Clic Work took our score for the season to 100 with a fluent round of jumping on his debut over fences at Doncaster on Thursday.
It is the fastest century we have achieved and comes at the end of a year when Team Ditcheat has had plenty to celebrate.Full marks to my old ally Andrew Thornton who reached the landmark figure of 1,000 winners with a double at Wincanton on Boxing Day. I promised I would try to help him over the line and did so in the most bizarre way imaginable! I had originally booked him for one earlier in the day which was then withdrawn as he was lame. So it was ironic that the fall of our mare Antartica De Thaix when she was almost a fence in front left the way clear for Andrew to claim his 1,000th winner on Kentford Mist. I thought it was entirely fitting that he should reach that notable milestone on a horse trained by Seamus Mullins who has been one of his biggest supporters for years.
With two days left in 2016 we have had 166 winners since January 1 which is another record for us in a calendar year. Plus, of course, the superb victory of Ptit Zig in the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil.
The highlight was my tenth trainers’ championship after a titanic duel with Willie Mullins which was not settled until the final day of the campaign at Sandown late in April. There were times after Cheltenham and Aintree when most pundits had written off my chances of retaining the title. I don’t mind admitting I had my doubts, too, when we drew a blank at Aintree which left Willie holding a huge lead of over £180,000. But the horses were in tremendous form in the closing weeks of the season and a four timer at Ayr spearheaded by the brilliant victory of Vicente in the Scottish Grand National put us back in the race at just the right moment.
It is fair to say that nothing will ever match the joy of winning my first trainers’ championship after years of knocking on the door.But that Saturday came pretty close. The statistics told the story that while we had lots of promising young horses we lacked the stars to tackle the biggest prizes. For instance Willie’s team won fourteen Grade 1 races in this country last season while we managed only two.
We made a seriously fast start to the new campaign over the summer and the winners have continued to flow ever since. Yet this remains a transitional year with many of our hopes resting on our belief that some exciting youngsters could step up to the mark and become the stars of the future.
I am thrilled to report that Politologue, Clan Des Obeaux, Movewiththetimes, Frodon and Capitaine have all shown immense promise and we still have loads more nice prospects to run.
January is usually our quietest month of the winter as that is the time we give nearly all the horses their flu vaccinations.But we will still have plenty of runners over the next four or five weeks before building up to the twin challenges of Cheltenham and Aintree.
It feels good to be sitting on top of the trainers’ table going into the New Year with a century of winners at a strike rate of 29 per cent and prize money in excess of £1.3 million. But we take nothing for granted with Colin Tizzard chasing us hard as he enjoys a season he will never forget with an amazing sequence of big race victories. Grade 1 horses win you championships but Colin knows better than me that these runs don’t continue forever and we will not be taking things easily.
The Festive season is rightly seen as a time for celebration. But for me there was sadness, too, at the death of John Buckingham who will always be remembered as the jockey who rode to victory on the 100-1 shot Foinavon in the 1967 Grand National. John later became a jockeys’ valet, looking after me and dozens of other jockeys like a favourite uncle. He was a top man in every way, hugely popular and was kind, modest, helpful and fun in equal measure. See the photo above of me & John.
Channel 4 Racing
I was also sorry to see Channel 4 bow out earlier this week after so many years of top class racing coverage. They had a top team who did a lot of good for our sport and can look back with pride at their achievements. I enjoyed being part of their programmes from time to time, particularly when they hosted the Morning Line from our yard in Ditcheat. While some will say that a change is a good as a rest I’d suggest that ITV have a hard act to follow.