For anyone interested in the Troytown, these are some personal thoughts:
Well suited by the course and could be high class on heavy ground. Paid the price for taking on Might Bite at Cheltenham and had probably had enough for the season at Punchestown. Mullins is likely to have eked out more improvement since transferring from Sandra Hughes but with him likely to be taken on for the lead, and at the skinny price , there may be better value elsewhere. That being said, he could have this won two out.
Roi Des Francs
On balance, he was disappointing last year and does not appear particularly well handicapped. Ground and distance ok but, on balance, an outsider.
Ran a nice race at Galway but am not convinced he will relish the slog around here; seems better suited to smaller field races and, even then, probably doesn’t win as many as he should do.
Ran well in the Kerry National and it probably came too soon (and was too short) at Tipperary. 9lbs rise for Listowel tough enough but trip and ground will suit. Each way chance.
Seems completely out of form - cannot be fancied.
Could be well handicapped. Nice pipe-opener at Clonmel and ran well for a long way in the Irish Grand National. The heavy ground is perfect as is the trip. A leading chance.
Interesting contender. Unlucky in the Kerry National and was going as well as anything until stamina ran out in the Cork National; that after, again, making a lot of mistakes. The track, going and distance are fine and if he jumps well could well surprise a few people. A little disconcerting that J J Slevin appears to have chosen Tesseract.
Third in this race last season but three pounds higher. Everyone mentions how well she runs fresh but, while she has performed well enough first time out, the form book would suggest she’s better with a run. Happy to look elsewhere.
Interesting that Mark Walsh is riding this in preference to Tesseract (he can’t do the weight on Whatareyoudoingtome). However, totally unproven over this distance and given it will be a true test of stamina he is readily opposed.
Seems to have lost his form –little apparent chance
Fancied by the stable but has gone up in the weights despite not having beaten a great deal Not certain to be suited by the heavy ground so easily opposed.
His runs over three miles do nothing to convince he will have the stamina required for this.
Don’t Tell No One
Another one who has to prove he can stay the trip – happy to look elsewhere.
Closely rated with Don’t Tell No One but yet another one with significant stamina doubts as well, in his case, as doubts about the heavy ground.
Does his best work at the end but this may be two furlongs too far and the ground too heavy. Likely to struggle to lay up.
No stamina or ground doubts about this one but the balance of his form is probably not good enough. Was struggling of a 13 pound lower mark in this race two years when hampered and pulled up.
As De Pique
Not running too badly when falling at Cheltenham last week. However, that was before the ground softened and he has very little form on ground this heavy. Little chance.
Ideally suited by trip and going. Seems to be in good form based on his win here a couple of weeks ago; albeit it was a farce of a race and the other jockeys gave him far too big of a start. Johnny Burke is riding with much more confidence and is a good substitute for the suspended Danny Mullins. Best chance of the lower weighted horses.
Closely matched with Tesseract and Don’t Tell No One. Another with stamina doubts and a lot to prove.
Stamina is not a problem but ground may well be. Trainers in good form and not without a chance but there are others with stronger claims
Long way behind Poorman’s Hill on his comeback run and stamina doubts – an unlikely winner.
Has done very well to win four races this season but it looks like the handicapper has caught up with him; never mind the fact he’s five pounds wrong at the weights.
This is narrowed down to Acapella Bourgeois, General Principle, Arkwrisht and Icantsay with slight preference for General Principle
Monday - July 27th
Just a quick update : Kim and I went around to the yard . today and saw Lauren and Bay of Freedom (in order of importance) - they both look extremely well; Lauren's christening was yesterday and the whole family was recovering from what sounds like a wonderful but tiring day. It looks like Davy Russell will be on board Bay of Freedom on Thursday; he would have ridden Grecian Tiger for Dermot Weld but that horse is entered for a flat race on Tuesday night so is very unlikely to be declared. It looks like Peter will have two in the race as he is planning to run Credo Star; this will create a little bit of rivalry in the year as Bay of Freedom's lad is, of course, Gavin and his partner, Maureen, ride out Credo Star. When I asked him directly, Gavin said he felt Bay would win the Fahey stable battle but he wasn't as overwhelmingly confident as I would have liked. Going back to the jockey I would think that Davy Russell's style of riding (relaxed, on a long rein) would suit Bay of Freedom and will give him some confidence; overall though, hopeful rather than confident is the general feeling.
A few of the horses entered have been declared to run tomorrow; there were no big surprises as, of the horses with best form, neither Long Dog or Solatentif would seem to be crying out for 2 1/2 miles at this point. Most of the horses will be giving us weight and that is certainly in our favor; of this that look likely to run that strongest form and greatest potential seems to be that of Gangster, trained by one Willie Mullins. He won his maiden very well being Cecil Corbett by 4 lengths over 2 1/2 miles off level weights. Technically, based on the 6 lengths we finished behind Cecil Corbett at Down Royal when conceding 8 pounds this collateral form line would make us a couple of lengths behind Gangster. However, when you factor in the ease with which Gangster won and the fact that Cecil Corbett was only having his first run for Gordon Elliott at Down Royal and has, undoubtedly, improved since, it could be argued that we are much further behind Gangster. However, on the plus side, I am not convinced that Cecil Corbett truly stays 2 1/2 miles so Gangster's superiority may be overstated and, in addition, we continue to believe that Bay of Freedom will run better this time around so there may not be too much between them. All that being said, Gangster would be my idea of the winner at this stage. Of the other likely well supported horses, at this stage I would Sandymount Duke will struggle to give away up to 10 pounds over a distance short of his best and on ground possibly a little softer than ideal
Friday - March 13th
Sorry for the delayed posting but I wanted to watch the race a few times before commenting. The more I watch the race the happier I am with the performance and, seeing as we were happy immediately after the race, this makes me very happy indeed. The start was frustrating and he certainly lost a lot of ground and momentum; this caused him to be behind horses and it meant Noel had to sit and suffer; it seemed every time we moved forward we had to just pull back. he certainly travelled smoothly throughout and would appear to have a higher cruising speed than we first thought; he wasn't given a hard race at all and finished to pretty good effect. to finish 9th in the Champion Bumper is a great achievement and we can now look forward to next season when he will be over hurdles.
The Timeform rating of 101 (which is 4 pounds lower than at Galway) is, in my humble opinion, too low. There was no mention in their comments about the start when he took four steps to his left and he is rated 22 pounds below Moon Racer despite being beaten by 'only' 15 lengths (which would normally equate to 15 pounds). Not only that Timeform noted that Moon Racer started slowly and , while that was true, there is no doubt that Bay of Freedom started more slowly. This is what Timeform wrote:
BAY OF FREEDOM (IRE) ran well after 5 months off, even though never in the hunt, pretty encouraging in the circumstances, especially bearing in mind he's bred to stay a lot further than 2m; in rear, headway over 2f out, kept on, never landed a blow.
No mention of the slow start which, to my mind, is incredible. Of course, I am not suggesting that Moon Racer wouldn't have beaten Bay of Freedom but I see no reason to suggest this sort of differential.
Of course, it was left to the Racing Post to really get me fired up on Thursday morning and, trust me, after two late nights on Tuesday and Wednesday that was no small achievement! I was looking forward to their race report to see what they would say about Bay of Freedom; it was with a mixture of shock, incredulity and, ultimately, anger that I read, and read again, and still didn't see any mention of Bay of Freedom. In case you're thinking "well..perhaps they only mentioned the first five or six horses" I need to tell you that they commented on horses who finished first through eighth; tenth through thirteenth and also four more horses who finished way back (but were trained by high profile trainers). You may not need reminding that Bay of Freedom finished 9th and there was not a single mention of him - not only annoying but also incomprehensible given the horses who were commented on.
My thoughts are that we should take a lot of encouragement from the performance. We beat most of the Irish horses and all of Willie Mullin's six horses; these are the horses we will be coming up against next season over hurdles in Ireland and that has to give us some confidence. The next race is likely the bumper at Punchestown and we may ride him differently this time; yes, you guessed it, we intend to be going forwards when the tapes go up! There may be a few other changes as well but we don't want to give our top secret strategy away to the opposition at this stage.
The horse has already schooled over hurdles but Peter intends to step this up between now and Punchestown; starting next week. He won't actually run over hurdles until the 2015/16 season which starts in early May and, while we're not sure when his first run over hurdles will be, we want to be ready to run.
Several people on the racing forums have congratulated me on his performance and have suggested the Neptune (hurdle) at Cheltenham might be a legitimate target next season; it would be amazing to think it could be but it's way too early to speculate. Let's see how he jumps in a race first.Others have asked if we've received any substantial offers for him since his run. We're not selling and we have not received any enquiries; if we did, they would come from someone who used their own eyes and ignored the Racing Post!
Thursday - March 12th
Let's cut to the chase - he finished 9th of 23. We were delighted with him and he seemed great after the race; Peter will call later and give an update but, by now, he will be back in Ireland after catching the 2.30am ferry from Holyhead and arriving back home at around seven this morning. His lad, Gavin, love step horse but he must be exhausted this morning but he is still probably on a high from yesterday.
The story of the race is pretty simple. There was a false start which meant that the second time they had to start standing still (as opposed to walking in). By this time , Bay of Freedom, who was at the back had become unsettled and ended up going sideways when they actually did start. This meant he had a wall of horses in front of him and really had to sit and suffer for most of the race. When he did attempt to move forward it was difficult to find a gap and he meant that the jockey was having to take a hold when he wants to move and move forward when he would have preferred to hold on to him. even so, he was still travelling slowly coming down the hill before they turned into the straight. He ran on well to pass a few horses up the hill and we were very happy.he actually beat all of the Willie Mullins' horses (six of them) and several other Irish horses which augurs well for next season when he will be meeting many of these horses again.
Peter and Ber were delighted and are looking forward to some good time with him. Noel Fehily said the horse moved well and was very happy with him and to expect him to be back at Cheltenham next year; would love to think he would be good enough.
I am going to cut this short now since it was a late night last night and I have to leave our lodgings soon to get up to the course. Not much studying for today's races has taken place so I need to fit that in somewhere. A much fuller update including an abridged version of post race celebrations will be written later but until then here is a link to the video:
Just note at the start how he takes 3-4 strides sideways and loses all momentum
We left the racecourse at around 8.15 and then, only because we were almost literally kicked out. We had pushed our reservation back to 9pm and had a great meal at Vanilla with, thankfully, just one round of Shoot the Pot for old times sake. Peter and Ber had n early morning flight fromBirmingham so left around 11pm; foolishly Bernard, John and I decided to squeeze a little more out of the day and eventually retired exhausted some time after midnight (hopefully that is sufficiently vague)
Just a few thoughts on the day:
Cheltenham did a really nice job or creating a package for Owners including very cool Paddock badges (we had 10) with the racing colours. I had four Owners and Trainer badges and the hospitality area in the Brightwells Pavilion was upscale and certainly met with the approval of Bernard and John.
There was much time at all between the 6th race and our race. By the time Peter had got the saddle of Noel and we had saddled up Bay of Freedom the paddock was packed and all of our team were there, as was Noel. Apparently john had taken the initiative (that's one way of putting it) of introducing Noel to everybody and was winter on a roll or wasn't concentrating when he went to introduce Peter to Noel; much to our amusement.
Everything went so quickly from that point; it was almost a blur. I've always said the build-up and anticipation was most important to me and , in all honesty given the speed at which things moved, the actual race went by way too fast. It's great to have the video though and it will be viewed constantly
It was fantastic to have Ian, David, Cob, Matthew and Dale in the paddock with use; Ian is a great friend and incredibly supportive across many, many years. There are very few people I would just and rely on totally and he is certainly at the very top of that short list. David, his son, is Flat Racing Editor at Timeform and is a great guy. in fact, he and fiancee Jo are going to spend a few days with Kim and I in Boston later this year. Everyone else will get a special mention in the blog over the coming installments.
Wednesday - March 11th
The big day is here and I can't sleep. I did drink enough last night to make me sleep but it would seem that the score is Excitement 1 - Alcohol 0. It was a fairly quiet night, in fact. Peter and Ber arranged to meet us up the Queens Hotel for a quick pre-dinner drink at 7.45 (ish) - they left four and half hours later! It is tempting to say that we were discussing race tactics and our respective levels of excitement but that would be a lie (well, maybe for half and hour). The rest of the time was spent playing a stupid game called Shoot the Pot which consists of the following:
Take around 15 one pound coins. Stack them in a pile. Choose a banker (each player takes turn to be a banker). The banker puts in 20 pounds. Player 1 (on his/her immediate left) can bet up to the bank. The choice is in deciding if either a head or a tail will be revealed when they remove the top coin. If they win they take that money out of the pot; if not the increases and Player 2 can bet up to the new pot value. Continue until the pot is empty or each player has bet twice. Change banker and do it all over again (for three hours in our case!!) It is ridiculously addictive. New players (that would be Ber) spend a disturbing amount of time studying the side of coins to determine if they are going to show a head/tail when revealed; experienced players just shake their heads. Anyway, good fun and there is the scary prospect that we will do it all over again tonight. Bernard lost loads of money and had to make a withdrawal from the Leech Bank.
I got back at around 1am and had received some wonderful messages wishing us luck today. The one above is from a couple of the girls from my previous company in Boston; I also received good luck emails from my tax attorneys (don't ask), hairdresser and a number of people on the various racing forums.
We will be going up to the course soon and Ber will be taking even more photos. The one on the left is the owner and trainer imagining the victory walk in front of the packed grandstands at 5.20 this evening!
The one below is of the boy himself. Looking magnificent and happy at the course. Please allow me to send a personal message to my wonderful wife at this point: "Kim, we are in England and that thing in blue is the sky!. I know, amazing but true!"
Thanks for that. Someone asked me last night who I am scared of in the race; basically, that would be any of 23 horses not called Bay of Freedom. We honestly don't know what to expect but we know the horse is as fit as we can get him and we will find out a lot in a few short hours. I don't even want to think about where he might finish and the closer we get I am sure I will have a curious mixture of excitement, anticipation, hope, expectation and sheer fright - I am determined to enjoy it all. Just hope I can!
Just got back from the course. In the end, Bernard failed his blood test and has been confined to his bedroom all morning. He has emerged looking respondent in shirt, tie and blazer. John is equally elegant; almost debonair. In comparison, the owner will be wearing his tried and tested waxed racing coat, black polo and mustard trousers with an added flourish of a brown leather fedora. I very much doubt that Rich Ricci will be asking the name of my tailor in the paddock but, hopefully, he may be asking for the number of my trainer after the race :)
The horse looked, if anything, more relaxed today; he seems to be relishing the Cheltenham experience. We saw one of Willie Mullins lad afterwards and he has 17 horses running today; 56 for the week. That is remarkable and scary; not least the fact he had four winners yesterday. One of the other Irish trainers said " now the English trainers know what we're up against"
I wasn't much impressed by the Racing Post comments on Bay of Freedom:
Contested bumpers at Listowel and Galway, beating only three rivals latterly but the second has at least won since over hurdles; this a very big ask though and has something to find on Topspeed and RPRs.
Anybody reading this site will no I have no respect for the Racing Post Racings (RPR) but the topped has him 10th out of 24 so that's hardly a total outsider.
The plan is to get up to the course early and meet the other guys; the ravages of the week have already rendered one guy incapacitated (for those of you who think I am referring to financial losses then you really have never been to the Cheltenham Festival)
Ok - I am going to the course. I will hopefully, provide a quick update later around 7pm UK time (3pm Boston)
Tuesday - March 10th
Just got back form the course and the pub beckons so this will be quick. Bay of Freedom looks absolutely magnificent and is just loving the ground and the Cheltenham experience; hopefully the tomorrow's forecast rain won't be enough to change the going. Peter is justifiably delighted with how well the horse is, and now we just need to wait until tomorrow. Ber mentioned twice that it was after 9am and we still hadn't declared (we had until 10am) and Peter, very sensibly, interpreted this as an instruction to get on the phone and declare. It's a beautiful morning on the course and it was so busy even at 8am. I have collected my badges for tomorrow and also 10 paddock badges with my colours and name on them; I will leave one behind so as to keep a pristine copy. My last count had nine of us going into the paddock.
Looks like only one came out at the overnight stage so the lowest rating is 119 (7 pounds higher than last year). More to come later....
Just back from the races and quickly posting before we paint the town green, black and white! A losing day today but I really don't care. I am planning to be up at the course in the morning irrespective of the evening to come. John wasn't even entered so he will not be participating but Bernard is an intended runner, subject to a blood test in the morning. I will provide a quick update after the morning exercise.Sleep well
Monday - March 9th
I spoke to Peter earlier this morning and the horse ate up last night (which we didn't expect after all of the travelling) and drank two buckets of water - he's an old pro! Peter takes his own water so I hope he's got enough if Bay of Freedom is going to be drinking that much. He also has his own bucket and he got the horse used to drinking out of the bucket last week; that way he would recognize the smell and it would feel familiar when he got to Cheltenham. There's more to this training lark than most people realize (including me).
We will be up at the course at 8.30 in the morning for a canter and then I will be back to meet Bernard and John down the pub a couple of hours later. Still no jockey news but we need to have one by this time tomorrow - I will explain why it's taking so long in tomorrow's entry. Obviously I can't mention which jockeys are in the frame because of the utter desolation that would be felt by the jockey who missed out on this amazing opportunity to ride Bay of Freedom :)
More to come later today.....
well, not much more to be honest and that just suits me fine! The extended Leech family have all placed their bets of 2 pounds e/w and, in my mother's case, 5 pounds e/w (she is a bingo player and that doesn't come cheap these days so she is much profligate with her money) I have explained to Kim how she can listen to the race live from the States and how she can use my Racing Post online account to watch the race when it is added to the replays. Unfortunately in the States the races are not streamed live so we have to wait patiently for the RP to get the replays up. The only member of the family who does bet nowadays is my Uncle Brian; unfortunately he had a heart attack a few weeks ago and this has presented him with a dilemma. Ok, the heart attack is not good but the fact he isn't allowed to drive and doesn't have an internet betting account, is, right now, much worse for him; the last thing he wants is to have his wife of 50 years suddenly knowing how much he puts on. The doctor, after much pleading, has allowed some light exercise which, for this week, will take the form of him being chauffeured to Ladbrokes and being given five minutes to go in and put his bets on.
Talking of gambling I am not a big gambler but will have an interest (or two) in most races and some very speculative reversed exactas in the big handicaps; particularly the County hurdle where i have the winner and exacta in 5 of the last 7 years. The anticipation of doing it again means that I never get too down during the week. I am fascinated by the betting for the Bumper and curious why the Irish firms are 'only' offering 20/1 on Bay of Freedom when most of the UK ones are at 25/1 or 33/1 and the Betfair exchange still has him at 70/1. Which reminds me that David, my friend from Timeform, has invested at 200/1 and will be naming a wing of his new house Freedom Bay if we win.
And now for the news you've been waiting for: who is going to ride Bay of Freedom? I am delighted to report that Noel Fehily will aboard him on Wednesday. He is a wonderfully accomplished horseman and as well as being a preeminent jockey he is also very successful in bumpers. I have never met him but have spoken to him from America; this was in March 2003 when my previous horse, Bravo, won his only race. Noel had never ridden him before and he and I spoke after the race with me in America. He was great to speak to then and, by all accounts, is a genuinely nice guy.
I know a lot of people expected Katie Walsh to be riding him. She has been fantastic both in his two runs and also in his two recent racecourse gallops. However, it looks like she will be riding one of the Ricci horses for Willie Mullins. She has had some great success at the Festival on Willie's horses and I am sure is looking forward to a great ride on Wednesday; but probably not as much as Noel :)
Things are pretty much in place now...all we have to do is to remember to declare by 10am tomorrow. I will be meeting Peter and Ber at 8.30 at the stables so, between us, I doubt we will let it slip our minds!
Sunday - March 8th
I am totally exhausted! I received an invitation from a group on Twitter called Racing Groups (who have 14000 followers) to join in their Cheltenham preview at 8pm tonight. Naively, I assumed they were just trying to increase the audience size and it wasn't until they sent out a tweet with me on the panel that I fully realized what I was in for. It was incredibly hectic and I increased my meagre number of followers by 30; which was pretty cool. In addition to top secret information about Bay of Freedom I was constantly being asked for my opinions on the other races; this was a bit intimidating given that my knowledge of the other races is a little superficial. Not that that stopped me from offering some thoughts which I like to believe are based on an intuitive understanding of form lines and racing. In case you're interested the horses I specifically mentioned were (in no particular order) : Doing Fine, Some Plan, Stellar Nation, Southfield Theatre, Definitly Red, Monksland, Champagne Fever, On Tour, Royal Irish Hussar, Orgilgo Bay, Djakadam and Uxizandre. As you can probably tell I was looking for the less obvious choices!
Please also be assured that the only information I gave regarding Bay of Freedom was already well known by the loyal readers and viewers of this website. On that note, let me update you on the very latest: he arrived in Cheltenham this evening and travelled over really well with, as the Irish would say, "not a bother on him" The blood tests yesterday came back the best they have ever been so that is fantastic news. To add to the general sense of optimism Captain Von Trappe who we beat by 8 lengths at Galway came out and won at Naas today. Admittedly it was over hurdles and three miles but, even so, he couldn't do any more than win and I can't do any more than disregard my season long mantra that you can't equate bumper and hurdles form. This was the exception that proved the rule. Only three days to get through now and , after all the debate over if he would get into the race, I just want to get him into that paddock ready to run.
I will be providing several updates tomorrow so, just when you think you've seen it all, keep coming back and coming back again.
Saturday - March 7th
A very quiet day today; well, apart from realizing I had left the special green and black socks (which Kim had bought me) back in Boston. The good news is their absence didn't stop Bay of Freedom from being in the field so I have decided that such stupid superstitious thoughts have no place in my mind; the same goes for wondering if we should use the (wrong) cap that he wore when he won at Galway. We will be using the proper cap and I will be wearing another pair of black and green socks (which are perfectly nice thank you very much)
I spoke to Peter briefly and the horse was fine this morning. We took some blood and should get the results tomorrow; his last counts a week or so ago were perfect and better than at Galway so we are not expecting any issues and are just making sure no stone is left unturned
I started a subscription to Racing UK so that my mother could watch the race in comfort on Wednesday. I did have to convince her that she would not be stuck with a 12 month commitment and that I would pay whatever it costs; I thinks is still a little wary after subscribing to Sky Sports and unlimited broadband purely so that I can watch sport and use my laptop when I am over 4 times each year. She had actually forgotten about the race being on Wednesday and had arranged to see the second Marigold Hotel movie with my sister. After much sighing they did decide to change the day and go on Tuesday instead; nothing like family to remind you that you're not the only important person around. As a punishment I forced them to listen to my interview on FM Racing which they endured with fortitude, determination and ultimately support.
I mentioned in that interview that I was first introduced to racing by my dad at the age of 5 or 6 when he took me to Uttoxeter, our local track. He was a passionate form student in those days but his interest waned in inverse proportion to his propensity to back seconds. He died almost five years ago and mum said he would have been so proud that his son had a runner at the Cheltenham Festival and he would have been there in the paddock beaming. He was also an internet junkie so would have got a kick out of this site although the daily critiques might have driven us both mad. I am incredibly lucky in so many ways and will forever be grateful to my dad for allowing me to share his passion and then for supporting my passion as it developed into a love for this great sport.
Bay of Freedom will be in his stable right now completely unaware of the culture shock that the next few days will bring; the ferry, the drive to Cheltenham, the buzz and the number of horses, the crowds and the complete change in routine. We're confident he'll take it all in his stride and be in great form when we next see him on Tuesday morning.
Still no jockey news: we may know more tomorrow. In the meantime watch out for Owega Star at Naas; best of luck to him and Peter!
One more thing - Captain Von Trappe runs in the 3 mile maiden hurdle at Naas. He finished second to us at Galway - would be good to see him run well.
Friday - March 6th
HE IS RUNNING!!! Can you believe it? Talk about close - he is number 24 of 24 and there are two other horses with the same rating (119). In this situation a random ballot is carried out and he won that as well; as they say: "last one in, first one home" (Actually no one has ever said that but maybe now is a good time to start) There are also four horses on a 118 rating so it was pretty tight at the end. I am feeling very lucky and emotional; sometimes dreams do come true. Peter and Ber are delighted as is Gavin, his lad. As Peter said: " now the pressure is really on"
More to come later..........
well, it is now much later. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor after a night down the pub with some friends. they're all going next Wednesday so excitement levels were high as were the number of questions; the main one being "who is going to ride him?". Right now, we are still waiting for a little more clarity about who is available or not. We obviously have some very definite ideas but, and this drives me crazy, it's not fair of me to speculate or to name names at this point. As soon as something is decided I will let you know but, whoever it is based on the names we have discussed, I will be absolutely delighted!
It looks to me that the field is pretty well set and the 24 won't change too much by declaration time. Nicky Gifford has indicated he needs rain for Theo's Charm to run so he may well come out and there has been speculation that Nicky Henderson may only run one or even none. That speculation was on various forums when he had three entered originally; the fact that he has taken one out would indicate to me that there is every chance the two remaining will run; we shall see. Whichever way you look at it the lowest rating of any horse in the race is likely to be 118. This is remarkably high. To provide some context: over the last 7 years (2008 -2014) there have 53 horses who have run with a rating lower than 118 (out of 170 in total); basically a third of the field on average. The lowest ratings in each of those seven years were , respectively (2008 first) 109,111.106,113,104,112,112. That's a big difference to this year and illustrates the quality of the field (well, at least, as far as the handicapper is concerned)
The other interesting fact that is that the only once in those seven years (Dunguib - 2009) hs the highest rated horse won the race. In fact, it is very often won by a horse around the 120 mark. Champagne Fever ran off a mark of 136 in 2012 but, in the other five years, ratings were 118, 121, 122, 118 119. With a rating of 119, Bay of Freedom is perfectly positioned by the handicapper!
The other questions of the night was: "where would you be happy with him finishing?" It is important to realize that there are not only gradations of happiness but also finishing positions in which the word "happy' would be totally insufficient to represent my feelings. I should also keep my own counsel so as to avoid sounding either ridiculously optimistic in advance or completely foolish in retrospect. I, therefore, answered the question literally and said "I will be happy if he is in the first ten". Then again, I would have been happy with a respectable second before the race at Galway so there really isn't any point in asking me. I keep thinking that every part of this dream is coming true and you never know what that might lead to on Wednesday afternoon.
Friday morning was incredible; he went for a quick six furlong spin on the Curragh with anther horse. Peter drove as I sat in the passenger seat with us alongside the two horses. It was remarkable to watch Bay of Freedom just lobbing along and then be told by Peter "we're doing 60" Obviously, 60 kph but that's still 38 mph and he didn't look to be trying. At the end of the gallop the other horse was covered in sweat and Bay of Freedom was barely blowing and no sweat; he's as fit as he can be. Peter has done his job and now we can only wait and see what Wednesday brings.
Thursday - March 5th
This was a long day! The six-day declarations came out and they were remarkably similar to the 15-day declarations (otherwise known as the entries) 45 horses were entered and 38 stood their ground; this was pretty amazing and I cannot recall any year when so many were left in.
The day started with me visiting the yard and Bay of Freedom having an easy canter on the all-weather. His lad, Gavin, is feeling good about the horse but, like all of us, just wants to know if he will get in the race. He is driving him there and will be on the first ferry on Sunday morning; the crossing is around 3 1/2 hours and then he has the drive down to Cheltenham; with a bit of luck he should be arriving late afternoon at the course.
Peter made several calls to check in on the number of declarations but with no clarity. Even after the official deadline for confirmations (noon) had come and gone it took an inordinate amount of time for the numbers to come through. It must have looked pretty comical with me refreshing the Racing Post, Sporting Life, Attheraces and Timeform sites and Peter doing the same on other sites. We already knew that See the World had been pulled out so that was encouraging in the sense that he almost certainly would have been rated ahead of Bay of Freedom. However, to end up with 38 was a bit of a downer and we had to wait another 20 minutes to know the other six horses who had come out. My sense was that a few of these may have been rated higher than Bay of Freedom and so this wasn't the disaster that seemed likely. However, 38 horses are a lot and I don't envy the handicapper in ranking these horses; I would just say that if he gets in Bay of Freedom will do himself justice.
Ber, Peter and myself had dinner tonight in Kildare. It's going to be a busy and exciting few days for both with Owega Star having his last run before the Grad National on Sunday and Bay of Freedom going to Cheltenham. Not a late night (we'll save that for next week hopefully) but Pete is taking Bay of Freedom up to the Curragh in the morning to stretch his legs and we will be meeting at 10am to watch. I am flying over to Birmingham at 1.30pm so I am almost certainly going to be in the air when the ratings are published. My mother dislocated her shoulder last week so I am trying to figure out how I can , simultaneously, check the Racing Post site immediately after arriving and still show her the love and support that she fully deserves.If he does get in I will have subscribe to Racing UK on her behalf so she can watch the race; money well spent (particularly if I do it as soon as I get there and so can watch the previews all weekend!) I will publish an update immediately and then go down the pub in, hopefully, a positive and confident mood.
Baby Update: I am delighted to report that Lauren was back on top form today after yesterday's slight aberration; mother and daughter continue to be fabulous!
Wednesday - March 4th
Arrived in Dublin this morning two hours late, then got stuck in the M50 traffic arriving at the hotel at 10am to find out that we have a leak in the spare bedroom due to the gutters being frozen and four feet of snow now melting on the roof. Kim was dealing with it admirably; I even decided not to point out that it's a good job we hadn't both travelled over to watch Bay of Freedom. When I last spoke to her she was on the roof so my decision probably means that I have a wife to go home to although I am sure she would have seen the funny side of it!
I am hoping she listens to the interview from FM Racing when she gets off the roof and that it will remind her why she loves me so much; actually I'm depending on it! Take a listen and see what you think https://soundcloud.com/racing-fm/i-know-the-owner-with-irish-thoroughbred-marketing-wwwitmie.
I was thinking about Willie Mullins on the flight over and concluded that he shouldn't be trusted with 50 horses at Cheltenham; last year he 'only' had 40 and , even then, he forgot one and left it behind (it got over eventually) It's probably a good job that Willie's a great trainer because he wouldn't be lasting long as a school bus driver!
I went over to the yard this afternoon and spent some time with Peter and Ber and also Kate, Conor and , of course, Lauren; who wasn't having one of her happier days. Seeing both Kate and Conor around the baby made me glad that Kim wasn't there; they are way too cute together and I am way too old to be having children. Peter and Ber will be over in Cheltenham from Monday evening until Thursday morning come what may, although it would be fair to say that it will be so much better if he gets in. Based on Ber's counsel I have determined to get up to the course early on Tuesday morning and take in the atmosphere as all of the trainers and owners still cling onto the dream of their horse winning. We went through the potential runners and , for what feels like the 40th time, concluded that it's touch and go as to whether he gets in; if he does, we are expecting big things.
I will be up at the yard mid morning tomorrow and will stick around until the six-day declarations are announced. Last year there were 41 entered and 28 confirmed at this stage; this year there are 45 entries so we are probably looking at 30 (or so) confirmations. We will be having dinner tomorrow and it will either be celebratory (if we are in) or more circumspect; the current betting is 4/1 against celebratory. Cheers!
Bonus coverage. Ruby said at a preview tonight that he would like to ride General Principle in the Bumper; he also said that Patrick Mullins gets first choice. Two thoughts: Ruby preferring one of Gordon Elliott's (who he won't have even sat on) over the 8 Mullins horses says a lot and is it really possible that Patrick could choose to not ride any of Willie's eight horses?
Tuesday - March 3rd
I spent a large part of yesterday trying to follow the various preview evenings. Ben Pauling was on one and, when asked to talked about his horses, mentioned every horse except the two he has in the Bumper. This could be good news in that they're not going or it could be he's keeping quiet about them; time will tell but it's as clear as mud. Rich Ricci has five in the Bumper with Mullins and said that he wants to send just three but Willie wants to send all five. Today I read (again) that Willie wants to run all eight and i have to confess my heart sinks a little every time I read this; all I know is that the last time he ran eight in the race the best he managed was 4th (2009) He has been much more successful when only taking 2-3 horses; we shall see. Loads more previews tonight and we may find out more; I probably won't until I get to Ireland but I suspect my sleep will be delayed until i have scoured the internet for clues. I am feeling the odds of him running are about 6/4 against but that is better than the 2/1 against earlier this week (actually, this morning). It's going to be a close call
Monday - March 2nd
It's going to be a long three days before the 6-day declarations are out on Thursday. I spoke to Peter yesterday and the horse is in great form after his gallop around Leopardstown. Katie rode him again and said he went well. There was a pretty strong headwind which wasn't ideal but we couldn't be happier with him. He ate up pretty well and walked out sound on Sunday morning. There are very few clues coming from the preview nights regarding running plans and I am exhausted from Google searches on every conceivable runner. One thing is for certain: we are booked on the first ferry out of Dublin on Sunday morning and we will be in Cheltenham no matter what; at the very least Bay of Freedom will get his first taste of Cheltenham and, if we don't get in, this will only encourage him to make sure we get there next year! The forecast for the next 10 days at Cheltenham looks really good and there is the distinct chance of watering; going just on the soft side of good would be perfect for us and may not be as good for a lot of the runners who have been doing their winning on very soft winter ground.A few preview evenings going on tonight so will be watching out for any running plans and will report back here tomorrow.