It's been a while since the last blog, but we've been extremely busy with runners nearly every single day, under both codes. Thankfully we've started the new year in good form, with four winners over obstacles and three on the level already under our belt for 2018 and we hope to continue that rich vein of form as we move into the early Spring.
The highlight of the season so far came at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day with Tikkanbar winning the Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. It is a real family affair with the horse owned by my father, and given he was over from Ireland to see his grandchildren it made sense to run at Prestbury Park. To win a listed hurdle at Cheltenham with a horse that cost £5000 was a big achievement and he is a horse we retain our faith in despite a slightly disappointing run on trials day, where he was far too keen early on. Tikkanbar wasn’t our only novice hurdler to win on January 1st, with Dieg Man also doing the business at Catterick. It was excellent to see him maintain his unbeaten record since joining the yard and he continues to progress in the right direction.
Happy Escape was our first flat winner of 2018, winning the 1m handicap on just her 2nd start for the yard under a well-timed Timmy Murphy ride to come from last to first. It was a visually impressive performance and she confirmed that impression when going in again over the same course and distance, held up, before stylishly cutting through the field and putting it to bed pretty well inside the final furlong. She's gone up in the weights but hopefully there will be more improvement to come from her.
Over the sticks, Rainy Day Dylan has always been a horse we have believed in, so it was great to see him produce the goods at Wincanton in the 2m handicap hurdle at the start of the month. Tom O’Brien gave the horse a lovely ride and knows the owners, so it turned out to be the perfect combination at our local track. He ran well again a couple of weeks later when a close enough forth and he'll be given a bit of time now to freshen up.
The Young Master put in an excellent display at Kempton when finishing 3rd in the 3m handicap chase. He jumped out to his left after going past the stables, not something that would worry us unduly, and we were delighted with the way he finished off his race. He has come home bouncing and the Grand National continues to be the long-term target – so far we are delighted with the improvements through the campaign.
Carole’s Vigilante will be better suited to more of a galloping track in the future, so it was fantastic to see him win the maiden hurdle at Hereford. This horse is still learning the job, but finished with his ears pricked and remains one we can look forward to over longer trips.
Mount Oliver winning the 3m2f handicap chase at Fontwell Park was another recent highlight. It is always fantastic to see a horse break their duck and hopefully he can continue to improve now.
Willyegolassiego is a tough, genuine filly and that showed on Monday night at Wolverhampton when winning the 1m6f handicap on the level. As I say regularly, we enjoy having winners under both codes and it was fantastic for her to get her 2nd win on the bounce.
The application of cheekpieces had the desired effect on Kansas City Chief who travelled strongly throughout when landing the staying handicap hurdle at Doncaster under Noel Fehily. He is a horse that we are still learning about, but we felt he was in good form at home and it was great to see him transfer that to the racecourse. He runs under a penalty later in the week and will hopefully run well again before potentially heading back over fences.
With only six weeks to go we've a few entered for the Cheltenham Festival, including Indian Stream who has an entry in the mares hurdle. All roads lead to a return to Prestbury Park, where she finished a gallant 4th last year, and there is a race at Warwick next month which looks the ideal place for a prep.
The recent weather hasn't been ideal for many of our horses, including Minella Present who we are pleased to have back in and working away well. He's not been seen since his victory at Uttoxeter in Summer 2016 but he's looking great at home - we are just waiting on some better ground. Kalondra is likely to take up his entry in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novice chase this weekend and we are looking forward to seeing if he's up to the task. He has been a fantastic flag-bearer for our yard both this season and last and we are excited to see how he takes the step up in grade ahead of a potential tilt at the JLT in March.