When contemplating the last seven days, I am not too sure where to start. Cheltenham, always the biggest week of our year, comes with so much pressure and expectation that to come away with two Grade 1 winners made it really very special.
Cheltenham week is exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure with the two-hour drive there and back punishing enough every day as well as everything that goes with the week. For all that the weather was not perfect spring-time sunshine, the crowds were huge and I hope that all of you that attended thoroughly enjoyed your days there.
It’s funny, I have been lucky enough to be at the Festival for a number of years now and every time, prior to the first race on each day, I have a beaming smile across my face knowing how lucky I am to be a part of it all.
I will start with the two winners of the week with Topofthegame and Frodon, winning the RSA Chase and the Ryanair respectively.
Topper is a huge horse has always been high-class so, since his run at Christmas, this race has been the only plan. It has not always been plain sailing with Topper and his training schedule has not been without mishap so to get him there in peak conditions was a remarkable training performance. The man who deserves a big mention for his part in this victory is Matt Hampton who rides Topper everyday and has done a brilliant job. You would not think it because of his size, but Topofthegame is a nervous horse and not particularly trusting, but Matt and him have a great relationship and they get on well which keeps Topper relaxed in his work from day to day.
Harry’s game works perfectly
I personally felt it was one of the rides of the Festival from Harry who executed his patient waiting tactics brilliantly and produced him to lead at the last before asking him with his whip just three times. It was a ride of supreme confidence and maturity advertising the fact Harry is right at the top of his game too.
A day later, I witnessed one of the bravest and most amazing wins I think I have seen at Cheltenham with Frodon making just about every yard to win the Ryanair Chase. By this stage if you are a regular reader of the blog you will know all about Frodon, his character, his nature and his bravery. He really is a special horse and it took all of his guts and determination to get the job done. His jumping was simply incredible and, although being hassled the whole way, he never once took his eye off the job.
After the race though it was madness, absolute madness. The noise was deafening for the whole walk back down into the winners’ enclosure with Bryony and Frodon lapping up all the attention. It really was a special moment as he came into the paddock to face a hero’s welcome for a true Cheltenham warrior.
For the Vogts, his quite wonderful owners, Michelle – who I am not sure has stopped crying yet given she looks after him – and Holley who rides him every day, Thursday was a day that will not be forgotten by all of us at team Ditcheat. Frodon really is a lion heart and I love him dearly.
Clan and Guey give their all in defeat
I was immensely proud of Clan in a tough Gold Cup who ran his heart out to be fifth after jumping brilliantly throughout. The Gold Cup is obviously the race that everyone dreams of winning and, while this year that didn’t happen for us, we were still pleased with Clan who gave everything as he kept on bravely even when he was beaten.
Of the other beaten horses there were plenty who did very well. Brio Conti travelled beautifully in the Coral Cup for a long way to finish fourth, Brelan D’as ran a mighty race to be third in the Grand Annual, but the one who made me most proud and was the highlight of my week was Politologue who ran a huge career best when finishing second behind Altior in the Champion Chase.
Altior is obviously a supreme champion and all credit to him, but Guey really made him fight for it up the hill and gave everything in trying to beat him. Although he did not succeed he fought like a champion and deserved his big round of applause he received when he came back to the winners’ enclosure.
The wonderful thing about the Cheltenham crowd is that they appreciate top-class horses and all of them receive a generous welcome be it a winner or placed horse and rightly so as the competition there is so, so tough.
One thing I could not do in this blog was forget to mention our little Malaya who won the Imperial Cup at Sandown a couple of days before Cheltenham and in the process pulling off a good little plan put together by the boss. Malaya, who sometimes can be her own worst enemy, such is her competitive nature, battled hard to win and could head to something like a Scottish Champion Hurdle before go novice chasing next season.
Staff efforts ensure Cheltenham week runs smoothly
While for most, Cheltenham week is an absolute ball, filled with drink, socialising and fun, the week for our team at home and at the races is long and tough. Everyone feels remarkably lucky to be part of it of course, but I must pass on a huge well done to all our staff who made the week run like clockwork.
The horses left every morning at 7am sharp and were not home before 9pm before kit then had to be packed and prepared for the next day. All that hard work needs doing to a high level for Paul to achieve the big results he did.
We of course enjoyed a few beers and a fine rendition of Sweet Caroline, a track which is fast becoming a Ditcheat sound track following our big wins.
In this season, a season where Paul’s horses are running better than ever, it felt almost fitting that Paul roared back to Grade 1 success at the festival; after all he prides himself on his improving young chasers and in the case of his two winners that is exactly what he has.
The yard continues in good form and although we face a fairly quiet week ahead, we are now regrouping and preparing the string for what will hopefully be a successful six weeks until the end of the season.