by Max Lindley (assistant racing secretary)

As we draw a close to the flat season with only a few weeks left, it has been great reflecting back on what has been a season to remember, with the obvious highlight being Alan’s first Royal Ascot winner with Primitivo. It has been Alan’s second most successful flat season so far with a total of 21 winners along with 23 seconds. Things are really gearing up in terms of jumping runners where we have had 7 runners over the weekend with 2 winners and a further 3 horses reaching the frame. It was an exciting weekend’s racing at Cheltenham and Aintree where it was pleasing to see some of our top class horses return to the track.

It was a good quality card last Sunday at Kempton in which we ran Lord Huntingdon in the opening juvenile hurdle, he was returning under a penalty after making a successful hurdling debut a fortnight ago at Huntingdon. Unfortunately he took a fall two out after still being in contention (winner has followed up since at Cheltenham). Thankfully he was okay afterwards and will hopefully regain the winning thread on his next outing. His next target hasn’t been finalised but he should be out in the next few weeks. We had a quiet few days until 4 runners on Wednesday with 3 heading to Fontwell – Azzerti got the day up and running with an admirable second in a very competitive novice hurdle at Fontwell. He split two classy horses with two previous hurdle winners behind him. Bringing in to account it was his hurdling debut, there is plenty to build on and he will definitely improve for the experience. Later on in the card Board of Trade made his handicap debut off 126 shaping with plenty of promise and will remain competitive off similar marks. He will come on a lot for the run and a step up in trip. Our last runner on the card was Peggies Venture who was making her debut for us in the first division of the mares’ bumper in which she finished second; it was encouraging how well she travelled in to the race and that the first two pulled 8 lengths clear of the third. The last runner of the day was Passmore making her hurdles debut at Worcester; she finished a promising second to a classy mare of Phillip Hobbs’s (had good form in bumpers last season), the first two came 11 lengths clear of the third (who had previously won well in a bumper) which gives the form a solid look. On Thursday we sent two horses to Ludlow, Inn the Bull made a winning hurdles debut in great style, after going a slow pace he jumped pleasingly towards the rear then made an eye-catching move around 4 out, he jumped brilliantly up the straight before quickening smartly after the last. He will now head to the DBS HIT sale next week. McCabe Creek jumped very well on chase debut in a strong handicap, he finished a fair fifth only beaten 6 lengths where it was pleasing to see him jump so well. His best pieces of form show he’s most effective on better ground so hopefully we can pick up a novice chase before the rain arrives.

It was tremendous action over the weekend under both codes where the weekend started with three progressive horses lining up at Doncaster on the flat. Devoran ran okay and will now be benefited switched to handicaps. She received a mark of 60 so it is possible she will head down the handicap route next. Burguillos lost nothing in defeat after a courageous second in a strong handicap at Doncaster. He came through the pack travelling powerfully to the lead; however just found one too good on the day which may prove group class next season. He is now likely to be put away until next flat season. We rounded off the card with a fantastic win from Hardington. He is improving at a rate of knots and with the combination of fast run races and the application of a visor has looked a very different proposition. Later in the evening we ran two horses in the 1m 4f handicap at Wolverhampton, where there wasn’t much between them at the finish – Ardamir put up arguably a career best effort on the flat, making good late headway to finish third. The winner looks potentially useful and it was a good sign to see him pass one or two fancied horses inside the final furlong. Saint Contest was a length and a quarter behind running a promising race, it was his first run for us and we learnt plenty after the race where we will look forward to a hurdling campaign this upcoming jump season.

It was a classy card on Saturday where it was great to see racing get underway at Cheltenham. We had two runners line up in the feature 2 mile Masterson Holdings hurdle with both filling out the frame. Sceau Royal ran out a very convincing winner showing a fine turn of foot after the last, he beat a previous Grade 1 winner 15 lengths and although it was a small field, they all brought respectable form to the table. Gibralfaro finished a sound third also beating the previous Grade 1 winner half a length and continues on the upgrade. Off his current mark of 140 he would carry top weight in most handicaps so hopefully we could win a graded race of some sort this season. The Tourard Man ran too freely back over hurdles and proved disappointing; we intend now to get him qualified for the Pertemps at the Festival.

We had an important day at Aintree on Sunday with the return of Smad Place in the Old Roan Chase. Thankfully the day got off to a flyer with Kerrow winning in great style under a confident ride. It was great to see him jump well and regain his confidence after a fall earlier in the year. The highlight of the day was the return of Smad Place who ran a mighty race on comeback, giving weight to most of his rivals’ to only to be beaten 4 lengths in to fourth. He jumped pleasingly and did all his best work between the last two obstacles. That will set him up nicely with the view to defending his Hennessy crown next month.