Last week I wrote that racing all over the world is not a privilege solely for those training and riding horses on the Flat. There are, it must be said, rather less destinations to choose from as a Jumps trainer or rider, given that the sport peters out the further east you go, and has no place whatsoever in the Middle East, a growing powerhouse of lucrative prizes in the first 3 months of the year.
The core market remains good old Blighty, where there are frequent race meetings, even if these are not all that richly endowed. And Team Gloucestershire has been busy!
Kim Bailey's horses have not yet run into the sort of form that kept them winning race after race last season, but it's early yet. We've not yet reached the first major punctuation point of the season in the Paddy Power Gold Cup this weekend. A promising sign that things are coming good though took place at Sandown yesterday, when Wandrin Star made up 4l to lead clse home and win a further 1 1/2l in a Veterans Chase.
Veterans Chases are a success story cribbed directly from the Point-to-Point circuit, where creative clerks and secretaries have considerably more latitude in framing their races. One of the earliest such races under Rules was at Warwick in the late eighties - deemed a novelty at the time - which attracted former Gold Cup contender Kildimo, a very smart chaser of Toby Balding's. At the time, the race was pretty unique, but it's a sign of how much better the authorities have become at framimng races for all sections of the horse population that sees so many more now.
The Olde Inn at Guiting Power was a little fuller on Saturday nigth for the win of Rocco for Nigel Twiston-Davies in the Badger Beer Chase at Wincanton. There didn't look to be much left to chance despite his 40/1 SP as he made every post a winning one. As always, you ignore T-D runners in big autumn races at your peril.
Meanwhile, the Master of Ravenswell drew a rare blank over the weekend, but returned 2 winners and 3 placed efforts from five runners today between Carlisle and Kempton. As the big guns have entered the lists, it's become harder to rack up the same runner-winner ratio, but that's hardly surprising. Somewhere in that yard, there is a quality horses or two to ratchet up the O'Brien presence in big handicaps and graded races.
Gloucestershire's tally in graded races had to rely upon Richard Hobson, whose St Xavier won an amateur riders' conditions race at Auteuil yesterday, a listed race on a sparkling weekend worth nearly €2.5m. British interest was spartan, enhanced by a good effort from Philip Hobbs' Thyme Hill in the Gade I Grand Prix d'Automne, Paris' equivalent of the Stayers' Hurdle. Whilst not good enough this day to beat winner Galop Marin, on a hat-trick in this very race, he gave his owners a Gallic thrill.
St Xavier, you may expect in different colours, and on this side of the Channel next time around. Whilst he ran this time in Hobson's own colours, he is for sale, and his effort will have enhanced that value.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)