Surprise, surprise

I did pluck up the courage to speak to Peter last week and, good news, he’s looking well and has not put on too much weight after his holiday. I had been hoping to talk about Bay of Freedom but, hey, it’s good to know your trainer’s looking after himself. Funnily enough when I asked how Bay of Freedom was, Peter gave me exactly the same response!

We are still ‘all systems go’  for Cheltenham and the plan was still to take him to Wolverhampton overnight in the middle of January. I left the conversation on a high note and didn’t expect to hear from Peter again for a few weeks; then I got a call on Tuesday morning. At this point, I should mention that Peter rarely calls me out of the blue so I answered the call with some trepidation:

Me: Hello Peter

Peter: Hi Paul.

Me: How’s Bay of Freedom? (expecting some bad news)

Peter:  He’s good

That doesn’t sound good

Peter:  Look it he’s fine

Getting worse

Peter: Yes he seems to have come back stronger, his wind seems clearer and he’s not carrying too much condition. Looks like the time in the field has done him the world of good

Panic over

Me: (pretending I knew what he was going to say) Fantastic. It’s only eight weeks today. Still planning on going to Wolverhampton?

Peter: Not sure. We may go but, if not, I’ve a friend in Chester and we go there (not far from the ferry)

Me:   Great. The Irish Sea will be ok at this time of year? (I don’t know do I?)

Peter: Well if he goes on his own then we can time it for when it’s calmer

[A quick aside - it is to be hoped that my 6 year-old gelding is not distracted by those notorious Northern fillies]

The rest of the conversation concerned Ber’s health (she’s doing fine with 3 ½ weeks to go before the baby) and my concern about if we will get into the race or will we be balloted out. This is my paranoia speaking so I did some research which I will keep to bullet points so as not to bore people to death:

-          Bay of Freedom is rated 105+ by Timeform.  On average, in each of the last eight years, there have been 11 horses rated lower who have made it into the race.

-          Currently, there are 22 horses eligible for the Festival Bumper which have a higher Timeform rating than Bay of Freedom’s. Of those, 12 have achieved that rating on soft or heavy ground (both of which are unlikely at Cheltenham).  (Encouraging)

-          In the BET365 (UK bookmaker) ante post prices for the Bumper, there are 21 horses quoted at 33/1 or less. No fewer than 14 of those are trained by Willie Mullins. Given that he has had either just two or three horses in each of the last five years it is highly unlikely that all of these horses will turn up at Cheltenham. (More encouraging)

-          The current favourite for most bookmakers is Au Quart De Tour who won at Fairyhouse last Saturday. He won well but the time was slow, slower than any of the three 2 mile hurdles run earlier that day. Timeform rated the performance initially at 103 but then got a little caught up in the hype and raised it to 105 – the same as...well, you don’t need me to finish this sentence do you? (Extremely encouraging and, potentially, frustrating)

Not looking too fat. ( Courtesy Ber Fahey)

Not looking too fat. (Courtesy Ber Fahey)

If one Fahey surprise call was not enough I then got a surprise email from Ber. It was entitled  ‘Some Pics of Bay of Freedom (surprise surprise lol)’  - while it was a shock to me I imagine it was also a shock to Ber; not only had she sent an email but the photos were pretty good. It’s almost like her photographic skills have developed during her pregnancy; let’s see what happens in March and April. Apparently with the dusting of snow at the stables Ber couldn’t resist putting on her boots and taking  a few photos of what she always describes as ‘my pride and joy’ and, to be fair, in the continued absence of a Jaguar XJL from my life she is absolutely correct.

This was my first view of Peter’s recently re-laid sand gallop (at significant expense); based on the photos it looks like the 10-12 inch depth has been maintained. After that, running on grass will be like flying through the air!

I was thinking about the sand gallop yesterday when I read that Charlie Swan was to retire as a trainer. He was an extremely successful jockey (most famous for his partnership with Istabraq) and was similarly impactful in his training career with almost 550 winners. He cited the increasing costs of training horses (feed, staff, upkeep of the stables etc) as his reason for retiring; going on to add that his fees (to owners) have not really changed in 10 years. It’s a bit of a catch-22 for owners and trainers: on one hand no owner wants to pay more for what is already a very expensive hobby with low prospects of generating a return; on the other hand, having found a trainer you can trust, no owner wants to see that trainer stop. It’s a difficult balance and, time will tell, if a big name in the industry like Charlie Swan prompts other trainers to reconsider the situation. One thing he did mention was that the number of horses in the stable had almost halved in the last few years from over 70 in the mid 2000’s; any business would find it difficult to continue with such a significant reduction in revenue. It’s something I am very aware of with Peter and am pleased that he is slowly building up the yard and not looking to over reach. Even so when he installed a new gallop that cost over 3 times my annual training costs then I started to get a little nervous; I felt much better after Ber described him as being like ‘a kid in a sweet shop’ after it was up and running.

Finally, my starring role in the Irish Field did actually happen last week. (This week’s announcement ,that the number of owners had decreased,  going a long way to explain the background to my invitation). Anyway, Joe Finegan did a great job of editing my verbosity and it ended up looking exactly like this 

And finally, finally I am going to be watching out for Potter’s Point (oddly trained by Willie Mullins) this weekend if he makes his debut at  Naas, and will be hoping Vigil does actually run in the maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse next Wednesday as that will make him ineligible for the Festival Bumper. Just keeping it honest!