TOUGH TO SPLIT SATURDAY WINNER BIRCHDALE AND FESTIVAL FAVOURITE CHAMP
It was great to get back to a busy weekend after a couple of quiet weeks and thankfully it proved to be a successful few days.
If I was asked for the highlight, I’d probably have to say it was the Nicky Henderson-trained BIRCHDALE winning the Grade 2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday. I know many would have been disappointed that Brewin’Upastorm checked out at the final flight, but I didn’t mind!
It really looked to be all to play for at that stage and I’d say it was going to be a good battle, but we’ll never know what would have happened had he stood up. From my point of view, I was really happy with Birchdale.
It was only his second start under rules, a big step up in class for him and I felt he was learning as he went. I had to nurse him down the hill to get him to improve into a challenging position, but he was responding generously to what little I was asking from him and I felt he had more left to give at that stage.
From there, he just got very lonely when left a long way clear and didn’t do much up the run-in, which is understandable given he was going from winning a point-to-point at Tyrella and a maiden hurdle at Warwick on a Thursday to facing into a huge crowd of people in the stands at Cheltenham.
The whole experience is sure to bring him on again and he’s a horse you’d be looking forward to. Comparisons with Champ are inevitable. Champ probably has the better form in the book, but this fella is improving and should continue to do so. It wouldn’t be easy to pick between them at this stage.
The other winning highlight of the weekend was at Naas on Sunday where I rode the Gavin Cromwell-trained ESPOIR D’ALLEN to win the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle.
I thought it was a good performance. His jumping was very good in the main, he just reached a bit for the fourth-last and was a bit untidy at the last when the race was won. The form can probably be cribbed a bit, but I liked what he did and there should be more to come.
Gavin has done a great job with him. We’ll wait and see where everyone decides to go with him next, but I’d look forward to him wherever he goes. He’s still just a five-year-old and there will hopefully be plenty of good days ahead with him.
In terms of the beaten horses from the weekend, I thought there was plenty to like about the Joseph O’Brien-trained FINE BRUNELLO in the Grade 2 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.
He’s a big scopey horse that will be better again next season, but he showed plenty of promise in finishing second. You’d have to say the British juvenile form fell flat on its face in the race and Fakir D’Oudairies was very impressive in victory. It was a race that certainly shook up the division.
Unfortunately, UNOWHATIMEANHARRY burst a blood vessel in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham. He was going well enough coming down to the third-last, but struggled from there. I don’t think he has done that before and it’s a real pity that it happened.
Paisley Park was really impressive in winning the Cleeve Hurdle. We went a right gallop all the way and he bolted up. That showed that he is very much the best of the British-trained staying hurdlers, but he’ll have the likes of Penhill, Faugheen and maybe Supasundae from Ireland to contend with in March and that will be tougher for him.
On a personal note, I was delighted to find out that, completely unknown to me, winning on Birchdale at Cheltenham on Saturday was my 1,875th career winner which took me ahead of Richard Dunwoody to fourth position in the all-time jump jockey wins list.
I grew up watching Richard ride and got to ride against him in the early part of my career. He was a brave rider that always had an aura about him both on and off a horse. He is probably one of the most polished riders that there has ever been and it’s a real pleasure to be in the same company as him.
To reach that milestone on one for Nicky and JP at Cheltenham makes it all the more special. I’m not one for keeping track of these things, but looking at the current tally of 1,876 winners, it would be nice to get to 2,000 some day!