Well, it is all over for another year, the crowds and excitement of Cheltenham have once again graced us with their presence, battered us with the brutality of its competitiveness and given a million reasons to smile by the end of the week.

As I said in the last instalment of the blog, good, bad or indifferent Cheltenham provides us with days to remember and for the four that have just passed us by they are days I will remember with fond memories. Our horses ran with credit and a lot of them up to their very best. There were some truly heart-warming performances along the way from the old faithful and the centre of jump racing once again did not disappoint.

The highlight of our week, of course, was the 1-2 result in the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ Chase on the final day with Pacha Du Polder providing Bryony Frost with a day to remember and Wonderful Charm following her home. For me though Bryony deserves huge credit for a ride of real nerve and pin-point accurate execution.

Brilliant Bryony excels on Pacha

Paul told her the plan and she stuck to it magnificently, slipping up the inside of Derek O’Connor turning for home and driving her mount all the way up the hill. It was fantastic stuff and lovely to see Pacha have his day in the sun after spending all winter hunting brilliantly with the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale, he really is a gem of a horse and one we are all very fond of.

Elsewhere at Cheltenham, Bouvreuil once again enhanced his already excellent Festival record when finishing third in the two-and-a-half mile handicap, Arpege D’Alene ran on well to snatch fourth in the four miler. Politilogue ran a blinder to finish close behind a classy JLT first trio and Saphir Du Rheu made us all so proud to snatch fifth beaten only five & half lengths in the Gold Cup.

Saphir left us all thrilled on Friday and, travelling down the hill there was genuine excitement in our camp. However, for us it was the satisfaction and confirmation he is capable of running in those top class races. Beforehand his reputation has always been slightly bigger than his performances, but he ran a brilliant race on Friday and we are all looking forward to the Grand National now where, all being well, he will take his chance.

It is now Monday evening and, after a double at Taunton today, my spirits are good as I’m thrilled to return to a smaller local track, but also happy with how our weekend played out.

Brio Conti justified all our faith in him when bolting in on Saturday at Kempton, in the process pencilling in a possible tilt at a Grade One at Aintree in three weeks time. He is a horse we have thought a lot of for some time and happily patience is being rewarded and things are all falling into place for him now.

Dear friend Dodge bows out in one piece

Now, forgive me for being sentimental, but there is only one way this blog is going now and that is to talk about my dear friend Dodging Bullets, who as the curtain was pulled down over Cheltenham in the Grand Annual so to was the curtain pulled down on his career after pulling up.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, which by now I sincerely hope everyone is, then you’ll know of my passion and love for Dodging Bullets, you’ll know I’ve ridden him basically on and off for around five seasons and over that time he has become as close as a horse could become to a human.

Now I’d love to say Dodge and I saw eye-to-eye from day one, however this was simply not the case, far from it in fact. Day one in the relationship was at best terrifying and at worst something much ruder. You see I had hardly been on Dodge for five minutes on our first day together when he decided to take dead aim at a flat-head trailer in what can only be described as a manic gallop.

Fortunately for me and Dodge, a stride before impact he saw sense and alarmingly came to the conclusion galloping the other way down the road would be a much better plan. I should have known then he was not going to be plain sailing.

I’ve described Dodge in many ways over the years depending on how my humour was. The more industrial language employed when I wasn’t particularly in the mood for an hour’s worth of jig-jogging, sweating and anything else that seemed like great sport to him. However, to be fair to him for all of his life his enthusiasm has been nothing short of remarkable.

Ears forward, head up and strut along you could see him coming a mile off.

Much more than just a racehorse

In my view, Dodge was never about the Tingle Creek he won or the Clarence House or the Champion Chase, because to me he was so much more than just a racehorse. Dodge is an animal for whom I care deeply about, a close friend who I’d stand by whatever anyone ever said about him or however his behaviour might have been for the day.

He was the sweaty mess who so often ran his race beforehand that turned into a Champion for one glorious year.

When I gave up riding, there was a time when I was a person with no direction or clue of what to do next.

I have never really spoken of this, but I’m sure Paul and Dodge have a huge part to play in the direction my life has taken since. Paul was aware of my love for Dodging Bullets and when I stopped riding he put me on him at home every day. He would always ask me how he was and through my relationship with that horse, my fire was reignited once again.

To most racing fans Dodging Bullets will wander off into history as a moderate winner of a Champion Chase but, to us here at Ditcheat, he will go into retirement a horse we will never forget, for his personality, his spirit and his infectious zest for being a racehorse.

Life will now slow for Dodge as he winds down ready to spend the rest of his life with the person who loves him above anybody else in Lucy Sharp who has looked after him since day one. With Lucy he has a home for life and by God he deserves it.

If I’m lucky, then my life will be forever involved in horse racing and with hard work and some good fortune many good days are ahead of me. However, I shouldn’t imagine many will top that Wednesday in March a few years ago when Dodge won his Champion Chase, a day where words wouldn’t come close to describing my pride.

Over the years he has made me hurt from jogging and pulling, frustrated for quite frankly being a pain in the neck and tested my patience to the absolute limits, but through all that he has made me a better person.

Most horses come and go through your life and, while you can build a relationship with them, as time passes those memories fade. Not this guy, this is a horse which I will love and remember for all of my life. Even when I write about him now I’m smiling because I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with such a special and unique horse.

Thank you Dodge, for all that you’ve done for Paul, your wonderful owners, Sir Martin Broughton and friends, and what wonderful friends they all are, for the way you’ve been the centre of Lucy’s world for years and will be for years to come. Thank you for giving Sam his first Champion Chase, a day I know he will never forget, but above all thank you from me.

Thanks for pricking your ears every time I shout your name across the yard, thanks for pulling my arms out everyday up the gallop, thanks for sweating so much in mid winter I had to wash you in warm water every day and thank you for being a reason to smile every single day I rode you.

To me you’re a one in a billion and I love you dearly, thanks old man, I wish you a very happy and healthy retirement, you damn well deserve it.