Hello again, nearly the middle of February and Betfair weekend at Newbury, doesn't time fly?
Since I last blogged, I've ridden a couple more winners, the most recent being the most significant. Diego Du Charmil's victory in the Scottish County Hurdle was my 75th overall, which means I can no longer claim a conditional's allowance. It took me 23 months and 377 rides, and I'm told that's a strike rate of 19.9%, which is pretty good I guess!
Of course, I have to be thankful to many people, most importantly all the owners who have continued to support me, and also especially Paul Nicholls, Anthony Honeyball, Michael Blake, Ron Hodges and Colin Tizzard, all of whom have had enough faith to leg me up on their stable charges. Thank you!
Back to Diego du Charmil, the Fred Winter winner at last year's Festivaal, and it was a really nice performance in a good race. He loves top of the ground but has gone up to 149 now, which might just anchor him for a while. Still, it would be no surprise to see him make another trip north, to Ayr for Scottish Champion Hurdle in April.
A couple of weeks earlier - has it really been that long? - Virak ran well in defeat in the Peter Marsh Chase on very soft ground at Haydock. He's been dropped another five pounds to 147, which is almost a stone lower than when he ran second in the same race last year, and he must be getting well handicapped now. Soft ground and three miles plus is what he needs.
Anthony Honeyball's Cresswell Breeze is a tough little mare that I rode to finish second in a Listed Chase towards the end of January. She was beaten far enough by Desert Queen, a very smart horse on her day, but nicely clear of some decent mares in behind. This was probably a career best effort for her, and she is entered at Catterick for a Grand National trial on Monday.
At a lower level, Madame Lafite was surely going to win when brought down by the only horse in front of her two out. Johnny Portman's five year old is an ex-flat racer who was having her first start in a handicap: she's a nice genuine mare who will win races if her confidence is not affected by this spill.
Ibis du Rheu is another Festival handicap winner I steered since I last wrote. He won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' race, and ran a big race here when third in a quality Cheltenham novices' handicap chase. The race is normally a good pointer to the Festival handicaps, and my lad got hampered at a crucial stage.
I wasn't overly hard on him once his chance had gone but he ran on well. He'll have Festival targets off this same mark, 146, so with slightly better ground likely, he goes with a fighting chance just seven pounds higher than last year's win at the big meeting.
One who was perhaps a little disappointing on Trials Day is Old Guard. He showed a little bit in midfield behind Unowhatimeanharry in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle, but was beaten 18 lengths by the line. He could conceivably be one for something like the Coral Cup on better ground, though 150 is high enough in the weights. He has to prove he's the same horse that won the Greatwood and International Hurdles in the early part of last season.
I'm developing a soft spot for doughty stayer, Royal Salute. Since picking up the ride two starts back, which has coincided with the horse going up in trip and tackling softer groun, he's won both times. He ran possibly his best race yet when comfortably winning a Plumpton marathon on heavy. He's been nudged up five to 119, which seems fair enough, and he could still be progressing when faced with stamina-sapping conditions. His trainer has half an eye on the Eider Chase, over four miles at Newcastle! Sadly, he's unlikely to make the cut.
At the top level of race riding, where I aspire to be, it's about getting your head down, working hard, and making as few mistakes as possible. But we're all human, and I have to admit that my ride on Sweeping Beauty was not my finest hour. I got trapped wide and far enough back, but she was game enough to run on into third on the Lingfield all weather track. She was a touch better than the bare finishing position, and sold cheaply for just £12,000 at last week's Tattersall's mixed sale, which should turn out to be an absolute bargain.
Looking forward, today I ride Bears Rails for Colin Tizzard. He stayed on well over an extended three miles last time and I'd be more worried about the eight pound hike in the handicap than the half mile step up in trip. Also, I can't claim the three I had when he won last time now, so he's effectively up eleven, but on the positive side, he's still a relatively lightly raced seven year old so may have more to offer. I'll probably be front rank, but there are a few others who can race handily, so we'll play it by ear. I'd be no more than hopeful in what will be a gruelling race.
Looking to the weekend and I have been jocked up on a couple of nice horses at Warwick tomorrow. I still don't know if they'll run yet, so we'll have to see. Frodon is a smart horse but whether the two miles of the Kingmaker is enough of a test for him I'm not sure. Half an hour later, Vibrato Valtat may attempt to defy top weight in a handicap chase. He's two from two at Warwick, including when winning the 2015 Kingmaker, but has yet to prevail over this half mile longer trip despite running well in defeat on a number of occasions.
On Monday, I'm down to ride Dragoon Guard for one of the geegeez.co.uk syndicates. He's been a hard horse to win with, but I understand he's had a wind operation since his last run. He shouldn't mind any ease in the ground - he has a quite pronounced knee action - so if his wind is reasonably sound he'll hopefully be in the mix.
I'm up to 43 winners now for the season. Jamie Bargary and Dave Noonan are both on 29, and there are roughly 11 weeks left of the season. My first - and only real - target is to try to win the conditional jockeys' title, but I'd really love to get the seven winners I need for 50 in my first full season riding. I'm just about on track, but things change fast in this game so I'll keep kicking!
Until next time...