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Tom Symonds’ diary: Alpha is number one again

Alpha again! Alpha Way delivered once again at Taunton on Thursday. Having previously found the 2m 4f trip too far on tacky ground at Ludlow, he slayed his rivals using the most potent weapon in his expanding arsenal – his jumping. I have always said that two-mile handicap chasers often have to be the most proficient of jumpers as they can encounter the rough and tumble that are is often associated with handicaps – at great speed.

Lorna and Sue Brooke had selected the Taunton race and the more I looked at it, the more I fancied him to enjoy the tight nature of the track. As soon as they had jumped off, his rivals were struggling to gallop and jump with him. It also must be remembered that he is still in novice company, so the fact that his jumping is so efficient is a massive advantage.

In addition, his jockey Felix de Giles does a great job, which involves a semi-struggle with this tearaway but, as Lorna has always said, “Alfie just gets on with it”. Lorna has reformed this criminal, not by telling him what to do but by channeling his seemingly endless energy in the right direction by simply letting him be himself.

Life gets harder for him now. In the same way that successful people get taxed for their efforts, horses get handicapped for their success. Sadly, horses can’t escape to Monaco to avoid the handicapper, although it’s a cool idea!

Wind operation should help Trojan Sun

We are now into the second half of the season when the now handicapped horses have had their breaks and the younger horses have had time to develop. On Wednesday last week I took six horses down to the Mandown gallops in Lambourn. Bar Trojan Sun, these were all unraced. The box trip and day out is an important part of a young horse’s education.

I came away a pleased trainer. On hypothetical homework, these young horses could potentially hold their own in bumpers. They are my blank canvases to paint. Although my artistic license allows me either to produce mess or masterpiece. Whatever their abilities, I will hopefully have given them enough experience to do themselves justice in their respective bumpers.

Trojan Sun has had two races in his life. He is 18hh and his wind has always given cause for concern. After his first race for me at Huntingdon, David Mathieson from the Newbury-based practice O’Gorman Slater Main and Partners carried out an overground scope on him. This involves galloping the horse until fatigued with a scope through the nasal passage and focusing on the pharynx, or main airway junction, which also includes the larynx. So much can be heard on the confines of the gallops at home, but sometimes a wind problem doesn’t arise until the point of fatigue in racing conditions.

Trojan Sun needed his palate cauterising and a laser hobday. The first part means burning the flaccid palate (which inhibits air intake when under pressure) to make it stiff, thus stabilising it. It will therefore not move and obstruct the horse’s airway. This is the same operation recently performed on Bobs Worth and Binocular.

The second is less intrusive than the old form of a hobday. This process involves reshaping the larynx to make it more symmetrical. Having done all this and given him time to convalesce after the operation, I thought a gallop over 1m5f round the “bowl” gallop would help give him the confidence that he can now breathe more adequately.

He wore a tongue-tie and his wind sounded more silent. This was important as the lack of noise denotes a clearer airway. The horse also seemed to relax more, thus not worrying about working with a problem. We will find out more when he runs at Hereford next Wednesday.

American awards, but British (and Irish) horses

Internationally, it was fantastic to see Cape Blanco honoured at the Cartier Eclipse Awards – America’s prestigious racing awards – as top turf male performer. Three times he trekked back and forth and three times he courageously won Grade One races.

Although jumping may not be as fanatically followed in the US, there are plenty of ex-pats (equine and human) plying their trade across the pond and for good prize money. Steeple Chaser of the Year Black Jack Blues is one notable type. He was formerly successful in eight races in the UK for Rebecca Curtis and was bred by Brian Griffiths in Clifford, near Hay-On-Wye.

I grew up in this village and used to ride Welsh Mountain ponies (see photo above of me on stallion Action Man) at what is now the stud run by Brian and his wife Gwen. They have had horses with Nicky Henderson for a number of years and enjoyed a great success at Sandown recently with homebred Kells Belle in the Listed mares’ hurdle.

Somersby’s win means much to many people

Somersby’s Victor Chandler Chase win was so well deserved for a horse who has been the proverbial bridesmaid. Furthermore, Henrietta Knight returned to the Grade One scene and, fittingly, with husband Terry Biddlecombe by her side. That Terry is still with us after a recent stroke, let alone in attendance, is clearly greatly appreciated by the racing fraternity. He is a real character whose return to better health seems to have also boosted the equine inmates at West Lockinge Farm as the horses are in rude health.

Jockey Dominic Elsworth could identify with Terry as he has also bounced back from what looked to be a career-ending fall at Ffos Las in 2010.

We wait for the return of the ultra-tough AP McCoy, who seems to find Plumpton on a Monday rather more attractive than the Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados. Steve McQueen summed up the ferocious resilience of men like him, Dominic and Terry when he said, “racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting…”

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