It means an awful lot to be here — I had to sit it out once before and I can tell you it wasn’t an experience I enjoyed.
In the main, however, it has been a very lucky meeting for me, and I hope it will be again this week.
I return on Yorkhill, who is taking a drop back in trip for the two-mile novice hurdle. He took a fair hold with me at Cheltenham, and was very keen on softer ground and a slower pace at Aintree, but came out on top both times. There should be plenty of pace in this race, with Petit Mouchoir not likely to hang around, and Charbel, who set a strong gallop in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, also likely to go forward early. That should make Yorkhill easier to ride, and he seems well at home.
While Douvan and Faugheen won the last two runnings of this race, having won at Cheltenham, neither had run at Aintree.
But Yorkhill won his maiden hurdle here and won a bumper at this meeting last year, so the track isn’t a problem. It seems clear he is our best novice and, if he hasn’t been emptied by running at the last two festivals, he should win.
Paul Townend rides Bamako Moriviere in the two-mile handicap hurdle. For whatever reason, he has been disappointing as he hasn’t brought his homework to the track.
Vautour runs in the two-mile champion chase rather than taking on Cue Card in the Gold Cup, and I don’t think the trip will be a problem to him.
Special Tiara, who was third in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, sets the standard on form at this trip and he won’t be hanging ground.
But Vautour won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and won his beginners’ chase over two-miles-one, so the trip is not a worry. He has schooled well since his fall at Aintree, which was uncharacteristic, and is in very good form at home, so I’m really looking forward to riding him again.
Willie runs Outlander in the three-mile-one novice chase, and Bryan Cooper rides him for owners Gigginstown House. He was beaten by Kylemore Lough at Fairyhouse but I think that race came too soon after Cheltenham, and he is a good bit better now than he was then. It’s a good race, but the track and trip will suit and I do think he has a big chance.
It’s a little odd to see a Grand National winner, Rule The World, back in novice company, but that’s what he is — a novice — and if he was mine I’d be running him too.
There’s plenty of talk about Harry Fry’s horse, Henryville, but I like Outlander, and think he will take beating.
In the concluding bumper Willie runs Cilaos Emery, which Patrick rides. He goes nicely at home but to look at him you would say he’s a horse which will appreciate a summer’s grass.
Just looking back at Saturday at Sandown, I must say congratulations to Paul Nicholls for winning the trainers’ championship again. It was a great day to be part of, but a sour taste was left by the wording used in imposing a fine on Willie for withdrawing Vroum Vroum Mag.
The terminology used said Willie’s actions were done with ‘wilful disregard’, but I don’t agree with that at all.
Willie was honest, made a case for what he was doing, and, in the circumstances, I felt the penalty was harsh enough.
If Willie has shown wilful disregard he wouldn’t have gone for the trainers’ championship, but he actually gave it the respect it deserved. When his chance was gone, he thought of the bigger picture, and reassessed.
It might have been a bit unlucky for punters who backed Vroum Vroum Mag ante-post, but the dangers of such betting are obvious. Anyone who backed her after final declarations got their money back, and I would be very surprised if the sole reason anyone went to Sandown on Saturday was to see her in action. With respect to the mare, the day was much bigger than her.
She was just part of the show, and by the time of her race the show was over.
It makes you wonder if, in such situations, honesty really does pay?