A treble on Sunday took our score for the season to 152, so we are bang on course to beat our best total of 155 set in 2008-09.
In many ways we have had an amazing season but my hopes of retaining the trainers’ title are all but over after an eventful three days at Aintree’s Grand National meeting where results did not go our way.
While I have plenty of horses to run in the final three weeks the fact is that Nicky Henderson holds a lead of around £320, 000 and that is a bit too much of an advantage to turn around. A year ago we managed to turn around a sizeable deficit (£180k) after leaving Aintree trailing badly behind Willie Mullins. This time though, it looks beyond our grasp. I knew at the start of the season that we were seriously short of genuine Grade 1 horses, the types that decide championships, so to have got as close as we have has been quite an achievement by Team Ditcheat. The horses remain in top form with a strike rate of around 26 percent but as Sir Alex Ferguson has assured me on several occasions you cannot win the Premier League without Premier players.
Some novices like Frodon and San Benedeto have been absolute superstars by stepping up to the mark. They have each won six time times with San Benedeto’s latest triumph in the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase on Saturday the high spot of the meeting for us. While I suspect he would have been second if Politologue had not come down several strides after the final fence. Politologue didn’t deserve to fall after winging the fence, I loved the way he travelled and jumped back at two miles and look forward to campaigning him over that trip next season, maybe starting in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter.
We will monitor San Benedeto over the next fortnight before deciding whether to run him one last time in the Celebration Chase at Sandown on the final day of the season. Although he loves the prevailing conditions and seems in great form I am conscious that he has run and won twice in the past week at the end of a busy campaign.
I’m pleased to report that all our National runners returned home in good order. Vicente, who was brought down at the first fence, will now try to repeat his victory of twelve months ago in the Scottish Grand National and Just A Par will have another crack at the bet365 Gold Cup which he won two years ago. Wonderful Charm might run in one more hunter chase and Saphir du Rheu probably goes to Sandown but Le Mercurey is finished for the season.
One who has been retired is Silviniaco Conti who won seven Grade 1 races for us before bowing out in the Betway Bowl, a race he has won twice in the past. He has been a legend of a horse for us and still tries hard but he has lost a bit of dash and the legs are not there now.
Conti had a lot of hard races in victory and defeat and has more than earned retirement which he will spend hunting and team chasing with Charlotte Alexander who has already provided a good home for both Earthmover and Denman. Conti won 16 of his 36 starts, over £1,150,000 in prize money and was at his memorable best in winning the King George V1 Chase at Kempton in 2013 and 2014. He came along at just the right time when we needed another Grade 1 horse once Denman and Kauto Star were retired.
Finally top marks to everyone concerned at Aintree for ensuring proper, safe ground on all three days. In addition the way course officials made sure every horse was looked after following each of the races over the National fences was a credit to the sport. To see so many vets, assistants and staff helping out in the designated wash down area after the National was to appreciate at first hand the care and attention immediately available for every single runner.
Aintree also deserve a big pat on the back for the changes made to the fences a while ago that once again ensured that all horses and riders returned safe on Saturday. What a massive difference the modern plastic bases of the fences make. In the past horses would come back with lots of nasty cuts from striking the solid, wooden stakes at the core of the fences. This time I did not see a single horse with any cuts in the wash down area. That has to be a massive step step forward for the National which is so much better and safer than it was in the past.