It was a pleasure to be at Wincanton on Saturday covering Badger Ales Chase day. A wonderful track and their richest day of racing. And what a day! There was something special about the action in the West Country on Saturday, something to rival any track. Perhaps it was down to the much-needed rain meaning we weren’t faced with depleted fields. After what had been a slightly disappointing week of jump racing seven days previously due to quick ground, the weekend just gone felt like lift-off for the season ahead.
I have to start with Bryony.
It’s not my intention to write about said Matchbook Ambassador every week but she does keep making the headlines!
Last week was about that fantastic sit on Black Corton but ultimately it was a disappointing Saturday for her. Confidence unharmed, I saw Bryony on the way into the weighing room about an hour before racing. Big smile, unshakeably positive, just looking forward to getting on Present Man.
I came away thinking – she’ll win this! And so she did.
Present Man is a lovely jumper of a fence but he showed versatility on the day. There was lots of pace on and his jockey was happy to let him take a lead as the race started to develop. I’m not sure he or she put a foot wrong all race. There’s talk of National fences next and it’d be a joy to see him leaping over those.
Then for the special bit. As Sam Turner, a guest on this week’s podcast (and yes he tipped the winner), and I were wrapping up our thought on the race on Racing UK, a group of about thirty people ran around the corner towards the winners’ enclosure. Running. At Wincanton. To greet the winner of the Badger Ales. A local winner, owned by Mark and Tessa Woodhouse (Mark is the chairman of Badger Ales), trained down the road, ridden by a local girl. Soon the paddock was packed and Present Man came into rapturous cheering and applause.
It was up there with the best atmospheres I’ve experienced on a course, all on a relatively quiet Saturday in South Somerset.
In the main, they were cheering for the winning jockey. Pausing for selfies and autographs, it’s amazing to think how popular Bryony has become in such a short space of time and it’s wonderful for our sport. Filming our Matchbook interviews at Cheltenham a few weeks back I was struck by how genuine this young lady is.
Rest assured Bryony doesn’t ‘turn it on for the cameras’.
What you see is what she is and it’s a pleasure to be around.
As Lee Mottershead put it on twitter this week, “One of the many great things about a big-race win for Bryony Frost is you know there will be a Bryony Frost interview”. Personality combined with abundant talent in the saddle.
Bryony really gets horses jumping for her. Her lower-profile win on Capeland a few races earlier was possibly ride of the day.
Harry’s the real deal
I must also mention the jockey who rode a treble on the day, Harry Cobden.
This guy is the real deal.
I remember interviewing a sixteen-year-old Harry a few years ago and being quite taken with how confident and articulate he was. He’s come a very long way very quickly. Four Grade 1 wins to his name already and the go-to man at a notoriously tough place to fill that role, I’m seriously impressed with how he conducts himself.
I’m not sure he’s quite twenty yet and there’s potentially a lot of pressure on young shoulders but you wouldn’t know it with how he rides or behaves. It’s an important season for him and, fitness permitting, one I fancy he’ll look back on very positively.
Super Saint Calvados
The connections of Saint Calvados (Rory Delargy’s class horse to follow this year on the Matchbook Betting Podcast) took a risk and boy did it pay off. Bravery rewarded for going over to Ireland and taking on their best two mile chaser.
The British yards don’t do it too often, perhaps more should.
Saint Calvados showed what he’s capable of against the best horses and I think he would have won whether Footpad had stood up or not. He did get things his own way out in front, and that’s when he’s at his most dangerous, but he’s a lethal jumper of a fence when allowed a rhythm and a proper Grade 1 horse.
Footpad was disappointing before that last flight unseat.
He suffered an overreach, probably when making an error at the third, and I’m convinced he was feeling that.
He didn’t make the usual shape at his fences from that point and in some ways, I’d not be too disheartened given what unfolded.
That said, I wouldn’t be in the ‘put a line through it’ camp. He’s demonstrated a vulnerability over fences and I’m always wary when horses don’t seem to enjoy a round of jumping, whatever the reason. There’s also a chance he wasn’t entirely at home on that ground over that trip.
He’s always been considered a horse who wants some cut, probably more than was on offer at Naas. And he was tried over three miles in Grade 1 company on his last go over hurdles. Don’t forget, his best performance came off a searching pace on officially heavy ground at Cheltenham.
I’d love to see him take up that King George engagement but it’s probably wishful thinking.
Not such a dark horse but I was taken with the performance of If The Cap Fits in the Elite Hurdle after nearly a year off. That was the first time he’s really had to jump at pace against very good horses and connections were adamant beforehand that he’d improve for the run. I also like that Harry Fry asked Sam and me for opinions on the race afterwards.
When a trainer does so it’s normally because they’re disappointed and expected their horse to win. I like that.
He could easily have looked at the bare result and been very happy but he wasn’t. That tells me even better was expected.
He didn’t jump as well as he can but will be better with that ‘proper race’ experience behind him and I’ll likely be backing him wherever he shows up next.
A word on the winner, Verdana Blue. She’s very good and may not just be on the list for the Champion Hurdle, ground permitting, in March.
Her trainer kept talking of a flat campaign and I just wonder, with all the prize money on offer in the staying divisions on the flat, if we might see her in the shake-up for an Ebor or something similar.
Nicky likes a Royal Ascot runner too and she wouldn’t be out of place there.
PS My horse to follow, Vinndication, runs at Carlisle today (Monday). Everything is crossed for Kim Bailey and the team. I hope this is the start of a prolific season.