With the new season approaching, and Chepstow only days away, I thought it was about time to write my second blog. Telling you of a few things that some of the team and I got up to over the summer months, and my thoughts for the season ahead.
This summer has been the quietest for Team Ditcheat in a long time on the racing front, with only a few runners. However, I’m not particularly upset about that. I’m not the biggest fan of summer racing and am definitely in the camp that believes there should be a longer break than just the odd week here and there. And I certainly think a month of no jumping racing can only be good thing.
The lack of runners over the summer gave me plenty of time for other important jobs.
Our most significant and pressing task was the maintenance of our four gallops. Paul and I had agreed during the season that it was time to overhaul the surface of our hill gallop. After more than a decade of service, the old surface had seen better days. Additionally, the decision was made to address our problematic deep sand gallop, a perpetual headache due to its tendency to flood and freeze, far from the ideal conditions for training racehorses. To tackle these issues, we opted to remove the deep sand gallop and replace it with the surface from the hill gallop that was slightly less worn. With this groundwork laid, our next challenge was to clear the remaining surface from the hill. Once the hill had been cleared and some patchwork tarmacking had been done, we laid around 600 tonnes of brand-new gallop. I won’t bore you with the detail, but as you can imagine it took a lot of man-hours and I’m now an expert at driving a dumper truck.
Altogether we moved around 2000 tonnes of surface around Ditcheat. The team included Lance and his groundworks team, especially Phil, and Rob our gallops man. Although it’s unfair to call Rob just our ‘gallops man’. He’s invaluable in too many ways to mention; a man who can turn his hand to anything and also the man I ring if need a hand, or break anything – much to his occasional irritation. Another name to mention is Freddie Gingell who not only is a brilliant upcoming jockey but a pretty damn good driver of a digger and dumper truck.
I would like to give a big thank you to those boys. Without their hard work and determination, we wouldn’t have got this project done.
The time was also busy with making sure that all the horses out in field were well taken care of. During the summer months we can have up 120 horses in the fields surrounding Ditcheat, so checking them all two or three times a day takes a bit of time. But I do love wandering around, getting to know the new horses and seeing all the others relaxing and enjoying their break.
In June, I was lucky enough to attend the Tattersalls Derby Sale in Ireland with Paul. I’d never been to one of the store sales before and I really enjoyed going around with him and Tom Malone, Paul’s Bloodstock agent who oversees finding the next stars for Team Ditcheat. It was really interesting to see what Paul and Tom look for in each individual horse: studying their pedigree, looking at each horse’s confirmation and the way they move, and finally seeing how they handle the sale.
I have to say, the adrenaline rush when you are trying to buy a horse in the ring is quite addictive. We were lucky enough to buy three quality horses and I can’t wait to see their progression.
Next, they will go to Will Biddick, who does a brilliant job of breaking them in. Typically, they spend a year with Will and his team, learning all about being a racehorse, with the plan to run them in the following Autumn. This might seem like a slightly slow process but I think the more time you can give young horses the better. It’s certainly brought about great results, with horses like Stage Star, Mcfabulous, Knappers Hill and Threeunderthrufive coming through and all being multiple graded winners.
This year we’ve bought 17 three-year-olds, who are all now with Will. From him, we have 18 four-year-olds coming into the yard to run in bumpers, which is equally exciting. Seeing these young horses coming through, showing improvement from year to year is one of my favourite parts of the job. So being able to being able to be there and see why Paul and Tom chose them and the exact time they became part of Team Ditcheat was brilliant.
All the horses came back in on the second Monday of July, and it was back to business all over again. We also welcomed some new faces to the team, and I hope they all enjoy a great season and many exciting new horses.
Now came the long process of getting the horses race fit. Typically, this begins with trotting up the steep roads of Ditcheat Hill, clinging onto fresh horses – trying your best not to be at the top of the tumblers list, with the penalty of buying cakes for the team. Incidentally, as I write this blog, the position is held by Harry Cobden, who, much to the disappointment of the staff, still has not brought in a single cake. Hopefully this might jog his memory!
The months of July and August can sometimes feel like a bit of a slog as everyone is working hard to get their horses in peak performance, while racing and the reward of winners still feels like an age away. However, once the horses start working and schooling you can feel the excitement and anticipation building around the yard. Watching the horses schooling is something I look forward to more than anything. It’s a thrill to see our novice hurdlers making steady progress, session by session. They grow more confident and skilled with each time. At the same time, our established stars never fail to show exactly why they are as good as they are displaying both power and balance.
This season is full of hope and expectation. We have an amazing team of horses; the best we’ve had for years. If I go through some of those I’m particularly excited to see, I don’t think I can start anywhere but with Bravemansgame. He had the most amazing season, winning the King George and finishing second in the Gold Cup. Hopefully, he can have another great season and maybe go one better in the next Gold Cup.
I’m also really excited to see how Stage Star performs in open company. He gave me one of the best days on a racecourse when winning at the Festival and I hope it’s not the last. Another older horse I am looking forward to seeing is Pic D’Orhy after his Grade 1 win at Aintree.
I think we have a brilliant group of novice chasers, headed by our three Grade 1 winning novice hurdlers: Stay Away Fay, Hermes Allen and Tahmuras: all very exciting prospects. Meanwhile, Knappers Hill may not have won a grade 1, but he did win two Grade 2’s over hurdles last season. They have all schooled brilliantly and I hope they’re capable of winning lots of races between them.
We also have a number of horses who look like they will, as the saying goes, ‘improve for a fence’. Horses like my old friend Knowsley Road, Henri the Second, Golden Son and new to us this season, Ginny’s Destiny. Creating a group of novice chasers that you can’t help but get excited about.
We also have an exciting team of novice hurdlers, led by Captain Teague, who ran so well in the champion bumper at Cheltenham, and the unbeaten Inthewaterside. I could continue to name loads of exciting novice hurdlers – with 18 individual bumper winners going novice hurdling that would be easy – but probably bore those of who’ve slogged through to this point.
A couple of slightly lesser-known names I’m intrigued to see run are Farnoge, who won a bumper at Uttoxeter – the form of which has worked out very well. Also, two horses who have come off the flat are Liari and Panjari. Their schooling has been very good and they look quite exciting.
A few of the boys are getting excited about some of the bumper horses. I think that at this stage Touquet, Regents Stroll and Kap Boy are leading the way and might be worth following.
I hope that all the horses can put their best hoof forward and give their owners a huge amount of fun. But most importantly that when they step out on the racetrack, they all come home safely.
I don’t think it’s hard to tell that I’m really excited for the season to start. I hope Team Ditcheat has a great year full of winners, fun and memories to cherish, and fingers crossed for a 15th Trainers Championship.
Finally, before I go, I quickly want to wish an important member of the team the best of luck. Chloe Humphries, who has worked for Paul for several years, is riding in a charity race at Wincanton on the 29th of October and I wish her the best of luck and hope she loves every second of it. And wins! Of course. No pressure Chloe!
If any of you would be kind enough to sponsor her and the Bob Champion Cancer Trust, that would be great. CLICK HERE to donate.
Until next time.