And now the end is near . . . well actually Frank the end is in fact here. Yet another season is completed and the tally now reads at zero and square one is where we all find ourselves.
The quite ridiculous fact that it all starts again this week is not something I’m going to delve into for my final blog for the year, as you all breathe a collective sigh of relief. No, instead I am going to look back and reflect on the season that has just passed, a season of firsts for me and more certainly all the more remarkable for my ten-times champion trainer boss.
Season’s champions a trio to respect
Before I dive into reflecting on the year just gone by, I want to congratulate this year’s champions and what worthy champions they are. Richard Johnson, our champion jockey, is a man who any professional sportsmen could learn from. His humility, determination and skill at his craft make him an absolute pleasure to watch on a daily basis and when lucky enough to say hello to him you’d be a fool not to realise what a thoroughly decent human being he is. Richard is a role model and champion in and out of the saddle.
Closer to home, all of us in Ditcheat were incredibly proud of the champion conditional jockey Harry Cobden who is a young man who looks set for the very top of our sport. He streaked away with his title this year and I have no doubt that better things will follow for him. He is an old head on oh so young shoulders and I was chuffed to bits for him watching him collect his trophy.
And then of course there was the trainer’s championship, the title all at Manor Farm Stables strived so hard for, but eventually proved just slightly beyond our reach. I think on this matter I have two points to make and I will start with the most important one and that is to congratulate and give full credit to Mr Henderson and his team at Seven Barrows.
They have enjoyed an amazing year and are fully deserving of the title they have collected, so well done to all involved, the grace with which Mr Henderson accepted his trophy was admirable and demonstrated this was a title race once again fought in the best of sprits.
Talk of any failure a laughable concept
Paul led his team by example on Saturday when acting with grace and dignity in defeat and only confirmed my respect for my leader who is a champion in defeat as well as victory. My second point to make on the trainers’ championship and, forgive me as it is just a personal note, is that recently I have heard a thought process at the races and in racing circles that has suggested Paul has failed this season, a statement that not only baffles the mind but slightly riles it.
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though chequered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in that gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
The 26th president of the United States first said those wise words and they are as relevant now as they must have been back then. Of course Paul and his whole team, including me, set out to be champions, and while we didn’t win we absolutely did not fail, in fact we won a record-breaking 171 times.
The only way we might have failed is if we hadn’t given everything everyday of the season and tried our very best, a reality that if you know Paul in any capacity just wasn’t going to happen. Paul and his team gave it everything we had and came up slightly short, but failure is not something any of us feel right now.
As I drove Paul back on Saturday night accompanied by Mum and Dad we relived some of our best days of the season, and very quickly all were smiling looking back at some fantastic memories so, as this is my final blog of the season, I thought I’d share my finest three with you.
Trio of achievements provide memories to saviour
Day one of the three came back in October when my best friend Stan Sheppard won in battling fashion on Brahms De Clermont on his first ride for Paul at Cheltenham. I am fortunate enough to be part of a quartet of friends that I cherish very closely and while Stan was winning on Brahms, the other three of us were going bonkers up the run in as he eventually got on top of a great battle up the hill.
It was a magic day and the catalyst that started a breakthrough season for Stan culminating in 29 winners. A lot of people were very proud of Stan that day but none more so than his best mates screaming on the rail.
Memory or day two that lit up my season was the win of Modus in the Lanzarotte Hurdle on a muddy January day at Kempton. He’d come close without smoking the cigar through the autumn, finding a couple too good for him in the toughest of handicaps, but Kempton was his day, with Barry guiding him through the race he cruised round and showed how good he was.
At home, Modus is the most wonderful character. Once nervous and shy, now soft and interested in everything you do around him, he is a horse we are all looking forward to jumping fences come the autumn, but whatever he does in the future, Kempton was a day I won’t forget for a long time.
Last but no means least of my finest memories this season and this was without any doubt as good as it got for me, was a three-timer we enjoyed at Ascot in December. We have been lucky enough to be part of a lot of trebles this season, but for me this one was unique as it demonstrated all that Paul stands for; gorgeous young horses putting in excellent displays of jumping and galloping.
Topofthegame, Capitaine and Politilogue were the winners that day and between them they only made one mistake with Topofthegame climbing the last through his inexperience, Sam rode like a man possessed all day and it was one of magic days where everything went right, perhaps what is even better about that day is all three of those horses will have many big days ahead of them and hopefully give us a lot more great memories.
So there they are then, my three most special days of last term, a season I am so proud to of been a part of. On a personal level I have not only learnt more than I thought I could fit into my brain, but I have loved every second of calling one of the finest jumps trainers in the world my boss. Everyday I’m so grateful for being part of his brilliant team. Through the summer there is plenty of work to be done, but also some time off to relax and take stock of all that has happened. Most excitingly there is some time for holidays with Kate, a couple of weeks I’m really looking forward to.
I am so optimistic about the future of Paul’s yard with some great talent in equine quarters as well as human and with our new sponsor, Morson Group, we couldn’t have any better supporters so all round the future looks bright.
All that is really left for me to do then is to thank you, my blog readers, something I will never tire of is someone I have never met before introducing themselves to me at the races and saying they love my blog.
This is a wonderful sport and you the National Hunt supporters make it all the more special, until the autumn then . . .