenty of weight but he’s on good form. Paddy Brennan gets a good tune out of him and after his Haydock win in November he shouldn’t be far away.

    Our horses are still going well, and a highlight was Pauls Hill, who won at Towcester on 21 December. He was 999-1 in running, yet managed to beat the favourite by a head. The Towcester hill really came into play here. They were starting to stop in front, but he held on and managed to forge ahead. He’s owned by a local syndicate called the B Lucky Partnership, and they were that.

    Staff are vital

    It was business as usual for us over Christmas. On 23 December, we had a big owners’ morning — we were expecting around 80 people, but there were about 150 in the end. Our local pub, the Black Horse, did a good job of keeping everyone well stocked with breakfast rolls and cups of tea and it was a great atmosphere. It’s important for us to do things like this for the owners, it’s what it’s all about, especially at Christmas when people have more time off and like to bring their families. I had to dash off early to go to Haydock, where Cap Soleil won, so it was worth the trip.

    Despite the weather all our staff have come to work. We’ve said it before but they are so vital for racing. Recently the National Association of Stable Staff have been calling for free meals at all racecourses for lads. That should come in, I’m not saying it needs to be a full roast dinner, but something to eat. Most tracks do give stable staff a voucher, which is good. The rights for stable staff are improving steadily — I’ve definitely seen a change in the time I’ve been in racing. The rates of pay have risen and are good compared to other jobs. Racing does well for its lads, but more can always be done.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 4 January 2017