We reached a milestone at Chepstow on Wednesday, not with a fanfare, heightened excitement or with a big-race victory, but with the quiet assurance that a rebuilding process which Paul has invested so, so heavily in is progressing just the way he wanted.
Wednesday 16th November marked our 70th winner of the season, compare that then to 11th February nine months earlier, the date where we achieved our 70th last year and you’ll realise that we have made a fast start to the current campaign. However, a fast start is only good if you capitalise on that and as the season gets into full stride that is exactly what we are intent on doing. As you are all aware Paul is a ten-time Champion trainer and I would imagine for most that could be a lovely number from which to slow down, but the man I work for doesn’t see it that way – quite the opposite in fact.
I’m not declaring Paul is going to be trying to win the championship at a time when cars can drive themselves or when Sam Twiston-Davies is a grandfather, I say it because the way in which Paul works he is always building for the future.
There isn’t ever a French horse’s profile I present to him he hasn’t seen twice already, a young jockey riding a winner he hasn’t watched already or a young horse doing a nice piece of work he hasn’t made a plan for already. Paul is constantly thinking about tomorrow so his owners and team can enjoy today and in my humble opinion this week just past demonstrated that quite perfectly.
Super eight further evidence of young talent emerging
Happily, the week was another huge success with eight horses tasting victory but it was the horses that won that were significant. As this year goes on it is clear the old faithful that has served us so well over the past couple of years are now finding life more and more difficult, while the stars of tomorrow are emerging stronger and appear more exciting than the last few seasons.
Copain De Classe and Black Valentine won their respective novice hurdles while Politilogue and Tagrita struck for the first time of asking over fences. Brelan D’as (my highlight of the week) cantered through his handicap hurdle at Wincanton showcasing his abundant talent really nicely, while great friends of the yard Mark and Tessa Woodhouse enjoyed success with Sirabad and Present Man, showing that our second season chasers aren’t too bad either.
Generally the above are all horses that have only been heard about in stable tours interviews or when Paul has been asked about a dark horse for the season to follow. They are not so much names we associate with winning big races on a Saturday, but Paul is training his string in a way that these young stars will hopefully soon be ready to take centre stage.
As I drove Paul somewhere during the week he answered a call from a member of the press and, while on the phone, he described his passion for finding the next superstars, wherever they may be, he spoke of how he loves getting them, taking his time and learning about them before they hopefully prove their talents on the track.
This season has shown that more than ever while it’s nice to have superstars winning big graded races for team Ditcheat, the emergence of a young horse like Politilogue routing his rivals in his first novice chase is just as sweet.
Desire to improve drives Ditcheat on
I think this attitude comes from an ever-pressing desire to be better, introduce new ideas and push the boundaries of what he and his team can do. The more I see of how Paul works at first hand, the more I see how fine the balancing act has to be. It is absolutely a case of pedal to the metal for him, whether it is going racing, watching schooling, doing the board with Clifford, entertaining owners, talking to the press or a bloodstock agent, his life never stops. On the flip side of the table his horse’s lives are different.
Our string’s lives are structured by discipline, routine, respect and a promise that they’ll never run until Paul is fully happy of his understanding of them and their well-being and preparation sets them up to run for their lives. Paul’s athletes enjoy excellent lives, protected from the pressure cooker of running for the Champion before he believes they are ready, so while the never ending, military-run, ruthless business continues our wonderful string of young talent is never exposed to that coal face until they have the tools to cope.
Meticulous eye for detail continues to reap dividends
While I was a jockey, I’m sure like many do now rather selfishly, I was often frustrated why I wasn’t riding a certain horse or wasn’t considered for a certain plumb ride. In hindsight I shouldn’t have worried as the horses aren’t the only thing that is meticulously studied. Indeed, our roster of jockeys are surveyed by the man at the helm on a daily basis as well.
Often, while driving to the races, conversations sound like: “I think so and so would really suit him” or “they schooled brilliantly together today so I’m going to let him take the ride on Sunday” or “I wonder if they would mind claiming off their horse on Friday”. Paul builds his knowledge of a young rider and once happy he strives to give them an opportunity on the big stage.
For me, a 22-year-old with aspirations far higher than I’d ever make public, I wake up and turn up to work for a man that doesn’t see all his victories and success as a point of showing off or resting on his laurels, instead uses it as a pool of knowledge to dispense to the young and eager team around him. Whether equine or human, if you are young and driven to get better at what you do and don’t mind a day’s work while possessing a big dream then it’s a certainty Paul will bat for you.
Dodge lives to fight another day
As I write my blog this week my surroundings are a little more sedate than the last few weeks with no jockey to drive me home, no motorway store providing my Lasagne and no heated seat warming my back side after a Fontwell, Aintree or Auteuil chill has got to me.
I’m actually writing this blog on an afternoon off, an afternoon that has given me time to stop, take stock and reflect on a season that so far has smiled on us. It’s made me grateful of everyone’s hard work and happy that things are going so nicely. It’s made me smile that my friends like Nick, Sean, Stan, Jack, Harry and Jordan are doing well and that the horses I love so dearly are firing on all cylinders, but most of all it’s made me relieved that Dodging Bullets is back and fine in his stable after a day at Ascot where something was clearly amiss.
For whatever reason Dodge wasn’t himself and Nick made the right decision in pulling him up before any damage was done. A worrying few moments followed when Nick immediately got off him, but thankfully he’s fine and will live to fight another day. While nursing young talent is his passion, Paul’s knowledge of masterminding horses back from adversity is just as deep, and I have little doubt Paul and his team will get to the bottom of whatever was bothering Dodge.
I must go as an afternoon off is something I’m not intent on wasting. I’m going to look forward to this week however with plenty of big races to get my teeth into.
Bearded stranger leaves me smiling
I’ll leave you with two messages of appreciation if that’s alright, one to Mr Vogt for the reminder at Chepstow that I best not forget to mention his charge, the gorgeous and very exciting Copain De Classe – I believe that’s two mentions he has had now so I hope that should suffice – and the second to a gentleman at Wincanton whose name I never got, but we met outside the injured jockeys’ fund stall. He sported what can only be described a truly triumphant beard and I would like to say thank you for the comments about my blog, it is rare when a stranger makes my day, but you sir, did exactly that.