It has been a busy few weeks over Christmas, although it hasn’t felt like Christmas with the spring like weather and relatively quick ground. I can’t remember experiencing ground like this before at this time of year. It was a pleasant surprise to see plenty of runners at Chepstow yesterday because there have been some small fields around.
While the quicker ground suits some horses, there are a lot of frustrated connections around who are waiting for plenty of rain, which I'm sure will come.
I was delighted with La Bague Au Roi at Kempton on Boxing Day. Once again she proved herself better than the boys – you don’t often get a mare that can compete at this level and she jumped and stayed really well. She’ll probably go to Ireland for the Dublin Festival next before going to Aintree. At the moment the plan is to bypass Cheltenham, she hasn’t been at her best on the undulations there on previous visits.
Native River ran well enough at Kempton on Boxing Day, he struggled for pace a lot of the way before staying on well to finish third in the King George. I hope it will be a different story for him come Cheltenham over the more testing 3 ¼ miles and hopefully on softer ground.
It was a great training performance by Colin Tizzard to have Thistlecrack back to his best in second. Elegant Escape was impressive winning the Coral Welsh Grand National the following day too. He has a similar profile to Native River when he won the race two years ago. It looks like the Tizzards have three live contenders for the Gold Cup.
Colin Tizzard has a wealth of good horses at the moment. Another nice prospect is Lostintranslation, which beat my old pal Defi Du Seuil in the Dipper Chase on New Year’s Day. I didn’t ride in the race but I had a particular interest because Lostintranslation finished behind La Bague Au Roi twice in November, and it’s good to see the form being franked. It was a good run by Defi Du Seuil too, he looked like winning before getting overhauled by Lostintranslation and this will have been another good lesson.
I won at Wincanton at the weekend on another nice Tizzard youngster called Molineaux for the owners of Thistlecrack, John and Heather Snook. Like a lot of the Tizzard horses, he has previously won a Chepstow novice hurdle (last April). This time over 2 ½ miles on good ground he struggled to keep up with the pace early but he stayed on well at the end to win. He’ll probably step up in trip now, and could make up into another good staying chaser.
There have been a couple of other nice winners since Christmas too. I won on Glory and Fortune in a listed Cheltenham bumper on New Year’s Day for Tom Lacey. It was only his third start and he’s a big baby, so it was an impressive performance. He needs time and will probably only run once more this season, maybe at Aintree or Fairyhouse.
At Chepstow yesterday I won on Melchior King for the owners of Balthazar King. Melchior King had been a bit disappointing up to this point so hopefully he’s going in the right direction now. He’ll have to go a long way to match up to Balthazar King, which won 16 races including 8 at Cheltenham and finished second in the Grand National.
He suffered a serious injury when falling in the following Grand National, but survived to return to training. Since his retirement in 2016 he has been hunting for trainer Ralph Becketts wife, and by all accounts is happy and well which is the kind of retirement you hope for for such a great horse.