It's been a few weeks since the John Smith's Grand National, and I think it was a real success this year for Aintree, and helped to change the public's perception of the race. I was lucky to ride Teaforthree for Rebecca Curtis - AP McCoy normally rides him but he was booked for another horse in the race. I rode Teaforthree once beforehand to get a feel for him, and I thought he jumped very well, stayed very well, and fitted all the credentials.
He really took to the race, jumped very well and was in the position I wanted to be most of the way round, but in the end we finished third behind Auroras Encore and Cappa Bleu. Having said that, he was the only one in the top 11 carrying more than 11st, which didn't help - he was probably the best horse in the race. Aintree is a great meeting. Cheltenham is our Olympics, but Aintree is more relaxed, with all the excitement but less pressure. The Grand National is viewed by millions of people round the world, so it’s the one race everyone watches whether they're into racing or not, and I start getting loads of texts in the run up, asking me to tip the winner!
The season is still quite busy jump racing – I've been racing pretty much every day and I've had a fair few wins since Aintree, including a double at Wincanton. It's a bit quieter in the summer, but I’ll continue to ride, and I'm hoping Hunt Ball might go to Ireland for the Punchestown meeting. Then there's a 10 day break from racing in September, so I might go away with a few of the other jockeys.
One thing that has put a dampener on the end of the season is JT McNamara’s injury at Cheltenham, which has left him paralysed. It has has hit the racing community hard, and reminded us how serious and dangerous our job can be. He was an amateur jockey, doing it for the love of it. I didn’t personally know JT that well but I wish him and his family all the best."
Every time we hear of another racing superstar being scanned in foal to the great Frankel, we get goosebumps with excitement. The latest lady to be confirmed as expecting one of Frankel's first crop of foals is Midday, the multiple Group 1 winner.
In this video, Midday is scanned at the 25 day stage. You can see the foetus (and hopeful future megastar) and its heartbeat.
Champion jockey AP McCoy and former jockey Richard Pitman reflect on some of the Aintree Grand National legends, including the unforgettable Red Rum.
The 2013 John Smith’s Grand National will mark 40 years since Red Rum claimed the first of his three victories (1973, 1974 and 1977). The 2013 John Smith's Grand National Meeting takes place at Aintree from Thursday 4 to Saturday 6 April. For information and tickets, visit www.aintree.co.uk
"It's less than two weeks until Cheltenham and I haven't written a blog for a long long time... Well, here goes!
So it finally looks like the weather is taking a turn for the better just in time for Cheltenham. It's just been such a wet - and in recent months, snowy - winter that it has played havoc with the racing calendar. This has led to small fields because of the very bad/wet/heavy ground we've been racing on, when racing has actually gone ahead.
The season has been a very difficult one for a lot of jockeys - including myself - who don't have a regular flow of rides. Small fields has meant not very many spear rides to be had and a lot of jockeys fighting for the few there are. I am one of the lucky ones to have such a great sponsor in mayiclaim.co.uk - without whom I would be finding things very difficult. Here's to the season lasting a bit longer as trainers/owners keep their horses in for a little longer in search of a bit better ground in the coming months.
Enough ranting and back to important matters - the Cheltenham Festival, the most exciting and enthralling four days of racing every year, and this year will be no exception. Yet again the Henderson, Nicholls and Mullins camps are very strong, with Henderson coming out just on top, but that's what makes it so exciting! Will that be the case at the end of the week? Who can be certain, but I'm saying yes. He has so many superstars in his ranks - Simonig, Sprinter Sacre, Bobs Worth, Long Run and My Tent Or Yours just to name a few.
I have one Festival ride that I am very much looking forward this year - probably because it will be my only one! (Hehe, fingers crossed that's not the case) - on a horse called Monkerty Tunkerty. 'Monkey' as he's know by his trainer Jess Westwood has given me two great wins this season. Having won a quite competitive Veterans Chase at Doncaster last week, he has booked himself a place in the JTL Speciality Chase on the first day of The Festival. Jess has done a fantastic job with this horse all season and as it's her only horse, what an achievement it is just getting him there. Now it's my job to hopefully get him in the frame.
On a lighter note there is a new pub open in Stow-on-the-Wold not far from Cheltenham) called The Bell at Stow. Myself and a lot of the boys from the weighing room have been enjoying some really good nights in there recently. The food is amazing and with live music on every night of The Festival, I think it just might be the place to be after racing. Fingers crossed I might see you in there if Monkey wins!
Rebecca wrote to us about her retired racehorse Bressbee, who won the famous Grosser Preis in St Moritz.
It's been almost a decade since my chestnut Thoroughbred Bressbee (Buzz), who I am slave to daily, ran at St Moritz. That day he became the only British trained racehorse to win the Grosser Preis, a race held on the frozen lake that forms the surface of their ice track. This is my account of the day.
'Buzz' oozed presence and power as he burst onto the track. His conker-coloured coat glowed like a torch against the snow. Dean’s silks, a vibrant green, yellow and red against the pure white background, were shimmering and rippling around his tiny frame as the two figures fused into one along the track.
Buzz looked magnificent, his figure cut through the crisp air, his warm breath billowed like a dragon breathing fire: he looked alive and ready. Ready for his run.
The familiar feelings of strength and determination washed over Dean, stopping all his fears dead in their tracks. Heading for the stalls, he felt no hesitation in Buzz’s stride; the quarter crack an irrelevance, not worth noting.
As the horses gathered around the rear of the stalls, Dean could not help but notice Number 1, Zatoof. The crowd had cheered him all the way down the track after his spectacular win here last year. He obviously had a strong fan base. The black horse overshadowed the field, his sheer size making him seem better than the rest.
Drawn third, Zatoof would sit nearer to the inside rail. Buzz, had been drawn wide at eighth and was further to the left side of the stalls making it a longer run for him. It was crucial that Buzz made the break to avoid the snow being kicked up in his face from the horses in front or the race could be over before it had properly begun.
The stall handlers started loading the runners into the stalls and one by one they popped in. Then came Buzz’s turn, he slipped quietly in. Calmness had taken over both horse and rider.
Dean tuned into Buzz’s steady breathing as he blocked all other sounds from his head. Buzz shuffled in the stall. Oblivious to the horses packed in on either side of him, the gleaming chestnut, focused forwards by his blinkers, looked across the glaring white snow to the mountains beyond. Ding! The bell sounded and the white metal stall doors sprang open, releasing the eager horses from within.
Launching forwards with a huge leap, Buzz made no secret of his intentions. He broke cleanly away from the stalls and only Zatoof ran ahead as they took those first crucial strides along the track. Getting into his stride Buzz had almost forgotten he was galloping on snow and ice. For the horses tucked in behind them, there was a continuous cloud of snow and flying ice, a constant reminder of where they were.
Fresh on the grey heels of lovely Neptunes Collonges, Kauto Star is set to be the next horse to switch jumping over massive birch fences to entering the arena at A.
A few weeks ago, Neptunes Collonges made his dressage debut, scoring nearly 80% in an intro test, just six months after winning the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree.
But instead of being delighted to see Kauto track left down a similar path, some people feel he'd be better off going hunting or eventing, so that he can continue to jump and gallop with the same panache that made him a racing superstar.
Others wanted him to live out his days at Ditcheat, chilling out in a paddock.
But for me, dressage is exactly the right choice for him - providing he likes it.
At 12, almost 13, he's far too young to live out his days doing nothing in the field.
Conversely, not all racehorses want to keep galloping and jumping forever. My first ex-racer, Hotdiggity, had won over hurdles and raced over fences, so when I got him to ride and get fit one summer (he was eight, I was 15), I presumed he'd make an eventer, provided I could get him to do a semi-decent dressage test.
Four months after I first sat on him, he was winning at Elementary level. He never went back to racing, and while he did a fair bit of showjumping and the odd cross-country over the years, it wasn't the right fit for him. He got wound up when things went wrong at a fence, and we weren't the bravest combination.
He'd done a tendon while racing, and the permanent thickness of his foreleg made me jump him with the handbrake on. In the dressage arena, I had no such concerns.
I lost him last year, at the age of 23, when he had a heart attack in the field. He'd done more in those 15 years than I'd ever thought we could achieve, because dressage suited him. It showcased his athleticism, and it challenged his mind - I had to do more difficult tests because simple Prelims left him too much time to misbehave. And having ridden him as he floated across the school in medium trot, all power and presence, I can say with utter conviction that he enjoyed it.
What that experience taught me is that you can't make a horse do a job it doesn't want to. Find the right fit for the both of you, or you'll permanently be trying to fit that square equine peg into a round hole. What seems the natural next step isn't necessarily the right one.
Had Kauto retired at seven, or eight, or even nine, I'd have been delighted to see him go eventing. But he's nearly 13 years old. It's not old, by any means, but he's been racing since the age of three and maybe it's time for him to enjoy a gentler pace of life.
Some horses are bored rigid by schooling, but others seem to quite enjoy it. Laura Collett - Kauto's new rider - tweeted a photo of him during his first schooling session, and he didn't look to me that he was miserable and wishing he was off for a gallop. He looked light and obedient, ears alert, listening to his rider.
He'll still get to do plenty of hacking, and I'm sure he'll get to do the odd bit of fast work to keep him fit. It won't all be 20m circles from now on.
I was there when Kauto won his fifth King George at Kempton. Everyone threw hats, gloves and racecards in the air as he crossed the finish line, making history in the process. It was the most special, unforgettable day.
I was there when he did his final race, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. And I have to admit I was nervous for him as he set off, just a few weeks after a crashing jumping fall while schooling. This was a horse who owed us nothing, who had proved his supermacy time and time again. When Ruby Walsh pulled up Kauto midway through the Gold Cup, they returned to a heroes welcome, and I was glad. Nothing can last forever, and I didn't want to see a glittering career end in a fall.
Maybe Kauto won't take to dressage, and maybe he would be a better fit at eventing. But the day he sets off for his first cross-country, I'd have those same butterflies once again, worrying whether he'd come home safe and sound.
I want him to grow old, like the legendary Red Rum, like the unforgettable Desert Orchid. He deserves it. But I want him to have an active second career before that.
Hundreds of racehorses come out of training every year, and the more that can be retrained, the better. Some find success as showjumpers, eventers, dressage horses or show horses. Some go on to polo or horseball, others become hacks.
But plenty have no such options, and are left in the field, passed from pillar to post, or worse...
Press interest in this story has been huge, so if it inspires more people to take an interest in what happens to racehorses after they retire, and if it introduces some new people to the sport of dressage, then brilliant.
Amusingly, there's even been speculation (outside of equestrianism) about whether we'll see Kauto win gold at the next Olympics. Of course he won't. He's a Thoroughbred in a sport long dominated by warmbloods. It takes years to develop the strength and training required to even compete at Grand Prix level, let alone achieving Olympic selection.
He won't be at Rio, but it doesn't matter. All that matters is that he can enjoy an active retirement, fit for a king, and that the public get to follow and enjoy a genuine superstar for many years to come."
If you've been living under a rock for the past month, you might have missed the 'Gangnam Style' craze. If so, you can join 700 million others by watching the video here (and look out for the bemused horses and indoor school - not the usual setting for a music video, unless you're Will Young).
It's produced all sorts of parodies, and even our Olympic eventers have got in on the act. But not to be out done, a group of jockeys have made their own version - 'Jockey Style' - with a cameo by none other than champion jockey AP McCoy (albeit in cardboard cut out form).
Watch it above, enjoy, and share with your friends - altogether now, 'Heeeeey, sexy horsey!'
William Kennedy's prize possession - a painting of him racing against the great Kauto Star
Well the Flat season is coming to a close and the National Hunt season is just warming up. And what a fantastic climax to the Flat season it was, watching Frankel winning his 14th race and retiring to stud unbeaten. He was just an amazing horse. I was lucky enough to see him at Royal Ascot this year and for me he is definitely the best I've seen in my lifetime.
Only 10 days after the retirement of one the greatest Flat horses we've ever seen, this morning brought the news that Kauto Star - one of the greatest jump horses of all time - has been retired too. He was a phenomenal racehorse who did so much for the sport of National Hunt racing. Kauto just oozed class and, although he did make the odd heart-stopping mistake, he was on the whole a magnificent jumper with an amazing amount of scope. He is definitely one of the horses I would have loved to have had the opportunity to have ridden.
I have a painting up in my living room of me on Time For Rupert jumping a fence upsides Kauto down the back straight in Haydock last season, with Long Run in third. This is one of my prized possessions and just shows the scope that this horse had. His achievements on the racecourse were second to none and it is great to see him retire a healthy horse. Kauto, you deserve a very happy retirement.
It's been a very long summer - well, if you can call it that - and I am very much itching to get going now. The last couple of weeks have picked up for me, with rides nearly every day, and I'm extremely busy riding out in the mornings, driving all over the country to school horses trying to secure some nice rides for the winter. This is where I am so lucky to have such a fantastic sponsor in Paul Reason and his company Mayiclaim who supply me with my car and whom without would definitely make my job a struggle.
As I have written in previous blogs, I have struck up a great partnership with Mick Channon - and fingers crossed we can keep our very good start to the season up throughout the winter months. Mick, who is predominantly a Flat trainer, has taken over from Henrietta Knight and is going to have around 20 jumpers for the coming season and will be where I will be focusing most of my time, riding out there Tuesdays and Fridays. Other trainers I will be riding for are Violet Jordan, Alex Hales, John Berry and pretty much anyone else that wants me! Have saddle, will travel.
I also said in previous blogs that I'd give you some horses to look out for over the coming season. Well I'm very much looking forward to this coming weekend where I'll be riding two horses I hope will provide me with a couple of wins through the season. First is a novice chaser call Ballypatrick, who runs at Ascot on Saturday. He's having his first run over fences and looks like he's going to make into a lover chaser. The second is a little mare that John Berry trains called Ethics Girl that runs at Huntingdon on Sunday. She was above average on the Flat and took really well to hurdling on her debut at Fakenham a couple of weeks ago, so I am hoping it won't be to long before she will be winning. I am hoping to pick up a few more rides over the weekend but there's two for you to keep an eye on.
So until such time, wrap up warm because the mornings are definitely getting colder.
Saturday saw the curtain brought down on one of the most inspiring and enthralling careers in the history of racing. Frankel won his final race, making it 14 wins out of 14 starts, and amid all the tributes and superlatives, all the glowing tributes and heartfelt words, I tweeted with suitable gravitas and respect: "The news that Frankel is going off to stud is a bit like hearing your ex-boyfriend is getting married".
And flippancy aside, to me it was exactly like that. I can't stop thinking about all the happy times we shared. For three seasons, I've revelled in this horse's explosive talent, and I've enjoyed every minute. And now he's off to stud, to make (many) mares very happy, and while I'm pleased for him, I really am, I'm pretty sad that I'll never again see him saunter home with several top class rivals trailing in his wake. All the hype, all the pomp, all the bombastic claims – for once they were all true. Frankel was unique among men in that he never let you down. An unbeaten champion, that rarity.
His name alone suggested he could be special, and from that first race at Newmarket, back in August 2010, he showed such early promise, holding off a challenge from Nathaniel (few could have predicted just how good they would both turn out to be, Nathaniel is himself an extremely good horse when Frankel isn't around to make him look ordinary). And Khalid Abdullah's colt just kept getting better. Win followed win, until that day in May 2011 when Frankel lined up for his first and only Classic, the 2,000 Guineas. Halfway through the race he was 10 lengths clear. The world stood still. Doctors may question me, but I could swear my heart stopped beating. A giant was in our midst. This was something unforgettable, unbelievable. A real life, flesh and bone, living legend.
He raced again, and again, and still he didn’t disappoint. He gave us our moments – Royal Ascot in 2011, for example, when he nearly got caught on the finish line – but he always came good in the end. More than good, usually. Incredible.
I'm glad to say I witnessed two of his wins in person, not just on television. I was there for his QIPCO Champions Day wins in 2011 and I was back at Ascot on Saturday, when he won the premier race on a sterling card, the Champions Stakes. The ground conditions weren't ideal, he was lining up against two of the best horses he has encountered throughout his entire career, but few racegoers had any doubts. And those few doubters were soon hanging their heads in recalcitrance. Of course he won. Of course he did.
Champions Day 2012 will always be remembered as the day a racing great blessed us with his talent for the last time. Ascot was a sea of green and pink. Racegoers held up 'Go Frankel' paddles. You couldn't get near the paddock to see him. Forget film stars, rock stars, football stars - Frankel was the hero everyone longed to see. And the reaction when he duly won, the applause, the cheers, jockey Tom Queally punching the air with delight, and the tearful reaction of Sir Henry Cecil, who has battled cancer throughout his most famous equine charge’s career… Undoubtedly, Saturday was a pretty special day.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to watch the day's racing with Team GB's Olympic riders. I said to Carl Hester that Frankel was racing's answer to Valegro (luckily he laughed). Tina Cook told us about watching the race in the Royal Box, and the total delight of Her Majesty The Queen as she watched Frankel swoop to victory. We swapped racing tips with our Paralympic gold medallists.
But above and beyond all that, there was one horse. A horse that deserves every plaudit he's received. A horse that will live on for decades, long after the dust has settled on his phenomenal career. A horse with such beauty, power and grace, with the best temperament, with that insouciant swagger that seems to suggest that he knows he was the best in the world. He knew, and he showed us all, over and over again.
I'm sad not to see him race again, but equally I'm delighted that he retires, fit, well and undefeated. I hope we see hundreds of little Frankels in future, and that they have even a modicum of their father’s skill and looks, so his legacy will live on. The horse that got Flat racing back into the headlines, the horse who might just inspire a future generation of racing fans. Frankel - the very best in the world.
Well I've had a very quiet summer, hence not a lot of blogging! I've just come back from Spain where I had a five day holiday with family. It was very relaxed, and it was just nice to see them all. The weather was beautiful and sleeping on a sun lounger all day has definitely helped recharge the batteries.
All the yards I ride for are starting to get their horses in for the coming season and, although I'm still pretty quiet in terms of racing, things are starting to pick up with riding out. It's great to see all the horses coming back and even better to see some new faces that I can look forward to riding this coming season.
As I wrote in my last blog, I was sad when trainer Henrietta Knight announced her retirement. I had the privilege of riding for Hen during the last couple of seasons - she was great to ride for and I feel very lucky to have ridden a few winners for such a legend of our game -most memorably on Harvest Song for The Queen at Fontwell. Mick Channon will now take over the training of most of the horses Hen had last season. I already ride most of Mick's jump horses and, although he is predominately a flat trainer, he will hopefully have a nice string of jumpers for the forthcoming season and therefore getting in there a few mornings a week will be my main focus.
Nothing too exciting to report in today's blog, but hopefully by the time I write my next one the horses will be doing more and maybe some of the new faces I mentioned might be showing something exciting and I will be able to give you a few names to look out for over the coming months.