After the negative publicity for racing in recent weeks, I think we got the Cheltenham Festival we all wanted and needed with plenty of heart-warming stories and inspiriting achievements. It was just brilliant to see Rachel Blackmore steal the show on the riding front and, after Hollie Doyle's achievements on the flat last summer, racing has two female icons to be proud of and they represent themselves and the sport so well too.
The flat racing season gets underway next weekend with the Lincoln meeting at Doncaster but, as usual, things really don't get going until the Craven meeting at Newmarket in mid-April. In fact, this week is a complete break from flat racing with a week off for everyone although I don't think anyone will be using the time to go abroad for a holiday!
I purposefully didn't have many runners over the winter because owners couldn't enjoy a day at the races and hopefully the plan has worked out as owners are pencilled in for a return to the track from 29th March onwards. Fingers crossed this happens and the owners who have stayed so loyal and patient over the winter can be rewarded with some fun at the races.
With no racing this week, now seems a good time to run you through the squad for the coming season, in alphabetical order:
Alibaba - he had a good summer last year with two wins but suffered a bit as a result afterwards with a high handicap rating. He has strengthened up some more over the winter and looks likely to be our first runner on the turf. He runs well fresh but might have to cone down a bit more in the ratings before he can win again.
Cabrini - an unraced three-year old filly who we bought from Simon Crisford last year. She had a winter holiday and is now galloping again with her debut race pencilled in for next month. She has a similar profile to Divine Queen in that she is well-bred and the aim will be to win a race with her and sell her for decent money at the end of the year to go breeding.
Dilly Rosa - She got her career going over the winter but then got ill soon afterwards so she has had a month in the field to recover and seems a lot better for it. She has plenty of speed and should be up to winning a race this summer.
Ducky - Although only small, she has taken a while to mature physically but is now at a stage where she can take some faster work. We will take our time with her as her mother got better with age too.
Engrave - she is very tough and reliable and will be winning more races having won twice last autumn. She is very versatile with regards to the ground so she will give the N.E.T. Racing Club members plenty of fun this year.
Fen Tiger - a good-looking three-year old who had two runs for experience last autumn. He needs another race before he can go handicapping which is where I think he will make an impact. We still have plenty to learn about him with regards to distance and running style.
Heer's Sadie - only three-years old and has taken a while to mature but she had her first run this month and showed promise despite not staying the distance. She has plenty of speed and will be up to winning when handicapping.
Hot Romance - she has done nothing but grow since we bought her as a yearling and is a strong three-year old filly now. She still needs to get the hang of things and will be one for handicaps further down the line but she is progressing well with every week that goes by.
Kiti Sunset - a half-sister to Valetta Sunset, she will need a bit of time to develop like he did but she has a good attitude to her work at this early stage.
Mrs Meader - as Gas Monkey's half sister she has big boots to fill but she made a great debut for us last summer when second in a decent race at Newmarket. She suffered a slight fracture to a hind leg after that but has been given loads of time to heal and recover so hopefully she can resume her progress this year.
Oud Metha Bridge - he got back to winning ways at Kempton this winter and then a lack of suitable races meant we had to give him a short break. He's back in full work now and is sure to pick up another race at straight galloping tracks like Yarmouth and Newbury.
Paintball Wizard - Wiz is very easy to recognise with his big white face and his owners have been extremely patient in waiting for him to fill his big frame. He ended last year with some promising efforts and he seems to be holding his weight better than then now. He stays all day and handles most ground conditions so hopefully he can find an opening this year.
Party Planner - she's had a few setbacks but has the ability to win a race given the right conditions. She's a big and rangy filly who will improve with time under her belt too.
Raha - she has run some ok races on the all-weather this winter but I feel she is a much better horse on soft-ground turf. She is well handicapped as a result of her winter runs so she should be winning when getting her ideal conditions on the grass.
Saray Prince - had three novice runs to qualify for a handicap rating and we've given him a break since then to mature a bit. He has a sensible rating so should be competitive when resuming action on the turf.
Scotch Mist - a lovely two-year old filly who is doing everything very easily at the moment. I don't want to rush her though so she hasn't done any serious gallops yet but I hope she can continue her progression before a run around June time.
Sir Gregory - he has taken a while to mature but made a very encouraging debut when third at Wolverhampton this month. He should improve a lot for that run and looks up to winning a similar race.
Smokey Malone - got a win on the board at Southwell this winter but a series of quick races seemed to take its toll as he looked a bit flat towards the end. He's had a break since then to recharge the batteries and is sure to win again on the turf.
Spanish Mane - she's a real star and had a great 2020 with three wins. We've figured out what she likes now and she is bouncing after her winter holiday so I'd be surprised if she doesn't win some more. She usually needs a run or two to get fully fit but is very reliable when in top condition.
The Mouse King - he was going nicely before suffering a little setback which means he won't be running until later in the summer. He is only two-years old though and has a very sensible attitude so the time off won't harm him.
Valletta Sunset - showed promise in his novice races but hasn't backed that up in handicaps. He has the ability to win we just need to get him to show it!
Winter Snowdrop - came good with two wins last year and she has thrived over the winter and put on plenty of muscle. She will be a fun and consistent handicapper this year who can hopefully win some more.