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It was probably the right call

I am feeling a bit lost at the moment following the cancellation of all racing in this country until the end of April because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

One minute we were full on after Cheltenham with a double the following weekend, the horses were in top form and there was lots of planning for the final six weeks of the season with meetings such as Aintree, Ayr, Cheltenham, Perth and Sandown. Then the sky fell in.

It was probably the right call by the BHA to call a halt to racing given the very real threat to life. Whichever way you look at it the situation is scary not just for racing but for everyone with so much uncertainty about the future.

My immediate concern is for the welfare of our hard working staff, all 55 of them who make up Team Ditcheat. I’ve assured my owners that I’m not going to lay anyone off while we continue to look after upwards of 150 horses who will remain with us until they can go off on their summer break out to grass at the start of May.

One or two people have suggested we should be turning them out now but it is far too early to be doing that. They are not cars that can be switched off with the turn of a key.

The paddocks are very wet and need to be fertilised and rolled so that there is enough grass grown for the eight weeks’ the horse are out.

We will take our time to rough the horses off properly over a period of weeks as we do every year, so until the end of April we will be keeping things ticking over in a familiar routine with all the horses continuing to be exercised, fed and looked after.

When the time comes they can then go out to grass on their holidays and my view has always been that if you turn them out looking well then they stay looking well.

While the mood in these challenging times is downbeat at the moment it was good to see Topofthegame being ridden out every morning last week for light exercise after the leg injury in September that forced him to miss the rest of the season. He looks great and is such a big horse that the enforced break might have been a blessing in disguise.

Topofthegame will be doing routine roadwork for another three weeks and then start cantering for a fortnight. After that we will turn him out before bringing him back into training again early in July.

Over the past week we’ve also been doing lots of schooling with the young horses who are going hurdling next season which we will continue to do.

I’m trying to stay positive and have a team of twenty who would be suitable for summer jumping if it happens.


You have to believe in your horses

A striking treble on a Saturday completed an eventful week for Team Ditcheat

It was strange to not have a single runner on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday. But twenty four hours later Politologue and Dynamite Dollars delivered the highlight of the week for the yard by finishing first and second in the Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase.

While one or two of ours come up short on the final two days at Cheltenham, Truckers Lodge ran out a very impressive winner of the Midlands Grand National on Saturday with Fidelio Vallis and McFabulous also on the mark at Kempton.

I was thrilled to see Politologue enjoy his day in the sun with a career best because he has been competing at the highest level for most of his racing life.

Things did not go his way when he bled in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December when a few of ours were below par.

You have to believe in your horses and I remember that he wasn’t beaten far by Altior in the Queen Mother twelve months ago. I’m sure he was nowhere as good then as he is now. The plan since Sandown was to do things a bit differently and bring Politologue straight to Cheltenham fit, fresh and bouncing and Harry Skelton played his part with a flawless ride from the front.
The horse was never going to stop and it was fabulous to watch with Dynamite Dollars finishIng a fine second, staying on strongly, given that he didn’t run this season until a month before the Festival. You could see how much this great success meant to Politologue’s owner John Hales who has been such a long standing supporter of the yard.

On Thursday Frodon never stopped trying in the Ryanair but found the opposition a fair bit tougher than last year.

We had high hopes for Clan Des Obeaux on the final day in the Gold Cup after a perfect preparation but he never seemed happy at any stage of the race, was in a bit of a sulk because he didn’t enjoy being dropped in and eventually finished eighth. He was fine the next day but we’ve decided we will not be taking him back to Cheltenham. Next up for Clan could be the Gold Cup at Punchestown in April if it is on and next season he will be trained with a view to winning a third King George V1 Chase on Boxing Day.

Another disappointment on Friday was Solo who found things happening a bit quickly in the Triumph Hurdle and didn’t come down the hill too well. In hindsight maybe we should have kept him for Aintree but long term I’ve no doubt he is going to be a lovely chaser.

Results on Saturday provided plenty of cheer with Truckers Lodge leading the way with a notable triumph in the Midlands Grand National. The horse has progressed all season in conditions that suit, was running away from start to finish and was given a fine ride by Lorcan Williams who was gaining the biggest success of his career. Truckers looks an obvious candidate for the Scottish Grand National.
Fidelio Vallis and McFabulous both shone in victory over hurdles at Kempton. Fidelio Vallis might go to Sandown for the final of the Novice championship series while McFabulous landed the re-arranged EBF final easily. Slick accurate jumping was the hallmark of both horses who are going to be exciting over fences next season. Before then McFabulous could go to the Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree.
For all the latest news on my runners on Saturday please turn to my Betfair column which goes live at 5pm the previous evening


I couldn’t be happier

It is always good to start Cheltenham week with a winner and Oleg certainly played his part with an easy success on the flat at Southwell on Sunday afternoon ridden by my daughter Megan.

While bigger challengers lie ahead over the four days of the Festival I couldn’t be happier with the form and health of the team.

The horses have been in cracking form and it’s such a shame that waterlogged conditions at so many courses have prevented me from running more of them.

Many trainers will have shared my frustration at the loss of Sandown’s two day card at the weekend following the abandonment of Newbury a week earlier.
Given that we are all in the same boat full marks should go to the BHA for ensuring that the EBF Final and Mares’ Listed bumper originally scheduled at Sandown have been added to the card at Kempton on Saturday.

We don’t have any runners on the opening day of the Festival but will be busy enough for the rest of the week with some of our best chances coming on the Friday.
We field two in the Champion Chase with Harry Skelton on last year’s runner up Politologue as Harry Cobden has chosen to ride Dynamite Dollars who has come on bundles since his excellent comeback at Newbury.

Later in the afternoon Thyme White is likely to be joined by Mick Pastor in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap.

Saint Sonnet, impressive at Catterick recently, runs in the Marsh Novices’ Chase on Thursday, Frodon will defend his crown in the Ryanair Chase while Brelan d’As is an interesting contender in the Brown Advisory Plate.

We start Friday with a strong hand in the Triumph Hurdle. Solo was hugely impressive on his debut for us in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton and Sir Psycho has progressed with every run. David Maxwell will ride his own horse Cat Tiger in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

I am happy to report that Clan Des Obeaux is in tip top shape for the Gold Cup. To keep him fresh I’ve deliberately not run him since his great win in the King George and am expecting a big show from him.

Alcala is our representative in the Foxhunter Chase, then it is the turn of Greaneteen and possibly Capeland in the Grand Annual before the Martin Pipe in which we have several entries.

There will be no let up in our schedule on Saturday as we will have a number of runners at Uttoxeter and Kempton.

For all the latest news on my runners from Wednesday to Saturday please be sure to turn to my Betfair column which goes live each evening at 5pm.