From Alpha to Omega! Thursday 17th November will be a day that I will never forget. It was the day that Alpha Way gave the team at Dason Court our first taste of training success.
There were so many reasons as to why he was such an appropriate winner. As I have said before, Lorna Brooke and I were at prep school together and I have known her family for a long time. It was great to achieve a winner for them – and at our local track. I can still remember backing their hunter chaser at 12-1 at Hereford in 1995 – a right touch for a 10-year-old boy!
Back to Alpha Way – Lorna must be given a lot of credit as she deals with this equine pariah. “Alfie” is something of a handful at times but Lorna knows him back to front and has learned how to curb his mindless enthusiasm. Jockey Felix De Giles did exactly what was appropriate for a horse of this nature. It was a question of when the horse was going to get tired – and I thought he was – but he put in a tremendous leap at the open ditch. The race then fell apart behind him so he coasted home, leaving me with a sense of shocked, disbelieving relief!
Felix is a tremendously skilled rider and again we learned our trade together at Nicky Henderson’s yard. In addition, our new sponsors Hereford Forklift Trucks (HFT) had a corporate day, so we introduced ourselves to a boxful of people and promptly told them that our bumper horse had a better chance than Alpha Way!
I live by the maxim that if you expect nothing you may get something, but if you expect something then you probably get nothing! I believed that Alpha Way was in the right race and that he had the ability to win. However, his keen nature can be detrimental to his chances, especially on his first outing for a while.
It has been difficult to get winners early on as a lot of our horses are young and don’t have handicap ratings. If all our inmates were very good horses then handicap marks wouldn’t be so important, but in order to get a limited horse to be competitive in a race, then they should be running against horses of similar talent. In a normal novice race you could be meet the next potential superstar at level weights, so your chances of winning are very slim.
I could do with a few more like Alfie who are ready to run in races against horses who they have a realisitic chance of beating. One never knows how much a horse can improve.
We arrived back to the yard to find long-time family friend and Venetia Williams’ linchpin Shirley Vickery with two bottles of champagne, so we added a few to the stash and celebrations commenced. This is where it gets worrying, as I can only just about remember doing a Radio 5Live interview with Mick Fitzgerald and Clive Smith about Saturday’s Betfair Chase. Celebrate the success as there are plenty of disappointments, and we now continue our quest for winners!
What terrific racing last weekend
What followed Thursday’s racing at Hereford was two cracking days of sport at Ascot and Haydock.
Nicky Henderson’s Simonsig looked as good as his reputation suggested he would be and Broadbackbob, from the same yard, gave longtime owner Anthony Speelman a broad smile. Fittingly, Simonsig could well end up contesting the race his owner sponsors at Cheltenham – the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Saturday gave us a spectacle rarely witnessed anywhere other than Cheltenham. The scenes at 3:12pm in and around the paddock at Haydock show us what a great sport we revel in. What Kauto Star and his team achieved on Saturday was something extraordinary. It gave way to overwhelming and emotionally-driven veneration of this outstanding warrior. If Steven Spielberg can achieve this in his forthcoming film then give him his Oscar right now!
I watched from Huntingdon and when Kauto walked into the winner’s enclosure the whole place erupted with clapping. It was exactly what racing, enshrouded in whip debates and prize money and fixture issues, needed. It is – and always will be – all about the horse. Long Run ran well in a race that he clearly needed and battled on hard. I can hear Nicky saying that “the Gold Cup is in March and not November” and that while “the battle is lost, the war is yet to be won!”
The admirable Overturn continued his purloining of big races – Flat or jumps. Although he fell, Oscar Whisky was running a good race on his return but Overturn is notoriously tough to pass and his previous race fitness gave him the edge. Overturn has a touch of Sea Pigeon about him, so who knows what might happen come March.
Master Minded certainly looked like he had improved since Aintree and his jumping was back to the efficient, slick and fast method of old.
A big runner for us on Saturday
Exciting times are in store for jump fans with the Hennessey meeting at the end of the week. Duc De Regniere is going to run in the race that he won in 2008, the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle. I have been riding him out for the best part of four-and-a-half years and it was a real confidence booster that his owners, Sir Peter and Lady Gibbings, have entrusted me with their prized possession. He is a real character and it’s lovely to have with me here as I feel the change of scenery has done him good.
He will be difficult to place because he is so highly rated, so we can but try our best against the best. People have often suggested that he is a good yardstick to have, but while he is great to lead babies, he doesn’t work like a horse rated 150+ and never has! There is a reason why he went off at 8-1 for his debut at Newbury in December 2006! He would be the best of poker players.
I am looking forward to seeing him run as we have had some great times and his owners have been very patient, so it would be wonderful to get him back to something like his best. Provided he comes out of Saturday in good form then there is always the option of going over fences with him. Big Buck’s maybe the best staying hurdler for many years but “Duc” has the edge over him on chase wins – a versatile horse indeed and one that I hope does himself and all of us justice on Saturday.