The jumps review this year will be an illustrated version! My thanks to Tracy Roberts of Turfpix for the use of her extensive portfolio of racing photographs and to equestrian artist Lisa Miller for allowing me to use copies of her prints.
The 2008 Cheltenham festival must rank as one of the most compelling for many years, with the undoubted highlight being the imperious performance of Denman in the Gold Cup.
Kauto Star had unquestionably been the leading jumper of the 2006/7 season but a major challenger was waiting in the wings in the menacing shape of Denman, his stable companion. The doubts about Kauto Star’s ability to retain his Gold Cup title started early, when he suffered a rare defeat at the hands of Monet’s Garden (pictured below) in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree.
Kauto supporters pointed to mitigating factors, the two and half miles might now be on the short side and Monet’s Garden, very much an Aintree specialist was getting a stone. Strictly on the book it was not a bad performance to get within a length and a half of Nicky Richards’ grey but Kauto Star had not travelled as well as we had been used to seeing him.
Kauto went some way to restoring confidence by winning the Lancashire Chase at Haydock, beating his old adversary Exotic Dancer. A week later though, Denman destroyed his rivals in the Hennessy in an awesome display off 11 stone 12, marking him down as a serious Gold Cup challenger.
Denman’s Cheltenham preparation continued as he won the Lexus chase in Ireland and gained a facile victory in the AON at Newbury where only 3 rivals faced him. Kauto Star replied by winning the King George at Kempton and then taking a Grade 1 chase at Ascot over an extended 2 miles 5. The doubts remained over Kauto Star though. His wins had been against the previous season’s opponents, Exotic Dancer, Racing Demon, Turpin Green and Monet’s Garden, none of them really stayers. When his stamina and jumping was put to the test at Cheltenham by the relentless galloping of Denman would he be equal to the task?
When it came to the big day the expected clash of the titans never really materialised. Denman took an early lead, jumped from fence to fence and gradually turned the screw. Kauto Star was never able to lay up with him and Denman could be called the winner a long way from home. Kauto Star was not at his best and made a number of errors but Denman’s jumping was faultless and it will clearly take something special to lower his colours next season.
Kauto Star deserves praise for running his heart out. He He certainly didn’t jump with any great confidence and it was his raw courage which enabled him to hold off the renewed challenge of Neptune Collonges for second.
The 2007 Champion Chase had been won by Voy Por Ustedes (pictured below) but was generally considered to be a below standard renewal. Serious challengers emerged from the Paul Nicholls stable, first Twist Magic, and after Christmas the even bigger threat of Master Minded who beat Voy Por Ustedes in the Game Spirit Chase.
Master Minded proved unstoppable in the Champion Chase trouncing Voy Por Ustedes by 19 lengths. Although he lost his title to the Paul Nicholls trained Master Minded at Cheltenham, he gained his revenge over two and a half miles in the Melling Chase at Aintree where Master Minded failed to stay. This was a deserved success for Alan King’s consistent chaser. In all Voy Por Ustedes, who probably wants further than two miles nowadays has not finished out of the first two in his last 15 completed starts. As well as his success at Aintree he also won the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.
There is no doubting the achievement of Master Minded though as he had only had two runs in the UK before landing the Game Spirit and on the first of those he was a faller at Exeter.
The Champion Hurdle went to the Alan King trained Katchit at 10/1. Little Katchit had only been rated 84 on the flat but has proved a natural over timber and also something of a Cheltenham specialist, having won the Triumph Hurdle in 2007. Although Katchit had won a couple of decent races during the season including the Kingwell at Wincanton the general opinion was that he would find a few too good for him at the Festival. After all he had only managed 3rd behind the enigmatic Harchibald in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and had been beaten by David Pipe’s Osana in the Boylesports International at Cheltenham, often a good Champion Hurdle Trial. On the day though the big hearted Katchit was a worthy winner holding off the persistent challenge of Osana by a length. Katchit is tough, genuine and a credit to the Alan King operation at Barbury Castle.
Osana himself had a good season finishing runner up off top weight in the Greatwood Hurdle and ending the campaign with another creditable effort when second in a Grade 1 at Aintree.
It seemed as though Alan King might have another Triumph Hurdle prospect in the former flat stayer Franchoek when he won for the third time over hurdles in the Future Champions at Chepstow’s Christmas meeting. Like Katchit he is a fluent hurdler and his stamina can be demonstrated by the fact that he won over 2 miles on the flat.
He enhanced his claims with an emphatic win in January at Cheltenham in a race that Katchit won the year before. Ridden by AP McCoy Franchoek went off an evens favourite in the Triumph but found one too good for him in the shape of Celestial Hero, inevitably trained by Paul Nicholls. Celestial Hero had run in races like the Chester Vase and the St Leger on the flat.
Most people’s idea of a festival banker was Inglis Drever in the World Hurdle, a race he would attempt to win for the third time. The only real doubt was over his age. He would be 9 when the festival came round but he soon dispelled any fears on this score with a comfortable win in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, beating Special Envoy. His next race was the Cleeve Hurdle at the end of January and this looked like being a real test as he would face Blazing Bailey, another Cheltenham specialist and a winner there already on New Years Day. There was no stopping Inglis Drever though and he ran out a 5 length winner from Blazing Bailey.
Inglis Drever duly wrote himself into the record books in March becoming the first ever triple winner of the World Hurdle. Inglis Drever and Blazing Bailey renewed their rivalry at Aintree where Blazing Bailey turned the tables winning at 5/1. Inglis Drever once again did not appear to be at home on the tight Liverpool track.
The owners of Inglis Drever collected a second major prize at Cheltenham when Tidal Bay collected the Arkle. Remarkably for a horse that had never been out of the first 2 in his career and had an excellent record at Cheltenham Tidal Bay was allowed to go off at 6/1 and heh positively romped home, being value for 20 lengths. He went on to win the Maghull Novices Chase at Aintree and won 5 races in all during the season. His first win came at Aintree in October where he beat Alberta’s Run by 22 lengths over two and a half miles. Albertas Run jumped poorly that day but his fencing improved as the season progressed and he was one of three horses that dominated the 3 mile novice chase division, the others being Air Force One and Big Bucks.
Albertas Run and Air Force One had both got two wins under their belts when they clashed in the Reynoldstown at Ascot in mid February. Air Force One was made favourite but had to settle for second as Alberta’s Run, under a typically patient ride from Ruby Walsh, jumped the better and won by a length and threequarters. There were differing opinions about the probable outcome when the two met again in the Sun Alliance at Cheltenham but Air Force One was let down by sloppy jumping and could only finish 5th with the honours going to the progressive Alberta’s Run, this time ridden by his usual pilot, AP McCoy. After a confidence boosting win at Market Rasen Air Force One headed for Punchestown while Alberta’s Run was aimed at Aintree. Air Force One ended his season on a high accounting for 4 rivals on his favoured sound surface in the Champion Novices Chase at in Ireland, but Alberta’s Run (pictured below) was beaten at Aintree in the Mildmay Novices, where he finished 3rd to Big Bucks.
Big Buck’s had joined Paul Nicholls with a big reputation from France and although he won a couple of times at Newbury prior to his Aintree success he had often been let down by his jumping. He was not foot perfect at Aintree either but he clearly has a lot of ability and may well go on to even better things next season.
Alberta’s Run was a comparatively rare success for Jonjo O’Neill whose stable had, on the whole, a disappointing time. The aptly named Isn’t That Lucky (pictured below) was one O’Neill runner that did well for my list to follow though. He had run quite well in the Cheltenham Festival Bumper in 2007 and showed promise on his hurdles debut when 4th at Chepstow in heavy ground despite pulling hard. He settled better next time though to win a Sandown novice at 10/1 and rounded off his season with a win at Bangor. He looks a chaser in the making for next season.
Don’t Push It was rather more typical of the Jonjo horses that I followed. He started by taking advantage of a lenient mark over hurdles by beating Lead On (more of him later) in a valuable handicap at Chepstow but then ran into injury problems. After a 4 and a half moknth lay off he reappeared in the Racing Post Plate where he was sent off a 5/2 favourite but was beaten when falling. He was back over hurdles at Aintree 3 weeks later but made no show.
It is hard to see anyone wresting the trainer’s title from Paul Nicholls in the foreseeable future. He just goes from strength to strengths and seems to improve the quality of his team each year. Denman, Kauto Star, Master Minded and Celestial Halo have already had a mention but in truth there was a steady stream of winners throughout the season. The following selection represent a few that particularly caught my eye.
Nicholls runners inevitably captured many of the big Saturday races. Breedsbreeze took a strong renewal of the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in early January and Denman’s brother Silverburn (pictured below) won the Challengers Novices Chase at the Esher track a month later. In the early part of the season, before Master Minded appeared on the scene it had looked as though Twist Magic would represent the Ditcheat trainer in the Champion Chase. After winning the Graduation Chase at Kempton he overturned the favourite, Voy Por Ustedes in the Tingle Creek at Sandown. He was then a warm order for the Victor Chandler Chase but in very testing ground didn’t seem to see his race out and was beaten by Tamarinbleu. This raised doubts about his ability to come up the Cheltenham Hill and he was allowed to go off at 5/1 in the Champion Chase where he could only finish a distant 6th. It was good to see Twist Magic recover at least a degree of his early season form on his final appearance when he won the Kerrygold Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival, beating stable companion Natal.
Ornais (pictured below) won a couple of decent prizes, including the Rising Stars Novice Chase at Wincanton but was a beaten favourite in the 4 mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham. He is probably best on a flat track.
Oslot, a half brother to Kadount, was one of the most prolific winners on my list to follow with 4 successes. His biggest win came in the Pendil Novices Chase at Kempton where he beat Lead On.
Thisthatandtother has figured in many a past review on this site and his half brother The Tother One, now also with Paul Nicholls, ran up a 4 win sequence, including a valuable handicap hurdle at Sandown in early February. He was involved in a bizarre finish at the Festival in the Spa Novices Hurdle. He hit the front travelling supremely well but then wandered all over the place in the run in and ended up finishing 3rd.
There were the darker days for the Champion trainer however; he lost two horses to fatal injuries in one afternoon on November, including the grey Granit Jack, who had been second in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the 2007 Festival. Taranis was quite high in the Nicholls stable pecking order having won the Ryanair Chase at the 2007 Festival and he began his new campaign well winning the James Nicholson Chase at Down Royal, where The Listener was an early faller. After failing to justify favouritism in a valuable handicap hurdle at Haydock where he was unable to make his lenient hurdles rating pay he suffered a career threatening injury at Kempton in the King George, and it seems unlikely that we will see him on the racecourse again.
Any doubts that there may have been about the continued success of the Pipe yard when David took over from his legendary father have been dispelled and the stable enjoyed its fair share of success. This has never been a lucky stable for me and unfortunately nothing seems to have changed in that respect. Of the horses on my list to follow Pablo Du Charmil had an early season success in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter while Time Bandit was a 12/1 winner at Chepstow. One of the most interesting newcomers to the Pipe yard was Ashkazar, a Group level performer on the flat when trained in France.
He certainly showed his class when surging clear in the Imperial Cup at Sandown the week before the Festival. Connections then sent him to Cheltenham in search of the bonus that Imperial Cup winners get if also winning at the Festival. As top weight already for the Fred Winter Handicap he escaped a 4 lbs penalty for his Sandown success. He looked like repeating his Sandown win as he cruised ahead at the top of the hill. Having chased the fast pace, he was held together and wandered around into the second-last and had to settle for runners up spot.
Our Vic has been perhaps an underachiever in his career and some would say that he has not always put everything into his races. The Pipe team have always held him in the highest regard though and he really came good this season. He has often not quite got home over longer trips but he found the 2 miles 5 of the Ryanair Chase just his bag of oats beating Mossbank by 5 lenghts. Several of the Cheltenham winners came unstuck at Aintree but not so Our Vic, who got up on the line to beat Kauto Star by a nose in the totesport Bowl Chase over 3 miles 1 furlong.
There was even greater glory for the Pipe stable at Aintree as Comply or Die won the Grand National in great style. Just as blinkers seemed to revitalise Our Vic, the same could be said for Comply or Die. He had worn them for the first time in the Tommy Whittle Chase where he had run his best acre for some time, only being headed by Cloudy Lane at the last and he then went on to prove his stamina over marathon trips by landing the Eider Chase at Newcastle. In many ways he was the obvious choice for the Grand National. Proven stamina, an ideal weight of 10 stone 9, he had never fallen in his career, a touch of class as shown by his second in the 2005 Royal and Sun Alliance, a top trainer and jockey – in fact I just had to tip him. Sadly I didn’t as I was blinkered by the poor record of horses in the National wearing headgear! The statistic does make some sense if you think about it as in the hurly burly of the National with its big field the ability of a horse to see what is going on around him is important. Comply or Die was always likely to race prominently though and Timmy Murphy is one of the best tacticians around and kept his mount well clear of any traffic problems.
Cloudy Lane was a popular choice for the punters for the Grand National. A winner at the 2007 Festival he had continued to progress during the 2007/8 season running up wins in good handicaps at Haydock, Ayr and Doncaster. A good jumper, he had won over 3 miles 2 furlongs but there was just a niggling doubt about him over extreme distances. On the day he was ridden to get the trip and although he finished a very respectable 5th he was never in a position to threaten the main protagonists. Slim Pickings, 3rd in 2007 again ran well finishing 4th this time, while sadly McElvey an unlucky runner up in 2007 suffered a fatal injury after getting loose when unseating his rider.
Lead On has been mentioned in passing already and like many from Philip Hobbs’ yard he ran pretty consistently throughout the season. He won twice, once at Exeter and then in the Dipper Novices Chase on New Year’s Day after which Richard Johnson described him as “the perfect racehorse.” Snap Tie (pictured below) has always been well regarded by the Hobbs yard and he finished in the money in all 4 of his starts, winning a Cheltenham maiden hurdle in mid October in good style. He put in an excellent effort when 3rd in a strong Supreme Novices at the Cheltenham Festival on ground that would have been too soft for him and he does look at though he is starting to fulfil his potential. Khasab gave me a nice 13/2 winner in a handicap hurdle at Leicester under top weight of 11 stone 12. He had been an unlucky loser on his previous run when falling very heavily at the penultimate flight at Chepstow. The last of this quartet from the Hobbs yard is Planet of Sound whose form figures for the season read 124221. Both his wins came at the expense of other runners from my list to follow. He accounted for the David Pipe trained The Package in November winning at 8/1 and then beat Calgary Bay at Newbury in April. Planet of Sound looks a promising type for novice chases next season.
Imperial Commander was an early season success for my list to follow. He was an impressive winner of a couple of novice chases at Cheltenham but was a major disappointment when returning to the track in December in search of the hat trick. He failed to jump with any fluency and finished last of the 4 runners. He did not run again which may indicate that there was something amiss.
Traditionally Ferdy Murphy’s horses have not found their best form until the second half of the season but that was certainly not the case this time. One of his stable stars, L’Antartique (pictured below) , took the Paddy Power Chase, one of the top races in the first half of the campaign at odds of 13/2. He came to the race on the back of a win in a 3 runner race at Carlisle.
Another Ferdy Murphy runner Niaid de Missalot was one of the more profitable selections from my list winning 2 of his 3 starts at 11/1 and 7/1. The first win came in a competitive handicap hurdle at Haydock just before Christmas staying on strongly after a mistake at the last to beat the Donald McCain trained Regal Heights, with Khasab in 4th. He didn’t run again until winning the Coral Cup in one of the most exciting finishes of the 4 days, getting the better of two other horses from our list to follow in the process. Junior jumped the last in front but Naiad de Missalot (pictured below) edged in front of him on the run in and then just held on despite a strong late surge from Kicks for Free who failed by a nose.
The Ferdy Murphy trained Three Mirrors gave me a late season winner at the Ayr Scottish National meeting. He had shown signs of a return to form when finishing 2nd in a handicap chase at Aintree but did well to win at Ayr, a race he had won the previous season but now off a mark 18 lbs higher. The Paul Nicholls trained Dear Villez made him work hard for the win and the pair pulled well clear of the rest of the field.
After capturing many of the top UK prizes in recent years the Irish failed to dominate this time round. Glencove Marina, one of the main Irish Festival hopes, was a most impressive winner of the Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Novice Chase but was denied his chance at Cheltenham through injury. The trend of the Irish winning in the UK was reversed with several UK raiders winning at the end of season Punchestown Festival. Twist Magic and Neptunes Collonges were two of the high profile winners for Paul Nicholls but Philip Hobbs also came away with a winner in the shape of I Hear a Symphony who won the Star Best For Racing Coverage Novice Hurdle over 2 miles at 10/1. A bumper winner at Limerick for Mags Mullins before being sold for big money, I Hear a Symphony finally gained an overdue win for his new stable after finishing runner up on his previous two starts. His future lies over fences.
The Irish did have their Punchestown successes of course. One that stood out for me was Scotsirish who put in a high class performance to land the 2 miles 5 furlong novice handicap chase under top weight under a top ride from Ruby Walsh.
Talking of jockeys 2008 saw the retirement of Tony Dobbin at the age of 35 after riding almost 1,200 winners in his career including the 1997 Grand National on Lord Gyllene. Apart from Monet’s Garden Dobbin also rode plenty of other winners for Nicky Richards during the season. One horse that I was particularly looking forward to was Money Trix, who has missed the previous season through injury. Unfortunately he was only able to run once winning a graduation chase at Newcastle jumping well and winning easily. Another from the same stable that I thought might do well was Native Coral. He did indeed prove a profitable horse to follow winning twice at 14/1 and 3/1 Musselburgh (handicap hurdle) and Stratford (handicap chase). Native Coral is another that had had leg problems and does not have many miles on the clock.
Tony Dobbin will be helping his girlfriend Rose Davison who is setting up a training operation. Miss Davidson is a leading amateur rider and enjoyed success last season on Nicky Richard’s Modicum who was a model of consistency ending with form figures of 22413p. His win came in a fair novice chase at Huntingdon but his best performance was in defeat when 3rd to Tidal Bay (pictured below) at Aintree in the Maghull Chase. He met the Howard Johnson star on level weights that day and ran an absolute cracker at 40/1.
Howard Johnson’s stable stars Inglis Drever and Tidal Bay are of course owned by Graham and Andrea Wylie. The Wylies purchased two horses from the Irish point to point field, both of which had won their sole points start in impressive fashion. Knockavilla began his UK career by winning a bumper at Carlisle and went on to score on his hurdles debut at Wetherby but was not seen after the 3rd of November. Cool Operator only won one of his four starts but that was at 8/1 in a Catterick novice hurdle. One horse from Howard Johnson’s yard not running in the black and Beige of the Wylies that gave me some success was Cedrus Libani. He won the first 3 of his five starts, the first of which was at Carlisle at 6/1 where he beat Modicum into second place.
Howard Johnson has changed his stable jockey several times in recent years and this season’s incumbent was the Irishman Denis O’Regan, who made a dream start to his UK career. Graham Lee and Paddy Brennan have both performed with distinction in the number one role, but Johnson seems to have found the perfect man for the job in O’Regan.
He came highly recommended. He was number two jockey for the all-conquering Noel Meade stable in Ireland behind Paul Carberry.
Although Lucinda Russell does not have the strength in depth at her disposal of Richards or Johnson, she does well with the ammunition she has. She gave Qwus Law as her horse to follow in a stable interview and this one didn’t let his supporters down. He got off the mark for the season on his third outing winning a novice hurdle at Ayr at 3/1 on heavy ground, displaying battling qualities in the process. He was then pulled up on both of his next two starts, again both at Ayr in heavy ground and he appeared to have lost his way. He came back with a bang on his final start, with the aid of a tongue strap to help his breathing, he produced a gritty display to win a handicap hurdle again at Ayr but this time on better ground. He has been described by his trainer as a bit of a thug. He is due to have a wind operation in the summer and is likely to go over fences next season.
I have always been a bit wary of backing horses with Trigger in the name – something to do with Roy Rogers I suppose. I put such superstition aside last seqason though and enjoyed a fair amount of success with Trigger the Light and Russian Trigger. Trigger the Light (pictured below) won a novice chase at Kempton on my birthday (27th November) but we didn’t see him again until he landed the odds in a 4 runner race at Warwick in mid March. He handles soft ground, jumps fences well enough and with a record of 2 from 2 over the larger obstacles we should see more of him next season.
Russian Trigger won a couple of handicap hurdles showing a willing attitude in the process. The second win was in a Pertemps qualifier at Wincanton on Boxing Day but he only finished 11th in the final at Cheltenham where his hurdling let him down.
There were fewer than usual big priced winners from my list to follow this season. Ballyfoy at 25/1 stands out although unless you were backing blindly he would have been hard to find. His win came in a handicap chase at Newbury but as he had been pulled up on two of his previous starts he was difficult to fancy, although he had come down the handicap. His only other career win had come at Ascot where he claimed the notable scalp of Boychuk, winning at 33/1. His trainer has stated that the horse “has a mind of his own.”
I put Henrietta Knight’s Calgary Bay in my notebook when he was narrowly beaten by one of Nicky Henderson’s at Ludlow one evening in May. Although he only won once he ended with very consistent form figures of 22213202. The solitary win came in December at 9/1, beating Snap Tie by a length. He was also a decent 3rd in the Tolworth Hurdle and ran second to Planet of Sound at Newbury in April.
That evening at Ludlow Evan Williams received the award for the leading trainer at the Shropshire course. His chaser High Chimes featured in my diary at various times during the season and he accounted for one of my better tips when I gave him as my selection in the Kim Muir at The Festival where he won at 14/1. He had earlier finished 3rd behind Cloudy Lane and Comply or Die in the Tommy Whittle and will be interesting next season in the better staying handicaps.
Money Order (Brenden Powell), Tinagoodnight and Dave’s Dream (both N Henderson) and Diamond Harry were unique among the horses on my list to follow as they all won on their only start. Diamond Harry was particularly unusual. He had won the big Newbury Sales Bumper in 2007 and connections decided to postpone his hurdles career for another year while he was aimed at the valuable Newbury race a second time. Timmy Murphy duly steered him home, albeit by a short head, and hurdles beckon for him next season.
Alan Swinbank’s Starting Point paid his way, winning 2 of his 3 starts. He had been kept to bumpers by his patient handler the previous season but made a winning hurdles debut at Catterick and then followed up at Kelso, before being beaten into second on a return to Catterick where he was giving weight away all round.
Mossville broke even as a horse to follow as he won once from 7 starts at 6/1, the success coming in a handicap hurdle at Kempton. The Real Deal looked a particularly poor choice for my list when apparently failing miserable to take to fences. He really looked useless on his first 5 starts failing to complete on three occasions. However, various factors gave me cause for hope when he ran at Haydock in mid February and my diary entry read, “The Real Deal (pictured below) has looked a bit of a disaster over fences to be honest so it is interesting that connections are persevering. In his favour he is coming down the weights although his jumping will have to improve if he is to take a hand in this.”
He jumped like a bunny to win the handicap novice hurdle at Haydock over 2 and a half miles and despite a 12 lbs hike in the weights, and even managed to follow up over 3 miles at Uttoxeter. His wins came at 15/2 and 4/1.
I came unstuck in the Grand National by paying too much attention to “trends” and the blinkers issue. Wild Tonto (pictured below) and Caribou were two more horses where an over reliance on the trends theory caught me out.
Wild Tonto had shown a tendency to hang to his left so I made a note to consider him carefully when racing left handed, particularly on soft ground, I also reckoned that staying trip would likely be his forte. He duly won at 8/1 at Taunton (right handed track) on good ground and over 2 miles 3 and a hlf furlongs. I also thought I had Caribou figured. He wanted a right handed track and soft ground. His win came going left handed at Newbury in a decent handicap chase but at least it was on soft ground. He was quietly fancied for the Betfred Gold Cup at Sandown but was pulled up. He almost certainly didn’t like he quicker ground and quite possibly didn’t stay anyway.
Tazbar was one of the most prolific winners on my list to follow winning 4 times. He had shown plenty of ability in bumpers winning 3 times and he ran a cracker on his hurdles debut only going down by a neck to the much more experienced Lightning Strike in a listed novice hurdle at Haydock in November. Wins at Newcastle Doncaster and Haydock followed the latter two being at Grade 2 level. He bypassed Cheltenham in favour of Aintree but could only finish 6th in the Sefton Novices Hurdle there. Lodge Lane, a dual bumper winner also got off to a good start over timber winning his first two starts at Fontwell and Exeter. He was well down the field in the Spa Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham though so when he met up with Tazbar at Perth at the end of April they both had something to prove. The pair dominated the race with Lodge Lane just getting the upper hand by a head. Both look interesting prospects for next season when I would imagine they would go over fences.
When Tazbar won at Doncaster at the end of January he just got the better of Whiteoak by a short head. Whiteoak (pictured below) was a real star for his trainer Donald McCain winning 3 times. His biggest win came in the inaugural running of the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Young and lightly raced, she will surely be back for this race next year and while she will have the penalty, there is the prospect of more to come over this sort of trip. She ran another cracker at Aintree in the Mersey Novices Hurdle finishing runner up with Franchoek a creditable 3rd. Good runs from them both seeing that they had hard races at Cheltenham.
Donald McCain has made an impressive start to his training career. Cloudy Lane has been something of a flag bearer for the yard and Whiteoak has raised the profile of the stable even too. Another McCain runner that impressed me was Sir Bathwick who ran with credit throughout the season and landed a handicap chase at Newbury at the rewarding odds of 14/1.
One Gulp was another successful runner for my list to follow, scoring 3 times in novice hurdles at Newbury, Leicester and Cheltenham. The last of these was in a Listed mares’ handicap that attracted a strong field where she was helped by fine drive from Dominic Elsworth. One Gulp was also a profitable horse to follow as her wins came at odds of 7/2, 5/2 and 6/1. She was a very worthy Listed winner, who should reap further rewards in the big mares’ races next season.
Ouzbeck had the distinction of being my last winner of the season. He won first time out at Uttoxeter but then rather seemed to go backwards. His second win came on the last day of the season in a novice hurdle at Market Rasen at 13/2 and he has since got off the mark over fences. Ouzbeck is trained by Alan King who had another very successful season with high profile winners such as Katchit, Franchoek and Blazing Bailey. One of his horses that didn’t register a win but still deserves a mention in any review of the season is Halcon Generlardais. He finished runner up in both the Welsh and Scottish Nationals and came 4th in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
As ever, the season had its sadder moments. I have already mentioned the loss of high profile horses Granit Jack and McKelvey. I was especially sad that two lesser lights were also lost. Lenny the Blade had featured in my racing diary over the years but he had enjoyed little success. Lenny then moved from Richard Phillips to Sarah Robinson, a trainer I know nothing about, and his fortunes seemed to buck up. He won a novices’ handicap hurdle at Newton Abbot and was about to follow up at Chepstow when falling two out. He might have survived that but another horse crashed into him and that was the end of it. The mare Inherent, a bumper winner as well as a dual winner over hurdles was killed when falling in a beginner’s chase at Wetherby. She was the first Elite Racing Club runner to be lost in this way since I became a member. These two incidents were particularly saddening as both Lenny and Inherent were assured of a nice retirement when their racing days were over.
On a lighter note one of the funnier episodes concerned Peter Bowen’s hurdler Special Envoy. He had been an unlucky loser at Aintree at the end of the 2006/7 season when falling at the last as he was 7 lengths to the good and still going strong.
History repeated itself this season in a ‘Fixed-Brush’ Hurdle handicap at Haydock when Special Envoy again looked a desperately unlucky loser when falling at the last. Given a wonderfully cool ride all the way round by Paddy Merrigan to sneak into the action in the home straight, Special Envoy was still on a tight rein when taking up the running after the second-last and had not been asked a serious question when disaster struck. Fortunately the horse was none the worse for his tumble. Watching the coverage of Haydock on the TV you had to chuckle at the young Irishman’s vivid disgust after Special Envoy fell at the final hurdle, with one of the most valuable handicaps of the winter at his mercy. Merrigan rolled under the rails, leaped to his feet, tore off his helmet and hurled it away in fury. After bouncing three times, it was cracked beyond repair. For good measure, Merrigan then spun on his heel and punched the running rail. It is just as well they are made of plastic. The very next day Merrigan rode a double including a 66/1 winner. Every cloud etc. etc.
I will end this look back at the 2007/8 campaign with a mention for two old favorites. Len Lungo’s The Bajan Bandit is something of a standing dish when it comes to these annual reviews. Aged 13 now he reappeared in hunter chases at the end of the season and won a couple at his beloved Ayr where he has now won 9 times. Perhaps they could name a race after him?
Mister McGoldrick has been another wonderful servant to his connections. Aged 11 now I thought his winning days were probably behind him but he popped up to score his first ever Cheltenham success in the Racing Post Plate at 66/1 – wonderful stuff!