MY HIGHLIGHTS OF A GREAT SEASON
It was some season, the 2016/17 National Hunt season, both in Britain and in Ireland. There were some great performances, human and equine, and the fact that the trainers’ championships in both Britain and Ireland were so closely fought added something extra.
From a personal point of view, it was disappointing to miss the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals through injury. I am on the road to recovery now though. My arm has had the plate inserted, so I now have matching scars on each arm! It is not weight-bearing yet, but I do have the use of it.
My back is still sore. I broke a wing of a vertebrae and the muscle in that area has been giving me trouble, but it is improving. I am swimming and doing all that I can do to get back as quickly as possible. My aim is to get back in time for the Galway Festival at the end of July, and I am on track for that. Everyone has been great, the boss has been great, there is no pressure on me to get back except for the pressure that I am putting on myself.
As things turned out, this year Aintree was my Cheltenham and my Punchestown rolled into one. It was great to have the Grade 1 double on the first day, Defi Du Seuil in the juvenile hurdle and Buveur D’Air in the Aintree Hurdle. Then to win the Liverpool Hurdle on Yanworth on the Saturday. It was a good meeting for me.
Defi Du Seuil was great all season, he just kept on winning, he kept on progressing, and he emerged as the outstanding juvenile hurdler of the season. Buveur D’Air was fantastic back over hurdles, it was an inspired decision by Nicky and JP to go back over hurdles with him after he had won his two novice chases, and Yanworth did well to win his two Grade 1s. He had to battle hard to win the Liverpool Hurdle, and he did.
The horse who surprised me most this season was probably Unowhatimeanharry. I wasn’t sure that there was that much more to come from him at the start of the season, an eight-year-old who had won his five races since he had joined Harry Fry. He had won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2016, but the handicapper was so unimpressed with him there that he dropped him a few pounds.
But he improved again this season. Harry did a fantastic job with him. I was hopeful when he made his debut in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Hennessy day, but he was great that day, he travelled well and he did everything easily. Then he won the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, and he was very impressive in winning the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January. He didn’t win by that far, but he cantered into the lead, he did it easily.
I missed riding him at Cheltenham and at Punchestown, but it was great that he got back and won at Punchestown after getting beaten at Cheltenham. He had some season.
Puppy (Robbie) Power also had some season. He had an unbelievable spring. Cheltenham was brilliant for him, a Cheltenham Gold Cup on Sizing John, and two other Cheltenham winners with Rock The World and Supasundae, but that was only the start of it.
He was leading rider at Aintree, he won the Irish Grand National on Our Duke, and he was leading rider at Punchestown with six winners.
It just shows you, he was lucky to even be back riding, with the problem with his eye that he had in the autumn. Then he won the Irish Gold Cup on Sizing John, then to rattle through Cheltenham and Aintree and Fairyhouse and Punchestown as he did.
It was great to see a fellow who does his job as well as Puppy does it to have the success that he had. He’s a great example of what can be achieved, of what you can achieve in sport, if you keep grafting away and doing things right. He deserves every success that he gets.
It was some season too for Jessie (Harrington). To win the Irish Gold Cup with Sizing John was brilliant, her first ever runner in the race, then to go on and win the Cheltenham Gold Cup with him. Jessie has that constant level of success, she is a top-class trainer, and she deserved to have a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.
You could see what it meant to her too, and to the girls Emma and Kate, and to Eamonn Leigh. The kick that they all got out of it. Jessie says that she is 70, but if she is, she is 70 going on 60.
Nicky Henderson had a great season too in Britain. Nicky is a brilliant trainer, and he deserved to win the trainers’ championship again. And the way that he did it, he didn’t run the horses just for the sake of running them, just in pursuit of the championship. He did what he always does, he allowed the horses come, he ran them in the right races, and they accumulated the prize money that got him there.
In Ireland, it was some finish between Willie and Gordon for the trainers’ championship. It was a pity that one of them had to lose it, but I think that both trainers’ reputations were enhanced as a result, and it was great for racing.
There was a genuine interest in the championship among racing fans and the general public. And it was great that it was played out at Punchestown, which was a fantastic meeting anyway with top class racing and so many tight finishes.
I’m obviously looking forward to getting back riding soon now, all going well, and to getting a clear run at things. I’m very lucky in that I have so many good horses to look forward to. I have enjoyed posting my updates on At The Races throughout the season, so thanks for reading! We'll speak again in the autumn.