Sunday, April 29, 2012

The 2011/12 jumps season - a personal review

In a nutshell...

Champion jockey: A P McCoy
Winning trainer: Paul Nicholls
Winning owner: J P McManus
Leading conditional: Henry Brooke

In November Kauto Star reversed the previous season's Gold Cup form with Long Run to take Haydock's Betfair Chase and then confirmed that was no fluke by winning Kempton's King George VI Chase for a record fifth time. The 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup was built up to be the big showdown between the pair but a schooling fall in late February put the Star's participation in doubt; in the event Kauto made it to the track but jockey Ruby Walsh pulled him up after the ninth. Those who then thought the Gold Cup was something of a formality were to be proven wrong as Synchronised stayed on up the hill to beat outsider The Giant Bolster two and a quarter lengths, with 7/4 favourite Long Run a further three quarters of a length behind in third. Long Run never quite hit the heights of the previous year.

After last year's race many in the sport looked with trepidation to this year's running of the Aintree Grand National and those fears proved well founded with According To Pete fatally injured in a fall at Becher's and Gold Cup winner Synchronised breaking a hind leg while running loose after his fall at the same fence. Neptune Collonges (33/1) pipped Sunnyhillboy (20/1) a nose in the closest finish in the history of the race; Paul Nicholls' charge followed The Lamb and Nicolaus Silver to become the third grey to win and was promptly retired afterwards.

Team Ditcheat took the Champion Hurdle with Rock On Ruby and Big Buck's won a fourth consecutive World Hurdle before going to Aintree to record his 17th consecutive victory in the Liverpoool Hurdle, beating Sir Ken's record which had stood for some 60 years. However many of the Nicholls runners were under a cloud at Cheltenham and it was Nicky Henderson who turned out to be man in form, recording a four-timer on the Wednesday with Simonsig (2/1f), Bobs Worth (9/2), Finians Rainbow (4/1) and Une Artiste (40/1). The one everyone is talking about though is Sprinter Sacre who won the Arkle in stunning fashion.

Malcolm Jefferson's feat in training two horses, Cape Tribulation and Attaglance, to win at the Cheltenham Festival and then at Aintree four weeks later is worthy of a mention in any review of the season.

Yet again Richard Johnson finished second in the jockeys' championship but that spot would surely have gone to Jason Maguire had he not broken a bone in the back of his neck at the end of August which kept him off the track until mid-November. Donald McCain has emerged as the top trainer in the north.

The whip debate generated plenty of discussion throughout the entire season but back at the end of November a bay gelding called Hunt Ball won a Class 5 handicap chase at Folkestone off a mark of 68. After winning five of his next six races, he went to the Festival to contest the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase off a mark of 142. Keiran Burke's charge obliged at odds of 13/2 and reportedly landed owner Anthony Nott over £500,000 in winning wagers.

Blog selections went through a (pretty short-lived) purple patch earlier in the season, Carruthers winning the Hennessy (advised each-way @ 20/1), West End Rocker the Becher (advised each-way @ 14/1) and Le Beau Bai the Welsh National (advised each-way @10/1); needless to say, normal service resumed after the Christmas festivities... Blog horse of the year goes to Overturn who won Ascot's Coral Hurdle (advised @ 3/1) and one week later the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle(advised @ 7/2). The temptation to go to the well on his next two outings was resisted but he was put up as each-way value at 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle where he ran a fine race from the front to finish second.

Perhaps those who backed the losing selections may forgive a little if I point them in the direction of The Queen's Arms, Kensington (listed in Time Out's 50 best pubs in London), the next time they're in the capital with a fancy for a glass of beer...

I only managed three trips to the track but that's better than in recent years - Ludlow in October, Warwick in January and the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival; Ludlow still rates as one of my favourite tracks.

Wetherby were due to stage the first race of the new season but the meeting was abandoned - course waterlogged! So, it was Sam Twiston-Davies who won the first race of the new season, the Ludlow
Golf Club Claiming Hurdle, on a horse called Bin End. Sam went on to complete a double on the day, as did one A.P. McCoy.

Plus ca change...

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