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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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Just A Par shows the way

Four winners over the weekend was a great result for Team Ditcheat given that ground conditions were so testing I was in two minds about having runners around the country.

While I am not quite sure why, there is no doubt that many of my horses want better ground than they are likely to find at the moment. Take Just A Par who bounced back to form in style in the Greatwood Veterans’ Chase at Newbury on deep going that he has always disliked.
When his joint owner Paul Barber told me he wasn’t going to Newbury to watch him finish last I promised tongue in cheek to collect the trophy for him. Although Just A Par has always had bags of ability we have been riding him too positively this season so I told Harry Cobden to drop him out and take his time before starting to pass horses. He carried out his instructions to the letter with the result that Just A Par was full of running when he came late to take the prize. He will go straight to the Grand National and would be a player if he is in the mood and the ground dries out.
He is in the National sale two days before the race if anyone fancies buying a decent contender.

Warriors Tale completed our double at Newbury with an easy victory from the front. He has taken time to come to himself up but was bucking and squealing on Saturday morning which is always a good sign.

After so much rain I wasn’t confident that San Bendeto would handle conditions at Doncaster so I was delighted to see him bravely defy a career high mark of 145 in the BetBright Chase. He is likely to go up again to around 150 now which will make life difficult but he is still a novice and could run next in the Red Rum Chase at Aintree.

Most of my other runners on Saturday struggled badly in the ground. They included Le Mercurey who travelled like the best horse in the Premier Chase at Kelso before seeming not to get home. I am kicking myself for running Capitaine again at Kelso so soon after Kempton. I’ll freshen him up now and wait for better ground when he can win another novice hurdle before he goes out to grass for the summer.

On Sunday Antartica De Thaix took our score for the season to 130 with an impressive success in the Listed Mares’ Chase at Huntingdon. She is a smart mare and could go for a similar race at Cheltenham in April. Our select band of mares have done really well this season with Lifeboat Mona and Coillte Lass both heading to the Cheltenham Festival while Tagrita also won over fences. I wouldn’t mind training a few more like them next season and have recently bought an exciting Irish Point-to-Point mare If You Say Run for Highclere Thoroughbreds.

With Cheltenham around the corner and the ground so soft everywhere I will not be having many runners this weekend, perhaps a couple on Saturday at Sandown and Caesar Milan in the Grand Military Gold Cup on Friday.

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

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