It may only be eight days since I last wrote my blog, but it feels like an awful lot longer than that.
Of course, Cheltenham week is totally unlike any other week, it is longer, considerably more intense, has its fair share of highs and lows and in the end is extremely tiring. How we got through it is completely down to all of our team’s incredibly hard work at the racecourse and at home and we ended the week celebrating two winners, a result that if offered at the start of the week we would have been very happy with.
For me though, Cheltenham though is not just about the winners as there are always so many horses there who, like those successful, run their hearts out and do not receive the same recognition. A scenario which of course I understand.
Winners aren’t always the first home
For us there was Topofthegame, who ran a huge race to finish second in the Coral Cup having jumped boldly throughout, Connetable who put up a career best when finishing third in the Pertemps, galloping all the way to the line in determined fashion.
There was Ibis Du Rheu who ran a big race in the novice handicap chase on day one, while Dolos hated the ground in the Grand Annual, but still charged up the hill under sympathetic handling and he will have his day this spring I am sure. Another one of ours who ran a lovely race for a long way was Act Of Valour who travelled and jumped smoothly in the Fred Winter before fading late on in the tiring ground, another horse who will have plenty of bright days for us.
And then there were the two winners and, with them both arriving on the final day, I think Cheltenham was teaching me a valuable lesson in patience. It is obviously easy when you are winning, but when you might just miss out or things are not quite going your way it is tricky to keep smiling and heading onto the next race. However, head on we did and of course what do you need come Gold Cup day? Well you need a jockey with prior experience of the track, experience of the cauldron of pressure that Cheltenham brings and a cool head in big situations, actually no, let’s have a jockey who has never ridden a winner under rules, never ridden at Cheltenham let alone a winner there and had a lifelong dream to ride in the Foxhunters, step forward Harriet Tucker.
Fabulous Harriet the Hunters’ heroine
In my blog this year Harriet has popped up a couple of times following her winners point-to-pointing, a tally that is currently five from five, however this was by far her biggest day yet by a country mile and the way she handled it was quite remarkable. We walked the course together with Lorcan Williams, who also rode in the race, during the County Hurdle, chatted about how she was going to ride him, things to watch out for on the course – like four out which is one of the trickiest jumps on any track to ride – made a plan and that was that, she was ready.
What then followed was really quite amazing as Harriet and Pacha negotiated their way quite brilliantly round a race, not without its share of drama, before powering up the hill, dislocating her shoulder after the last, yes you read that right before holding on bravely to win. It was quite simply a race I will never forget and a day that for Harriet I should think will always take some topping.
With so many horses in our yard it is inevitable that a number of horses come and go, but Pacha is a stalwart of the yard and a quite wonderful horse, he has given people first rides, set careers on their way and given so many people massive days to remember. It is very rare to get a horse that gives so much to so many people and for that we are all incredibly grateful to him, the word is used too often in this game but he really is a legend of our yard.
Final race joy caps incredible day
One would think that after a result like that the day could not really get better, but with Le Prezien winning the Grand Annual under a masterful Geraghty ride he did just that. Le Prezien is a wonderful little horse with a huge heart who tries his best and deserved his slice of luck in a big handicap, the way the race was run suited him perfectly, and he loved cutting through the field off a strong pace with Barry delivering his timely run late in the day.
Of course you would think after a week like Cheltenham things would then calm down. You could enjoy a quiet weekend, get lots of sleep, maybe a big lunch and a lazy Sunday. Well no, not quite, Saturday was busy with plenty of runners all round the country, Magoo and Alex Thorne winning at Fontwell my personal highlight before Sunday was spent dealing with our unwelcome friend the snow once again.
Which brings me to my final and most important point of this week’s blog and it is something I feel is really important to acknowledge, our team of staff. If I was to explain to you the work that goes into a week like last I would be here for days as there are so many people that give more than required in order for the horses to look their best, run to be best of their ability and ensure everything is done.
Of course going racing to the Festival is a wonderful highlight in anyone’s season. However, spare a thought for the staff who led up in the last few races at Cheltenham for us who had already mucked out their horses that morning and ridden two lots before even leaving for the races – the dedication and work people put in at times like that I find very inspiring.
Ditcheat team deserve all the credit
There are so many people in our team that deserve so much credit from Kate Nutt who transported the horses racing every day ensuring everything there ran smoothly, Kevin Parker who drives the big lorries and Clifford who makes sure the show still runs smoothly at home. There are so many people that work so hard that week, but then so many do every week. Just like any meeting there is months of preparations that go into the horses running their races and countless examples of yet more hard work that allows us to succeed.
From Lucy who has minded Pacha all winter getting him to the Foxhunters in one piece to Channon who without doubt loves Le Prezien more than she does her boyfriend Stan they all deserve high praise. From Matt Hampton, who rides Topofthegame every day in his general purpose saddle ensuring any style Matt has is well out of the window, to Hannah from the office who takes the Activo Med massager rug on and off horses all afternoon, I could go on but you get the picture. This work is the reason Paul can achieve the things he does and he and all his team are grateful for it.
On that subject Pacha and Le Prez marked the 16th consecutive season Paul has trained a winner at the festival and that, in my opinon, is something to be very proud of. Well done everyone and thank you so much for all your work.