A really exciting week ahead, with plenty of runners and hopefully a few big chances. Outside of the Spring Festivals the Christmas period is what you gear the first half of the campaign towards, there’s lots of nice upcoming races and we’re fortunate to have a few lively contenders in some big races.
Christmas Day itself, at least in the yard is like any other day, as the horses don’t know it’s Christmas and all the runners on Boxing Day and the day after will need exercising. So, we split the team in two, half of them will work Christmas weekend and the other half will work the New Year. And once the horses are fed, exercised, and looked after we can then enjoy lunch and then the afternoon. I’ve got a young family and Christmas Day is great with the kids. It can be pretty manic as you can imagine, my daughters get thoroughly spoiled and don’t know what to play with first or next!
Christmas is all about being with family or close relatives and spending time with them, but I’d be lying if I said I won’t have half an eye on the next couple of days. I know they say you should never wish time away, but when you’re training racehorses, you can sometimes fall foul of doing just that, particularly when you have had races in mind for a long time. And after missing the race last year, I guess Ask Me Early in the Welsh National would be the one most responsible for me wishing a few days away.
Monday, 26th December
Fortunes Melody – 12:18 Wincanton
She actually made her debut over fences in this race last year. We got a couple of pounds back from the handicapper from when she ran at Cheltenham earlier this month. We said before that day that she was high enough in the weights but we’re gradually coming back down. She’s consistent if nothing else and hopefully she can run another solid race, albeit she’s vulnerable to more unexposed potential improvers. We’ve got a 120-type mare, but she’s got plenty of experience and I think she can run another solid race.
Metier – 13:55 Kempton
He runs here because we haven’t got any other options. There’s no two-mile handicaps for him until January 7th, unless we went to Musselburgh on January 1st, and we weren’t doing that. However, I don’t want to wait until the 7th, because he’s ready to run and that only gives us a fortnight until the Winter Million card at Lingfield. We’re gearing him up for that race and I know it sounds daft we’re running him in the Christmas Hurdle to put him spot on for Lingfield in January, but we’ll have a go in the Grade 1 against the mighty Constitution Hill. It’s been such a bizarre and frustrating season with the weather throwing plans out the window, left, right and centre. Metier is well in himself. The Christmas Hurdle was never Plan A, but we’ll go there and take our chance and hopefully he runs a nice race and picks up some prize money. We’ll then look forward to going back to Lingfield with him in January, probably for the 2 mile 3 furlong conditions hurdle, as we’re looking at stepping him up in trip, and then possibly for a crack at the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell in February.
Ma Belle Noire – 15:27 Fontwell
She’s been hitting the crossbar but she’s a couple of pounds lower than when last seen, so hopefully we’ve found a race where she can go and get her head in front. These conditional jockeys’ races are normally very competitive, but she’s been running well without winning and we’re just hoping it will be her turn on Boxing Day, which would be nice.
Beat The Bat – 15:45 Wincanton
He’s an unknown quantity until we get him on the racecourse. He’s pleased us with everything he’s done at home and is ready to get his career underway for the Twelfth Man Partnership who had great fun and success with Opening Batsman. He’s a lovely young horse and hopefully he can run a race full of promise. I’d like to think he will do that; you never know if he’s good enough to win first time out, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he won, but we’re just looking for a solid start to his career and whatever he does he will improve. He’s been away and has worked on grass. He’s a bit of a character and the riders do need to have their wits about them as he can be sharp, that’s for sure. It’s always exciting when you have nicely bred individuals, but nerve-racking at the same time because all the dreams, hopes and aspirations are very much alive, as he could be anything.
Tuesday, 27th December
Hymac – 12:30 Chepstow
He won on his debut in the Spring in a bumper having been twice runner-up in two Irish Point-to-Points. He finished 3rd over hurdles at Ffos Las and I’d like to think he’s a bit better than that. He travelled well but didn’t quite run to the line and wasn’t 100% when he came back. So we’re hopeful he can build on what he showed at Ffos Las and be very competitive on Tuesday in that maiden hurdle at Chepstow. A big galloping track should suit and being by Ask, the more rain the better.
Phoenix Way – 13:05 Chepstow
He hasn’t been since the Spring and the trip is possibly on the short side, but he needs to get his season started. He won a nice prize at Ascot last January and we’re hoping to go back for the same race again. Chepstow is a nice starting point for him, so hopefully he can come through it and progress towards Ascot in January.
Boothill – 13:20 Kempton
He’s taking his racing well and we couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s come out of Sandown and seems in really good order with himself. He’s a big strong horse, he does take his racing well, he’s not the sort you’d want to back off too long for. He’s just been ticking over; we haven’t had to do masses with him. Thankfully there’s no Jonbon in this race, but there’s still some really good young chasers in there. He won his bumper impressively at the track, so we have no concerns about Kempton, however less rain is definitely better for him, as he’s by Presenting. We’re looking forward to him taking his chance and I’d like to think, all being well, he’ll have a very strong chance in this race.
Whitehotchillifili – 13:55 Kempton
She definitely has a chance, particularly with a run under her belt. She ran a blinder over 3 miles in a Grade 2 Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot last January. So although the handicapper hasn’t necessarily relented after her last run, as she runs off the same mark, she has been coming down a bit. We were only beaten 5 ½ lengths in the end at Sandown by a race fit rival, who interestingly is also engaged in this race, but we’ll be meeting her on 5Ibs better terms. It’s a deep enough race, but I think she can be very competitive. She’ll be running off a nice racing weight, and will get 10Ibs off the top weight, Get A Tonic, who was runner-up in that valuable stayers handicap hurdle at Haydock.
Ask Me Early – 14:50 Chepstow
The plan has always been this race. He won his first two starts over fences at the track. He is related to High Cotton, who was an out and out stayer. From the day our fella first won over fences at the track, he struck us as a Welsh National type, as he’s a relentless galloper. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to run in the race last year, but we’re grateful for the fact that we get to have another go 12 months later. His preparation has gone really well, we were delighted with his reappearance at Bangor, behind the subsequent ‘Hennessy’ winner, Le Milos. That form looks strong. I was slighted alarmed though to see that Chepstow was only ‘good’ ground earlier in the week, but I’d like to think that with more rain forecast, that should ease the ground, because the slower the better for our horse. There will be plenty in there that will fancy their chances, but we’ll give it a go and it’s exciting to have a lively contender in one of the Festive highlights.
Ree Okka – 15:25 Chepstow
We’re very happy with him. The writing was on the wall early at Exeter, where things didn’t go to plan. There was a number of fences omitted that day, so I think we can put a line through that run and certainly on the evidence of his first run at Aintree, I’d like to think we can get back on track. He won nicely over 3 miles at Kempton last season, so the trip won’t be a problem. He also won at the track over hurdles last December, so has a liking for the place. He has won on better ground, but I do think he wants softer ground. I’d like to think he has a very good chance on Tuesday.
Have a wonderful Christmas.