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Great to train a winner on the flat ridden by Megan

The photos of my first winner on the flat at Kempton on Wednesday evening are definitely ones for the family album.
It was great to see Zubayr break my duck on the flat and even better that he was given a fine, patient ride by my daughter Megan who was completing a double on the card.

While I was as proud as punch standing in the winner’s enclosure afterwards I should make it clear that I am not for one second thinking of switching codes to the flat. Jumping is and always has been the name of the game for me. It is just that this summer we have a few hurdlers who like good ground and had fair form on the flat before joining us. So it makes sense to keep some of them going over the next couple of months.

High Secret and Volpone Jelois were both second on Saturday ridden by Megan and now Zubayr has finally broken the ice in what looked on paper to be a competitive maiden.

Zubayr was a bit unlucky not to win the Scottish Champion Hurdle in April and is one I always felt might make a decent middle distance flat horse.
He certainly looked the part at Kempton as he came from off the pace with an impressive run that saw him win with something to spare. We will see what handicap mark Zubayr gets and hopefully it will be high enough for him to get into the Duke of Edinburgh handicap on the Friday of Royal Ascot over twelve furlongs. In addition High Secret, who stays well, could run in the Ascot Stakes on the opening day.

Megan works really hard all week riding out for various trainers around the country in pursuit of success.
Evenings like Wednesday when she won on both her mounts make it all worthwhile.

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Back on level terms

A record total of winners in the season that ended on Saturday was still not quite enough to retain my trainers’ title.

Hats off to Nicky Henderson who thoroughly deserves his fourth championship after a stellar campaign that saw him land a series of major races at the biggest meetings. Nicky is a good mate and a great competitor and I was the first to congratulate him on Saturday with a hug and a handshake after the success of Altior put the result beyond doubt.

Going to Sandown I felt it was going to be tough given the deficit at the start of the day as I was running a few of mine on a wing and prayer hoping they would come back to form. Some ran really well like Dolos, San Benedeto and Ptit Zig who, in finishing second to L’Ami Serge, giving him 8 lbs in the Select Hurdle, put himself bang on course for his attempt to win the French Champion Hurdle for the second time.

If you look at the figures you will see that in the season just ended Team Ditcheat enjoyed 49 more winners than in 2015-2016 when we topped the table for the tenth time. In many ways we have had an amazing season, with our horses earning more than £2.5 million for their owners in this country with 171 winners at a consistent strike of 25 per cent. If we could do that every season I’d be thrilled. But from the start I knew we were desperately short of genuine Grade 1 performers and that cost us dear. Even so, we’ve done incredibly well given our firepower with plenty of highlights starting with Ptit Zig in France through to Pacha du Polder winning the Foxhunters at Cheltenham with Bryony Frost and then Vicente claiming a second successive triumph in the Scottish National.

We are all back on level terms as the new season starts today (Mon) and once again I’ll be looking to notch up twenty winners by the end of September.

With Potensis stepping down after a rewarding partnership I’m delighted to welcome a new yard sponsor Morson International on May 1 in a deal arranged by my good friend Ged Mason, an enthusiastic, long time owner and supporter of the yard. He has sponsored Harry Cobden and my daughter Megan and it is great to have his company on board in a significant new arrangement which should benefit both parties.

If, and it is a big if, we have some decent ground I could well give several nice prospects including Black Corton, Tommy Silver, El Bandit, Capitaine, Diego Du Charmil, Moabit and several more a run over fences in the next month or so before putting them away for the summer.

You can’t stand still in this game so we will also be turning over a number of horses this summer, selling some on and buying new stock, hoping to increase the quality of the team and find some smart recruits who might develop into Grade 1 horses for the future.

I’d like to thank all of Team Ditcheat for their dedication and hard work and for the loyal support of all my owners who make it all possible.

Here’s to 180 next season!

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It’s not over until it’s over

Eight winners over the past three days have given me fresh hope of retaining the trainers’ title when the season ends on Saturday at Sandown.

I’m under no illusions that Nicky Henderson continues to hold the upper hand and he is understandably long odds on to be be crowned champion.
But it’s not over until it is over and I’ll be having plenty of runners this week, particularly at Sandown, as I keep trying to eat into his lead which stands at around £180,000 this morning.
Whatever the result Team Ditcheat have enjoyed an amazing season with by far the biggest number of winners we’ve ever had (169 so far) and almost £2,500,000 in prize money, the fifteenth time we have achieved over £2,000,000 in a season. If I could do that every year I would be over the moon.
All we lack is a couple of Grade 1 horses who could have made all the difference.

For the second year running Vicente won the Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday. Twelve months ago his success there was the key result in my winning the trainers’ title for the tenth time after a nail biting duel with Willie Mullins. This time I trail Nicky by a much greater margin. But the sight of Vicente snatching a second triumph in the race had everyone involved here leaping up and down with excitement.
He was given a fantastic ride by Sam Twiston-Davies who continues at the top of his form.

Matt Chapman was talking more nonsense than usual when he suggested during an interview with me afterwards on ITV that Sam might not be riding for me next season. What rubbish. I told him Sam is number one in our top team of jockeys, has been with us for a long time and will be here for a long time in the future. But as we celebrated Vicente’s success there was heartache, too, at the loss of Arpege D’Alene after he broke a hind leg when travelling nicely in the Scottish National. Unfortunately the injury was too serious to save the horse, an attractive grey who stayed very well and had a big future. His death is a big loss to everyone, most notably his four owners including Marianne Barber who liked nothing more each evening than to wander down to the yard to see him in his box.

Vicente has finished for the season. As he seems to be at his best in the spring we will train him for another tilt at the Grand National next April.

While it was frustrating to see Zubayr beaten inches in the Scottish Champion it was a tremendous run that offered hope of more to come next season. He is one I am tempted to run on the flat this summer as he has plenty of speed and stays well.

Our extensive team for Sandown on Saturday includes Southfield Theatre and Just A Par in the bet365 Gold Cup while the star of recent weeks San Benedeto runs in the Celebration Chase. Vibrato Valtat is likely to take part in the Oaksey Chase and Dolos and one other could go for the four year old handicap hurdle. Modus and Old Guard are on course for the Select Hurdle and I could have as many as four in the closing handicap hurdle and two or three in the novice handicap chase.

Yes, I am up against it. But I’m giving it a right go as it is the only way I know. Here’s hoping.

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