In all the years of racing at Wincanton, I don’t think any horse has ever been welcomed back into the winner’s enclosure with quite the roar that Melodic Rendezvous received on Saturday after the Elite Hurdle. The Good Horse is fast becoming a real cult hero of the National Hunt game; his enthusiastic owners and Steve Croft certainly know how to celebrate his victories. Saturday was always going to be a really tough question for Melodic Rendezvous; coming off a 272 day absence and having to carry top weight against progressive rivals was never going to be an easy task – read about the build up in Next stop Wincanton. Paul Nicholls was very bullish about his Triumph Hurdle second Far West and the highly progressive pair of Ahyaknowyourself and Karinga Dancer also lined up. The race was run at a nice rate with AP McCoy setting a good tempo on Ahyaknowyourself. Far West was being ridden very prominently and Nick Scholfield was happy to wait in rear. As they exited the back straight, AP McCoy started to work on his mount as Sam Twiston-Davies sat motionless cruising on the 4 year old Far West. Nick Scholfield was travelling with just as much zest in behind. Nick Scholfield looked to make ground on Far West as they rounded the home bend, but Melodic Rendezvous slipped quite badly on straightening. His jockey gave his charge time to regain balance whilst Sam Twiston-Davies sensed it was his time to go and win the race and sent Far West on. As they approached 2 out, Far West had a few lengths lead, which he extended at the hurdle as Melodic Rendezvous failed to lift his feet and did well to stay upright. Nick Scholfield sent him on to chase after the leader and within strides he had drawn alongside Far West. They raced towards the last hurdle together and Melodic Rendezvous produced an electric leap at the last to give him the momentum to draw clear of the 4 year old, the Good Horse winning a shade under 2 lengths under a very considerate ride. On the figures this will not be a performance that would win a Champion Hurdle, but all things considered it was a mighty reappearance. Melodic Rendezvous had every single excuse in the book to be beaten, but like real stars he did not need to use any of them. He is almost assured to improve on this performance, and come March he should be bang there to win the big race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. After the heartbreak of the Supreme Novice Hurdle the relief and joy at the performance was clear to see. The love for this horse is infectious. Steve Croft struggled to hold back the tears as he led back his pride and joy with a Melodic Rendezvous scarf draped over the horses neck. They were greeted by a real heartfelt cheer from the West Country faithful; the owners intent on making the most of enjoying their superstars performance, milked the attention from the packed crowd. After this brilliant performance, it appears the Gerry Fieldon or the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle will be his next appearance. With each race ticked off, the dream of Cheltenham glory becomes one step closer. I genuinely believe this a horse good enough to win a Champion Hurdle; he has bundles of natural ability and Saturday’s reappearance really does show he is a true fighter. It is merely a dream for now; but some dreams do come true, and one thing can be guaranteed… if The Good Horse wins in March, it will be the party to end all partys!
In my tour round UK race meetings on Saturday afternoons, tomorrow I’ll find myself at Wincanton Racecourse for the Badger Ales Trophy. It’s a brilliant racecard that features the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices chase and the Limited Handicap Elite Hurdle (Grade 2). This is a fixture that I really look forward to; Wincanton is a brilliant viewing course and exceptionally well run. The Jockey Club’s smaller venues really can be great places to visit. This year however I have been ticking the days off the calendar for a good few months now. We see the reappearance of a horse that my group of friend’s affectionately refer to as “The Good Horse”. The horse in question is trained in deep Exmoor by former cattle farmer Jeremy Scott; “The good horse” is easily recognisable; he is a fine big stamp of a horse and is hard to miss with his big white blaze. The Good Horse or as he’s known on the racecard; Melodic Rendezvous made his debut in a March bumper at Chepstow. In what was a very low key affair, the well backed son of Where Or When ran out an exceptionally easy winner, drawing clear up the long Chepstow home straight. For what was in theory a modest affair, the form stacked up very nicely indeed with no less than 5 winners coming out of the race. In what was arguably a bold move, he made his next start at the Punchestown Festival where he was thrown in against the impressive Cheltenham bumper winner Champagne Fever, and the high class 2nd from the race New Years Eve. For anyone that can’t remember the weather that week, it hardly did Ireland’s stereotype of ‘always raining’ any favours. The rain could only be described as monsoon like! In a race restricted to amateur riders, Jeremy made a brilliant booking. Jamie Codd would arguably be one of the best riders the amateur scene has ever had. Winning countless point to points in Ireland and having a very enviable CV of high profile wins under rules. Champagne Fever went out to make all in bottomless ground; with his assured stamina and benefiting from the experience of 3 previous runs he would be very tough to beat. As his rivals fell away in behind, Mr J J Codd slowly made ground on the field and as they rounded the home turn Champagne Fever was away and gone. The mud splattered Good Horse gamely battled on to finish a quite remarkable 2nd in the Grade 1 affair, fully justifying the confidence Jeremy Scott had in sending him over to the Emerald Isle. The Jeremy Scott team had a proper horse to look forward to for next season’s campaign. He made his hurdles debut at Exeter where he faced the first ever JP McManus owned Paul Nicholls’s horse, Mr Mole, who was very well bred was certainly piping fit. Melodic Rendezvous ran well in finishing a close second; not a hurdling debut to get wildly excited about but certainly a nice introduction to the hurdling game with improvement almost certainly assured. His next start would be on the Friday of the Cheltenham December meeting. A very promising field went out to run at Prestbury Park that day; a well touted Nicky Henderson horse called Royal Boy was in attendance, along with other exciting novices Eduard, the high class bumper winner Villiage Vic and Mr Watson. The early pace was a crawl; no one seemed particularly interested in taking the lead. As they rounded the home bend at Cheltenham with the famous hill to climb, Nick Schofield sat motionless in last place. As his small band of supporters watched on, nervous that he had too much to do. But Nick sat confidently and asked his charge to make ground as they approached the last obstacle, which he pinged and in a matter of strides Melodic Rendezvous had gone from stone last to first. He went on to win by a comfortable length, from a fast finishing Royal Boy who did look a touch unlucky. It is fair to say Nick Schofield was the calmest person in the house in the final two furlongs of that contest. The way he won the race; why was anyone worried anyway? In the history of this Class 4 Novice Hurdle it would be debatable if there had ever been a happier looking stable lad leading back in his horse to the winner’s enclosure. Melodic Rendezvous had built on the promise of his hurdles debut nicely, and in race that was not run to suit he ran out a very nice winner. Jeremy Scott and the team decided to pitch his stable star into Grade 1 company on only his 3rd hurdles start in the prestigious Tolworth Hurdle. The race was run at a very nice tempo considering the soft going and as they came round the home bend Pendra led the field up the testing Sandown straight. Poet who was always posted wide set about making his ground with Nick once again sat motionless at the bottom of the straight, oozing confidence. As they came to two out, Royal Boy made an error when weakening, Pendra pinged the hurdle to retain the lead, and Melodic put in arguably his slowest leap of an otherwise perfect round. As they raced towards the final flight Nick Scholfield let his mount stride ominously upside the leader. The game front running Pendra and Melodic Rendezvous produced perfect leaps in tandem at the last and as they landed together Melodic Rendezvous appeared to barge into Pendra showing that not only is he of the highest order he is a real fighter. Nick Schofield set about winning the race, and with the assistance of a couple flicks of the whip he drew clear of the gallant second Pendra. A clearly delighted Nick Schofield had secured himself and Jeremy Scott their first ever Grade 1 winner’s with a performance of the highest order. nly his 3rd hurdles start in the prestigious Tolworth Hurdle. A race won previously by the likes of Noland and Monsignor. In against him again would be Royal Boy, who was seeking revenge from Cheltenham with most people thinking he would have won the previous race had he of got a clearer run, the Evan Williams trained Court Minstrel, the very smart flat performer Poet (2nd in the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown) and the Charlie Longsdon trained Pendra with his trainer not being about to help displaying his excitement for this son of Old Vic. In what looked to be a good renewal of the race, Melodic Rendezvous went off third in the market behind Royal Boy and the high class flat horse Poet. Whilst Nick Schofield was having his toughest task of the day trying to pull up his first ever Grade 1 winner; Melodic Rendezvous’s rather excitable stable lad Steve Croft was setting about seeing a stride at the rail. In one of the best bits of Channel 4 racing coverage of the season; the camera’s caught the Evertonian pinging the rail before setting off celebrating up the Esher hill to collect his pride and joy. As Nick and Steve Croft embraced at the top of the hill, it was fair to say their enthusiasm for The Good Horse was infectious. Steve Croft was asked by Channel 4 racing as he led in Melodic to describe him; the answer was genuine and to the point “Aeroplane”. Few could argue after his charge had cantered all over a Grade 1 field with ease. It is fair to say most people in racing that day were delighted for both Jeremy Scott and Nick Schofield after their first ever Grade 1 success. A real showcase for the talents of both and rounding off a very unlikely fairytale. A cattle farmer come racehorse trainer saddling a Grade 1 winner from a very unlikely source. Where Or When has sired very little to note so far in his career, but in Melodic Rendezvous he had produced a horse of the highest order. As for the owners of the horse; a real dream come true, once again dining at the top table of National Hunt racing with their relatively cheap purchase. Really giving hope to all small owners that one day you may find that “horse of a lifetime”. After the highs of Sandown; it was always going to be hard to match the excitement, but the growing group of fans didn’t have too long to wait as he would make his next start in the Listed Plymouth Novices Hurdle at Exeter. The race was as good as a match bet; the highly impressive Oliver Sherwood trained Puffin Billy lined up to take on the Grade 1 winner. Puffin Billy would be no push over though, having destroyed a Grade 2 field at Ascot on his previous start. He was that impressive that he was actually went of marginal favourite. The conditions at Exeter were grim to put it politely; but a large crowd still attended what was a brilliant renewal of the race. Puffin Billy looked to make the heavy ground affair a real brutal test of stamina and took up the running with a long way to go. As they rounded the home bend once again Melodic Rendezvous travelled with supreme ease in behind the front running Puffin Billy. They had drawn a good 20 lengths clear of the field and as they approached the first hurdle in the straight Leighton Aspell set about trying to win the race. The harder he worked the more confident Nick Schofield looked. As they jumped 3 out Nick Scholfield was at pains to draw alongside the long time leader. He tucked his mount in behind the hard ridden favourite and approaching 2 out it was a simple case of how far. Puffin Billy looked a beaten horse as he jumped out to the right with Melodic yet again was electric at his obstacle. As they neared the final flight Nick still hacking on the bridle, he drew alongside the tired Puffin Billy and yet again a perfect leap at the last hurdle. Scholfield lit up his charge under hands and heels riding and soon drew clear on the run for home. In the matter a strides he had put 6 lengths between himself and Puffin Billy; yet again he had run out an emphatic winner! They always say “fortune favours the brave” and once again Jeremy Scott and his team had elected too take on a highly touted rival and their confidence in their star was rewarded. Once again a delighted Steve Croft set off down the home straight celebrating to collect his boy. He was greeted by Nick Schofield smiling ear to ear, barely believing at the ease of the victory. After a 3rd straight easy victory, confidence for the Supreme Novice Hurdle was high. After his debut defeat he had shown a deadly turn off foot at Cheltenham, an electric pace at his hurdles, an ease to travel through a race and the ability to see out the 2 mile trip thoroughly. He had every tool in the box to win a Supreme Novice Hurdle. Excitement was sky high for the Cheltenham Festival curtain raiser but in what can only be describe as horrendously poor luck, Melodic Rendezvous scoped badly on the eve of the Festival. When Jeremy Scott broke the news on Twitter, it became apparent how many people had become fans of this unlikely hero. Within minutes the ever modest Jeremy Scott had bundles of supportive responses expressing their complete disappointment for the whole team. Somethings are just not meant to be; and in this instance unfortunately for everyone involved the Supreme Novice hurdle bid was one of them things. The important thing was The Good Horse was ultimately fine and would be back to fight again. It was an incredible season for the Jeremy Scott team. The closeness of the owners with the Jeremy Scott yard was apparent with Steve Croft riding their point to pointer Cash for Honours to claim 2 second places during the pointing season. I think it safe to say in Jeremy Scott’s and Steve Croft’s hands the horse could not be better looked after. With photo updates regularly being posted of the talented horse relaxing in his box at home. As we come into the 2013-2014 Jump Season Melodic Rendezvous remains highly exciting; and extremely unexposed. It is fair to say that last season we did not see the best of him. He is a horse who is blessed with bags of natural pace and the ability to jump hurdles for fun. He was never extended in any of his victories, and had every chance had he made it the Supreme. Racing is a game fuelled by dreams and for now the dream of Champion Hurdle glory is still a possibility. It is a long and by no means easy road but it should be good fun along the way! Whatever happens this season; win, lose or draw, The Good Horse will always be an absolute legend in my eyes, so fingers crossed he can get a real shot at Cheltenham like he so truly deserves.
Charlie Hall Day is always a great sign that the Jump Season is starting to get into full flow. This season’s renewal is shaping up to be a real cracker! Not sure I can remember a better overall card at Wetherby. Some real stars will on display with former Gold Cup winner Long Run; last season’s Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup winner Unioniste, The Jewson winner Benefficient, the evergreen Tidal Bay although it’s a shame that last season’s Albert Bartlett winner At Fishers Cross is an overnight non-runner. Let’s start with the Charlie Hall Chase; a race which has been won by some true stars of the staying chase division; Wayward Lad, Burrough Hill Lad, One Man, See More Business to name a few. The market will almost certainly revolve around 1 horse; Long Run. He makes his seasonal reappearance and will be certain to attract a lot of money. Long Run has not actually won on his reappearance since he arrived in the United Kingdom. With age I think Long Run will take more runs to get him race fit and would make very little appeal to me on Saturday. I also think that Wetherby being a very stern test of a horses jumping ability, could catch him out. Despite him not having a fall next to his name in the UK, he has been known to throw in the occasional lazy jump. With this tendency and the potential for him needing this quite badly, he wouldn’t be on my agenda on Saturday. Long Run is without doubt the class act of the field but at a likely short price he wouldn’t be my idea of a bet at around 11/8 as there are far to many doubts for this to be considered a bet for me. Unioniste for Paul Nicholls would appear to have quite strong claims. His best performance to date was his victory in at Cheltenham back in December. This was off a feather weight and in brutally soft conditions. I do have a question mark in my mind whether this is a creature that does really appreciate cut in the ground, as he is by Dom Alco whose offspring generally love to get their toe in. His 4th in the RSA Chase would not be good enough to challenge even an 80% fit Long Run. However, the positives would certainly be that as a 5 year old there certainly could be improvement left in him. I think this is essential for him to have a chance though. If the forecasted rain does not arrive, I would be very tempted to place lay him. He currently around 4/1 in the win market and this represents very little value. A further concern would be that you would have needed an exceptionally wide TV screen to have seen any of Paul Nicholls’ finish last week at Chepstow. I was there and his runners did not appear to be that unfit but they all ran horrendously below form which certainly would leave a doubt in my mind. Cape Tribulation is very likely to go off third in the betting for this. He is actually a very likeable horse, and won the prestige’s Rowland Merick prize here on Boxing Day last year before being found out in slightly higher company. His record first time up in the last few season’s has been a touch poor. Often benefitting sufficiently for the first run of the season, he was comprehensively beaten on this card last season in the West Yorkshire hurdle. If at his best I think he would have a very good chance of beating a 80% fit Long Run. However, with him also being very likely to improve a bundle for this race, I think at the prices around 6/1 or 7/1 he should be avoided. The conditions of the race would actually be perfect for him, but I really cannot consider him a bet first time up this season. Benefficient, last season’s Jewson and Irish Arkle winner will be popular with many a punter. Especially with AP McCoy in search of winners to make the historic 4,000 mark. All of last season’s novices pose a huge question of actually how good were they? I think they were a very under par bunch, with the exception of Simonsig who I think just underperformed in the Arkle at Cheltenham. Benefficient is a quite a consistent horse and is very likely to run his race. That fact that Tony Martin has opted to send him over to the UK when he had two appropriate races to go for at Down Royal suggest he will be fit and ready to play. I would have question marks as to whether he will appreciate a very stiff 3 mile and 1 furlong round Wetherby. He does generally like to lead in his races, so he could well be able to dictate from the front and get into a nice jumping rhythm. From his Jewson victory, Third Intention has gone on to beat a progressive novice in a two runner race at Cheltenham’s October meeting. Of the 3 Novice races at the Cheltenham Festival last season, the Jewson is probably the most solid. There was effectively no strength in depth at all in the Arkle and the RSA Chase desperately lacked class. He would by no means be my idea of the best horse in the race, and I certainly wouldn’t consider him a definite stayer over 3 miles, but with the race fitness being more likely assured with him, at around 8/1 I could certainly see an argument for backing him. Harry Topper did look rather exciting when winning at Newbury and Exeter last season. At Newbury, he came from nowhere to win at but he may have been slightly flattered that day, with Benefficient racing very early in the straight. Since that victory he has had an indifferent time of things, falling and unseating. On his comeback from a 193 day layoff there are far too many unknowns. He could well be good enough to win, but he wouldn’t be a good bet. So we come to my idea of a bet in the race; Wayward Prince. He ran well above his form in this race last season and always seems to run best this side of Christmas. I think the conditions will be absolutely perfect for him, although I fully appreciate he needs to find plenty on the figures but I think this will be his Gold Cup. He should be piping fit for this after his run over hurdles and could well catch some of the principles by surprise. He is around the 40/1 mark and I can really see an argument for him running a big race tomorrow. The West Yorkshire Hurdle was going to be great opportunity to see last season’s impressive novice At Fishers Cross. Unfortunately, he’s been declared a non-runner after suffering a small injury. Tidal Bay now has Medinas and Trustan Times to beat. If ever there was a horse to advertise a trainers talent, Tidal Bay could not pay Paul Nicholls more of a compliment. He ran out a decent winner of this race last season. Unfortunately he picked up a minor injury last season and missed Cheltenham. If Tidal Bay is anywhere fit, he will take a bit of beating in this but Medinas progressed nicely last season and Alan King is in fine form at the moment. With this in mind I think Medinas is a good bet to beat the likely short priced favourite in this. My bet of the day comes in the Mares Hurdle race; L’Unique. She won the grade 1 Juvenile hurdle at Aintree in April and due to this she carries a penalty. However, I think she looked highly progressive last season. She is a great jumper of her hurdles, and I think the form of her win at Aintree is head and shoulders above the others. She beat Cockney Sparrow in December last season by 12 lengths. Obviously Cockney Sparrow has now improved significantly and with the weight pull she will get a lot closer but L’Unique will have a bit too much for Cockney Sparrow. Une Artiste won this race last season but she didn’t progressive after her win at Sandown. If back to the form that saw her win this race last season she will be very close in this heat.
Yes, I know it’s about the Flat but this is a taster from new author Ryan Ferris @onharbourwatch who will be writing for us over the coming Winter Jump Season. He’s a great addition to the JPFestival.com stable and we’re lucky to have him. Enjoy the read! Photos are courtesy of Michael Harris @mjyharris and Georgia Evans @georgiaaaa_rose. JP The 2013 series has now come to an end, and this is a little look back at the Middle Distance division. The series was contested by 44 horses this season, at 4 difference courses and 7 individual races. A staggering total prize fund for the series of just over £5,700,000 would surely attract high class fields and promote competitive racing? The series started at Epsom Down; the Coronation Cup was the curtain raiser. Only 5 horses went to post; in reality this was a straight match between the admirably consistent Dunaden and the brilliant St Nicholas Abbey who was seeking a historic hatrick in the race. The early pace was even and set by St Nicholas Abbey’s faithful lead horse Chamonix and Chapter Seven. As the early pace setters started to flounder with just over 2 furlongs to go, St Nicholas Abbey breezed effortlessly to the lead with Joey O’Brien barely requiring anymore than hands and heels riding. Dunaden ran yet another big race chasing the whole way without ever threatening. Some moments in racing you will be eternally grateful to have witnessed from the stands, not many sights in racing are as enjoyable as seeing St Nicholas Abbey cruising round the famous Tattenham corner as if he was on rails. He was perfect for Epsom; he had incredible balance, a high cruising speed and an electric turn of foot. This majestic performance is the perfect way to remember a brilliant racehorse. This was to be St Nic’s final dance; and what way bow out of the game. His life threatening injury he picked up in July goes to show how you have to appreciate these moments racing as you never know what’s around the corner. The most important thing is the 6 time Group 1 winning superstar is still with us. He collected just under £5,000,000 in prize money and would be every owners dream. After such a great career I do not think any horse is more deserving of a long retirement. It is not often the Epsom Derby is under threat of being upstaged; but St Nic was some act to follow. There would surely be no need to worry though with the mighty 2000 Guineas winner Dawn Approach looking to follow in Camelot and the great Sea the Stars hoof prints? Battle of Marengo and Ruler of the World represented Coolmore’s main hopes; France and the great Andre Fabre were represented by Ocovango hoping for a repeat of Pour Moi’s stunning performance. Germany were attempting to win the race for the first time with the mightily impressive Dr Busch Memorial winner Chopin. The race was run at an unsatisfactory pace, Kevin Manning clearly in great difficulty at getting the Guineas winner to settle on the wide outside. He eventually admitted defeat and sent Dawn Approach to the lead a long long way from home. As they turned into the straight Dawn Approach started to fade, Battle of Marengo in the prime position was sent on but a brilliant turn of foot from Ruler of the World saw him take the race by the scruff of the neck. He put the race to bed with great authority, in behind him it was carnage. Ocovango badly impeded and lost all chance. The fairy tale of an Elaine Burke Derby victory never looked likely, but Godolphin’s new recruit flew from the clouds to grab a brilliant 2nd. Galileo Rock plugged on gamely for third. As poetic as St Nic’s performance was in the Coronation Stakes, the Derby was quite brutal. To describe the Derby as messy would be kind; but the race was won with an impressive turn of foot from Ruler of the World. It was also a case of showing the importance of having a world class jockey, Ryan Moore was imperious. He chose his moment perfectly, and in doing so left the unlucky Ocovango trapped in a pocket. For as unsatisfactory as the race was, it was magic from Ryan Moore, proving why he is one of the world’s finest. The third leg took us to Royal Ascot for the Prince of Wales’s stakes. In what was advertised as a rematch between Camelot and Al Kazeem after the latter’s comfortable victory in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh. The Brigadier Gerard winner Mukhadram and the wonderful The Fugue also took their chances. From the opening of the gates Paul Hanagan set about making this a decent test over the mile and quarter. As they rounded the home bend it appeared the front running Mukhadram may be tough to reel in. The 3 time classic winner Camelot still travelled powerfully, Al Kazeem began to make his move and the Fugue was still anchored in the rear of the field. The further they travelled into the straight the harder Mukhadram looked to peg back, Al Kazeem appeared the only danger. A masterful ride from James Doyle saw him take the lead in the shadow of the post. The Fugue ran on promisingly from last to grab third, and Camelot a deeply disappointing fourth. I think Paul Hanagan could ride for another 50 years and not give a horse a better ride around the Berkshire course. He judged the pace to perfection, and got them all beat apart from the high class Al Kazeem who recorded back to back Group 1 victories for the extremely likeable Roger Charlton team. Al Kazeem showed a lot of heart to chase down front runner, and has rewarded connections greatly for their patience after an interrupted career. There was plenty of debate regarding Camelot’s apparent loss of form, was this due to the colic after the Arc? Or despite it being classic form from 2012, was this just an exceptionally poor crop and he happened to be the best of a bad group? My opinion would firmly be the later. Only 9 horses of the 31 horses he beat in the 3 classics went onto win races; 4 of which were in Group races and only one Group 1 win came from these. The fourth round of the series brought us to Esher for the Eclipse stakes; this was a rerun of the Prince of Wales’s stake with Al Kazeem going for a hatrick of group 1’s, Mukhadram and The Fugue all reposing. Mars was representing the Classic generation after his promising runs in the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby. Declaration of War fresh from redemption in the Queen Anne was stepping back up in trip. Pastorius once again brought Germany to the Champion Series, a very solid horse who had shown a real liking for a softer surface would surely be inconvenienced by the fast going. Mukhadram once again set about making a real test over the 10 furlongs, with Paul Hanagan dictating early. The Fugue & Pastorius were both held up in rear, with the German horse taking a real grip. As they headed up the stiff Sandown finish Al Kazeem loomed travelling powerfully, Mars started to back pedal and Declaration of War really started to find his stride. As James Doyle asked Al Kazeem who appeared to be slightly unsettled on the very quick ground he drifted to rail slamming the door on the game Mukhadram. As Al Kazeem drew clear to take a third group 1, Declaration of War took advantage of Mukhadram being snatched up to grab a fast finishing 2nd. The Fugue showed nothing from rear finishing last. Mars once again ran well without ever threatening to win, he clearly has ability but quite possibly a touch below top class. Al Kazeem once again showed he is all heart, winning in my opinion on ground he did not enjoy at all. William Haggis’s Mukhadram showed this season’s dramatic improvement has been no fluke, he rightfully should have finished 2nd. This is a horse that finished 5th in the last seasons Cambridgeshire off 101, and was now rated 125. Highlighting the talent of William Haggis at improving horses through handicap company right to highest order. I could not have been happier to clap Roger Charlton into the winner’s enclosure, he seems a real gentleman of the sport and he fully deserves the success of the high class Al Kazeem. Round 5 was Ascot’s summer showpiece The King George V1 & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The lead up to the race was sadly marred by the news St Nicholas Abbey’s life threatening injury. This left the great global trotting French Gelding Cirrus Des Aigles favourite. The Irish Derby hero Trading Leather and Hillstar represented the classic generation. The Sir Michael Stoute colt, had won nicely at the Royal meeting in King Edward VII stakes and Sir Michael had taken the bold decision to supplement him. The admirable globe trotter Red Cadeaux lined up with front runners Universal fresh from his Group 2 win at the Newmarket July meeting and Ektihaam. Germany once again had representation, this time in the form of Novellist. This son of the great Monsun was fresh from 3 straight victories, 2 were at the highest level. He had beaten Cirrus Des Aigles last time out in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud. The opinion was Cirrus had desperately needed this run and was sure to reverse form, questions were asked of the son of Monsun’s ability to handle the fastest surface he has ever encountered. The man of the season Johnny Murtagh was a last minute booking from Andreas Wohler. The early pace was frenetic, Universal and Ekithaam predictably taking each other on for the lead. Despite this the head strong Trading Leather was taking a keen hold in third. Novellist tracked the pace in 4th. Cirrus De Aigles was just in behind travelling comfortably for Soumilon. As they rounded the home bend Ektihaam emptied quickly leaving Universal in the lead, Trading Leather tackled him for the lead. As these two battled it out Novellist; under the imperious Johnny Murtagh cruised by the pair under hands and heels riding. The mighty German horse drew further and further clear up the Ascot straight destroying a solid Group 1 field by an eased down 5 lengths. The only difficulty Johnny Murtagh faced was pulling up Novellist before completing another circuit of the Berkshire venue. As Murtagh faced this challenge Trading Leather finished an honourable 2nd, with Hillstar running on into 3rd repaying Sir Michael’s decision to supplement the 3 year old. Cirrus Des Aigles despite travelling well; could never quicken, was this the end to the great French gelding career? The time was always going to quick after the early pace; but the announcement of 2 minutes 48.6 seconds took most people’s breathe away. Slashing the course record by 2 seconds under a very easy ride, was simply mind blowing. The clock showed that Novellist had actually quickened inside the final 3 furlongs adding further proof that this was a truly exceptional performance. For me personally this was one of the most devastating performances I have ever witnessed, the ease in which Novellist travelled was poetic and the turn of foot to breeze by the front pair was outstanding. This was a great moment in the career of the exceptionally likeable Andreas Wohler, who said afterwards his family used to come on holiday to see the race. This was a dream come true for the German handler, you would struggle to find a more graceful man in racing, his delight at his charges performance really made the day. In another twist of fortune, fate and destiny Novellist’s owner/breeder generally sell their colts. However the Son of Monsun went through the ring unsold at £100,000 as a Yearling, so they elected to race the colt in their own colours. After the victory the owners in one of the most gracious gestures paid for a page in the Racing Post to thank everyone at Ascot Racecourse; both staff and public for making it such a special day. A real thoughtful touch that I am sure has endeared the German team to many UK race fans. Greatness cannot be earned in one devastating performance, and as we were robbed of seeing brilliant colt take his chance in the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe he will never be able to acquire this status. However I do believe this was a horse with plenty of improvement left in him, and for me he will always be remembered as a special horse. It is rare you see a horse win minor race and instantly fall head over heels, but after watching a replay of this horse winning at Hoppegarten in April 2012 I did. Next on the calendar was trip to the Ebor festival and York racecourse. The Juddmonte International was last year won in breathe taking fashion by the great Frankel himself. The chances of seeing a performance to equal this, was somewhere in the region of impossible. However a high class field were still assembled; Toronado fresh from his Sussex Stakes heroics was to have his first attempt at 10f; Al Kazeem in pursuit of his fourth straight group 1 lined up along with Hillstar and Trading Leather both were stepping down in trip after their brilliant King George performances. Declaration of War was running in his 6th straight Group 1 after bumping into the wonder mare Moonlight Cloud in Deauville last time out. Trading Leather who desperately needed this to be a test over the trip and not a crawl led from the gates, with Al Kazeem and Declaration of War keeping close tabs on him. Toronado never appeared comfortable from the off, he was clearly travelling badly as they rounded the home bend. As they entered the final two furlongs Al Kazeem challenged the long time leader Trading Leather. In behind a confident looking Joseph O’Brien was starting wind up the consistent Declaration of War. Trading Leather was not going down without a fight Kevin Manning getting a real tune from the Irish Derby winner, but as he beat off Al Kazeem’s challenge he had no answer to Declaration of War. Trading Leather was heroic in defeat; but the real likeable Declaration of War grabbed another well deserved Group 1 to add to his Queen Anne victory. Al Kazeem appeared to struggle to perform on the fast Yorkshire ground, but he again ran with credit in 3rd. Hillstar who desperately looked in need of further ran very well in 4th, never looking likely to challenge. The race answered nothing to Toronado’s stamina questions, but merely raised concern for the real poor showing. His breathing once again being the cause; a real shame as his lacklustre performance robbed the race of additional glamour. It was very difficult not to be pleased for a horse of Declaration of War’s attitude; he clearly love racing and thrives on it. Although we may not have seen a superstar, we certainly witnessed 3 of the gamest horses you could wish to own in the first 3. The finale of the series; the UK’s richest ever race the Qipco Champion Stakes. A high class field assembled for the race; a rejuvenated Cirrus Des Aigles after his Prix Dollar romp on Arc winner. The rampant Lockinge Stakes winner Farhh returning for the 1st time since Newbury, the Epsom Derby winner Ruler of the World dropped back in trip from the Arc. Mukhadram, Hillstar and the supplemented Morandi gave the field real depth. The soft going at Ascot would surely favour the great French horse who gave Frankel his biggest test in the race last season. Farhh being by Pivotal out of a Lando mare should really love the soft going, this being the first time he uncounted the ground. Hunter Light who was enlisted for pace making duties for Farhh, tried to ensure a pace that Farhh could settle off. However Farhh was very keen throughout; he took the lead from his stablemate as they exited the home bend and Silvestre de Sousa set about making his way home. He was tracked by Cirrus Des Aigles, and Ruler of the World on the wide outside started to make ground. The three horses representing different generation’s started to draw clear from the field, Cirrus looked to have every chance of winning back his crown. Farhh would not go down without a fight; despite Soumilon and the incredibly strong Ryan Moore’s best efforts they could not find away by. As Farhh crossed the line a delighted SDS punched the air; a performance from Farhh that was a potent mix of class and good old fashioned determination. The race could have gone another circuit, and the Farhh would still have just been holding them. It was a great training performance from Saeed bin Suroor to get the son of Pivotal to win off over a 150 day layoff. In second Cirrus Des Aigles proved his trainer and his biggest fan Corine Barande-Barbe faith in the horse to be correct. He ran an absolute screamer; proving the theory class in permanent and form is temporary. He left some of his early season performances well behind him and ran very close to his best. It was great to see the French trainer delighted with her family pets display; a real rags to riches story that illustrates that Trainers really do love their horses. As for Ruler of the World he has really enhanced his reputation with his performance on Saturday, a strongly run 10 furlongs would look sure to suit. He will certainly be winning in the races like the Tattersalls Gold Cup & Eclipse Stakes. Farhh will be retired to Dalham Hall, with a glittering CV that includes a Champion Stakes and a Lockinge Stakes. He was unfortunate enough to bump into the mighty Frankel twice, and was beaten by Moonlight Cloud in the Prix du Moulin. A real high class but fragile animal who will be missed in all the major mile and 10 furlong races. At the end of the 2013 middle distance series; we have to say good bye to 4 brilliant racehorses in St Nicholas Abbey, Novellist, Al Kazeem and Farhh. For me the race of the series was the champion; 3 horses of the highest order locking horns from 2 furlongs out is what the sport is all about. The performance of the season was unquestionably Novellist’s King George; it leaves question marks to how good the superstar of German racing could have been, they always say you should go out on a high and in Novellist Monsun has certainly managed this. If Novellist has half the influence Monsun has had on the German bloodstock industry then Japan has certainly made a valuable acquisition. The memory of the series had to be St Nicholas Abbey’s final appearance; for him to retire on the racecourse where he became immortal was in some ways fitting. The circumstances were dreadful; but the news reports coming out of Coolmore had been very positive. Unfortunately they have now said St Nic has suffered a further setback. It is hoped he will make a full recovery as his original operation had gone very well. He was a majestic racehorse; and deserves a retirement like no other. He really was a racing hero, and I genuinely hope he pulls through. Seeing his white blaze cruising down the Epsom straight will be something that will always stay in my mind, a real honourable horse of the highest order. Thank you for reading my round up of the 2013 Qipco Champion Series for the Middle distance horses. Fingers crossed some new stars will be born in the 2014 series!