There is only one place to start this week and that has to be with Pat Smullen who sadly lost his battle with cancer a few days ago.
My first job in horseracing was with Dermot Weld and Pat was stable jockey at the time. He was always so generous with his time and welcoming to me, a real gentleman. Plenty have said this already over the last few days, but he was brilliant both in and out of the saddle. His riding record speaks for itself with wins all over the world and nine Irish Jockey Championships. However, it was the way he conducted himself outside of the saddle that made him stand out for me. He was, quite simply, a lovely person. Even when I moved over here from Ireland, he always had time for me. When it came to the big meetings at places like Ascot, he would always come over and find me in the weighing room and we’d have a good catch up for five minutes. His fund-raising activities over the last few years have been phenomenal and showed how loved and respected he was all across the world. I cannot imagine what pain Frances and the family are currently going through and myself and Vicky send them all of our love. We will never forget Pat Smullen.
After talking about Pat, it puts the rest of things into perspective. All the highs and lows seem pretty insignificant when you consider the events of the last few days. However, it was great to win the Portland Handicap last weekend aboard Stone Of Destiny. We have always felt he has the ability and it was lovely that he could win a race like that. He takes his chance again this weekend in the Ayr Gold Cup, but sadly I won’t be able to ride him as I will be at Newbury. I’ve mentioned quite a few times in recent blogs that being retained rider for King Power racing creates plenty of nice problems on the decision-making front. The likes of Stone Of Destiny and Fox Chairman are heading up north to Ayr, but I’ve decided to stay at Newbury and partner Fivethousandtoone in the Mill Reef Stakes. More about that decision and the chances of my other six rides below…
AERION POWER (1.05pm)
I’m looking forward to riding Aerion Power in the opener after he made such a pleasing debut at Kempton last month. He is a beautifully bred son of Kingman who will have learnt a lot from that first run. This looks a hot contest and he will need to step forward again to play a part in the finish. The penny dropped late at Kempton and I expect him to improve again after this run. He looks a colt with a really exciting future and he will be better with time.
Next up it’s the turn of the sprinters where I partner Ornate for David Griffiths. He hasn’t won since last summer but has run some decent races in defeat. The best of those was when he finished third to Battaash at Goodwood this year in the King George Stakes. A repeat of that run shouldn’t see him too far away. He looks ideally suited by fast ground and if the forecast is to be believed, he should get his conditions here.
GOOD BIRTHDAY (2.15pm)
Things haven’t really gone right for Good Birthday yet this season, but he has shown more signs of life in recent outings. He is now 8lbs lower at the weights than at the start of the season and wasn’t beaten for at Kempton last time. He seemed to hit form this time last year and was third in the Cambridgeshire Handicap off that 8lbs higher mark. If he could return to that sort of form, he would be a leading player here. That said, he wouldn’t want the ground to get too quick as he is definitely more effective with a bit of cut in the ground.
FIVETHOUSANDTOONE (3.25pm – Mill Reef Stakes)
The reason I am riding at Newbury on Saturday is to ride Fivethousandtoone for King Power and Andrew Balding in the Mill Reef Stakes. He is a really exciting son of Frankel who stepped up massively on the all-weather at Newcastle last time having been beaten on his debut at Windsor. He barely came off the bridle at Newcastle and it was nothing more than a routine bit of exercise for him. He is a colt we have always been very excited by and he showed a glimmer of his potential last time out. This will require a lot more though and looks a good renewal. Bahrain Pride beat us at Windsor and has won again since, whilst the likes of Rhythm Master and Devilwala have big reputations. I wouldn’t swap my fella for any of them though and it would be great to win this race for the Kingsclere team as it’s named after one of their greatest ever inmates.
SIAM FOX (4.00pm)
The second division of the novice event where I ride another exciting prospect for King Power racing. Siam Fox was second on his racecourse debut at Ascot a few weeks ago and is bound to take a step forward again here. He would have learnt a lot that day and can hopefully be competitive. Like the opening contest, this looks a hot renewal so he will need to progress to take a hand.
NIGEL NOTT (4.30pm)
A really competitive looking seven furlong handicap where I ride Nigel Nott for Mick Appleby. This is his first start on turf having only ever run on the all-weather. He won a couple of times back in January and has been pretty consistent since. This does look a big ask though, but his trainer remains in good form and hopefully he can go well.
FOX VARDY (5.05pm)
My final ride of the afternoon is Fox Vardy, again for King Power racing. He was a non runner in the Dubai Duty Free Handicap on Friday’s card and should be competitive here as the drop back to this trip and return to fast ground are all in his favour. I won a bad race on him by a long way at Newmarket back in June, and he was given a hefty rise by the handicapper. That looks to be his biggest challenge as he may still be a little bit too high in the weights to strike again.