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Ageless Zarkandar scoots to Grade 2 Victory

Doubles at Haydock and Wincanton on Saturday took our total of winners to 123 which is one more than we achieved in the whole of last season.

Everyone knows we are short of Grade 1 horses but those involved with Team Ditcheat have worked extremely hard to maintain a really good strike rate of 26 per cent. The highlight of the weekend was the excellent victory of the ageless Zarkandar in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle.
He has been a wonderful horse to train going back to the days he won the Triumph Hurdle in 2011 and he still races with bags of enthusiasm.
Zarkandar has had a few niggling problems along the way and we took the opportunity to re cauterise his soft palate since his last run.
It was only a minor operation and I am honestly not sure if it made any difference because it wasn’t the strongest of Grade 2 races on Saturday.
Zarkandar is ten now but you would not have known it from the way he galloped clear in the closing stages. Next up for him is the stayers hurdle at Cheltenham.

While Aux Ptits Soins needs to jump better I was encouraged by the way he kept on well in the closing stages to finish second. He is highly likely to go to Aintree now.

Wonderful Charm won for the second time this month to book his place in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham provided the ground is not soft.

At Wincanton it was encouraging to see Persian Delight and Dreamcatching both took a step forward to record their first victories over hurdles.
Topofthegame ran another highly promising race at Ascot where he was only just touched off by a smart ex Flat horse. He will probably have one more race over hurdles but he is built for chasing and that is what he will be doing next season. He has the size and potential to be very exciting over fences.

Back at Haydock Vicente found the ground a bit too tacky for his liking. We have trained him all year with Aintree in mind and the National remains his target.

This coming weekend we will have plenty of entries at Kempton with San Benedeto, Frodon and As De Mee all possibles for the Pendil Novices’ Chase while Capitaine is pencilled in for the Dovecote Hurdle.
I’ve also confirmed three horses Irish Saint, Caid du Berlais and Southfield Theatre for the £100,000 BetBright Chase and will decide which of them runs nearer the time. The following day I am thinking of sending Adrien Du Pont to Fontwell for the National Spirit Hurdle.

For all the latest news on my weekend runners please turn to my Betfair column late on Friday afternoon.


Zarkandar rolls back the years

A week that involves a trip to my beloved Fontwell and boasts a Saturday with four winners is never going to be a bad one so this week was really quite good.

On the racecourse, the Grade 2 winning Zarkandar was the absolute highlight, rolling back the years with a smooth success reminiscent of him in his pomp a few seasons back. Zarkandar is now a little longer in the tooth at this stage, but at Haydock on Saturday under a fine ride from Harry Cobden he showed that form may be temporary but class is indeed permanent.

Elsewhere this week the infamous Stan Sheppard was Dreamcatching round Wincanton, our very own Matt Hampton rode a point to pointing double at Buckfastleigh, Saphir Du Rheu hosed up at Kelso putting in a good round of jumping, while the loveable Topofthegame ran a superb race in defeat at Ascot.

Question Time

So for a while now I’ve been thinking of a question and answer type scenario for my blog and I decided this week I should bite the bullet and do it. I asked people to send me questions about the yard and I’m going to answer some that I think people I will be interested in hearing about.

Thank you for all your responses everyone, and as I say this is a bit of an experiment so I hope you enjoy it. Here goes.

First question is from Mike Newell asking: “can you explain a little on how the yard gears up for Chelters over the next 3 weeks. What changes? Routines?

Not a great deal changes really Mike, the horses generally have their set routines through the season and leading up to Cheltenham it’s just a case of doing our best to keep our team sound and healthy. We strive to leave no stone unturned so if a horse needs an extra schooling session or slightly more work leading up to their big targets then we cater for that. Paul always says it’s about getting them to Cheltenham ready to run for their lives not having left it all on the gallops.

Second question is from Jack Reid who asked: “what’s your best chance of a festival winner?”

I’d like to think we’ve got a number of nice chances but a horse I really like is Brio Conti. He is due to run in the conditional jockeys’ race on the Friday with Harry Cobden aboard. Having a jockey with the experience of Harry on in a race like that is a huge positive and Brio is young, unexposed improving horse who we believe in. I like him and think he has the ability to do well.

Question three comes from Matt Thomas who asked: “Is Chameron set fair for the Fred Winter?”

For those of you who aren’t aware of Chameron he is a four-year-old who joined us before Christmas having won two valuable prizes in Auteuil in the Autumn. He won’t be going to the Festival this year, in fact we are currently training him with the intention of going back to France later in the spring. He is a nice horse who has taken time to acclimatise so we haven’t rushed him. We are looking at him as a long term prospect, who we like.

Lucy Harrison has the next question and it goes like this: “Hi Harry, which horse isn’t a morning person? Also who is the most mischievous/gets up to no good?!”

In terms of which horse isn’t great early doors then Le Mercurey would probably take the prize for grumpiest in the morning, he spends most of his days either sleeping or eating and I don’t envy Rose Loxton who has to try and brush him every evening. Without doubt mr mischievous is the little wonder that is Frodon. There’s not a day that goes by where he isn’t squealing or trying to run away with his regular rider Holley Evans, he’s the most hilarious horse and everyone loves him for his personality, he’s fondly known as Frodatron.

I’ll do two more as I’m aware there’s a strong possibility I’ve lost most of my audience at this stage, Karen Colleran asked me: “Are they any horses who have yet to run this season that you are excited about?”

Mont can reach the peak

We currently have a four-year-old full brother to Le Prezien who goes by the name of Mont Des Avaloir, he is a good looking young horse who seems to do everything we ask of him pretty nicely. Mont is well built and looks to have plenty of scope, as with our bumper horses we will plan to run him in the spring and build upwards after that. Hopefully he’ll have a good future.

So there we have it, my first question and answer and I hoped you enjoyed it. I’ve chosen to ignore the questions on whether Paul has Dominos on speed dial or if he spends his evenings in a hot tub drinking champagne, and yes Mr Chambers, Capitaine could well run in the Supreme, you might catch up with him at Kempton first though.

Before I check out for the week I’ll leave you with this thought, last seasons tally of winners at the end of the year came to 126, Dreamcatching’s victory bought up our 123rd for the season, signifying the horses continue to be in excellent form. Long may it continue.

Have a good week all.


Sheepish Sam suppresses his smile of success

Boa Island is wandering round the paddock along with six other three-mile chasers waiting to gallop round Newbury and Paul’s team, including me, are stood in the paddock waiting for Sam’s arrival, an affair that is usually a happy exchange of well-planned thoughts and ideas on the race ahead

This encounter was going to be different however as Sam wandered over to us desperately trying to hide his sheepish smile, a smile that told the tale of victory in the Betfair Hurdle aboard Ballyandy. He probably knew this wasn’t going to be the warmest of welcomes! Now, on a normal day I’d be thrilled when Sam rides a winner but when our Movewiththetimes had just failed by less than a length to overhaul Sam’s mount it was hard to be exalted for him.

As the bell rang to leg him up we stood patiently waiting for Boa to come around so Sam could hop on him, we stood in silence, me frustrated he’d beaten us and he desperately trying not to find the situation hilarious. Of course I was pleased for Sam, but when you miss out in a huge race like that initially it’s a little raw, but Movie ran his heart out and no doubt he’ll have some huge days ahead.

Twister’s ton up a cause for celebration

Just twenty four hours before our awkward paddock silence we helped celebrate Sam’s 100th winner of the season aboard the determined Captain Buck’s at Kempton and just an hour later followed it up with another one on Politilogue.

A hundred winners in a season is a special achievement whoever you are and knowing Sam it certainly won’t be the last time he raises his bat, indeed his ambition and humility is incredibly unique and he is a guy that is only going one way.

Lack of on-board beer fridge fails to dampen Rob’s spirits

Elsewhere, this week has been a week of great excitement for a certain member of team Nicholls, the man in question going by the name of Rob Lee, gallop man, Somerset’s strongest man and the longest driver of a golf ball never to play on the European tour. The reason for the excitement is the order of a brand spanking new tractor. As you can imagine with gallops to harrow, muck heaps to rearrange and fields to cut or chain harrow, ‘Neil the New Holland’ doesn’t have many quiet days and with the recent addition of a new gallop the work load for ‘Neil’ is starting to take its toll.

Prior to this week I was a firm believer that the only things that got Rob’s heart rate going were a mixed grill or when a well-struck five iron held its line, but it turns out a tractor revs his engine much more. While I couldn’t accommodate his request for chrome spinners and a drinks fridge, the new tractor even to a non-agricultural type like me looks pretty damn smart and I like Rob am looking forward to Nelly’s arrival in May.

Busy weekend offers excitement

Well, in the interest of the barrel and not wanting to scrape it too much, I’m going to checkout for this week, it’s been a cold and quiet one but productive all the same and, as we relentlessly roll onto another week of the season, we do so optimistic of some nice chances over the weekend.

Among our 35 entries for the weekend is the progressive Clic Work, hugely talented Arpege D’Alene, and the fascinating Aux Ptits Soins who is switching back to hurdles after a perplexing effort over the larger obstacles last month. There is potential for a big run from our giant friend the gorgeous Topofthegame while Capitaine could add a little spice to an intriguing Kingwell



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