We head to the Cheltenham Festival with all guns blazing after another brilliant week spearheaded by Malaya’s superb victory in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.
With fourteen winners over the past twelve days the horses could hardly be in better form and my lead over Nicky Henderson at the top of the trainers’ table is now almost £540,000.
A double at Exeter on Tuesday was followed by a treble 48 hours later at Wincanton. All five are smart young hurdlers whose best days lie ahead.
On Saturday it was the turn of Malaya to shine at Sandown. It was great to see her bounce back in style after a tough first half of the season when she fell on her first two starts. On the first occasion she had run very well in a Grade 1 race at Auteuil and would have been fourth but for coming down heavily at the final flight. That form gave her big claims in the Imperial Cup which has been her target for some time. With a light weight on testing ground that suits her so well I thought she had a serious chance as her schooling had been good since she ran a race full of promise recently at Ascot. Despite flattening the second last in the Imperial Cup she came through to challenge Monsieur Lecoq after the final flight, led 80 yards out and kept on strongly to win readily. But for that mistake I thinks Malaya would have trotted up. We will see how she comes out of the race before deciding in midweek whether she goes for the bonus of £100,000 if she can complete the double in the County Hurdle on Friday.
If she is fine on Wednesday morning then we have nothing to lose as a 5lbs penalty ensures that she will make the cut.
Silver Forever came tantalisingly close to giving us a double at Sandown before being caught in the last few strides of the Mares bumper final. She is a proper mare, another really exciting prospect for hurdles next season.
More immediately Team Ditcheat is fully focused on the Cheltenham where we expect to have around 25 runners over the four days. I think this is the best squad we have assembled for the Festival for quite a few years. And for the latest news on my running plans please be sure to read my Betfair column which goes live at around 5pm each afternoon.