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Red letter day

Monday was a Red Letter Day for Team Ditcheat as we set a new record for the number of winners trained here in one season.

We began the afternoon on a score of 155 which matched our best previous total in 2008-09.

The stylish victory of Dolos in the NH Novice Hurdle at Chepstow moved us on to 156 before the impressive triumph of If You Say Run in the closing bumper put us on 157 winners for this campaign. The horses have been in great form apart from a little blip in the first six weeks of the year and I was always hopeful of reaching a figure of 150. I relish the challenge of setting new targets and am now looking to kick on towards a figure of around 170 winners by the end of the final day at Sandown on Saturday week. We have plenty of horses to run before then and plenty to celebrate as they have already won almost £2,250,00 in prize money for their owners which is not a bad achievement given our shortage of Grade 1 horses. In addition this is the fifteenth consecutive season we have passed the mark of £2 million in prize money.

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Previous season best matched

A double at Plumpton on Sunday took our score for the season to 155 which matches our best total set in 2008-09.

First to strike was Peak To Peak in the opening novice hurdle before Tommy Silver bounced back to form by winning the £21,896 Sussex Champion Hurdle, the richest race ever run at the track. He could well be out again quickly.

It is great to see the team continuing in good form going into the final fortnight of the season and we will be having some interesting runners this week at Cheltenham, Ayr and Wincanton.

Marracudja is among those heading to Cheltenham in midweek while Vicente, Arpege D’Alene and Vivaldi Collonges are all pencilled in for the Scottish Grand National on Saturday and I could run a couple in the Scottish Champion Hurdle on the same day.
Warriors Tale is another heading to Ayr at the weekend as we look add a few more winners to our tally before the final day of the campaign at Sandown on Saturday, April 29.

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Impossible Task?

A treble on Sunday took our score for the season to 152, so we are bang on course to beat our best total of 155 set in 2008-09.

In many ways we have had an amazing season but my hopes of retaining the trainers’ title are all but over after an eventful three days at Aintree’s Grand National meeting where results did not go our way.

While I have plenty of horses to run in the final three weeks the fact is that Nicky Henderson holds a lead of around £320, 000 and that is a bit too much of an advantage to turn around. A year ago we managed to turn around a sizeable deficit (£180k) after leaving Aintree trailing badly behind Willie Mullins. This time though, it looks beyond our grasp. I knew at the start of the season that we were seriously short of genuine Grade 1 horses, the types that decide championships, so to have got as close as we have has been quite an achievement by Team Ditcheat. The horses remain in top form with a strike rate of around 26 percent but as Sir Alex Ferguson has assured me on several occasions you cannot win the Premier League without Premier players.

Some novices like Frodon and San Benedeto have been absolute superstars by stepping up to the mark. They have each won six time times with San Benedeto’s latest triumph in the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase on Saturday the high spot of the meeting for us. While I suspect he would have been second if Politologue had not come down several strides after the final fence. Politologue didn’t deserve to fall after winging the fence, I loved the way he travelled and jumped back at two miles and look forward to campaigning him over that trip next season, maybe starting in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter.

We will monitor San Benedeto over the next fortnight before deciding whether to run him one last time in the Celebration Chase at Sandown on the final day of the season. Although he loves the prevailing conditions and seems in great form I am conscious that he has run and won twice in the past week at the end of a busy campaign.

I’m pleased to report that all our National runners returned home in good order. Vicente, who was brought down at the first fence, will now try to repeat his victory of twelve months ago in the Scottish Grand National and Just A Par will have another crack at the bet365 Gold Cup which he won two years ago. Wonderful Charm might run in one more hunter chase and Saphir du Rheu probably goes to Sandown but Le Mercurey is finished for the season.

One who has been retired is Silviniaco Conti who won seven Grade 1 races for us before bowing out in the Betway Bowl, a race he has won twice in the past. He has been a legend of a horse for us and still tries hard but he has lost a bit of dash and the legs are not there now.
Conti had a lot of hard races in victory and defeat and has more than earned retirement which he will spend hunting and team chasing with Charlotte Alexander who has already provided a good home for both Earthmover and Denman. Conti won 16 of his 36 starts, over £1,150,000 in prize money and was at his memorable best in winning the King George V1 Chase at Kempton in 2013 and 2014. He came along at just the right time when we needed another Grade 1 horse once Denman and Kauto Star were retired.

Finally top marks to everyone concerned at Aintree for ensuring proper, safe ground on all three days. In addition the way course officials made sure every horse was looked after following each of the races over the National fences was a credit to the sport. To see so many vets, assistants and staff helping out in the designated wash down area after the National was to appreciate at first hand the care and attention immediately available for every single runner.

Aintree also deserve a big pat on the back for the changes made to the fences a while ago that once again ensured that all horses and riders returned safe on Saturday. What a massive difference the modern plastic bases of the fences make. In the past horses would come back with lots of nasty cuts from striking the solid, wooden stakes at the core of the fences. This time I did not see a single horse with any cuts in the wash down area. That has to be a massive step step forward for the National which is so much better and safer than it was in the past.

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