Geraghty: “Apple’s Shakira the fastest 3-y-old I’ve ever seen”

Apple’s Shakira, a full-sister to Apple’s Jade, winner of the Grade One OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at The Festival in March, was an impressive winner of the Grade Two JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham today.

The three-year-old filly, the evens favourite, strode away from second-placed Gumball, a 5/4 chance, to win by 17 lengths in the colours of J P McManus. She was trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty.

Henderson said: “Barry has adored her from the first moment, but she is funny because she doesn’t show you anything at home. I was petrified, the first bits of work she did, because I thought this was going to be rather special, but aaargh… But she does jump. Barry schooled her once and said, ‘this is the fastest thing I have ever seen, for a three-year-old.’ She’s good. She’s not big, but she’s got a lovely temperament. It’s only the second race of her whole life; there’s lots to learn. She’s still green. She jumps like a big horse. She’s sweet. As long as they come and do it in the afternoon, I don’t mind – far better than these flashy ones, whizzing past you in the morning and then not doing it in the afternoon. I’d rather this way round.”

Asked whether she would be aimed at the most obvious target, the JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival in March, Henderson replied: “I will get some instructions, I’m sure! This was soft ground, she enjoyed it; I must admit I don’t think she’d want it too fast. I suppose that’s where we finish up. She wants to learn a bit more so she won’t be hiding in her stable. It depends what other juveniles they [McManus] have got.

“I haven’t got many juveniles, to be fair – I’ve only run two, which are We Have A Dream [who won at Warwick on November 10] and Apple’s Shakira – but the ones I’ve got are alright!

“I really just didn’t know what was going to happen today. I hoped it would be something like that – you always had in your mind that it must be there somewhere, and to be fair I did just enquire as to how well Apple’s Jade actually works at home, and I was quite pleased to hear that she doesn’t show a whole lot either, so I was always hopeful that if the genes are right, we might be alright.”


Jockey Barry Geraghty was looking to the future after Apple’s Shakira ran away with the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon.

The three-year-old filly was always travelling sweetly through the rain softened ground and stalked long-time leader Gumball for the majority of the race, with her jockey patiently waiting until it was time to press the button on the even money favourite.

The response was instant when Geraghty asked Apple’s Shakira for her effort and the pair scampered clear up the run-in to record a facile 17 length victory.

Geraghty was full of praise for the full-sister to Grade One winner Apple’s Jade (winner of last season’s OLBG Mares Hurdle for trainer Gordon Elliott at The Festival) immediately after the race.

“You could only be impressed with that – she’s very good,” said the jockey.

“She was green through the middle part of the race and jumped a bit big but she kept learning as she went. She ran all the way to the line though – she could have gone again at the end of the race.

“She was as much learning as responding. The penny only really dropped halfway through the race. She doesn’t need much schooling as she’s a natural and her work wouldn’t be as flashy as most. She’s got scope though and she covers the ground very well. She’s got a great attitude – you can only love her. She has more to learn than Defi Du Seuil (who Geraghty rode to win this race last year and then to success in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival). He knew his job very well. This girl has a lot of talent but doesn’t quite know her job yet.

“I said to Nicky (Henderson – trainer) that I’ve never ridden a three-year-old that is so physical – she’s great. I’d say the ground is soft – if you handle it, you’d only think it’s soft but if you don’t, you’d say it’s very soft.”


JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial contender Gumball was strongly fancied to continue Philip Hobbs’ excellent record with juvenile hurdlers, but he found the even-money winner Apple’s Shakira far too good.

Gumball, a 5/4 chance ridden by Richard Johnson, attempted to make all, but was challenged by the winner heading for the final turn, and while he kept tabs on her around that bend he was unable to sustain his rally, and went down by 17 lengths. A further five lengths behind was third-placed Eragon De Chanay from Gary Moore’s yard.

Hobbs said of the Terry Warner-owned Gumball: “I just think the winner is very good. Our horse was a little fresher than normal, which wasn’t ideal, but the winner was clearly the better horse.

“It’s getting quite testing out there, and Richard thought it was very soft, but our horse won on soft at Chepstow so we can’t use that as an excuse.”

Josh Moore, who rode Eragon De Chanay, said: “He ran a nice race – he’s not the greatest standard, but he’s a fun horse, and he could be a good handicap hurdler one day. He will definitely stay further and he may well want better ground.”


The jockeys who rode in the first race on day two of The November Meeting 2017, the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial Juvenile Hurdle, gave their opinions on the ground.

Barry Geraghty, rider of the winner Apple’s Shakira remarked: “It’s soft – if you handle it, you only think it’s soft, but if you don’t, you’d say it’s very soft.”

Richard Johnson, jockey of the 17-length second Gumball, said: “It’s soft.”

Joshua Moore, riding third-placed Eragon De Chanay, commented: “Soft.”

Tom O’Brien, partner of Speedo Boy (5th), remarked: “It’s soft and loose ground.”

Jonny Slevin aboard Apparition (6th), said: “It’s soft ground all over.”

12.40pm JCB Triumph Trial Hurdle (Grade 2)
1 APPLE’S SHAKIRA (J P McManus) Nicky Henderson 3-10-05 Barry Geraghty Evens Fav
2 Gumball (Terry Warner) Philip Hobbs 3-10-12 Richard Johnson 5/4
3 Eragon De Chanay (Five Star Racing Group) Gary Moore 3-10-12 Joshua Moore 28/1

Distances: 17, 5
Tote Win: £1.90 Places: £1.50; £1.10 Exacta: £2.80

Nicholls: “Black Corton is getting better and better”

Bryony Frost maintained her unbeaten record aboard the Paul Nicholls-trained Black Corton (4/1) in the Novices’ Chase, the second race on day two, BetVictor Gold Cup Day, of The November Meeting.

The six-year-old son of Laverock tracked the well-backed 10/11 favourite Ballyoptic throughout the extended three-mile event but quickened clear on the turn for home and kept on tenaciously up the punishing Cheltenham hill to score by four lengths from Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge in second.

Colin Tizzard’s West Approach (7/4) was a further 29 lengths behind in third.

Frost has built up an excellent rapport with the French-bred gelding and is now five from five on him. She followed up last week’s win in the Badger Ales Trophy aboard Present Man, also for Nicholls, with another high-profile success today.

The Ditcheat handler was quick to praise the conditional, commenting: “She rides very well and is a very good girl.

“You watch her all the way round there, she sits quietly and is as good as any of the other conditionals out there.

“She is a very talented lady who works hard and is from a good family – I’m pleased for her.

“He is an astonishing horse really who is just getting better and better. His hurdles’ form was beneath the other two but he has just kept improving throughout the summer.

“He has had a lot of runs, but this week he looked better than he has ever looked. I am astonished with the improvement.

“We thought we’d let him take his chance but it’s just astonishment that he has won.

“He is not a typical big chaser, like the other two in the field, but he gets on well with Bryony. He has got loads of ability and it just amazes me how much he has improved.”

Regarding future plans, Nicholls added: “We might look for something else and then give him a break but my belief is that when they are in form and improving, then there is no point in putting them away.

“We might have to aim for something like the RSA Chase as you have to aim at something like that, as this is top-class form which he has shown today.”


The Paul Nicholls-trained Black Corton, the outsider of the three runners in the three-mile Novices’ Chase at 4/1, extended his winning sequence under today’s jockey, Bryony Frost, to five, taking the race by four lengths.

Frost couldn’t hide her jubilation, saying: “I wouldn’t get mind getting used to this! I don’t think you’d ever get used to wins like this, though.

“Hats off to that little horse – he deserves every pat he gets. From going round Worcester in the summer to now beating these type of horses on ground you wouldn’t say he likes, on a trip you’d never say he’d stay, under weight for such a little horse – he’s brave. Going down the back he gave me every inch he had, and I put his jumping to the test going down the hill. I prayed to God the little horse would keep going, and he did.

“I could hear Ballyoptic [the 10/11 favourite, who finished second] coming to me – that’s the biggest thunder of hooves you could hear – and I thought, ‘Don’t get caught now Blackie, you don’t deserve that’. Hats off, brilliant – absolutely marvellous. I owe a lot to that horse – first win as a professional, five out of five – he is my best friend.”

“We click – I love him and have every faith in him. He’s an amazing little lad. The last time he won here guys shrugged him off a bit, and you’d have to because he hadn’t won against decent horses, but today he’s put two very decent horses to bed. He’ll tell us when he’s done but for now he’s saying, ‘Don’t you pull me up!'”


Jockey Richard Johnson was happy enough with the performance of Ballyoptic after the 10/11 favourite finished the four-length runner up behind Black Corton in the Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham this afternoon.

The seven-year-old appeared to be travelling well under his jockey for the majority of the three-mile race as the pair lead the field, but they could find no answer to the finishing kick of the winner and Johnson was pleased enough with his effort.

“He’s done well,” said the jockey.

“He’s run another good race. I suppose the winner just had that little bit more experience than him and that’s probably made a bit of difference on the day.

“I think he’s run well though. He copes well with most ground so that’s not an excuse.”

West Approach finished a further 29 lengths back in third and his jockey, Tom Scudamore, thinks he is a better horse than he showed today.

“It’s very soft out there,” said Scudamore.

“It took him a bit of time to warm up but he never really got fully going. We know he’s better than that and there will be other days for him. Sometimes it’s the case that they are a bit more novicey on their second start than on their first, so maybe that’s what’s happened today.

“He’s still a nice horse though.”

Colin Tizzard, trainer of third-placed West Approach, a half-brother to his stablemate, Thistlecrack, said: “He didn’t pick the bit up going into the first, nor the second, nor the third or fourth and so on. To put it mildly, he didn’t seem to try an inch. There is no comparison to this effort and Thistlecrack’s first attempt over fences. It’s back to the drawing board.”

To view a replay of the race, please click here:

AP McCoy on Le Prezien

There’s been plenty of rain at Cheltenham and the going is now soft. That should help Le Prezien and arguably hinder my selection Foxtail Hill. Here are AP’s thoughts.

20-time champion Jump jockey Sir Anthony McCoy is hopeful of a big run from the Paul Nicholls-trained Le Prezien in today’s centrepiece on day two of the November Meeting, the £160,000 BetVictor Gold Cup (1.50pm).

Owned by McCoy’s former retaining owner J P McManus, for whom he now plays an advisory role, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup winning rider believes the six-year-old son of Blue Bresil can improve on his neck second to Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Foxtail Hill, who reopposes today, at The Showcase Meeting last month.

Le Prezien’s will to win was questioned that day as he failed to reel in Foxtail Hill, but McCoy remains confident in the French-bred gelding’s ability, commenting this morning on ITV’s The Opening Show: “Sam Twiston-Davies gave Foxtail Hill a brilliant ride here at Cheltenham last time out.

“Barry Geraghty delivered Le Prezien at the last to win his race that day like you would want him to, but Foxtail Hill had a little bit left. Barry got him into the perfect position to win at the last and it was a good effort. Whether Le Prezien is good enough to beat Foxtail Hill here today, I’m not so sure. He is a very good traveller and the race will suit him.”

Le Prezien is a 6/1 shot for the extended two and a half-mile event with the sponsors BetVictor and McCoy continued: “I would love him to win for J P, and whilst he does have to carry plenty of weight, he does remain unexposed.”

This year’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup second Minella Rocco tackles the Handicap Chase (1.50pm). Jonjo O’Neill’s charge, who also runs in the colours of McManus, was two and three-quarter lengths behind Sizing John at the Festival and carries top-weight of 11st 12lb in the extended three miles and three furlong contest. He was fourth in the G3 Irish Daily Star Chase at Punchestown on his reappearance last month and connections are hopeful of a good performance.

Jackdaws Castle handler O’Neill said: “It was a funny race at Punchestown the last day but the form has been franked as Outlander, who was behind him there, has come out and won since [G1 Champion Chase, Down Royal], so it is difficult to weigh the form up at the moment. We are very happy with Minella Rocco, he’s in great form at home and I’m hoping we’ll see a bit more from him in the BetVictor Gold Cup and we can then plan from there.”

McCoy explained: “It was funny the way the race panned out at Punchestown and the way the weights were framed, he probably should’ve run a bit better. Minella Rocco is a huge, big horse and hopefully he should improve for the run. Would any of the other horses in this race have finished second in a Gold Cup? I doubt that. He has to give them all a little bit of weight, but if he improves on that run at Punchestown, which you hope he would, then he has every chance.

“He is a gorgeous looking horse with talent, but he needs to prove he is better than he was at Punchestown. Because he is such a big horse, it sometimes takes a little time to get their mind and physicality ready. You want them fit but the Gold Cup should be his target. If he is good enough to win that, who knows, so he might end up going down the Grand National route, but it was a very good run to finish second in this year’s Gold Cup.”

What the trainers say: Cheltenham Betvictor November Meeting

Courtesy of my friends at Racenews here is the latest on the weekend meeting from Cheltenham’s press conference today


Trainers look forward to the BetVictor Gold Cup and the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham this weekend
Monday, November 13, 2017 – Cheltenham Racecourse staged a press conference today ahead of the exciting three-day The November Meeting which starts on Countryside Day, Friday, November 17 and finishes on The November Meeting Sunday, November 19.
The three-day extravaganza features two very prestigious and valuable G3 handicaps, the £160,000 BetVictor Gold Cup (2.25pm, Saturday, 22 confirmations) and the £100,000 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (3.00pm, Sunday, 23 confirmations).
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson was joined by Paul Nicholls, Jamie Snowden and Harry Fry at Kempton Park this morning to discuss runners over the three days.
Henderson said: “The plan is to run Theinval (25/1 with BetVictor), Days Of Heaven(25/1) and Gold Present (12/1) in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
“Theinval was unlucky all last season. He finished third in the Grand Annual at The Festival, second at Aintree, then we ran him twice at Ayr on the Friday and Saturday, and the best of the four runs was probably at Ayr on the Saturday.
“He kept finishing second and one day we will get it right. He tanks into the race and probably ends up getting there a bit too soon.
“He ran very nicely at Ascot the other day [fourth] over two miles. I think two and a half is more his trip.
“Days Of Heaven has got himself too high in the handicap – he is up to 150 – and prefers fast ground.
“He has had a busy summer and we will probably put him away after this, but he has an American owner who is coming over so he will have a go.
“Gold Present’s trip two and a half and he ran a very good race [to be second] in the novices’ handicap at The Festival.
“We have no fears as he is a good jumper and that bit of experience looks pretty solid.
“We have left Jenkins (6/1 joint favourite with Unibet) and Call Me Lord (16/1) in the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle.
“Jenkins is an intended runner, whereas Call Me Lord runs tomorrow at Huntingdon. Racing managers have lots of idea so we have left Call Me Lord in, just in case, but in case of what I don’t know – if he falls at the first or he wins? I would think he is an unlikely runner.
“Jenkins was awful the whole way through last season. He won at Newbury but he was still awful. He didn’t jump at home and his work was rubbish.
“He went to Kempton over Christmas and was terrible, then he went to Ffos Las and fell in the most appalling race you have seen in your life, and somehow we have got to a rating of 137. Where in the world he got that from, I don’t know? He is handicapped on his reputation from bumpers – it is nothing to do with what he achieved over hurdles.
“We will see because for some extraordinary reason he is a completely different horse this season – he wants to jump and wants to work. We start here as he has got to start somewhere.
“We will run some nice novices over the three days including On The Blind Side [G2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Friday 3.35pm], who nicely first time at Aintree.
River Wylde pleased me the other day on his first start over fences and he could go for the Racing Post Arkle Trial Novices’ Chase [Sunday 1.50pm].
“There is a nice juvenile filly called Apple’s Shakira who will probably go for the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial [Saturday 12.40pm]. She has won a race in France and is a full-sister to Apple’s Jade.
“We will also run a couple – Brave Eagle and Follow The Bear – in the Martin & Co Jewellers Intermediate Handicap Hurdle [Saturday 3.30pm].”
Nicholls commented: “We have left three in the BetVictor Gold Cup. Clan Des Obeaux(25/1) runs today (finished second) and we left in him just in case he fell at the first. He will probably head to Cheltenham in December. The two that will run are Romain De Senam (10/1) and Le Prezien (12/1).
“Romain De Senam caught me by surprise a bit when he won at Chepstow. That race may have fell apart as they did go quick, and then he won again six days later at Stratford. I had to run him quickly under the penalty as he was going up 12lb.
“He needs a real fast run race, which he will hopefully get at Cheltenham on Saturday, and he is in good shape. He is an improving five-year-old.
“Le Prezien ran very well and was only beaten a neck at Cheltenham last time. He obviously gets further than two miles and that will have sharpened up his jumping. Two miles and five probably suits him better than two miles.
“He is rated 150, which is quite high, and went up 6lb for finishing second the other day. That isn’t going to help too much, but he is a young, game horse who gets a trip and he must have a chance.
“Le Prezien jumped soundly the other day, whereas at the backend of last season he didn’t jump particularly well and that will cost you around Cheltenham.
Old Guard (25/1) is one of two we will run in Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle. He has 10st 12lb and Bryony Frost will take off another five. That is a real racing weight for him because he was running in all the big races and obviously wasn’t quite good enough.
“He had a wind operation over the summer and ran really well at Chepstow on his reappearance before winning nicely at Kempton. He is 4lb higher than he won this a couple of season ago, but after that he went on to win the International Hurdle. He must have a chance.
“The other runner is Amour De Nuit (20/1), who has 10st 1lb. He won a Listed novices’ hurdle at Kempton and was a good horse on the Flat, rated 100.
“He has kept improving and the dry ground will suit him, as will a fast run race. He has got plenty of experience in novices’ hurdles and jumps well. At 25/1, he is a big outsider.
“We have plenty entered in the novices’ chases at The November Meeting. Movewiththetimes is in the Steel Place And Sections Novices’ Chase (2.25pm) on Friday and the Racing Post Arkle Trial Novices’ Chase (1.50pm) on Sunday.
Black Corton keeps progressing and runs in the Novices’ Chase (1.15pm Saturday) over three miles. Capitaine is also in the Racing Post Arkle Trial. We will sort them out later in the week.”
Snowden revealed: “Double Treasure (16/1) won three times in handicaps, so we decided to put him back into novice company last time when he jumped, galloped and stayed really well.
“He put in a pretty good performance that day to beat higher-rated horses and, on the back of that, has obviously gone up in the weights. He has got to improve again for the BetVictor Gold Cup, but we think he has.
“There is a new rule this season that if you finish second or worse in a novices’ chase, you are not going to go up in the handicap, and we went in there rated 137.
“I felt he could run a good race and finish second or third, have a spin around Cheltenham and go to the BetVictor off 137. If that was the case, I would be standing here saying he is an absolutely certainty, but fortunately or unfortunately – whatever way you look at it – he won and has gone up in the handicap as a result.
“He used to be an absolute lunatic, but now he has learnt to relax and race properly. And because of that, he has improved dramatically.
“The way he is working at home suggests that he is full of confidence, which can happen when horses get on a roll. He is working brilliantly and looks like he is improving with each of his wins.
“He has got to go and do it in a big field handicap like the BetVictor, but the way he is going at home suggests that he has every chance.
“We have done his wind, so he probably doesn’t want the ground too soft. We got him out early looking for better ground and that seems to suit him. The fact we are in for a dry week is a help to him.”
Fry remarked: “The owners of Kylemore Lough (7/1 favourite with BetVictor) rang up at the end of May asking if we wanted to train the horse. It is a tricky situation as we know what it is like when the boot is on the other foot, but we are in the business of training horses and clearly he is a very high-class horse, so we immediately said yes.
“We have been very happy with him since he came to us. He was a G1-winning novice chaser for Kerry Lee and the pressure is on us to produce the same sort of form that he did for them.
“The nice thing is that he turned up at the end of May. We were able to assess him, give him a break and start afresh with him. It is not as though he turned up a couple of weeks ago.
“We have been grafting away at home and have been happy with his progress and what he has been showing us.
“He was top-weight when fifth in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last season and is 2lb lower now. He has a good record fresh as well and that is why we targeted the BetVictor Gold Cup when we mapped out his campaign. It was always going to be the starting point.
Misterton (12/1) has been left in the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle. He won nicely at Chepstow in October and the form has been franked with Elgin winning at Ascot a couple of weeks ago.
“It will be interesting to see if The New One runs as we are a 1lb out of the handicap as things stand.
“He is a young horse going in the right direction. We know he stays further and Noel gave him a positive ride at Chepstow over two miles. It is bound to be strongly-run race on Sunday and his stamina should come into play up the hill.
“We will see what the weights are looking like before deciding if he definitely lines up.”
Simon Claisse, Regional Head of Racing Jockey Club Racecourses South West and Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham, said the going at Cheltenham today was Good to Soft for the chase and hurdle course and Good for the Cross Country course.
He explained: “It could well be perfect ground at the weekend for The November Meeting at Cheltenham this weekend.
“We had some nice rain on Friday and Saturday, which has put the chase and hurdle courses at Good to Soft.
“For any trainer worried about the ground becoming too easy, I have already said that there will be no more watering on the chase, hurdle and Cross Country courses.
“It is forecast to be a dry week – there could be a few showers around, but nothing of any significance.
“We are going to be a combination of Good to Soft and Good I think right across the three days.
“Mid-week we are expecting temperatures to go down to 1 degree Celsius or zero, but it is forecast to be considerably milder by the weekend.
“If you cast your minds back 12 months, the Glenfarclass Cross Country Handicap Chase could not be run at the meeting because that course was firm and hard and we were still watering the chase and hurdle course to get to Good by the Friday.
“A fortnight ago, we had some really nice ground at The Showcase a fortnight ago. We are not expecting much rain before The November Meeting starts on Friday, no more than a millimetre a day for the next four or five days.”
The BetVictor Gold Cup
Grade 3 handicap chase, £160,000 total prize fund . Cheltenham, Saturday, November 18. Two miles, four and a half furlongs (2m 4f 78y). For four-year-olds and upwards. Penalties: after November 5, a winner of a chase 5lb. Entries closed October 31, entries revealed November 1 (45 entries). Weights revealed November 8. Five-day confirmation stage November 13 (22 remain), final declarations November 16. Maximum field size 20 runners plus 2 reserves.
Walters Plant Hire & James & Jean Potter
Kerry Lee
M J McMahon & Denis Gallagher
Harry Fry
The Bellamy Partnership
Venetia Williams
J P McManus
Paul Nicholls
Sir Chips Keswick
Jamie Snowden
Ann & Alan Potts Limited
Colin Tizzard
Mrs S K Johnston
Nicky Henderson
Mr & Mrs P Barber, G Mason, Sir A Ferguson
Paul Nicholls
Barry Connell
Alan Fleming IRE
Options O Syndicate
Nigel Twiston-Davies
Mr & Mrs Sandy Orr
Nicky Henderson
Mr Chris Giles & Mr Dan Macdonald
Paul Nicholls
Paul & Clare Rooney
David Pipe
John Westwood
Ian Williams
John & Barbara Cotton
Nicky Henderson
William & Angela Rucker
Evan Williams
Swanee River Partnership
Charlie Longsdon
Calvados Racing
Venetia Williams
Pat Sloan
Nicky Richards
John Neild
Nigel Twiston-Davies
Graham and Alison Jelley
Fergal O’Brien
Dr Ronan Lambe
Jim Culloty IRE
22 five-day confirmations
2 Irish-trained
BetVictor Gold Cup – BetVictor latest odds: Kylemore Lough 7/1, Tully East 8/1, Romain De Senam 10/1, Gold Present 12/1, Foxtail Hill 12/1, Starchitect 12/1, Le Prezien 12/1, Ballyalton 12/1, Double Treasure 16/1, Aso 20/1, Clan Des Obeaux 25/1, Days Of Heaven 25/1, Top Gamble 25/1, Viconte du Noyer 25/1, Aqua Dude 25/1, Guitar Pete 25/1,  Splash of Ginge 25/1, Theinval 25/1, Bentelimar 33/1, Mystifiable 33/1, Plaisir D’Amour 33/1, Lake Takapuna 40/1
The Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle
Grade 3, £100,000 total prize fund. Cheltenham, Sunday, November 19. Two miles and half a furlong (2m 87y). For four-year-olds and upwards. Penalties: after November 5, a winner of a hurdle 5lb. Entries closed October 31, entries revealed November 1 (47 entries). Weights revealed November 8. Six-day confirmation stage November 13 (23 remain), final declarations November 17.
S Such & C G Paletta
Nigel Twiston-Davies
J P McManus
Philip Hobbs
J P McManus
Joseph O’Brien IRE
J P McManus
Joseph O’Brien IRE
The Brooks, Stewart Families & J Kyle
Paul Nicholls
The Rumble Racing Club
Seamus Mullins
Elite Racing Club
Alan King
J P McManus
John Quinn
Simon Munir & Isaac Souede
Nicky Henderson
The Macaroni Beach Society
Nick Williams
10-02 (5lb ex) Margaret Forsyth
Ian Williams
Andrew Williams
Paul Nicholls
Pump & Plant Services Ltd
Nicky Henderson
Mrs June Watts
Dan Skelton
D Gilbert, M Lawrence, A Bruce, G Wills
Brian Ellison
Wilkin, Orr, Boileau & Sim
Harry Fry
Mrs H Mullins
Tom Mullins IRE
Mrs H Mullins
Tom Mullins IRE
Mr & Mrs R Scott
Alan King
The Angove Family
David Pipe
Newtown Anner Stud Farm
Tony Martin IRE
Mr L Fell
Evan Williams
T D Howley Jnr/J N O’Brien
Gordon Elliott IRE
23 five-day cofirmations
6 Irish-trained
Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle – Unibet prices: 6/1 Defi Du Seuil, Jenkins; 10/1 London Prize; 12/1 Misterton, Mohaayed; 14/1 Chesterfield, Elgin, Ivanovich Gorbatov, Tigris River, William H Bonney; 16/1 Call Me Lord, Flying Tiger, Nietzsche, Silver Streak, The New One; 20/1 Amour De Nuit, Poker Play, Project Bluebook, Veinard; 25/1 Golden Spear, Old Guard, Top Othe Ra; 33/1 Grand Partner

Cheltenham Racecourse
Cheltenham Racecourse is situated in Prestbury on the northern outskirts of the historic spa town of Cheltenham.
The Home of Jump Racing, Cheltenham Racecourse is the venue for the world’s pre-eminent Jump meeting.
The Festival, which happens in March over four days every year, next takes place in 2018 from Tuesday, March 13, to Friday, March 16, 2018 inclusive and tickets are on sale.
Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Cotswolds, Cheltenham Racecourse is a stunning natural arena and offers  the highest-quality action throughout the Jump season.
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About The Jockey Club
Cheltenham is part of The Jockey Club which stages thrilling sporting occasions including The Randox Health Grand National, The Cheltenham Festival and The Investec Derby.
Millions of people every year enjoy the special experiences The Jockey Club offers through racing, music, food and entertainment. Governed by Royal Charter, every penny made goes back into British Racing to help the sport thrive.

The Jockey Club was founded in 1750 and today is the largest commercial group in Britain’s second-biggest spectator sport, operating 15 racecourses nationwide, The National Stud, Jockey Club Estates, Jockey Club Catering, Jockey Club Live and the charity, Racing Welfare. For more information, visit  w
If you need any information about racing at Cheltenham, please contact Sarah Jane Muirie, Communications Manager – Jockey Club Racecourses South West, on 01242 537 683 or

Time for Cue Card to retire

*As the subject continues being debated on social media I thought it worthwhile editing my original post which I’ve done below.


Cue Card has been a standing dish on this blog since 2011. He’s one of my favourite horses and I’m dismayed to see him entered in The Betfair again because I think there might be something wrong with him. In 2013 he was absolutely running away with the King George only to stop suddenly before running on again to finish second. His trainer later speculated that what had happened was a sudden epiglottal blockage (his epiglottis was operated on the following year and it turned his career around). So, things can happen to a horse during a race and the reason is not always immediately obvious.

What has changed with Cue Card to cause him to have three falls in the past two years? Maybe nothing. Maybe just bad luck, I don’t know, but there is some evidence, for me, at least, that it could be something other than that.

His fall in the 2016 Gold Cup was the first public fall of his career. When he lined up that day he had run in 21 steeplechases with just an unseat in his novice days. Since that fall he has run in 9 steeplechases and fallen twice more. The 2016 fall could, of course, be put down to one-off misfortune. He fell at the same fence in the 2017 Gold Cup when under considerably more pressure and the fall was remarkably similar to the 2016 one. Cue Card went to Aintree next and ran a valiant race, mishap free bar a couple of slight errors. On Saturday he fell again.

Here are the questions these falls raise for me:

Why were the three falls so similar? Each was a cover-your-eyes crash into the belly of the fence as though he either hadn’t seen it or saw it very late.

His jumping technique has never been textbook but in those 21 chases, no matter how he came at a fence, he always found a way of getting over; why did that desert him on three occasions in such dramatic fashion?   He appears to have lost none of his scope and athleticism. He still has a fine engine and I doubt there is a more experienced jumper of fences currently racing. Why would a horse like that crash into a fence twice in three races?

I don’t buy Brennan’s low sun excuse on Saturday. They’d already jumped 4 fences down the back all pretty much in the same ‘sun line’ as the one he came down at. Also, the shadows suggest the sun was coming side on mostly, from the infield. And the front two jumped the fence impeccably. Nico mentioned the sun but I can find no complaints from other jockeys and it shone on the first circuit without causing obvious problems.

If you accept, as many do, that a horse senses the emotions of its rider and reacts to them, there is an argument that any anxiety Paddy Brennan was feeling could have contributed to the falls. Brennan can, by his own admission, be intense and a worrier. Maybe Colin Tizzard is right to at least try a change of jockey. I don’t know.

Despite some daft spinning on social media, I don’t think that only big name horses should be retired. And I don’t doubt the trainer and all connections love Cue Card. But  nor do I doubt the fact that they’ve been very lucky three times; Cue Card’s first fall was a horror to watch and the other two no less so. A number of horses would not have survived them.

I accept that what is laid out here is little more than speculation built on pretty flimsy evidence. So, calls for Cue Card’s retirement are not logical. But there is enough evidence for me, and sufficient portents, to say publicly that I wish they’d retire him. A logical call? No, but for many, this is an affair of the heart.


Book review: At The Festival by Richard Austen

Men and Horses I Have Known was the first non-fiction racing book I read. That was over 50 years ago and I’ve read many more since. But I have no hesitation in choosing Richard Austen’s At The Festival as the most enjoyable racing book I’ve read.

I’ve tried to make allowances in that assessment for just how well this book fits me. It starts by covering the golden age of hurdling in the 1970s and, by then, I was gaining enough knowledge about racing and form to put together a solid argument for horses (not just bets) I believed in. The names of the horses in this period come off the page at me as though leaping toward a jump, and they carry with them resounding memories and emotions.

So, at my age now and my stage of a lifelong love affair with National Hunt racing, I’ll confess that some of my affection for this book lies in a deep attachment to the participants. But, setting this aside, Mister Austen’s book still comes out top of my all time list. His stroke of genius here has been in following his nose for a story well beyond the level of any other racing writer I can think of. This is investigative journalism of a pure and joyful kind driven by the author’s love of the sport and its characters and of his own emotional ties to it. I suspect that the seeds of true passions are planted mostly in childhood or adolescence and Richard Austen is the grandson of the man who bred Birds Nest, and that’s where the book starts.

The Cheltenham Festival is the stage on which the characters, human and equine, appear for public consumption, for their races to be remembered and relived until they trot off to be replaced by the next act. But the true beauty in this book lies in what happens behind the scenes and the reader’s great good fortune is that the author has the perfect nose for sniffing out the tiny details that make you smile and make you wonder. Richard Austen specialises in finding out what happened before the curtain went up and, often, after it came down and everyone went home.

I defy you to read the tale of Norton’s Coin and not stop several times mid-page to assure yourself that someone will make a movie of it. It’s a wonderful story. As is that of Galmoy whose expert connections had only one way of telling when he was race-fit (he tried to eat people). And Winnie The Witch, bought out of a seller and then showing so little at home it caused family arguments about her next run: trainer Ken Bridgwater’s sons wanted her back in another seller as soon as possible. Not long afterwards Ken was saddling the mare for a Festival race and warning his jockey-son David not to win too far.

Another small yard, a tiny yard, that of Richard Holder’s started the 1981 season with just three horses. Holder is ‘constantly skint’ (he comes across as a lovely man) but he picks up the mare Mayotte in Ireland that season for 6,500 gns and she ends up running some fine races in the Stayers’ Hurdle. By 1989 Holder is still skint and badly in need of a big winner. A 100/1 shot in the Triumph anybody?

And the big guns are here too aplenty. You’ll learn a lot about Dawn Run and her eccentric owner (remember, the jocking-off of Tony Mullins, the early jumping problems, Jonjo’s hellish encounters with injury?). You’ll meet again Sea Pigeon and Night Nurse and Monksfield, the crazy Derring Rose, Desert Orchid, Bobsline, Noddy’s Ryde and quite a few more.

On Noddy’s Ryde, here’s an excerpt that typifies the touch of the author and his nose for a character . . .

One evening, a week or ten days after the arrival of the horse (at Greystoke) there was a knock at Richards’ front door. Standing there was a young Scotsman, unknown to the trainer and unannounced._
‘I’ve come to do my horse,’ declared the visitor.
‘Which horse is that?’
‘Noddy’s Ryde. Where he goes I go.’
‘Well, I’d better give you a job then.’

If you remember Brod Munro-Wilson I’ll bet you’re smiling at seeing his name. If you haven’t heard of him you are in for a treat (search on YouTube for The Drunken Duck). The impression Munro-Wilson left on many was based mostly on a combination of his double barrelled name and his finishing style on the back of a racehorse. But he was far from the buffoon many thought him to be and he backed his conviction that he’d win that Festival race, scooping a sum worth close to quarter of a million in 2017.

The more I write, the more enthusiastic I become for this book and it’s best that I reveal no more and simply advise that you buy it and buy it in hardback – it’s beautifully produced in keeping with the content. A book that will stand the test of time. I bought mine from Richard Austen’s website and Richard kindly signed it for me. I have a tall bookcase dedicated to racing; At The Festival now has pride of place there.  The book is available here

The price of the great game

On Saturday I watched a horse die and it’s been on my mind. Horses are my livelihood. I write about them. I make up stories about horses and tough jockeys and cunning trainers and villainous owners and desperate gamblers. On Saturday I wondered about the price that is paid.

I had travelled to Cheltenham races with three of my brothers. I rarely go racing now. I live on a small island off the West coast of Scotland and I’ve kind of tucked myself away in a long hibernation.

But I’ve always loved horseracing and a new star had risen, a beautiful bay (that reddish brown shiny coat with black mane and tail) named Thistlecrack.

Thistlecrack is trained by a mildly eccentric farmer, Colin Tizzard in the depths of rural Dorset in southwest England. Thistlecrack was led into the horsebox on Saturday morning unbeaten in his previous 9 races. On Boxing Day he had won the King George VI Steeplechase on only his fifth run over fences.

He hadn’t just won that race, he had done so with an injection of pace off the bend that I have never before seen at that level. He won without coming under any pressure from his jockey who was sitting still as he passed the post. To offer some perspective, the human sports equivalent would be an athlete with just 4 marathons under his shoes, cruising home at the Olympics.

But there were doubters for Saturday. Thistlecrack had run before at Cheltenham, in November and, at the open ditch (a long trench set in front of a high fence to catch the inexperienced and the weary), he took off way too early and landed on top of the birch.

But that error barely checked his momentum and he went on to easy victory.

Would he make the same mistake on Saturday? His rivals were not now in the class of those he had faced when winning the King George, but there were two particularly tough nuts; a grey (almost white with age now) called Smad Place and a magnificent classically built old fashioned steeplechaser named Many Clouds who had won the Grand National carrying the biggest weight since the days of the legendary Red Rum.

A dual King George winner lined up, Silviniaco Conti, but he had long since lost his form and was a 20/1 chance.

Many Clouds is a brown gelding with that dark colour fading into a kind of tan at his muzzle below the bright sheepskin noseband he always wears. He would be in the top ten best jumpers of a fence I’ve seen in more than 50 years watching the sport.

Smad Place too is a fine jumper, and a front runner. So pale is his coat that on gloomy days at the track he’ll lead the pack like some kind of ghost horse.

But Saturday was bright. Thistlecrack was a short-priced favourite at 4/9 (you put £9 on with a bookie for a profit of £4). Smad Place was 7/1 (£1 on for a profit of £7) and Many Clouds 8/1. The other four runners were deemed to have little chance although Kylemore Lough had been the subject of a gamble.

They lined up for the start in front of the stands. The official figures listed the attendance of 23,579 souls to witness the most eagerly awaited steeplechase for many years.

I took my place at ground level close to the winning post.

Cheltenham racecourse sits in a natural amphitheatre in a Cotswold valley with the hulk of Cleeve Hill rising in a dramatic backdrop. Viewing is clear from anywhere. There’s no need to be in the grandstands, but that is where most of the faithful gather in what can seem a mass tribal huddle. I stood with the grandstands behind me.

The starter waved his yellow flag and the field set off on the short run to the first fence. Smad Place led from Silviniaco Conti, Many Clouds and Thistlecrack and that was the order throughout the first circuit. Approaching the open ditch that had almost claimed Thistlecrack in November, the tension was palpable…but he soared over, going well, tucked away behind Smad Place and Many Clouds.

They turned at the top of the hill. Thistlecrack was on the wrong stride approaching the tricky downhill fence and he over-jumped and pitched and his nose almost touched the ground. But he recovered quickly, barely breaking stride.

They came around the bend and uphill toward the stands for the first time, the field of seven still intact, Thistlecrack’s jockey in orange and black catching the sunlight in his silks, the wrinkles sending back glints like tiny semaphores.

Away from us they went again on the final circuit.

People shifted, adjusting the weight on their feet, resting binocular arms for a few moments before picking them up again, thousands of lenses trained on this galloping pack, following them out onto the far side.

Coming away from the tenth fence in this race of three miles and two furlongs, Smad Place quickened. Many Clouds went with him. So did Thistlecrack but Silviniaco Conti could not and for the first time in the race he came under pressure. Kylemore Lough tagged on to the front three and these four began drawing steadily away.

The jockey on Smad Place, Wayne Hutchinson, cranked it up again. He and Leighton Aspell, the rider of Many Clouds knew that the only thing Thistlecrack had not yet proved was his stamina. This was his potential vulnerability. Winding up the pace from here on in was the only way to test it. The ground was their ally. It was soft. Not the kind of soft that incessant rain brings, but a sticky soft brought about by the combination of frost and miles of a canvas-type though breathable material that had covered the grass on the previous two nights trying to keep the frost away.

The covers had done their job but the ground had become poached and cloying and it sucked at the hooves of Smad Place and Many Clouds and Thistlecrack as they turned at the top of the hill to come back toward the stands.

Racing down the hill Smad Place quickened yet again and Many Clouds went with him and Tom Scudamore on Thistlecrack tried to do the same but they were at the fourth-last now and the front two jumped it perfectly. Thistlecrack hit it with his back legs and lost a length and Scudamore rousted him and down they raced toward the third-last where Thistlecrack had been on his nose first time around.

This time…this time, he did the same. He over-jumped, and that downward slope on the landing side made him pay the price of inexperience while the Grand National winner ahead of him had jumped many such fences and this one slipped below Many Clouds in a blur of untouched birch.

Toward the bend into the straight now and Aspell on Many Clouds and Hutchinson on Smad Place were rowing away with the reins and swinging their black boots to kick and slide along the sides of the saddles, and Tom Scudamore on Thistlecrack let out an inch of rein and Thistlecrack surged forward, unleashed now and ready to do the job that more than a thousand years of selective breeding had prepared him for.

They turned into the straight with two to jump and the white horse was coming to the end of his tether, his jockey riding desperately to keep him in contention. But Many Clouds galloped past him and Thistlecrack did the same and they jumped the second last in unison leaving Smad Place in their wake and they raced toward the last with Aspell riding hard on Many Clouds and Scudamore on Thistlecrack sitting almost still.

Many Clouds jumped it straight and true. Thistlecrack took a couple of steps to the left to try and put himself on the correct take-off stride and he too jumped but Many Clouds came away just in front and went half a length up, and Scudamore, for the first time in more than two years, was having to ask his horse for an effort.

Now we all knew, all 23,579 of us who watched, that this was to be no cakewalk for Thistlecrack…the noise began.

And it built so rapidly, flowing from the stands behind me as Aspell drew his whip and Scudamore kicked and scrubbed in panic and the lead changed hands in centimetre increments, that I stopped watching the race to immerse myself in the incredible wall of sound sweeping down and out across the track toward the two horses who were fifty yards from the winning post and still inseparable. The long, raking stride of Many Clouds appeared to reach out at just half the rhythm of the shorter legs of Thistlecrack so that the National winner seemed to be going in slow motion.

Thistlecrack was in a place he’d never been before, the realm of the pain barrier. His muscles would be screaming at the assault of lactic acid, his big lungs trying to take in enough oxygen to drive his half ton of bone and muscle and blood toward the post, foam spuming from his open mouth to stain Scudamore’s goggles and fleck his black boots…the same was happening with Many Clouds, but he had been there. He’d been to hell and back a few times. He had won the Hennessy Gold Cup and his legs had faltered only after the finish and he had wobbled and they’d hurried with water buckets to cool him. The same had happened in the National. But he never shirked. He knew the pain and had never backed off and he did not back off this time and while the distressed Thistlecrack’s head bobbed, Many Clouds stuck his neck out and his head down and they hit the line and that neck-stretch won him the race.

The massive blimp of noise seemed to burst and a sigh rose in its place and the applause began for two horses of high courage and real class.

As they pulled up, Scudamore’s head was down in dismay. A defeat he had believed almost impossible had come. Aspell, a quiet man, did not punch the air. He leant forward to hug the neck of his horse…his horse. Many Clouds had never had another jockey. He had been Aspell’s mount since setting foot on a racecourse for the first time in February 2012 (he won).

Leighton Aspell is a fine horseman but he is not a top jockey in that he wouldn’t get as many rides as he deserves and the public would not know him in the way they might know AP McCoy or Frankie Dettori. Aspell will be 41 this summer. The quiet Irishman has ridden two Grand National winners and there isn’t a better jockey in a long distance steeplechase.

Aspell waited smiling at the top of the track as the TV crew gathered for the usual post-race interview. Aspell was preparing in his head all the things he wanted to say, the thank you messages, the words of faith he’d always had in his horse, the praise for an animal who time and again had got to that pain barrier, that place where many horses say “no, thanks. Not again” and they give up and let others pass them. Not once had Many Clouds considered saving anything for himself. He gave every ounce. More than once his trainer, Oliver Sherwood had said, ’He would run off a cliff for you. He would die for you.”

As the TV presenter moved forward, microphone on a long pole so Aspell could speak, Many Clouds went down. His backend gave way first and he sat, giving his rider a chance to kick his feet from the stirrups before Many Clouds slumped. So big a horse was he that I heard him hit the turf from 150 yards away.

Oohs and aahs from the stands alerted those who were already hurrying toward the winner’s enclosure to welcome Many Clouds back in. They stopped and turned and saw the big horse down. His back legs kicked out in a brief flurry. The girl beside me said, ‘Oh, he’s moving! Maybe he’s all right.”

But it had looked too much like a death shudder and I turned away. People were crying. Others looked stunned. Course staff hurried to erect the big green screens. Vets jumped from Land Rovers and ran across to the fallen horse but he was already dead. His past post-race wobbles came to mind for many and the belief was that he’d had a massive heart attack after such huge effort.

Many people left the track. Leighton Aspell got changed and hurriedly drove away to seek the privacy of his home where he wouldn’t have to put on a brave face. Oliver Sherwood, the trainer of Many Clouds agreed to a TV interview and he was gracious and dignified and courageous and paid the most endearing tribute to Many Clouds and to the people back at Rhonehurst, his training yard where Many Clouds, the gentle giant, had been such a big part of everyone’s life.

Two of those people feature in a picture I took of Many Clouds a few minutes before the race (see below). His grooms. They look oddly tense and worried.

There is a picture too of Thistlecrack and of Smad Place.

A post-mortem was carried out on Sunday. Many Clouds died of a massive pulmonary embolism (a blockage in the lungs).

Many Clouds will be cremated and his ashes scattered in the paddock in which he usually spent the summer at the home of his owner, Trevor Hemmings, on the Isle of Man. In that paddock, two more Grand National winners also owned by Hemmings, Ballabriggs and Hedgehunter, now retired, will walk above and around the ashes of their ex-paddock mate.

The two grooms in the picture below travelled home with an empty bridle in a silent horsebox.

I travelled home with my brothers and we talked about the ups and downs of being racing fans. I know that some who were there on Saturday will never go back because a horse lost its life in the name of our sport.

I know too that it will trouble me for a long time, but that my lifelong love for racing will win out. I first went to Cheltenham 42 years ago to stand in a downpour and watch Arkle’s owner, the Duchess of Westminster win the Cheltenham Gold Cup with a fine horse called Ten Up who was very like Many Clouds in looks.

Whether Saturday was my swansong at the track, I don’t know. I am tempted to make it so because what happened there is etched in my soul.

    • Just released: A fine tribute on film

Many Clouds- The People’s Horse from Equine Productions on Vimeo.

Many Clouds
Smad Place
Smad Place