Twenty-four years after winning his last Hennessy Gold Cup, Oliver Sherwood returned from the wilderness at the weekend.
The apple of his eye, Many Clouds showed all the guts and determination his trainer has over the last decade to claim and emotional and well-deserved success.
The Newbury winner’s enclosure was packed to the rafters with well-wishers and celebratory stable staff after what has been a barren 10-year spell for the trainer, in which he has also endured his family home being burned down three years ago.
The local trainer, based just 13 miles away in Lambourn, can now dream of Gold Cup success at Cheltenham in March, but for now his stable star will be on the easy list after claiming his seasonal target and a race which means so much to his trainer.
He said: “Today was the plan, I don’t give a monkey’s what happens for the rest of the season. If he doesn’t run for the rest of the season, it doesn’t bother me.”
Fighting back the tears the ever popular and enigmatic Sherwood spoke of the last 10 years and just how much victory in this gruelling handicap meant to him.
He added: “There’s been a few bare patches in the last 10 years. You lose confidence sometimes when things are not going right but any trainer will tell you, you’re only as good as the soldiers you go to war with.
“When things are going bad, you start doubting yourself, you think ‘Am I doing things right? Am I getting left behind by the other boys who are training winners?’
“It’s no different to a batsman who’s not scoring runs or a footballer who’s not scoring goals.”
Newcastle Racecourse’s annual flagship race the Fighting Fifth hurdle provided a memorable day in the life of Paul Nicholls as he recorded his 100th Grade One victory courtesy of the 6/4 favourite Irving.
After flopping badly in last year’s Supreme Novices at Cheltenham and then falling first time out this season in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton many feel Irving has a lot to prove.
But this victory will only go some way to proving those doubters wrong as this was a below vintage renewal of the Newcastle showpiece as the introduction of a £100,000 hurdle race at Haydock the week before has diluted the strength of this race.
However it is a fantastic achievement from the magician that is Paul Nicholls, who watched the action unfold on the big screen at Newbury: “I have been lucky enough to train 100 Grade 1 winners but if you have not got the team you can’t do it. It reflects well on Team Ditcheat.”
The Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown has been a conveyor belt of champions over the last decade as past winners include Sire de Grugy, Sprinter Sacre, Sizing Europe, Master Minded and dual winners Kauto Star and Twist Magic.
But this Saturday, due to the defection of the not yet fit Sprinter Sacre, and injured Sire De Grugy, we will see a below average renewal but it will also give a chance to an unproven horse to take up the mantle.
There would not be a more popular winner than the enigmatic Mad Moose, who has just been cleared by the BHA to race again after an 11 month ban.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained loveable rogue was banned indefinitely after refusing to start a number of times, he had totted up his seventh misdemeanour in 14 months.
Despite all this, Mad Moose has plenty of ability and has finished a respectable second behind Sprinter Sacre and also won a strong maiden on the flat at Doncaster so should not be easily dismissed at odds of 100/1, however his temperaments is still in question and let’s just hope he jumps off.
More realistically on Saturday, God’s Own will be carrying my money at decent odds of around 9/2.
Trained by the humble Tom George, this horse has constantly been underrated because it is not trained by one of the powerhouse stables.
I can guarantee that if this horse was in the Nicholls or Henderson yard it would be around the 7/4 price but that can only be to our advantage.
Victorious in his last two runs he has beaten some very classy horses including the favourite Balder Succes twice, and with a dry week it will play to his strengths perfectly.
His jockey Paddy Brennan said: “We are just hoping for a dry week. The better the ground, the better his chance.
“He’s tough, he’s brave and I’m really hoping he can step up to Grade One level.”
Tingle Creek, Sandown, Saturday, God’s Own 9/2.