It has been a little like scraping from the plate as slowly as possible the last traces of Mrs Oakley’s exquisitely sauced vitello tonnato; like draining reluctantly the last glass of our best Condrieu: this year I never wanted the jumps season to end. Sprinter Sacre came back to his best, Richard Johnson finally won the jockeys’ title, Paul Nicholls gutsily collected his tenth trainers’ championship. But if the joy of jump racing is continuity, the attraction of the Flat lies in its sense of renewal. As sleek would-be contenders started strutting their stuff in the Classic trials, as the first precocious two-year-olds bounded excitedly on to the scene, I remembered why I love the summer game too. Which will be the breakthrough stables this year? Who is the next Golden Horn? Which young jockey will emerge to rival last year’s apprentice find Tom Marquand?
First to betting business. Regular readers may remember our bumper profit from the last Flat season when our Twelve to Follow, on the basis of a £10 win stake on every run, gave us a return of £328 and our trainer to follow, Hugo Palmer, won not only his first Classic with Covert Love but took another Group One as well. This season, too, he is flying, having captured the 2,000 Guineas with Galileo Gold. His yard has now added Khalid Abdullah, as the advertisements might say.
Could we repeat the formula over jumps? Well, up to a point we did. The jumping Twelve had 41 runs between them and nine of them won: Dukes des Champs, God’s Own, Legend Lady, P’tit Zig, Value At Risk, Robin of Locksley, Shantou Village and Vieux Lion Rouge. Vieux Lion Rouge, running in the Grand National a year before I expected him to, finished a decent seventh at Aintree but our star was the Tom George-trained God’s Own. Always at his best in the spring, he won the Melling Chase at Aintree at 10–1 when the highly fancied Vautour fell and then proved it was no fluke by beating Vautour in the Boylesports Champion Chase at Punchestown at 9–1, both times ridden by Paddy Brennan. Of the three who did not win, Fletchers Flyer was second twice and third once, Kaki De La Pree second on his only run and Perform never ran. On only five occasions did any of our admirably consistent dozen fail to make the frame when completing the course. With their nine victories, our profit to a £10 stake was a more than respectable £101.50.
So now for the current season. Let us start with Kodi Bear, a horse I hope to see win the Lockinge this Saturday and go on to pick up some top mile contests. Clive Cox reckons the Kodiac colt the best he has ever trained and his showing in the Celebration Mile last August was scintillating. On his present form you have to stick with Hugo Palmer and another son of Kodiac is his three-year-old Gifted Master. His victory in a Group 3 at Ascot in mid-April made it six wins from eight runs and his trainer expects him to be a big-money winner.
With John Ferguson taking control, we can expect an uplift this season in Godolphin’s fortunes. They have started well by winning both the Lincoln and the Victoria Cup. Charlie Appleby, responsible for both those victories with Secret Brief and Flash Fire, should have a very good filly in Endless Time but I will include his Culturati, a likely winner from 6f to 1m. Saeed bin Suroor, Godolphin’s other UK-based trainer, has a useful prospect in Great Order, a three-year-old colt who stayed on well at the end of a seven-furlong contest in September.
I usually like to have a Ralph Beckett filly on my side and this time go with She Is No Lady. But his consistent stayer Magic Circle is also included to add a bit of spine to our Twelve.
I always like to have a fair sprinkling of sprinters, not least because they make it to the racecourse more often. In that category, I am including Brando, trained by Kevin Ryan, who won impressively over five furlongs at Newmarket in April. From last year’s Twelve I am sticking with Michael Dods’s Mecca’s Angel, hoping she gets the soft ground she must have more often this season, and I note that Kieren Fallon was keen enough on Ian Williams’s Sir Maximilian to come over from Ireland for that single ride at Chester one day recently. He looked like a horse with real native speed.
One other speedster on my list, Encore d’Or, comes inevitably from Robert Cowell’s yard where they really do seem to have the secret of encouraging them to use their speed, and I include too John Quinn’s Ikerrin Road, another successful northern raider recently at Newmarket.
Finally, I nominate a horse in a more traditional mould: nobody trains oldermiddle-distance horses better than Sir Michael Stoute and Cannock Chase looks just his sort.