New year – new weather? I certainly hope so – the recent rains and storms have left large swathes of the UK under water – awful scenes of homes and businesses flooded and massive disruption to the racing calendar over the last seven days. Thankfully we look to be forecast a bit of a dry spell now – but with high pressure comes come cold nights – hopefully not cold enough to cause further problems for those that are already suffering from the floods.
We have returned from our ‘annual leave’ – a few days away with friends. Not in Cornwall this year – but in south Gloucestershire. Mr G and Dr N had booked a lovely cottage in the village of Nympsfield and had invited us to join them for a few days, which was lovely, and on New Years Eve we continued the tradition of making sure we got a dam good lunch in and had been steered towards The Woolpack in Slad – excellent, a real little gem – and when I say little, I mean little! It may not be the biggest, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in every other department. New Years Eve falling on a Sunday was a bit of a bonus – a chance to try their roast dinner – it was excellent – everything was excellent in fact – and it is well worth a visit! Situated on the side of one of the 4 valleys, it is very popular with walkers, and has a large outdoor area for drinking and dining. Also outside, and down a flight of steps are the loos – steps which a few days later, Jason Maguire would inform us that he had fallen down more times than he could remember in the dim and distant past!
Monday we headed up to Cheltenham for their New Years Day fixture. Another trip that is becoming an annual outing. We have had runners at the meeting for the last couple of years, but none this year – so a day to relax and enjoy the sports. It was a really fun days racing. Good to catch up with a few of our trainers and also our Club Ambassador Luke Harvey! Shock of the day was having Champion trainer Paul Nichols say it was about time we had a horse in training with him! We reached an agreement involving a new horsebox! Safe to say New Years Day, was not the start of my ‘Dry January’! Off into town after the races, and dinner at Sef Steakhouse. Another I can heartily recommend!
It was him!!
On NYE I had chatted with Olly Murphy about running Auditoria in Fakenham the next day – she had been declared in a 3m mares handicap chase, but their ground was already soft, with heavy rain forecast. We both agreed that it would not be the right thing to run her should the ground deteriorate. She does not handle very deep surfaces, and it would be wrong to ‘bottom’ her at this stage of the season, with plenty of chances for her coming up on better ground in the next few months. We agreed that should the ground worsen, she would be a non-runner, so with it going heavy in places early on Tuesday morning she was taken out. As it transpired, it was the best call, as Fakenham were forced to abandon the meeting shortly after the scheduled start time, as the ambulances were unable to access certain areas of the track in the allotted time required to do so in the event of a jockey taking a fall.
Later in the morning we headed up to see the horses at Jason Maguire’s Ivy Lodge Farm, a quick trip, that ended up being a long lunchtime! Jason, Lauren and all the family were in great form, as were all the horses. Reflexion Faite looks fantastic and has started her pre training. She has had a clip, and is back being ridden, she will pre train with Jason and the team, and when he says she is ready she will return to training. The hope is that this daughter of Intello will be strong enough to stay a bit further this summer and be able to build on an encouraging 2 yr old campaign last year when she was placed several times without getting her head in front. She was mainly campaigned over 5f, having failed to see out 6 early in the year – but her pedigree suggests that as she strengthens, she should get a bit further, and with the speed that she shows at home, she will be a fun filly over longer trips through the coming summer!
Reflexion Faite - a share is available for a bit of summer fun on the flat!
Old Blue Eyes is back in full work, and Jason is keen to crack on with him. He is now back being ridden, and after a short period of trotting around the arena, he will be back on the sand gallop, and building up his fitness again. Having suffered a slight injury in training at Donald McCains a couple of months ago – he has had a period of box rest and has certainly put plenty of weight on in that time! He will need to get his figure back for sure, but the plan is to get him back up to McCains as soon as possible and get him to the track this spring. He was doing plenty of faster work when he suffered his set back, and the team at Bankhouse certainly like what he was doing – Donald was very pleased with what he was seeing on work mornings, and the jockeys were very impressed by the feel that he gave them as he worked up the hill gallop. Whenever I see the lads at the races they are forever asking where Old Blue Eyes is, how he’s doing, and when he’s coming back – safe to say they like him. Being a son of the mighty Blue Bresil, we can’t wait to see what he can do on the track – but the signs are that he is a really nice horse, and he certainly will not be rushed. He has a very bright future!
Old Blue Eyes.
Good to see Mamoon Star looking so well too – he is at Ivy Lodge Farm on a short break – after a second place on his seasonal debut, his form has taken a bit of a dip, and as he looks and feels so well at home, we can only put that down to the fact that he just can’t handle the very soft ground that he has encountered the last twice. We have had a few by his sire, Mamool in the past, and some of those have really not been able to handle very testing conditions. With all the wet weather around at the moment, it seemed like a waste of time having him in full training and not being able to get the best out of him, so he is having a couple of weeks at Ivy Lodge, before switching to the yard of Olympic Gold Medal winning GB Eventer Laura Collet, where he will do a few weeks of flat work and pole work in readiness for a spring campaign. He retains all of his ability, and I am sure that this spell at Laura’s along with a sounder surface in the spring will see him come back to his best.
We were certainly at Ivy Lodge Farm longer than expected, so as storm Henk was doing his worst, we headed up into Cheltenham for a late lunch/early dinner. As I had not had breakfast, I was getting a little hungry – and by now the clock had rolled round to 4.00pm. We couldn’t get a walk-in table at the restaurant that we had hoped to get into, but the Griggs Nicholsons were familiar with the delights of Fat Masters Pizza – where we were welcomed and royally fed and watered. This used to be Fat Toni’s, and still has the same excellent pizzas – just one word of warning – make sure you don’t make the same mistake that I did – when we asked the waiter how large the medium and large pizzas were, I am sure I heard him say that the large pizza was 12 inches – having not eaten all day, and feeling quite hungry, I was sure to make light work of a 12 inch pizza, and was even thinking about desert – confusion on my part began when two other medium pizzas arrived on the table looking suspiciously like 12 inches and when my large pizza arrived it transpired that I had misheard the waiter and in fact, the large one was 20”! I gave it a good go – but safe to say that half of it was boxed up and taken back to the cottage – we would have round two during half time of the football later in the evening – and still didn’t manage to see it off! Fat Masters (Strange Name) but well worth a visit – don’t be fooled – it looks like it is a takeaway only – but they have seating for around 20 upstairs in a small dining room!
Wednesday – a day off – a trip down to Tetbury in the morning, and then back into Cheltenham – a couple of pints in The Courthouse – which as you can guess was once the towns seat of justice, and then on to our chosen eatery for the day - no visit to the town being complete without a burger in Beefy Boys! For those that follow Fergal O’Brien Racing on X – you will all be familiar with Beefy Boys – Dr Simon who is in charge of the X feed, has raved about Beefy Boys when their only restaurant was a small place in Hereford, now that one has expanded, and they have opened this further restaurant in Cheltenham – nothing more to say – just go there! But take an appetite with you! It is superb!!
Then again - I recognise the Judge!!
Thursday, we headed home, a wonderful few days, thanks to Matt and Sarah, for all they did! It is always a giggle to be away with them – and good to catch up with a few folks while we were down there! After steaks, pizzas and Beefy Boys burgers, it is back home to a bit more of a healthy diet for sure – although those Christmas chocolates still need eating up! Back home, and time to catch up – more Red Sash Racing welcome packs to get out in the post. After a stuttering start due to the problems we faced with Paypal – share sales have really taken off since Ridin Solo’s impressive debut in Sedgefield on Boxing Day and there were plenty to get out to new members! Dino Bellagio had an entry in Newcastle on Saturday – but he was not declared, Donald was not 100% happy with the reports he was getting about the ground there, so he decided to wait. Dino is very well and working great – he has schooled over every obstacle possible at home, but sadly, due to the wet weather he has not had the away day that was planned, but he needs to go racing now, and he will run in the next week or so. Hopefully he will put his hurdling debut behind him. He has entries in Doncaster and Catterick in the coming week.
On Friday it was good to have a proper catch up with Donald McCain – he is keen to get Dino out as soon as possible and is happy that he is now ready to do himself justice. We also chatted at length about Ridin Solo – who we are both thrilled with. Now that the dust has settled on his debut run, we both feel that he looks to have a very promising future. For a horse with a stamina laden pedigree he is certainly not short of speed, and having this in his arsenal will mean that he should have a very bright future ahead of him – he has bounced out of his Boxing Day run in great order, and Donald has given him an entry back at Sedgefield on Friday – the race comes just 17 days after his debut, but is over a couple of furlongs more, and looks to be ideal for him. It is an option at present, and he is by no means a certain runner, but you have to be in it to win it as they say, and if Donald thinks it is the right thing to do he can run there! Sandown became yet another victim of the recent rains as their big Saturday fixture was washed out on Friday! This was not the news that the team down at Cisswood Stables wanted to hear, as Gary Moore had planned to have plenty of runners at his favourite track, but as ever they just cracked on – and Josh was in fine form when I spoke to him on Friday – he gave an update on Cloud Dancer, who had run such a good race on his seasonal debut in Ascot, but whom had been forced to have a couple of weeks off games after that run with a niggly little set back. CD is back on song – and as Josh had ridden him himself that morning, he knew for sure that he was ‘as fresh as fxxk’! CD is now back in full training, and Josh thinks that he will be ready to run again in a couple of weeks! Whether he goes down the handicap route off of what looks like a very tempting initial mark of 121, or stays in the novice ranks will be decided nearer the time – sometimes horses are not equipped for handicaps after just a couple of runs – but as he is expected to come on a fair bit for his first run of the season – we are very much looking forward to seeing him out again!
Cloud Dancer and Nial Houlihan
Swinging along upsides
January is a month when plenty of trainers head for a bit of sunshine. The horses get their flu jab boosters over Christmas, which gives their handlers a window of a couple of weeks when they can catch a break. One of those is Olly Murphy who is in Dubai – but as ever, he is never off duty, and called on Friday to discuss running plans for the horses we have in Warren Chase. Auditoria, a non-runner earlier in the week will have entries from the 12th – there are not many suitable options for her against her own sex over fences so she could possibly switch back to hurdles – we will see what the options are on the best of the ground available. Tintagel Queen is back fit and well after a very slight set back before Christmas, which forced her to miss her target race in Uttoxeter. Although only off games for a couple of days – the issue probably held her up around 10-12 days, and so she is a little bit behind schedule now. She needs to run, as she needs experience, and has an entry in Huntingdon this week, and will have entries going forward. She will run in one of them, and it will be a steppingstone to another run in February and then hopefully a step up in grade in March. Itchy Feet nearly had an entry in the valuable stayers hurdle in Plumpton today – but Sean, Olly and myself all agreed that he would very likely hate the track, and so we kept our powder dry. There are four options for him during January, we will keep an eye on all four, and if he has not had a run before, he will return to Huntingdon at the end of the month and have a crack at winning the race he won there last season! Another trainer sunning himself is Alan King – but in his absence, Rockola has returned to ridden work after a couple of easy weeks on the walker. The form of her Doncaster run has a really solid look to it, and Alan is hopeful that he can win a bumper with her before a switch to hurdles in the spring!
Saturday – Hidden Beauty not quite 100% in the morning, she looks tight across her quarters – prescribed a weekend off, she will hopefully be fine by Monday morning. She may well miss her engagement in Doncaster this coming week. Fergal decided not to enter Fortune Forever in Huntingdon on Friday – 66% of the track still waterlogged, and it will not dry back sufficiently for her to run there. Tintagel Queen did get an entry, soft ground holding no fears for her.
Around the remainder – Blue Bikini is fine, and will be out again in mid January, to try to add to her impressive 2023 tally of wins! Maria’s Flame is on tick over – and waiting for some better ground. She is another one that absolutely sunk in the Newbury mud just before Christmas. There are degrees of soft ground and soft at this time of year, when all the grass roots have died back is very testing – add on to that the fact that the period from October to the end of December was the wettest recorded for over 100 years, and you can see why MF struggled on her last start. Put a line through it – she is better than that – and will now switch to hurdles on a sounder surface. Volkovka remains at Ravenswell and will switch to her new home when the vet is happy that she requires no further treatment. Greyval seems fine after her sub-par run in Newbury between Christmas and New Year – another to sink in the mud – she was looked after and will be out again when there is a suitable race on better ground. Intrepide Sud continues his journey back to full fitness, and we are all looking forward to seeing him jump a hurdle very soon.
Next week we have possible runners in Doncaster, Catterick, Sedgefield and Huntingdon on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – and some interesting stuff going on earlier in the week. Hopefully we see some nice performances! We will try and get a visit to The Elms organised for later in the month. It will be good to see Barry, Floyd, Finbar and George again – it seems like ages since I last got to go there! With the start of 2024 we will also have to start to make a decision about a suitable ‘husband’ for Savingforvegas who is not in foal this time giving us the opportunity to travel abroad with her. She could go to France or Ireland, or just stay in the UK. It is not an easy decision, and we will have our head in a few books in the next couple of weeks and make our choice.
Hope to catch up with plenty of you on the racecourse over the next week!