It’s been a fantastic season so far and we’ve already reached our highest tally of 58 winners after Champagne West’s win in last Thursday’s Thyestes Chase.
There’s been no real magic bullet, we’re just very fortunate to have some brilliant owners who send us some very nice horses.
All trainers are always trying to improve the quality of horse in their yard and we’ve got good strength in depth now. We actually had a quieter start to the season than normal, but from September until now we’ve been flying. We’ve had a couple of reverses, Valseur Lido’s injury was a blow, but we’ve been relatively unscathed so far. Hopefully that continues.
While you always have Cheltenham targets in mind for the Graded horses, they have to be good enough or progress enough through the season, to prove they are worthy of a starting place in the Festival team.
There’s lots of good racing in Ireland (Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival is a particular favourite of mine) and there’s plenty of contests to navigate over here and in the UK before Cheltenham 2017 swings around.
Speaking of which …
I’ll be at Naas on Saturday (see below) but we’ll be glued to the TV screen watching Special Tiara at Cheltenham in the Clarence House Chase (1.45pm). While his better form is on better ground, he has performed on good to soft ground so I’ll be hoping the rain stays away.
He seems in great form at home and always tries his best, but the better the ground the better his chance.
Irish Champion Hurdle, Sunday, Leopardstown
We were delighted with Petit Mouchoir at Leopardstown over Christmas when he beat Nichols Canyon in the Ryanair Hurdle. He surprised us a little bit. He had fallen three out in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in his run before that.
Even though Bryan Cooper was confident he had everything under control at the time, you can never be 100 per cent sure until they pass the post in front.
Nichols Canyon is a very good yardstick (he beat Identity Thief in the 2015 Ryanair Hurdle before finishing third in the Champion Hurdle last season) so for Petit Mouchoir to beat him convincingly the last day, was a big step forward.
Although Identity Thief mightn’t have had as good a novice season over hurdles as Petit Mouchoir, the two of them improved fairly rapidly out of their novice year.
Petit Mouchoir is now rated a few pounds higher on 162 than Identity Thief was at this stage last season. However, Faugheen is a former Cheltenham Champion Hurdler, he’s the reigning champ at Leopardstown. He sets the standard, even if he has been off the track since for 12 months.
David Mullins takes over in the saddle as Bryan’s out injured. We’ll give it our best shot and see where we stand after Sunday.
Identity Thief lines up with his stablemate Some Plan in the Grade 1 Arkle Novice Chase (2.30pm). Nothing went right for Identity Thief at Leopardstown over Christmas. He got struck into, lost his confidence and Bryan Cooper did the right thing in pulling him up. He was stiff and sore for a few days afterwards but is back on track now and schooled well during the week.
We learnt nothing from it and Sunday, in effect, is our Christmas run.
We’ll be looking for a nice round of jumping from him on Sunday and will take one race at a time with him. He has entries in the 2m Arkle Chase and the JLT Chase over 2m 4f at Cheltenham.
He’s that calibre of horse and is adaptable trip wise.
His stablemate Some Plan won nicely at Naas earlier this month and will love the ground. He just jumps and gallops.
We’re doubled entered also in the 2m 4f Grade 2 Novice Hurdle on the same card with Monalee and Peace News.
Monalee is a really nice chaser in the making who was second to Death Duty on his last run at Navan, having won his maiden hurdle from The Storyteller at Punchestown over 2m 6f.
He’ll be entered for both the Albertt Bartlett and shorter Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham and we’ll decide after Sunday’s run what his March target will be.
Peace News has been a little disappointing since winning what looked a good maiden hurdle at Cork. He was running well when tipping up at Fairyhouse in the Grade One Royal Bond Hurdle and was fifth to Saturnas at Leopardstown at Christmas.
He’s been stepped up in trip to 2m 4f on Sunday and we’ll see how he copes with that before making further plans.
At Naas on Saturday, John Gosden’s former Flat inmate Vermeulen makes his debut over timber for Gigginstown House Stud in the maiden hurdle 1pm. He schools well at home and looks a nice horse in the making
Balko Des Flos was an impressive winner at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day from Arbre De Vie in a beginners’ chase.
He steps up in class and trip in the Woodlands Park Grade 3 Novices Steeplechase. He jumps and gallops so we’ll see how he copes in this better company.