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.