Tom George's season has fallen short of his normal high standards so far, but he enjoyed a welcome winner today when Espoir de Teillee won the feature handicap chase at Warwick under stable jockey Jonathan Burke. This was just the 16th winner of the term for a yard that normally tops 40 winners a season.
Back in November, it was easy to think that Tom would be right at the top of his game throughout the season after the dramatic wins of Summerville Boy at Aintree and Clondaw Castle at Newbury. However, the wet winter and interruptions to the programme have played a big part in keeping the Slad team away from the racecourse, and there is going to need to be a serious reversal of form to achieve anything like the near £1m prize money pot enjoyed by the yard until last March when Covid struck.
That said, you can always rely upon Tom to win at least one big handicap each season. It's just that none of us knows which!
Trends and fashions prevail in racing just as in other sports. One season one trainer is in the limelight, in another, it's someone else's turn. This season's golden boy is undoubtedly the amiable Fergal O'Brien, whose new ravenswell set up has set the pace from the start on July 1. That he's still in the shake-up at this stage of the season, without the big money owners enjoyed by the larger yards, is credit to the wide range of woners and syndicates he has brought onside. Volkovka, winner of today's Mares Hurdle at Exeter, is one such, giving the 83rd winner of the season.
Meantime, the Point-to-Point Authority has wasted no time in issuing a fresh fixture loist following the news that Point-to-Point racing can resume after March 29. The remaining 12 weeks until early June will see a maximum of 54 fixtures spread from Fife to Truro, sadly without Andoversford or any other Cotswold fixture.
The determination of race committees to stage fixtures even behind closed doors is admirable, and the Midlands has more than most. There are fixtures at Maisemore (Mar 30), Chaddesley (Apr 17, May 31) and Shelfield Park, which has now been allocated the slot vacated by Andoversford, on April 11. Even so, no UK fixture will be permitted crowds before May 17, the next staging post in the government's recovery plan. And as for Ireland, they're unlikely to start Pointing again before April 5 so we may count ourselves lucky.
The sport is admirably resilient however, and the autumn will, I'm sure, bring a different atmosphere and a climate more conducive to sponsorship and spectator attendance.
Fixture 2021 Cancelled
Look out for 2022 dates later in the summer
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)