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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.


So near and yet so far!

Four winners on Friday took our score to 118 which is only four less than we achieved all last season.

Although we didn’t add to the total on Saturday several of the horses ran really well, most notably Movewithetimes in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury thirty five minutes after Le Mercurey performed with great credit in the Denman Chase.
I thought it was an awesome display by Movewiththetimes to run Ballyandy so close in Europe’s most valuable handicap hurdle. The pair had the race between them going to the last with the rest well beaten off. Movewiththetimes is a lovely prospect who is still learning about racing and will enjoy better ground than he encountered at Newbury. But Zubayr was undeniably disappointing in the same race on his first run since he had a little wind op. We haven’t quite found the key to him yet but we will keep trying.

While Le Mercurey is not in the Gold Cup he looks tailor made for Aintree where he has the option of the Martell Cup or the Grand National as a flat track suits him so well. We will see how how the handicapper reacts before making a decision about the National.
Le Mercurey was travelling best of all as he challenged the winner Native River going to the second last fence and kept on well on the flat. The form could look gilt edged come Gold Cup day.

Jessber’s Dream lost nothing in finishing second to Rons Dream in the Listed Mares’ race at Warwick on Saturday. She ran right up to her handicap mark and has come out of the race fine.

Full marks to Sam Twiston-Davies on Friday on reaching his fastest century of winners on Captain Buck’s at Kempton. He would have done it a great deal earlier but for missing almost two months with a spleen injury when our horses were in rampant form.
Sam was also successful the same day on Politologue who completed his countdown for Cheltenham with a bloodless victory. He was more relaxed in a first time hood, again jumped like a natural and goes straight to the JLT Chase at the Festival.

At Bangor Pacha Du Polder booked his ticket for another crack at the Foxhunters in which he was only beaten three and a half lengths last year with an inexperienced rider Victoria Pendleton in the saddle. He had a few races before Cheltenham twelve months ago to give Victoria some practise and is much fresher this time. Bryony Frost got a good tune out of Pacha Du Polder on Friday and will keep the ride at Cheltenham.

This week I am sending Saphir Du Rheu to Kelso on Thursday for the Ivan Straker Memorial Chase in which he is well treated by the conditions of entry as he escapes any penalties. Further ahead I will have plenty of entries at the weekend with Capitaine a possible for the Kingwell Hurdle.

For the latest news on my running plans please turn to my Befair column late on Friday afternoon.


Good going north of the border reaps rewards

Five winners over the weekend at Musselburgh put a spring in my step after the cards did not roll our way at Sandown on Saturday.

It took our score for the season to 114 with almost three months still to run.

Genuinely good going is hard to find at this time of year but that is we got at Musselburgh and our horses clearly relished the conditions.
That wasn’t the case at Sandown where several of our runners were found out by the heavy ground after overnight rain.
Neither Le Prezien nor Clan Des Obeaux jumped well enough in the Scilly Isles Chase. I’ll make a plan for Le Prezien while Clan Des Obeaux is likely to miss Cheltenham and have a confidence booster at a flat track on better ground in six weeks before we raise his sights again at maybe Aintree or Ayr.

Irving was another who had an off day at Sandown but Irish Saint ran really well despite the ground. With a bit of respite from the handicapper he can find a nice staying handicap, possibly at Kempton.

The news was much more positive North of the Border where Diego Du Charmil and Wonderful Charm recorded a double on Saturday before Frodon, San Benedeto and El Bandit completed the five timer yesterday.

Top marks to Harry Cobden who rode out his claim after the 75th success of his career on Diego Du Charmil in the £50,000 Scottish Champion Hurdle. He has done extremely well to reach that landmark so quickly for one so young and nothing will change now that he is unable to claim an allowance. Harry will continue to ride plenty of horses for Team Ditcheat as he joins our roster of talented senior jockeys.
Diego Du Charmil will have an entry in the County Hurdle at the Festival but he is ground dependent and wouldn’t be going to Cheltenham if the going turns soft. Another option might be the Scottish Champion Hurdle.

It was good to see Wonderful Charm get his head in front in the Hunter Chase for the first time in a while. We will try to qualify him for the Foxhunters in the next three weeks but he, too, needs good ground. Frodon is enjoying a tremendous season with five wins already this winter. He has done so well for a young horse and while he is in the JLT Chase at Cheltenham I might look for other opportunities for him including the Pendil Chase at Kempton.

San Benedeto excelled himself back in trip on a flat track on good ground in the Scottish Champion Chase. Although I’ll enter him in the Grand Annual it will probably be too soft for him at Cheltenham.

I was surprised and thrilled to see El Bandit land the Pertemps Qualifier as he wasn’t fully wound up after a break of 72 days. I am sure there is improvement to come from this prolific horse who is proving to be a rare money spinner for his three owners and is now qualified for the Pertemps Final.

This weekend we are likely to have two runners Movewiththetimes and Zubayr in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury where Le Mercurey is set to start in the Denman Chase.

For all the up to the minute news on my runners next Saturday please turn to my Betfair column late on Friday afternoon.