Cheers From Cheltenham

 Sunday morning, and as I type this, I still don’t know the result of the England v France Rugby Test Match last night – a night out with friends meant I missed it ‘live; and now have the recording on. What/who could possibly make me leave the TV and miss the match – my oldest friend, and an evening in Siam Heaven in Bedford – simply the best Thai restaurant in town – it really is simply superb!! Whenever you mention a Thai restaurant in Bedford, most will say Rice, which is very good – but in our opinion, and all those who we have gone to Siam Heaven with – the latter is better!

As I type – local lad, and former Humtingdon Rugby Club star, George Furbank has just been subbed off with a calf injury – bad timing – he has really found his feet at test level over the course of this tournament – I hope this injury doesn’t keep him out for long!

            It was a fantastic week down in Cheltenham – lots of fun, food, Guiness and wine. We caught up with lots of folks, friends, clients, trainers and customers. Lots of catching up done, and a fair bit of business done too!

            Our ‘Cheltenham’ week started in Plumpton – Cloud Dancer back on track, carrying a winner’s penalty in a decent looking novice hurdle. CD had started his season in another hot looking hurdle race in Ascot in November, a race that had worked out really well and showed that he is a horse with a lovely future. The handicapper must have thought so – after allotting him an opening mark of 120 – he has subsequently seen the need to put him up twice without running, and he now has a mark of 125 after just 2 hurdles runs. Since Ascot he has had a run of little niggles and periods of ill health, which has meant that it has been a while since we have seen him. Gary and Josh were sure that CD would benefit hugely for the Plumpton run, but that it was the right thing to do to get him back to the races. They would run another horse in the race, a horse they very much like, and this would be a step back to race sharpness for Cloud Dancer. Stable jockey Niall Houlihan had chosen to ride the other one, so Tom Cannon took the ride on Cloud Dancer. I had hoped to get to the track, and head straight to our hotel in Broadway from there, but the work stacked up in the morning, and I couldn’t get away in time. I watched on TV. Cloud Dancer once again, travelled and jumped very well – Briony Frost allowed and easy time of things in front, quickened down the far side, and really won her race at that point. Cloud Dancer, when his race was run, was not given a hard time after his layoff, and came home in his own time in third. Tom Cannon was very pleased with his run, he was delighted with the way he travelled and jumped, confirmed that at this stage 2m4f was his trip, and that there would be some very nice days to be had with him in the future. It was nice to hear – and it will be interesting to see what Gary and Josh have mapped out for him when they see what the handicapper has done to his mark on Tuesday.

Cloud Dancer in the paddock

There was plenty to do on Monday morning that meant I couldn’t get down to East Sussex, firstly I needed to get the written race report out for The Red Sash Racing Clubs’ Ridin Solo, who had run in Ayr the previous Friday, and get an update out on the members area of the website. I also had a fair bit of ‘horsebox’ work to do – trainers tend to put everything on hold when there are a few top days of racing on, be that flat or jumps, and there were a few things to button up before I left. I also needed to arrange  a few things with trainers including the transfer of Tintagel Queen from Olly Murphys isolation yard, down to Ivy Lodge Farm. She would be heading down on Friday. While on the phone to Olly, it was a blow to learn that he would not be declaring Itchy Feet for the Pertemps Final in Cheltenham on Thursday. Olly was not 100% happy with him before the weekend, and treatments over the weekend had not alleviated the issue, so he would not be able to make to short trip down the road to run later in the week. A real blow for his owners, who would be missing out on a big day, but the hope is that he comes right after a week (completely) off games and that he can take them to another big day this spring, with possible options in Haydock, Aintree and Punchestown available to him.

After watching Cloud Dancer on the TV we headed down to The Fish Hotel in Broadway where, every year we base ourselves for racing in Cheltenham. We head here for both the Festival and November meetings, as it suits us so well. Great rooms, wonderful staff, many of whom we have got to know over the years, and a superb restaurant. This was our 16th stay, and we already have next November and March booked!

Getting the week off to a good start

            Tuesday, we headed into the races – 15 minutes earlier than usual this year – the car parks looked like they would be posing problems after the wet winter and recent rains, so we left a little earlier to ensure that we could get parked in spots that we knew would be best placed when it came to getting out. The advantage of attending Cheltenham so often is that you know where to go, and where you can get to – it saved us a long wait getting out after racing – some of our syndicate members were still in the car park 2 hours after the last, as cars were stuck and having to be pulled out by tractors. If your name was not Nicky Henderson, day 1 was great. In the absence of Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle, State Man won well, they said Joseph O’Briens would run well in the Boodles Handicap Hurdle, sadly they told me on Thursday! Lossiemouth looked very good, and Emmet Mullins captured the last – a day of dominance by the Irish. Nicky Henderson horses largely running well below par, and he would go on to withdraw most of his runners over the course of the meeting. Running horses that are clearly under the weather on ground as soft as it was, can do so much harm – damage that can take months to recover from, so it is always best to save them for another day – at a very different level, we have had the same with a couple of ours over the course of the last two seasons, but in being patient they have come back to run very well, win races and put in career best efforts. It was good to catch up with Anthony Honeyball on Tuesday, a good chance to pick his brains about Punchestown and handicaps – in recent years he has headed over to Ireland for their flagship spring festival and come back with wins in competitive handicaps – it is something that we did once – a long time ago – and is something I am keen to repeat – so it was good to talk about it with a man that has proved it can be done – and done with horses that are by no means superstars. We have some thinking to do! Our early start, and handy parking place meant that we were quickly away after the last, and back to Broadway with no bother.






            Wednesday – same earlier leave, just two of us racing, the ladies deciding to head to the shops! It would be a fun day – most of it spent in the company of Nigel Tinkler, which is never a dull day! We watched the Champion Chase with Alan King, and really thought he could land the spoils for GB when the favourite, who I had suggested was about the only one of Willie’s I was would be willing to lay all week, pulled up with a circuit to go. Sadly, Edwardstone was beaten when he fell 2 out, but thankfully got up and was fine after the race. Our main interest of the day was Romeo Coolio who we had had on our pinhooking squad for a few years after buying him as a foal and selling him at 3 yrs old. He went on to win his point to point in Ireland and was purchased by current connections for a record equalling £420,000 at the Cheltenham Festival Sale 12 months before. His owners, KTDA Racing, are headed up by friends and former clients Dave Page and Dave Rabson. In a quirk of fate, Dave Page was in two of our syndicates and owned plenty of horses with us, but missed out on the one that owned and sold Romeo Coolio. Everyone that has ever had anything to do with the horse will tell you he is a very special animal, and he showed that by running such a massive race in the concluding bumper! I thought he was the winner half way up the run in, but was finally worn down by just 1 ½ lengths to Jasmin de Vaux. It was a great run – gutted for connections, but he could well turn out to be the best horse in the race and he certainly has a massive future!

            Thursday – we ran into Debbie Burt on the way in, who, with her cameras in hand was heading back to the area where the sales horses are stabled. Debbie is the photographer for Tattersalls, the sales company, and it was good to see her in the middle of a very busy week. Our meeting almost ended in a modelling contract, but I turned her down! Another great days racing, a superb stayers hurdle won by a very good horse in Teahupoo, and so good to see Jeremy Scott win the mares hurdle with Golden Ace, a very special daughter of Golden Horn. We have had a few fun evenings over in Ireland with Jeremy, and it was wonderful to see his small Exmoor yard hit the big time! Another one of our ‘Old Boys’ ran a blinder to be second in the concluding Kim Muir – I had been involved in the purchase of Git Maker as a foal, and it was good to see him add another wonderful run to his already impressive card with a brave second in a strong looking heat!

I turned down a modelling contract after this!












Watching the world go by

Away from the action in Cheltenham – great to see Maria’s Flame get an entry in Market Rasen on Wednesday 20th. She had flopped on softer than ideal ground in Newbury and had a slight issue afterwards. She has been in great shape since and is very much ready to run! Hopefully the ground will dry up enough for her to take her chance!

            Friday we headed home, although we had a runner on Gold Cup day, it was not in Cheltenham – it was up in Newcastle on the all weather – time to watch the action from the Cotswolds with a cup tea on the sofa. Another great days racing. Galopin des Champs has talent and heart in spades – a worthy champion. In the evening, up in the north east, Reflexion Faite made her seasonal and yard debut in a 7f handicap. Having switched to Nigel Tinkler, she would be stepped up to 7f for the first time, and although she was not expected to trouble the judge on her first run since September, we were disappointed with her when after travelling sweetly for 5 furlongs, she failed to pick up and trailed in a well beaten 7th of the 8 runners. We will look into the performance and hopefully we can get her back on track.

Tintagel Queen arrived safely with Jason Maguire and will now have several weeks of rehabilitation before a spell of R&R in the field before heading back into training with Olly Murphy in July.

Also on Friday – Fergal gave Greyval an entry in Ludlow – she was another one that had not shone on ground that was too soft for her in Newbury around the turn of the year, and has been waiting for better ground. While doing so she has had a few issues with cuts and respiratory infections but seems back to her best now. On Thursday I ran into stable amateur Tom Broughton who had schooled her the day before, and he reported that she was very much in the best of form – another one that would not want further rain before Thursday!


            Saturday – Reflexion Faite fine after her run – we are still trying to unpick the performance. If nothing comes to light, she will run again in a couple of weeks and we will go from there!

A quiet day at home, and as mentioned a fun night out.

            Around the rest of the squad, I caught up with Donald McCain on Thursday in Cheltenham, Ridin Solo is back cantering and well, and he is delighted with Old Blue Eyes who is coming along really well – he looks like a really nice horse, as I have said before, everyone likes what they see, and the feel he gives them – he has a very bright future. Another trainer with an update was Alan King who reported that Rockola was fine, and that he was just starting to up her work in preparation for a return to the track in a few weeks when she will be kept away from very deep ground. She didn’t handle it at all the last day in Wetherby.

At Ivy Lodge Farm – Tintagel Queen arrived, and after she was unloaded from the lorry – Auditioria went back on it. She has had a few weeks R&R with Maguire and has really enjoyed herself. She has got rid of a few aches and pains and will now be prepped for a spring/summer campaign. Dino Bellagio continues his rehab and should be good to go again at the end of the month. Obviously his season is over, but we know how good he is, and after drawing a line through the 2023/24 season – we will reset, and aim him down the route that we had planned for him from last summer.

At Ravenswell – Blue Bikini is in great order and will be out again in a couple of weeks – and hopefully her season will conclude in Ayr in April. She will be back next season for her loyal syndicate, and we have a little plan in place for her in the autumn. Fortune Forever is another one of the many that we have that really do not like the very soft ground that we have had all winter. She has been ready to run for longer than I care to remember, and we have had to be very patient, but as ever, I am sure that patience will be rewarded, and judged on her recent homework, she looks to be nicely treated on her second handicap start – she is likely to step up to staying trips. I did chat to Fergal O’Brien yesterday and he reports Intrepide Sud is in great order and back in A1 form. He worked great on Friday and schooled yesterday. He will have entries in the next few days and looks sure to run in the next couple of weeks.


 He is also really pleased with Mamoon Star, who is full of himself – he will be out when the better ground arrives – hopefully around the end of March/start of April.

Last nights rugby has just ended – a 64 point thriller – another good performance from England (another surprise) – there is hope!

Next week – Maria’s Flame entered in Market Rasen – if she does go there, Debbie will be on duty as Syndicate Manager – I have an appointment I cannot change, but I will be in Ludlow should Greyval head there on Thursday.

Everything crossed for a few dry days, and ground that suits both!

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