Back in the Tack

- -

A greyhound and a mongrel, one Welly boot, a wool hat from Chester Racecourse, a cup of tea, Cheltenham replays from 2012, Racing Post, the Manton Estate in all its glory outside the windows.

My favorite place, my favorite time. Cheltenham looms.

As always, George and Candida Baker make me sing for my supper, galloped two this morning. Asked when I had last ridden, I said, “I still ride a little bit.” Asked when I last galloped a racehorse and I said, “Funnily enough, a year ago.” It does all come back to you. It simply has to, as your mount takes a grip and pulls you to the top of a rolling woodchip gallop. Old tricks – to save wind, spine and embarrassment – click into gear.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Gallops.JPGPulling up after the first set, wind whipping across the top of the gallops, a big bay chaser galloped past the leaders, sending the leaders into disarray, a light bay reared, a chestnut kicked, nailing assistant Valerie Murphy in the shin. Everybody asked if she was OK. I asked if it meant I had to ride the next set. Murphy, limping, seemed to be fine but I, indeed, had another set to ride. No problem.

There is still nothing like finishing your morning chores. Instant gratification. A cup of tea and toast, earned, needed afterward.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Sandown.JPGValdez got stuck in the mud at Sandown Saturday. As the field went past the stands the first time in the Imperial Cup, I put down my binoculars and shook my head. He made up some ground but quickly relinquished it and cantered across the wire. The ground cut decisively, with horses either handling it or pulling up. They walked, trotted, sauntered in from the clouds. Desperate. A trainer described it as the heaviest ground Sandown has had all season, maybe ever (check out photo of last hurdle, and that was before racing). Valdez seemed fine afterwards and will live to fight another day. We’ll probably try one more novice hurdle in April before he takes the summer off and learns to jump a fence. Novice chasing in the fall, still dreaming of Cheltenham 2014 and Far Hills 2014.

As for Cheltenham, well, it’s about to boil. Years of planning has winnowed to months of training which has waned to days of worrying. Melodic Rendezvous, a horse I liked in Tuesday’s William Hill Supreme Novices, is out with a dirty scope. Empirical, a horse I liked for Wednesday’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper is out with a leg injury. Jeremy Scott trains both of them. Tough week. So close, yet so far.

The ground will be – pick your description – holding, testing, dead, heavy. It’s listed as soft on all three courses and will remain soft all week.

Clerk of the Course Simon Claisse has covered the ground, 630 carpet-like rolls spread across the courses, trying to keep the frost out of the ground. Temperatures are meant to stay at 1C Tuesday. Proper chasing weather. Guess we won’t order the Extra Cold Guinness.