Friday November 18

We had been so looking forward to last Saturday at Cheltenham’s Open meeting, yet it proved one nightmare after another and Alan summed it up when declaring “one of the worse day’s racing I’ve experienced since I started training”.

However, Alan hopes to wipe those memories away tomorrow at Ascot, where Yanworth, one of our big hopes for the winter months, makes his reappearance in the Coral Hurdle.

Maybe the fact that the Barbury horses were not firing around the time of last season’s Cheltenham Festival was a contributory factor into Yanworth’s defeat in the Neptune, but Alan remains defiant and is looking forward to him returning to the track.

He said:”Yanworth looks fabulous and if anything he is a little bit stronger than last season. This has been the first target since the summer as he only gets the 4lb half-penalty because his Class 1 win came in a novice hurdle.

“He’s done everything we have asked of him at home and is in very good form, so this should help to guide us as to whether we should be looking toward the Champion or the World Hurdle, and this week’s rain came at just the right time for him.”

Cheltenham in March stage the best four days in jump racing, but the one thing missing is a championship hurdle race over two and a half miles. The chasers are catered for at the intermediate distance, courtesy of the Ryanair, but, whereas we do have the Aintree Hurdle at the Grand National meeting over two and a half miles, at Cheltenham the only choice is two or three miles. Maybe it’s time for a rethink.

Back off my soapbox, I caught up with Alan and asked him for his thoughts on our other week-end runners. He added:”Mia’s Storm could accompany Yanworth to Ascot for the Mares Handicap Hurdle. She lost her way last winter, either because, like so many of ours, she was not right or she could not cope with the bad ground, but she bounced back in the spring, winning twice and she has been in grand form at home.

Laser Light also goes there for the novices’ hurdle. His Chepstow win got a boost when the runner-up won subsequently, but a bit more rain would help his chance, while up at Haydock we have Midnight Prayer going for the three-mile handicap chase. He ran into a wall of horses in a horrible Foinavon-type incident at Cheltenham last week, leaving him simply nowhere to go, but thankfully he emerged none the worse for the experience, so, while it now gives me only two weeks before Aintree, I would still like to run him in the Becher Chase there on December 4, so we are bringing him out again.”

It looks like being a busy week-end as we have two at Ascot today and also two – maybe three – going to Exeter on Sunday. Alan added:”Criq Rock runs in today’s introductory hurdle at Ascot. It was a satisfactory first run back at Chepstow as they went steady and he got done for a bit of toe, but he worked nicely last week-end and, granted a stronger run race, he should be competitive.

Reality Bites also goes there for the maiden hurdle, and he’s an Irish point-to-point winner who was taken out of Lingfield because the ground was too quick. He did well through the summer and has been pleasing me on the gallops.

“We also send A Bold Move to Ffos Las today for the maiden hurdle. He has very good point-to-point form and this is his first run for us, but he is ready to start and, being owned by Dai Walters, this is the right track to get him rolling.”

And on Sunday? “We are hoping for the best from Desert Joe in the three-mile handicap chase. He lost his way last season, but he had a breathing operation during the summer which we hope will help, and he has also taken a slight drop in the weights.

“We also send Tyrell down there for the juvenile hurdle. He had a good summer on the Flat, winning twice, and he has been schooling well so we are looking forward to this first run over jumps. We have also declared Label des Obeaux for the novice chase, which would be his first run over fences. He was a useful hurdler last season, but, though he is ready to start, I’d only run him if it was proper soft ground.”