There was little doubt in team Ditcheat that Aintree needed to be a big one. With a quiet Cheltenham and Pauls obvious play to keep plenty back and hit Liverpool hard, driving up on Wednesday afternoon with Cobby, not much was said but we knew that the next three days needed to be productive.
Happily, they were exactly that. The two obvious disappointments were Bravemansgame & Stage Star, neither of which fired and ran their race, but they are both home safely and will have a long summer now. You do not become a bad horse overnight so I am confident they will be back to their best once again next season.
When Clan Des Obeaux trailed in behind Eldorado Allen and Royale Pagaille at Newbury in the Denman Chase you would have been forgiven for thinking that the ten-year-old had probably just about got to the end of his tether and his time dining at the top table may have come to an end. Paul however did not believe that for one second as he knew, just like last year, he was training him for the second half of the season and to peak at Aintree, a meeting so special to his part owner Ged Mason.
Blinkers really seemed to bring out a little more from Clan and early on in the race you could see he was on song. Jumping with great fluency that had deserted him at Newbury he travelled smoothly through the race, before Harry committed him jumping the second last. After Harry had reflected on it, he felt he got to the front a little early, but it was a race winning move and perhaps, if he had waited until later Conflated would have got him.
Clan is the most wonderful horse and has now won over one million pound in prize money, a superb achievement for any national hunt horse. I think the saying form is temporary and class is permanent is extremely relevant in his case. He is owned by Ged Mason, Sir Alex Ferguson and perhaps most importantly in this case Pauls long standing landlord Mr Barber, who was not able to make it to Aintree on Thursday but got huge amounts of joy in watching him win from home. I know it always means the world to Paul to train big winners in Mr Barbers famous colours.
A horse at the other end of his career, who notched his first Grade 1 success on the Friday was Gelino Bello, who after mixing it with some really smart novices this season put in a career best to win under a perfect ride from Harry. The boss has had this race in mind for Gelino for a long time now and Mr & Mrs Cotton were happy to by-pass Cheltenham in favour of Aintree and boy did it pay off. Gelino is a very handsome horse who has been with us since a two-year-old, so it is hugely satisfying to see him blossom into such a smart horse. I would be shocked if chasing did not come naturally to him next season and he could make into a really smart horse.
Now on a high from Gelino, just half an hour, later Hacker Des Places ensured it was a day to remember bringing up an Aintree double running the race of his young career under what I thought was a really sensible, well executed ride from Angus.
Angus and Hacker get on really well in their races. They are both small, both try hard and I think both slightly mad, but together they got it absolutely spot on. Angus delayed his challenge until he could wait no more after the second last before staying on well up the straight.
We were all absolutely made up for both horse and jockey and I was happy to see Angus enjoying it all after and taking it all in. Those days are really special for young guys like Gus and I know that it will have meant an awful lot to him. He is also in the process of moving into his new house that he has renovated himself so a few quid will help that process along nicely! Or so he tells me!
Of the beaten horses there has to be huge mentions to Monmiral and Mcfabulous, who both ran great races to be second and third in the Aintree hurdle. Hitman jumped brilliantly in the Melling Chase and only found Fakir D’oudairies too good for him under an accomplished ride from Lorcan who stepped in for B.
Lorcan obviously would not have wanted to ride Hitman in those circumstances with someone else injured, but he did a brilliant job as a replacement. That for me was the low point of Aintree, Bryony getting injured as the poor thing had the same thing happen to her at the same meeting last year. I hope that it will not be long and she will be back in the saddle.
The last horse I want to mention is Cat Tiger, who finished second in the Foxhunters under David Maxwell, giving him a fantastic thrill over the big fences once again. Cat is not a big scopey horse but he is agile, intelligent, accurate at his jumps and very honest, making him the perfect ride for David who executed his and Pauls race plan to perfection. It was just a shame on the day there was one too good for him.
Aintree for me is always a real treat and all of the team that go up with Paul get incredibly well looked after by Ged Mason, Paul’s long-time sponsor, owner and most importantly great friend. Ged is a wonderfully generous man who treats us all so well when we are up at Aintree and goodness does he know how to throw a party! Of all the places that the Betway Bowl has been I am sure it has the biggest celebrations when Ged wins it. He is a great man and I know how grateful Paul is to have his support. We all are.
With Aintree now out of the way, there is under two weeks left of the season and even more frightening that there is under two weeks left of my tenure as Assistant Trainer to the boss, something I haven’t thought about massively up until just now. I am doing my best to enjoy every last second of my time here and still working as hard as I ever have done, but I now know I’m on borrowed time. The next two weeks are full of good stuff, plenty of racing, gearing up to hopefully a big assault on Sandown on the last day of the season, as well as maybe a little trip to Perth in the meantime.
It would be fantastic to end the season on a high with some nice winners and all things being equal it looks likely that Paul will once again be Champion Trainer, something that not only means an awful lot to him, but to all of us too.
We work hard all season long to help produce the results Paul requires and hopefully over the next two weeks we will continue to do so.
I will talk to you all before I am done but until then. Go well.