With all the worry in the world at present I, like I am sure many of you, have been feeling a bit down about the situation recently. A huge amount of uncertainty, unprecedented lock downs and life as we know it for now very different.
What better way to cheer myself up than to look back and think about all the great moments of the past season, a season that has finished without really ending, a little like watching the Gold Cup on television, reaching the ditch at the top of the hill before losing power – the most exciting part was still to come and sadly we have been denied it.
However, for now our focus must centre on our health and making sure everyone takes as much care as they can while this horrible situation takes grip. It will in time pass and I am already looking forward to that moment. While we are in the middle of it though, here are my highlights of a season cut short, I was going to narrow it down to five or ten but then I figured nobody is in a hurry so have extended it to 15.
Not all of the highlights are big or newsworthy, but they were all important to me and I will remember them fondly, I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I enjoyed experiencing them.
15 – Bryan carves out first pro win for Paul
There was not too much significance heading to Wincanton’s meet on December 5th, but it was an important day for Bryan Carver who had turned professional earlier in the season. His year was going along nicely but things so far had conspired against him being on the right horse for Paul until that point, cue Scaramanga.
A talented hurdler who had disappointed on his seasonal reappearance at Chepstow, Scaramanga was right back to his best winning in good style under a very accomplished ride from Bryan who, before he had weighed out calmly said to me; “I’ll just keep this fairly simple and he will win won’t he.” It was much more of a statement than a question and I loved it.
Bryan rode the horse with that very same belief and that win really was the catalyst for him to start gaining some momentum this season. Bryan is a really intelligent and likeable guy so everyone at the yard was delighted to see him start flying along this year. He is brilliant with owners and rides a nice race so I’m really optimistic he will have a good career ahead of him in the saddle.
14 – Silver shines at Sandown
In her short career for Paul and owner Colm Donlon, Silver Forever (or Marge as she is affectionately known) is already the winner of five races, three of them over hurdles this season and her final performance was quite brilliant as she thrashed subsequent Festival winner Indefatigable and some other solid mares to win out of novice company in a common canter.
She was then being prepared for the Grade Two Jane Seymour Novices’ Hurdle when she disappointingly picked up a small injury cutting short her season.
I have no doubt Marge is a high-class mare with so much more to give and the way she sauntered up the Sandown hill that sunny January day brought a huge smile to my face and still does when I think about it now. Whatever she does next season she is very much one to follow.
13 – Likeable Quel gets it right in early season target
Even the most critical person would find it hard to knock Quel Destin who back in October made the perfect start to his season winning the Listed four-year-old hurdle at Cheltenham in extremely gutsy fashion – a plan Paul had in mind for him literally since he ran his last race the season before.
Quel is one of those horses you just love to have in the yard; straightforward, genuine, no trouble at all, eats all his food and just gets on with his job, the fact he’s a Grade One winner is merely a happy bonus.
In his short, but already successful career with us, he has achieved plenty and I just love the way he battles as if his life depends on it every time he runs.
Quel is owned by Sir Martin Broughton and friends who thoroughly enjoy their days out win lose or draw and winning at Cheltenham in October with Quel was just one of many really fun days Paul and Sir Martin have had together, it is my bet they will have plenty more with him over fences next year.
12 – Justice for Capeland in the Hurst Park
Another long-term plan of Paul’s that came off in fine style was Capeland’s big day at Ascot winning the most valuable two-mile chase of the season at Ascot, the Hurst Park Chase.
Capeland’s prep run for that event was a complete disaster with him and Diego Du Charmil getting in a muddle at Ascot a month or so beforehand, resulting in Capeland being disqualified. However, to everyone’s delight in the yard his big day came and Capeland read the script perfectly.
It was a very well-deserved victory for a likeable horse owned by some even better people. Kathy and Roy Stuart have had horses with Paul for many, many years and were so sporting when he was disqualified it was great they had their day. Whenever the boss is away and I have to make the phone calls to owners I always look forward to talking to Kathy who is a very knowledgeable woman and she sends her horses back following their summer breaks looking in perfect condition.
11 – Saint Sonnet hits the right note
Bit of a left field highlight this one, but I have included this win more for the reason of what is to come from Saint Sonnet rather than what he actually achieved on the day. Sonnet, a Listed winner over hurdles in France, joined us not long before Christmas so we were always slightly up against it time wise this season.
He always looked a high-class horse at home but, having won a small chase in France, Paul knew if he was to take his chance at Cheltenham in the Marsh Novices’ Chase then he needed to have a look at English-style fences beforehand.
A long journey up to Catterick in the back of Harry’s car was made easier by a double on the day, a surprise in the owners & trainer’s bar with complimentary beef goulash and a pint, but most importantly a win from Sonnet, not a major or noteworthy win, but he did the job before running eye-catchingly at Cheltenham. He is a talented young horse who I very much believe has his best days ahead of him.
10 – Pic D’Orhy delivers on abundant promise in the Betfair
Rather like Saint Sonnet I have included Pic, a handsome and hugely talented son of French sire Turgeon, more so for what I believe he will one day go on to do rather than what he has achieved so far.
Up until the day where he won the valuable Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, things had been slightly stop-start with him since he joined us from France, boasting top-class three-year-old form. However, his win at Newbury confirmed his big engine was in perfect working order and, although we would have loved to run him at Aintree or Punchestown, it is Paul’s belief that he could take his form to the next level over fences, a theory I totally agree with.
His owner, Johnny de la Hey, has been patient with him and rightly so as he is a big horse with a very bright future and it was really satisfying to reward Johnny and his family’s support with a big win in the Betfair Hurdle under a brilliant ride from Harry. Nothing gets Mr Cobden going quite like a big prize fund!
9 – Kilmington yet to bloom on the Pelham’s journey
Why, you might ask, have I included a mare who has run once, finishing second in a January Taunton bumper? Well I will explain.
Kilmington Rose, a quite beautiful daughter of the late Presenting, finished second on debut behind subsequent Listed winner Coquelicot, a run we were delighted with on ground much softer than ideal. She will be a lovely mare over timber next season and is owned by some really lovely people in the Pelhams. Father and son, Henry and Charlie, own her, but their whole family made up by wife and daughter Sarah and Sophie are great people and have supported Rose since they purchased her as a three-year-old unraced store.
Their delight at seeing her finished a very promising second on debut was clear to see and, although sadly we have not been able to run her on some spring ground, she heads into next year a mare capable of doing nicely over hurdles. I sincerely hope she does as I know the Pelhams will thoroughly enjoy the journey she will take them on.
One day, once her racing days are over, I know Sarah plans to breed from Rose so I hope Paul gets to train some of her progeny in the future. A debut in the pouring rain on heavy ground in January at Taunton? What’s not to love eh?
8 – McFabulous lives up to his name
Mcfabulous winning the rearranged EBF Final was, for a competitive looking handicap remarkably straightforward, but his season was not.
Having nearly fallen on debut when scaring himself at the second while jumping a swinging hurdle, McFabulous did not run up to anywhere near his best on his first two runs of the year, giving himself no chance having jumped poorly throughout on both starts. Paul knew he was markedly better than he had shown and went in search of a confidence boost at Market Rasen where, stepped up in trip, he put in a performance much more like the level we expected.
From that day on, Paul had one aim and that was the EBF Final and happily the plan came together perfectly. His jumping, following lots of practice, clicked into place and he won like a very smart horse. I know Paul absolutely loves this horse and it would be no surprise to me if he ends up at Grade One level with some luck.
His Kempton performance was a thoroughly satisfying moment as he powered clear of his field ears pricked after the last, his impressive stamina kicking in and I’m sure that will not be the last you hear of Waiting Patiently’s half-brother.
7- Edinburgh foray one to remember
It is not often we cross the border into Scotland, but the few times we did this year it proved very successful. For the last few seasons we have targeted Musselburgh’s big weekend in February with plenty of valuable races to be won up there. This year we sent a small army up there for the two days of racing and happily came back with five winners, three on Saturday and two on Sunday with my highlight being the upwardly mobile Greaneteen cantering home in the Scottish Champion Chase.
The results were obviously a huge part of it being a great weekend, but off the track everyone at Musselburgh were so accommodating throughout the trip for me and the rest of Paul’s staff who made the long journey.
I travelled up with a great friend of mine Johnny Burke who enjoyed victory in the Scottish County Hurdle. On the Saturday morning and, after the day’s racing, we spent the evening in Edinburgh and enjoyed what is a lovely city. Some great food and a couple of drinks with Max McNeill and his pals set us up for the Sunday.
Another good day’s racing under the belt we headed back to Edinburgh airport to a couple of beers, a burger and a flight home. Winners, good food, a beer or two, nice people and a great friend. A top weekend all round really.
6 – Confirmation Bias behaves himself
A rainy, freezing cold, soft-ground Wincanton had half an hour before provided Paul his umpteenth Badger Ales Chase victory courtesy of Give Me A Copper and, although that was great, I was more nervous for the closing race of the day.
For some time, Will Biddick – who breaks in all of Paul’s store horses – was reporting on their progress on a weekly basis; “This one goes nicely”, “He jumps great”, “I can run faster than this one”, “Perhaps a different career would suit”, “Very weak but in time could be a very nice horse”, and always at the end, a Conformation Bias update; “Yeah behaving at the moment”.
Will is just about the best rider I know and, at times this fella had Will scratching his head, a fact that worried me. You see, for the majority of the time he behaved well, but when he turned it was like a flick of switch and we were never quite sure what he may do next.
Sure enough Conformation Bias joined us and Bryan Carver was the man we thought ideal to ride him every day and bar the odd moment he was generally going in the right direction. Fast forward to his race though and this was a whole new kettle of fish, how would he behave? Would he drop Harry? Will he allow himself to show the ability he has without his mind being blown by his big day out?
Such was our concern that Will came to lead him up and, after saddling him carefully in the stables where he wasn’t mad about his over girth, we made our way to the paddock. Pre-race chat from Paul, Colm his owner and Harry over, the bell rang and we headed to get on him.
“I’ve been riding for Paul a good while now and never has he said sit tight,” were Harry’s words to me.
I smiled and told him Paul’s advice in no uncertain terms was sound advice. I legged Harry up and then it was down to Will and him. While not perfect, Conformation behaved in a fashion and got the start ready, hopefully to do his thing. The race worked out nicely and you could see the whole way up the straight Harry teaching him to stretch and go forward without putting the gun to his head.
He quickened well to pick up the leaders before it was confirmed Harry was braver than both Will and Bryan as he took one hand off his reins to give him a couple of flicks with his stick to get his head down on the line.
To watch a horse who had caused his fair share of trouble win on debut like that was very satisfying for a number of people that had worked hard to get him there. A good summer break and I would like to think he’ll be well up to winning some nice races over hurdles.
5- Enrilo displays a glimpse of future promise
Another graduate of the Will Biddick-academy, Enrilo is a really handsome son of Bucks Boum who, by sheer luck (trust me I’m no judge), I have always loved.
He is a big raw horse who, although now six, has plenty more to come from him as he develops and strengthens up, but his biggest day of the season was last December when winning the Grade Two Winter Novice Hurdle at Sandown when putting in a fine display of stamina and hurdling.
That is what I think this horse is all about. Because Paul does not train his novice hurdlers that hard they are just short of top-class over timber, but they really find their groove over fences and I believe that will be the case for this lad.
Enrilo is a beautiful jumper with a lot of natural scope and I know Harry thinks the world of him, so I am sure that there is much more to come from him when he tackles fences next season and when he is fully grown. Running over three miles in big chases is the time you will see a really high-class horse develop. Sandown was great but I would be shocked if it was Enrilo’s last big day.
4 – Kempton King Clan reigns again
Whenever I think about it I just cannot get my head round the fact that Paul has won 11 King George’s, it is just madness. I would imagine winning one is hard enough, but this is a race he has made his own and Clan Des Obeaux putting in another stunning display to become a dual winner of the race made for a very special day indeed.
Harry obviously faced an impossibly difficult choice between Clan and Cyrname and once he has made his choice I was delighted that Sam Twiston- Davies, a great rider and friend, took the ride on Clan.
The race itself for Clan was never in doubt and I still beam ear to ear when I think back to that jump at the last that sealed his win. To win any race for Mr Barber, Paul’s landlord and Ged Mason, Paul’s sponsor, is great but to win a race of that magnitude for two of Paul’s biggest supporters is just magic.
A special day for sure and here’s hoping Clan can go back there in top form in December for a crack at a third win round Kempton, a track he is quite brilliant at.
3 – Fifth time lucky for Champion grey Guey
I do not think this one needs much explaining does it?
I know that it will go down in history in the end as a disappointing contest as Altior and Chacun Pour Soi did not take to the field of play while Defi Du Seuil failed to run his race. However, while that paints the picture of the day itself it does not tell the whole story of the winner, who in turn enjoyed his finest day.
You see Politologue, who was lining up at his fifth Cheltenham Festival has been a high-class horse for a number of seasons now, a Tingle Creek and Melling Chase already notches on his belt. However, he had been below form this season with a massively under-par effort in this season’s Tingle Creek leaving Paul to ponder why this rock-solid chaser did not show up and, perhaps more worryingly, why was he bleeding performing routine canters at home.
Cue the magic. A complete change in routine followed for Guey, a kinder more honest horse you would not find and one clear-cut target for him. To have him cherry ripe ready to run for his life fresh and well on the Wednesday of the Festival.
I often say it but when Paul targets a race from a long way out his record is incredible and when we saw Politologue dance around the Cheltenham parade ring we knew Paul had hit his target. With Harry Skelton taking the reins for the first time Guey put in the defining race of his career, making all the running, jumping boldly and galloping up the hill clear of his rivals.
This was a victory for the Hales family who have enjoyed so much luck with top-class horses over the years, the team at home who worked so hard to get him right, Paul who planned his preparation so perfectly, Harry Skelton a nicer fella you could not meet enjoying his biggest win of his career, but most importantly this was a victory for Politologue and there is not a horse in our yard who deserves it more. A proper warrior whose day in the sun at Cheltenham was completely wonderful.
2 – Cyrname gives me heart failure
I have never felt such a vast range of emotions than I did that day when Cyrname fell at the last in the Betfair Ascot Chase.
From fearing the absolute worst when he initially fell and running down the track towards him, to those 10 or so minutes when he was on the ground when I just felt sick, desperately hoping he would get up. Contrast those emotions to the sheer joy and relief when he got up to his feet, that day Cyrname put us all through it, but that feeling of him getting up beat any winner.
He was obviously spine-tinglingly good first time out this season and, sadly for whatever reason, he did not quite produce that same level of form thereafter. Rest assured though Cyrname fans, I am sure Paul will get him back to his brilliant and devastating best.
As long as I go racing though, I will never forget the relief I felt when he got up from that fall and will always remember the reception he got when he rose. He is a brave and special horse who will have his time again of that I am sure.
1- Truckers knee deep in mud . . . and loves it
To be honest any one of the top four could have easily been the best highlight of the year and, while some of you may raise an eyebrow as to why a handicap victory at Uttoxeter takes the top spot over the Grade One victories, this is my personal highlight and this win for Truckers Lodge and Lorcan was a truly brilliant day.
Truckers Lodge joined us in the summer of 2018 and on his first start for us was well beaten off a mark in the early 120s in a handicap hurdle at Worcester. He has since pretty much improved with every run since though and what fun it has been to watch.
He is owned by some great people called Gordon and Su Hall who absolutely love their horses be it their hunters, show jumpers or racehorses and they support them all passionately. Truckers had enjoyed a great season up until the Midlands National, wining his novice chase at the third attempt, before running a huge race in the Welsh National on only his fourth run over fences, finishing second to Potters Corner.
That was a brilliant effort so, heading to Uttoxeter, we were all fairly confident he was going to take an awful lot of beating and having walked the track on arrival even more so. The ground was bottomless and over just further than four miles so we knew Truckers’ bottomless reserves of stamina would come to the fore. Lorcan explained his plan and I would imagine rarely in Lorcan’s career has a race gone so perfectly every step of the way.
He was never far away from the pace and jumped like a seasoned professional throughout, powering clear towards the last fence before a bold jump sealed the win. It was the biggest win of Lorcan’s career and I was so happy for him as he saluted the crowd passing the winning line.
Su Hall had lost her mother earlier in the week so Truckers provided a timely boost for the family. I love staying chases and that day at Uttoxeter in brutal conditions saw Truckers Lodge make light work of a really tough assignment. I really, really enjoyed that one.
So there you go, my personal highlights from a season that has ended without really finishing.
Until I have the chance to blog again, I would like to thank you for reading my appraisal of another brilliant season while wishing you all good health and a safe few months before we emerge from this crisis.
Go well and please take care.