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About: Paul Nicholls Racing

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Cheltenham gone but memories live on

Well, it is all over for another year, the crowds and excitement of Cheltenham have once again graced us with their presence, battered us with the brutality of its competitiveness and given a million reasons to smile by the end of the week.

As I said in the last instalment of the blog, good, bad or indifferent Cheltenham provides us with days to remember and for the four that have just passed us by they are days I will remember with fond memories. Our horses ran with credit and a lot of them up to their very best. There were some truly heart-warming performances along the way from the old faithful and the centre of jump racing once again did not disappoint.

The highlight of our week, of course, was the 1-2 result in the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ Chase on the final day with Pacha Du Polder providing Bryony Frost with a day to remember and Wonderful Charm following her home. For me though Bryony deserves huge credit for a ride of real nerve and pin-point accurate execution.

Brilliant Bryony excels on Pacha

Paul told her the plan and she stuck to it magnificently, slipping up the inside of Derek O’Connor turning for home and driving her mount all the way up the hill. It was fantastic stuff and lovely to see Pacha have his day in the sun after spending all winter hunting brilliantly with the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale, he really is a gem of a horse and one we are all very fond of.

Elsewhere at Cheltenham, Bouvreuil once again enhanced his already excellent Festival record when finishing third in the two-and-a-half mile handicap, Arpege D’Alene ran on well to snatch fourth in the four miler. Politilogue ran a blinder to finish close behind a classy JLT first trio and Saphir Du Rheu made us all so proud to snatch fifth beaten only five & half lengths in the Gold Cup.

Saphir left us all thrilled on Friday and, travelling down the hill there was genuine excitement in our camp. However, for us it was the satisfaction and confirmation he is capable of running in those top class races. Beforehand his reputation has always been slightly bigger than his performances, but he ran a brilliant race on Friday and we are all looking forward to the Grand National now where, all being well, he will take his chance.

It is now Monday evening and, after a double at Taunton today, my spirits are good as I’m thrilled to return to a smaller local track, but also happy with how our weekend played out.

Brio Conti justified all our faith in him when bolting in on Saturday at Kempton, in the process pencilling in a possible tilt at a Grade One at Aintree in three weeks time. He is a horse we have thought a lot of for some time and happily patience is being rewarded and things are all falling into place for him now.

Dear friend Dodge bows out in one piece

Now, forgive me for being sentimental, but there is only one way this blog is going now and that is to talk about my dear friend Dodging Bullets, who as the curtain was pulled down over Cheltenham in the Grand Annual so to was the curtain pulled down on his career after pulling up.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, which by now I sincerely hope everyone is, then you’ll know of my passion and love for Dodging Bullets, you’ll know I’ve ridden him basically on and off for around five seasons and over that time he has become as close as a horse could become to a human.

Now I’d love to say Dodge and I saw eye-to-eye from day one, however this was simply not the case, far from it in fact. Day one in the relationship was at best terrifying and at worst something much ruder. You see I had hardly been on Dodge for five minutes on our first day together when he decided to take dead aim at a flat-head trailer in what can only be described as a manic gallop.

Fortunately for me and Dodge, a stride before impact he saw sense and alarmingly came to the conclusion galloping the other way down the road would be a much better plan. I should have known then he was not going to be plain sailing.

I’ve described Dodge in many ways over the years depending on how my humour was. The more industrial language employed when I wasn’t particularly in the mood for an hour’s worth of jig-jogging, sweating and anything else that seemed like great sport to him. However, to be fair to him for all of his life his enthusiasm has been nothing short of remarkable.

Ears forward, head up and strut along you could see him coming a mile off.

Much more than just a racehorse

In my view, Dodge was never about the Tingle Creek he won or the Clarence House or the Champion Chase, because to me he was so much more than just a racehorse. Dodge is an animal for whom I care deeply about, a close friend who I’d stand by whatever anyone ever said about him or however his behaviour might have been for the day.

He was the sweaty mess who so often ran his race beforehand that turned into a Champion for one glorious year.

When I gave up riding, there was a time when I was a person with no direction or clue of what to do next.

I have never really spoken of this, but I’m sure Paul and Dodge have a huge part to play in the direction my life has taken since. Paul was aware of my love for Dodging Bullets and when I stopped riding he put me on him at home every day. He would always ask me how he was and through my relationship with that horse, my fire was reignited once again.

To most racing fans Dodging Bullets will wander off into history as a moderate winner of a Champion Chase but, to us here at Ditcheat, he will go into retirement a horse we will never forget, for his personality, his spirit and his infectious zest for being a racehorse.

Life will now slow for Dodge as he winds down ready to spend the rest of his life with the person who loves him above anybody else in Lucy Sharp who has looked after him since day one. With Lucy he has a home for life and by God he deserves it.

If I’m lucky, then my life will be forever involved in horse racing and with hard work and some good fortune many good days are ahead of me. However, I shouldn’t imagine many will top that Wednesday in March a few years ago when Dodge won his Champion Chase, a day where words wouldn’t come close to describing my pride.

Over the years he has made me hurt from jogging and pulling, frustrated for quite frankly being a pain in the neck and tested my patience to the absolute limits, but through all that he has made me a better person.

Most horses come and go through your life and, while you can build a relationship with them, as time passes those memories fade. Not this guy, this is a horse which I will love and remember for all of my life. Even when I write about him now I’m smiling because I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with such a special and unique horse.

Thank you Dodge, for all that you’ve done for Paul, your wonderful owners, Sir Martin Broughton and friends, and what wonderful friends they all are, for the way you’ve been the centre of Lucy’s world for years and will be for years to come. Thank you for giving Sam his first Champion Chase, a day I know he will never forget, but above all thank you from me.

Thanks for pricking your ears every time I shout your name across the yard, thanks for pulling my arms out everyday up the gallop, thanks for sweating so much in mid winter I had to wash you in warm water every day and thank you for being a reason to smile every single day I rode you.

To me you’re a one in a billion and I love you dearly, thanks old man, I wish you a very happy and healthy retirement, you damn well deserve it.

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One Two in the Foxhunters

We saved the best for last at Cheltenham with Pacha Du Polder leading home Wonderful Charm in a one two for Team Ditcheat in the St James’s Place Foxhunters on Friday.

There wasn’t much in it at the line with Bryony Frost and Pacha Du Polder just holding the strong challenge of Wonderful Charm and Katie Walsh by a neck. To win any race at the Festival is brilliant particularly when you realise only nine horses from this country managed to do it this year with the Irish utterly dominant over the four days. I am proud to say that Pacha Du Polder was my 41st winner at the meeting since I started training which puts me third in the all time list one ahead of Fulke Walwyn. I have also had at least one success at the Festival for each of the past fifteen years.

It could not have happened on Friday without an exceptional ride from Bryony who, like me, started out hunting and Point-to-Pointing. Her dad Jimmy cut his teeth in Point-to-Points before famously winning the Grand National on Little Polvoir and his parents were also keen hunting people while training in Devon. Bryony works really hard as my pupil assistant and it was great to see a keen young rider like her win such a famous old race.
Pacha Du Polder is a proper hunter chaser, too. He is not as good as he was as he showed when failing to win in a couple of runs in handicaps. But he has enjoyed himself all winter out hunting with the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale hounds. Pacha Du Polder’s owner Andy Stewart, like me, likes nothing better than giving young riders a chance on his horses and Bryony certainly repaid our faith in her on Friday. Horse and rider will now tackle the Foxhunters at Aintree while Wonderful Charm is on course for the Grand National where he will again be ridden by Katie Walsh.

Andy and his family were also thrilled with the excellent run of Saphir Du Rheu into a close fifth in the Gold Cup. He has come out of the race in good shape and will be of my five runners in the National.

It was pleasing to end a tough week at Cheltenham on an upbeat note. We knew we lacked Grade 1 stars going to the meeting but several ran right up to form including Bouvreuil who most likely goes next in the Topham Chase at Aintree. Politologue didn’t seem get home in the JLT Chase and we are thinking of dropping him back to two miles and riding him more aggressively.

While Nicky Henderson now holds a clear lead in the trainers’ championship after a rewarding four days at the Festival I have plenty of horses to run over the final six weeks and will be doing my best to hold onto my title. Nicky has a very strong team and will be hard to beat. But just like twelve months ago when Willie Mullins looked a huge threat I’ll be targeting the big meetings at Aintree, Ayr, and Sandown in the belief that I can give Nicky a run for his money, which started with Brio Conti‘s impressive win at Kempton on Saturday.

Retirement

Dodging Bullets has run his last race after again failing to show any sparkle before he was pulled up by Noel Fehily in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham on Friday. He will be joined in retirement by Rocky Creek who has also been on a downward curve this season after promising so much earlier in his career.

Dodging Bullets was an absolute star for us a couple of years ago during an amazing spell when he won three Grade 1’s including the Queen Mother Champion Chase. But he has never shown the same level of form since a persistent splint problem kept him off the track for several months last winter. His last run at Cheltenham on Friday convinced us that it was time to call it a day with him. Dodging Bullets has had his problems and his jockey Noel Fehily felt that he was always on the back foot on Friday, not really attacking his fences. He has struggled all season, not really enjoying his racing, so the sensible thing is to retire him now. The good news is that Dodging Bullets has been given to Lucy Sharp who lives a couple of miles from here and has always looked after him. Hopefully he will have a long and happy retirement with her.

Rocky Creek is also going to a good home as he has been given to Millie Orttewell who rides out for us and can’t wait to take him hunting again.
On his day Rocky was extremely talented as he showed in winning the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot in 2013 and the BetBright Chase at Kempton two years later. Those days have become few and far between in recent times and while Rocky bounced back with a spirited victory at Sandown towards the end of last year he has become increasingly disappointing in his most recent races so it is best to stop now.

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Festival fever builds

All the talk in the yard recently has been about Cheltenham so it was a big blow to discover that Movewiththetimes was slightly lame behind after a routine canter yesterday (Sun) morning.

It looks like he has pulled a muscle and while it is not serious it is enough to force him out of the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the first race of the meeting on Tuesday. I am really gutted as Movewiththetimes has been so good over hurdles and looked to have one of our best chances of the week. With a bit of luck he could be back in time for Aintree or Punchestown. If not then he is one to look forward to next season.

With dry weather forecast over the next few days the better ground should suit the majority of our team which could stretch to nineteen or twenty runners over the four days. While we we lack genuine Grade 1 contenders for the championship races we are taking a number of horses to the Festival with each way chances if the dice rolls our way. One I fancied on the opening day was Romain de Senam in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase, but unfortunately he was balloted out of the race which is hugely disappointing given that conditions at the track are ideal for him.

For the up to date news on all my runners at the Festival please turn to my Betfair column late each afternoon on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

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