Aintree and the BHA deserve a pat on the back here. They were under huge scrutiny in the past number of years with many detractors looking for the race to be done away with.
They made changes and seem to have gotten everything right. They’ve bypassed fences, have catching pens for loose horses and modified the fences. I think they’ve appeased everybody and still managed to retain the magic of the race. That’s no mean achievement.
The first year they maybe made the fences a little too small but you saw in the Topham and National that it is still a unique jumping test. I have been critical of the handicapper tinkering with the weights but by doing that he has made it a more competitive race. Full marks to everybody.
I must put one thing straight though. I did not stop it being a void race. Aintree have liaised with the jockeys and put an emphasis on us helping where we can. You saw that with Aidan Coleman catching a loose horse on Friday in the Topham and riding him back. I rode in two races over the big fences and came back on two horses that I didn’t go out on but that’s just everybody working together to make it work.
All I did at the back of the Canal Turn was lend a hand to a very well-prepared, dedicated and well-drilled team that was appointed to that area. I gave them a hand moving rails and a few more things, but I was only an extra pair of hands. Aintree left no stone unturned and it was incredible the amount of people that were there ready to go.
There’s a holding pen at the back of the Canal Turn for catching loose horses, and it did its job because River Choice and Unioniste were in there, not galloping around the place loose. And there were two people in there holding them.
But when the Canal Turn has to be bypassed, the running rail in front of the pen has to be dismantled. That’s a two-minute job. It is a sharp turn and from riding the race, I understood that jockeys would be organising themselves from the Foinavon. So they needed to know it was being bypassed from there, not half-way down. That was all I did.
It was early when Ballycasey ran into the back of Balthazar King, who we were all delighted to see get back up. He was jumping well and travelling well but the only horses that weren’t at that stage were those that had fallen. You make decisions. I switched out to follow Balthazar King, thinking he’d be a good one to follow. I was wrong.
It was a great effort by Many Clouds to win the race after disappointing in the Gold Cup and it was some call by Leighton Aspell to get off last year’s winner, Pineau De Re, to ride him. That was a professional, calculated call. It was brave and it paid off for him. He’s in a select group of jockeys now that have won the race twice in a row.
Davy Condon had a bad fall. Watching the replay it looked like he was knocked out but he wasn’t. He suffered spinal concussion so he was literally paralysed on the ground. That must be the most frightening feeling in the world. Unfortunately for him it’s the second time it has happened to him. He’s facing surgery now and hopefully the doctors will get him right.
It only drove home what happened Friday night in Wexford with Robbie McNamara, in his first season as a professional and looking forward to riding Lord Windermere in the National. He took a horrible fall and is still in the Mater Hospital with serious injuries. It is such a thin line.
Turf Club doctor Adrian McGoldrick said that the hospital staff and doctors in Wexford were unbelievable. Robbie is in a great frame of mind and hopefully he’ll make a great recovery. We wish him all the best.
The Punchestown entries came out during the week and there’s a good chance that Vautour and Don Poli will go head to head. There isn’t really anywhere else for them to go. It would be a cracker as they both seem to have come out of Cheltenham well after putting in excellent performances. In fact that seems to be the case for all of the horses that have made cross-channel trips recently, including Arctic Fire who took a heavy fall at the last in Aintree.
Punchestown is one of Willie’s priorities for the season and of the 50 or so runners he had at Cheltenham, it wouldn’t surprise me if 40 or 45 of them show up at the Kildare venue, along with a few that didn’t travel. Willie will be keeping an eye on the ground for some of them but Punchestown are good in that regard, as they want the best horses showing up. I can’t imagine I’ll be changing any of the decisions I made at Cheltenham. I couldn’t see myself not riding Douvan and Faugheen anyway.
Being five winners ahead of Mark Walsh in the race for the jockeys’ title now, I would say that another five winners would probably seal a 10th title. It would nice to join Charlie Swan on that number, though he did it 10 years in a row!
I didn’t think when I was going for the surgery on my shoulder and would miss four months of the season that it would be possible to catch up but the remarkable form of Willie’s horses has given me the chance. I had some luck too and it was hard luck on Mark to get injured when he did. You just never know in this game.
The suspension of six jockeys at Tramore on Monday highlighted once again the need for the Irish authorities to adopt the English procedures for starting races. Everybody has to work together, jockeys and starters, but the walking start has proved a huge success because there is no grey area. Everybody knows what’s required.
In three months, they won’t even be talking about the start in England.
There, you know as a rider, if another rider breaks into a trot, that the race simply isn’t going to start.
That’s not the case here so you have to go as well or risk being left behind.