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Black Corton continues to surprise

Black Corton and Posh Trish were the headline acts for Team Ditcheat at Cheltenham’s three day meeting with several more of our horses running really well in defeat.

It was good to end the week back on top of the trainers’ table with 60 winners at a decent strike rate of 28 per cent with almost £800,000 in prize money. It means that we are currently on course to meet the targets set by my head lad Clifford Baker and myself at the start of the season.

I admit to being astonished by the improvement shown by Black Corton since he won his first chase at Fontwell back in June.
He just gets better and better and after his latest brilliant success on Saturday, beating two highly rated horses, he will be raised to a mark close to 160 which is higher than Denman in his days as a novice chaser. When Black Corton started over fences I never thought he’d achieve as much as he has but he has forged a great partnership with Bryony Frost and keeps surprising me. She is a very talented and hard working rider who keeps things simple and he jumps for fun, is still improving and looks fabulous for a horse who has been on the go for so long.
I’ve always felt that when a horse is in form and on a roll then there is no point in putting them away. Black Corton has now earned his place in the Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and can have a break after that before being trained for the RSA at the Festival.

I was thrilled with Posh Trish who justified my faith in her with a decisive victory in the mares’ bumper on Saturday.
There is so much to like about Posh Trish who won her only point-to-point in Ireland and has the size, scope and attitude to do well over hurdles and fences. At this stage I’m not sure whether to keep her to bumpers or switch her to novice hurdles as she has always schooled smartly at home. It’s a nice dilemma to have.

On Friday Movewiththetimes again shaped with great promise over fences in finishing a close second to the highly-rated Finian’s Oscar. There is much more to come from him.

A day later Vicente came tantalisingly close to winning the long distance chase on ground that he has never enjoyed. A little mistake at the last probably cost him the race but he was flying at the finish and would have caught Perfect Candidate in a couple more strides.

Le Prezien was another to shine in finishing third in the BetVictor Gold Cup. A mistake at the first fence rather put him on the back foot but he warmed to the task and was keeping on well at the line. With any luck Le Prezien should be winning a decent prize this winter.
Romain de Senam, who finished tired in fifth, failed to get home in the extremely testing conditions. I will freshen him up and bring him back to Cheltenham next month for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup which is usually run on much better ground on the New course.

I don’t have too much to send to Haydock next weekend but San Benedeto and Marracudja could run in the valuable handicap chase at Ascot on Saturday and I could also take Dolos and Frodon to Ascot.

For all the up to date news on my runners on Saturday please be sure to check out my regular Betfair column early on Friday evening.


Present Man serves up 8th Badger Ales Trophy

A big race double at Wincanton took my score at my local track to 350 winners since I started training in 1991.

We’ve enjoyed so many top days there down the years and the success of Present Man in the Badger Ales Chase was up there with the best of them. Seeing him triumph in the colours of his joint owner Mark Woodhouse, who is the chairman of the race sponsors Hall & Woodhouse, was the culmination of an eighteen month project. I remember ringing him suggesting he buy the horse who had always shown promise despite taking an age to get the hang of things. One day, I suggested, Present Man might improve sufficiently to earn his place in the line up for the Badger Ales Trophy.
Long terms plans in jump racing don’t always come off but I was thrilled for everyone involved that this one did as Present Man became my eighth winner of the race. While I knew he would go in the ground I was worried about him getting the trip as the going turned softer by the minute.
But he looked outstanding in the paddock, travelled and jumped beautifully and was given a brilliant, intelligent ride by Bryony Frost who controlled things in front and kept enough up her sleeve for the finish. I might look at the Ladbroke Trophy Chase (formerly the Hennessy) for him next provided he squeezes into the race with the help of a 5lbs penalty. Further ahead I’m already looking forward to running Present Man in the Grand National. It is the obvious target for him.

I was also pleased with Southfield Theatre keeping on to finish fourth on his first run of the season but I’m afraid Mr Mix had one of his moody days and sulked. I am not convinced he wants the ground so testing.

Earlier Modus had given Team Ditcheat our tenth success in the Grade 2 Rising Stars Chase with a fluent display of jumping. The faster they went the better he jumped. He is one of several smart novices we have for chasing this season. His victory prompted someone to post a tweet asking which were the best two novices we’ve produced from the yard. I was amused by one answer which nominated Dan Skelton and Harry Fry! It wasn’t a bad suggestion considering that Dan enjoyed a double on Saturday while Harry did even better with a treble.

Nor should we forget Tom Jonason who left eighteen months ago after six years as my assistant to pursue a career in commerce. I cannot speak too highly of Tom, a lovely lad who was an integral part of our team for a number of years and had a great attitude. He was never going to train so I am thrilled to hear that he has just been appointed head of business development at Weatherbys Bank after a spell working for Racing FX.

Politologue got our week off to a perfect start on Tuesday with a superb victory in the valuable Haldon Gold Cup from his stable mate San Benedeto who almost certainly put up a career best performance. Politologue looked every inch a top class chaser before tiring slightly on the run-in which didn’t surprisingly surprise me as he came in a few weeks later than most of our horses.
He settles a bit better now he is more experienced and runs next in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown while San Benedeto might appear next in a valuable handicap at Ascot.

Jumping is the name of the game and we had a couple of reverses, too, with Topofthegame tipping up at Newbury in midweek at the cross fence when travelling strongly and Mont Des Avaloirs an unlucky faller in front at the final flight on his hurdles debut at Wincanton. They were both fine afterwards and will have plenty more schooling before they run again.

This weekend we will be taking a strong team to Cheltenham with Le Prezien and Romain de Senam likely contenders for the BetVictor Chase while Old Guard and Amour de Nuit are pencilled in for the Greatwood Hurdle.

For all the latest news of our weekend runners please turn to my Betfair column on Friday evening.


Malaya shines at Wetherby

I was delighted to see Malaya bring up our fiftieth winner of the season at Wetherby on Friday in the Wensleydale Hurdle.

She is a smart juvenile, and had improved for her debut in this country at Chepstow behind Gumball, another decent French recruit, where she was a bit keen and carried two penalties. I do think a lot of her but don’t have any firm plans for the moment.

Sametegal ran a cracker at Wetherby on his return from a break of more than six hundred days. He might head to Aintree next month for the Grand Sefton.

Saturday turned out to be a frustrating day at Ascot where rain on watered ground wasn’t ideal for several of ours that want good going.
Most of them still ran well with Marracudja, who finished third in the Byrne Group Chase, hinting that he is now ready for a step up in trip and the highly progressive Braqueur d’Or keeping on well to be third in the £100,000 Sodexo Gold Cup after being slightly out of his ground at half-way. He has done nothing but improve since joining us in the spring and will have a well earned break sooner rather than later though he does have an entry in the Ladbroke Gold Cup, formerly the Hennessy.

Copain De Classe was another to run well at Ascot without winning. Chasing was always going to be his game and he looked a natural over the fences on Saturday and seemed set to win before just failing to last home over two miles, three furlongs. Although it is just possible he needed the run I’m inclined to think that he wants to go back to two miles. He should win plenty of races.

This weekend we will have plenty of entries at Aintree and my local track Wincanton where Present Man is on course for a crack at the Badger Ales Chase provided the ground doesn’t go soft.

For all the latest news on my runners at the weekend please turn to my Betfair column early on Friday evening.