It was another revealing weekend of racing — a girls’ Saturday and a Paul Nicholls’ walkover at his local track Wincanton on 10 November.
Nicholls’ five-timer on the day says it all — the yard is flying and so is his young jockey Bryony Frost, who rode yet another big-race winner for the Ditcheat team.
For the second year running, Bryony and Present Man served up plenty to celebrate in the Badger Ales Trophy. This long-standing Wincanton sponsor has seen many good chasers win their race and their own Present Man justified all the local support.
The girl power continued in the form of the Nicky Henderson-trained Verdana Blue in the Unibet Elite Hurdle. This cracking mare showed a clean pair of heels to If The Cap Fits, one of last season’s top novice hurdlers. The disappointment of the race was We Have A Dream — another top novice last season — and this highly-rated gelding might just struggle this winter judging by his Wincanton performance.
There is so much to admire about Verdana Blue, and she has the Henderson team dreaming of some glory days ahead that might mean a trip Down Under for the Melbourne Cup. Mind you, she will need to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March before that.
Aintree on Saturday, 10 November was a slightly disappointing card by their high standards. Only two horses made it to the start of the three-mile novices’ chase. We should have had Red River in it, but he annoyingly banged his leg and had to miss that race and another on Monday (12 November).
People are becoming concerned about the lack of runners in novices’ chases. Well, please don’t, because we trainers are keen to get our horses started, but it doesn’t always go to plan.
My close neighbour and fellow trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, had a good winner up at Aintree with his staying hurdler Wholestone — he is a horse worth following this winter.
In a brave move, Harry Whittington sent his yard flag bearer, Saint Calvados, to Naas to take on Footpad on Saturday and they came away with a well-deserved win.
Footpad, who won last season’s Arkle Chase, did not jump well and paid the price when falling at the last. However, the result was never in doubt — Whittington’s horse was home and hosed by then.
Sunday at Sandown (11 November) saw another deserved winner in the 188Bet Pete The Feat Veterans’ Chase in Loose Chips. Jump-racing folk love these veterans’ races, watching their old mates season after season. These races are a real winner with both the public and trainers alike.
The jump season ramps up another notch this weekend with Cheltenham hosting their big three-day November meeting (17-18 November). The Countryside Day on Friday has grown out of recognition and sets the standard for the whole three days — racing to savour.
Just one footnote, back anything trained by Philip Hobbs — 10 winners last week, the team are on fire.
Ref Horse & Hound; 15 November 2018