We saved the best for last at Cheltenham with Pacha Du Polder leading home Wonderful Charm in a one two for Team Ditcheat in the St James’s Place Foxhunters on Friday.
There wasn’t much in it at the line with Bryony Frost and Pacha Du Polder just holding the strong challenge of Wonderful Charm and Katie Walsh by a neck. To win any race at the Festival is brilliant particularly when you realise only nine horses from this country managed to do it this year with the Irish utterly dominant over the four days. I am proud to say that Pacha Du Polder was my 41st winner at the meeting since I started training which puts me third in the all time list one ahead of Fulke Walwyn. I have also had at least one success at the Festival for each of the past fifteen years.
It could not have happened on Friday without an exceptional ride from Bryony who, like me, started out hunting and Point-to-Pointing. Her dad Jimmy cut his teeth in Point-to-Points before famously winning the Grand National on Little Polvoir and his parents were also keen hunting people while training in Devon. Bryony works really hard as my pupil assistant and it was great to see a keen young rider like her win such a famous old race.
Pacha Du Polder is a proper hunter chaser, too. He is not as good as he was as he showed when failing to win in a couple of runs in handicaps. But he has enjoyed himself all winter out hunting with the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale hounds. Pacha Du Polder’s owner Andy Stewart, like me, likes nothing better than giving young riders a chance on his horses and Bryony certainly repaid our faith in her on Friday. Horse and rider will now tackle the Foxhunters at Aintree while Wonderful Charm is on course for the Grand National where he will again be ridden by Katie Walsh.
Andy and his family were also thrilled with the excellent run of Saphir Du Rheu into a close fifth in the Gold Cup. He has come out of the race in good shape and will be of my five runners in the National.
It was pleasing to end a tough week at Cheltenham on an upbeat note. We knew we lacked Grade 1 stars going to the meeting but several ran right up to form including Bouvreuil who most likely goes next in the Topham Chase at Aintree. Politologue didn’t seem get home in the JLT Chase and we are thinking of dropping him back to two miles and riding him more aggressively.
While Nicky Henderson now holds a clear lead in the trainers’ championship after a rewarding four days at the Festival I have plenty of horses to run over the final six weeks and will be doing my best to hold onto my title. Nicky has a very strong team and will be hard to beat. But just like twelve months ago when Willie Mullins looked a huge threat I’ll be targeting the big meetings at Aintree, Ayr, and Sandown in the belief that I can give Nicky a run for his money, which started with Brio Conti‘s impressive win at Kempton on Saturday.
Dodging Bullets has run his last race after again failing to show any sparkle before he was pulled up by Noel Fehily in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham on Friday. He will be joined in retirement by Rocky Creek who has also been on a downward curve this season after promising so much earlier in his career.
Dodging Bullets was an absolute star for us a couple of years ago during an amazing spell when he won three Grade 1’s including the Queen Mother Champion Chase. But he has never shown the same level of form since a persistent splint problem kept him off the track for several months last winter. His last run at Cheltenham on Friday convinced us that it was time to call it a day with him. Dodging Bullets has had his problems and his jockey Noel Fehily felt that he was always on the back foot on Friday, not really attacking his fences. He has struggled all season, not really enjoying his racing, so the sensible thing is to retire him now. The good news is that Dodging Bullets has been given to Lucy Sharp who lives a couple of miles from here and has always looked after him. Hopefully he will have a long and happy retirement with her.
Rocky Creek is also going to a good home as he has been given to Millie Orttewell who rides out for us and can’t wait to take him hunting again.
On his day Rocky was extremely talented as he showed in winning the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot in 2013 and the BetBright Chase at Kempton two years later. Those days have become few and far between in recent times and while Rocky bounced back with a spirited victory at Sandown towards the end of last year he has become increasingly disappointing in his most recent races so it is best to stop now.