It is scarcely believable that I am just beginning my final blog of this season, time really has flown by and, after some fun moments, sad moments, frustrating moments and downright brilliant moments, all at Ditcheat can look back on a job well done once again with another successful campaign behind us.
For all that I had a busy week, I am not intending to talk about that in this final blog, instead sharing with you, my faithful blog readers, my most enjoyable and memorable points from this season. These may not have been the biggest wins or the most significant things that happened to team Ditcheat, rather a collection of points that I will always remember from the year.
Before I do that however I would just say that none of these moments and great days would have been possible without everyone supporting Paul’s yard the way they do. From our diverse and wide ranging group of fantastic owners who put so much into the game and entrust us with their horses, to our core of staff who are the beating heart of the yard; they are the people who bring to life the dreams of an owner, the ambitions of a jockey and plans of Paul.
He could not be the huge success that he is without his team and they have consistently done a brilliant job throughout the season. Our jockeys Sam, Harry, Sean, Bryony, Stan and plenty of others who have ridden our horses so well all season, put together the final piece of the jigsaw to make all 127 wins possible. There are a huge number of people that make up team Ditcheat and everyone has played their part in another excellent campaign.
So what about my memories then, well I have been thinking about these over the last week or so while driving to the races or riding out and to be honest narrowing down a season’s worth of good stuff into one blog has not been easy. Quite the opposite in fact and I can assure there are plenty of days I won’t talk about in this blog that could of quite easily been involved. I’m going to talk about three things that have happened this year and hopefully you will all be able to see why these moments are so special.
Pacha performance sees Paul at his best
The first one was the win of Pacha Du Polder in the Cheltenham Foxhunters on the Friday of the Cheltenham festival and this was for many reasons. Firstly, for Pacha. He is a horse of a lifetime, has the most wonderful heart and gives his rider, whoever that may be, all he has every time. Pacha did not have the easiest of preparations going into this year’s festival with an injury sustained in the hunting field delaying his training and leaving Paul in a race against time to achieve his preparation run before Cheltenham.
He did manage that though and Pacha finished a tame third at Doncaster, but Paul knew he had loads to work on and ten days before the festival Paul felt Pacha was coming back to his old self. It was a quite brilliant training performance to get him back to his best form on the day that mattered most and in the process it gave Harriet Tucker without doubt the best day of her life.
Harriet’s hard work pays dividends in style
Until this season just completed, Harriet was a talented young woman, but had never really put her mind to anything worthwhile. This season though, with the promise of point to point rides, she knuckled down and grafted like never before. She was unrelenting at her weekly spinning classes, went to ride out every single lunch time she had while jumping through every hoop needed in order to be a qualified rider for Cheltenham.
That win was remarkable in more ways than one on that March Friday and to me it was way bigger than just one race. Throughout this season women riders like Harriet and more prominently Bryony have excelled in the saddle in a male dominated sport. They were inspired by riders like Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry and now I believe they too will inspire talented young horse women to work to achieve their goals in the saddle. I love the fact that in our sport if you work hard enough you can compete on a level playing field irrespective of what sex you are; if you are good enough then you will get on and Bryony, Harriet and Megan on the flat have been perfect examples of that.
Without any shadow of doubt Pacha gave us all a day to cherish and he is a special horse who will always be loved in Ditcheat.
Following Captain a sensible strategy
My second highlight from this season is not just one day it is in fact a horse, that horse is called Captain Cattistock. Now why you might think is a novice hurdler of good, but not stand out ability, ranking as one of my highlights of the season?
Well I will explain. Captain joined us this time last year having won his English maiden point to point as a big raw weak four-year-old. He has been a joy to have in the yard since and has also won three of his six starts with his excellent jumping proving the hallmark of his success, while he has never been out of the first four. The satisfying and most exciting part for me though is a horse like this is what Paul and consequently I really love about jump racing. Captain is not even close to the finished article and Paul is slowly building this young horse up, giving him the experience he needs without over-facing him or asking too much of him too soon.
He knows the Captain will be a considerably better horse over three miles in time and cannot wait for him to jump fences, but these future staying chasers do not just appear they have to be crafted, looked after and shaped into the horse they promise to be. His three wins have all come with three different jockeys demonstrating just how genuine and straightforward Captain is. He handles soft ground well and, while not remotely flash, he has gone about his season with a remarkably impressive attitude towards his job.
For me our sport’s best horses are staying chasers and, while I am not for a second saying Captain is going to be a champion or anything like that, the enjoyment I have got out of watching Paul create a really smart young prospect has been huge. For years, Paul has built his reputation on high-class chasers and I cannot wait to see him continue to build Captain’s career into what will hopefully one day be a smashing staying chaser. Captain Cattistock is one of a number of promising young horses we have, but his season in particular has been the source of a huge amount of enjoyment for me.
Aintree win ensures a Hales and hearty celebration
My third and final highlight for me and, while there have been plenty of excellent days, this one stood out like a sore thumb was the victory of Politologue in the Melling Chase at Aintree only a couple of weeks ago.
Politologue had been brilliant pre-Christmas and for a time we were all dreaming he would be a leading contender for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham only for the quite incredible Altior to wake us all up from that dream very quickly. Beaten at Newbury in the Game Spirit and only forth in the Champion Chase, Politologue’s progress had seemed to have halted and he went to Aintree friendless at odds of 11-1, he was the forgotten horse if you like against a top class field in the Melling Chase.
However, he totally blew his head before the Champion Chase boiling over badly in the prelims so it was a massive team effort from Roge and Kate who lead him up and Sam on his back to get him to the start calm and ready to go. During the race he and Sam were quite brilliant and to see one of our horses competing at the very highest level, battling as hard as he did was so something that will stay with me for a very long time. Politologue was not only brilliant in the Melling Chase, he jumped perfectly and would not lie down in the fight when Min tried to go past him.
To win a race of that calibre was incredibly special and to do it for Mr and Mrs Hales who have long been big supporters of the yard made it extra special. I have had many wonderful dinners with the Hales family and it was great to celebrate with them that night.
So there we are then, my three highlights of the season and again I cannot reiterate enough just how many I could have included given just how many great days I was lucky enough to be part of.
Blog support much appreciated
For now though I will be taking a break from blogging through the summer months, taking some holiday in June and focusing mainly on getting ready to have another huge season when it all starts again properly.
We have a good team of horses for the summer numerically and with the added interest of some flat horses it promises to be a summer busier than ever.
Finally, I just want to say thank you so much to all of you for reading my blog each week and I hope you have enjoyed it. I love telling you all about my days as part of Team Ditcheat and gain great satisfaction when someone I have never met tells me at the races they enjoy the read.
Upon my final piece of blog writing last year Mr Barber told me how he did enjoy them, but at times there was “a little too much bullsh#t in them” so I very much hope that this year I have kept them more to the point Mr Barber.
Enjoy your summer everyone and thank you very much for your support, it remains much appreciated.