Mervyn Stewkesbury's JULE IN THE CROWN (Maroon cap, Centre) - A winner at Windsor last night
A fine display from Mervyn Stewkesbury's JULE IN THE CROWN saw the daughter of Harbour Watch become her sire's first winner from his first crop by taking the five furlong novice fillies' stakes under Silvestre De Sousa at Windsor last night.
Always a natural at home, JULE IN THE CROWN was a convincing two length winner over newcomer Barroche last night with a decent yardstick in Tiggaliscious a further length and a quarter back in third. The time was better than the juvenile conditions race immediately afterwards and Mick is relieved that a talented filly built on her debut at Ascot ten days ago.
"That was good to see because she's been a standout at home from day one. We are starting to know where we are going with our two year old fillies now after last night and Zig Zag Girl at Ripon on Sunday.
"It's always a guess to know how good they are as a bunch until you've lined up against other peoples' and that has instilled a bit of confidence. She was backed off the boards on her debut which I'd always preach against with our first time out two year olds and there was plenty of interest in her again last night.
"All I care about is how they improve in their first three runs and she needs to step up again now. She got very wound up going to post last night which is a concern because she needs to cut that out if we are to be ambitious in the near future with Ascot on the horizon.
"The National Stakes is next week at Sandown and we'll look at that before turning our attentions to the Royal meeting but, most importantly, we'll see how the filly responds to last night first.
"She's clearly got a quirk that so many good fillies have, but we can do without the scenes going to post last night. The fact that she did it so well underlines her potential but she needs to conserve her energy if she is to show her best against stiffer opposition."
Jon & Julia Aisbitt's STAR BLAZE & Silvestre De Sousa take the mile maiden at Newmarket on Saturday
A winner at HQ on Saturday and a romp at Ripon saw Jon & Julia Aisbitt's homebred STAR BLAZE and the Boss's ZIG ZAG GIRST return to the winner's enclosure for the first time, both under Silvestre De Sousa.
The three year old colt STAR BLAZE has taken plenty of time to come to hand, unsurprisingly really because he's a big, raw imposing type who has always shown us enough to suggest that he's set for a successful career.
The son of Shamardal made his debut at Windsor last month - an occasion that seemed to completely pass him by. In fairness, his debut was supposed to take place at Newbury's abandoned Greenham meeting but our hand was forced and Windsor's turning track was far from ideal for him, although with hindsight it probably taught him plenty.
On a more galloping track on Saturday, STAR BLAZE looked far more at ease when taking the mile maiden contest and although outpaced in the middle of the contest, he finally came good as he hit the rising ground to wear down Torch and Ethiraas in fine style to confirm to Mick that a step up in trip will lead to even more improvement.
"That was great and although he looked to be going nowhere at halfway, we know that he'd get further than a mile and he showed that to be very much the case. In many ways that worked out perfectly because he's a very willing ally and would have enjoyed that on Saturday.
"We've made a start and he's got bags of potential. Silvestre is convinced he'll get a mile and a half and you couldn't argue with him at this moment in time. It's also brilliant for Jon and Julia to have bred their first winner. He's out of Gallic Star who we trained and she got a mile and a half and he's inherited plenty of her talent."
At Ripon yesterday, ZIG ZAG GIRL continued our fine record in the six furlong juvenile seller event by flying home f ully ten lengths ahead of her nearest rival. It was an impressive performance from the daughter of Sixties Icon and, although Mick didn't want to lose her, she eventually left our care in the subsequent auction to go to Scott Dixon's yard for £16,000.
"I didn't want to let her go but that price represents good value and we have the mare, so it's certainly not the end of the line in that sense. She'll win again as she's got a great attitude and is clearly a slow burner. It took her a few runs to get to grips with the job in hand but, typical of Sixties Icon she'll get better with time and the Dixons should have a lot of fun with her. I wish them well."
Norman Court Stud's VISAGE BLANC en route to victory at Salisbury yesterday afternoon
A super day saw two fillies break their maiden tags and an improving two year old colt further his claims to raise his sights as the season develops - all round it was a satisfying day at the races.
We've had plenty of grumbles and bad luck in the last week, with Fingal's Cave, Divine and Volunteer Point all missing out on races that looked there for the taking but things always level themselves out and it started yesterday at Salisbury as Norman Court Stud's VISAGE BLANC took the ten furlong three year old fillies handicap in convincing fashion.
The daughter of Champs Elysees has always had a superb attitude and after a slow start she recorded her first career win at the fifth attempt under John Egan. She was prominent throught yesterday's contest and in a race where it paid to be prominent she stayed on all the way to the line to prevail over a solid yardstick in Zeehan by two lengths.
It was as eyecathcing a performance as the filly herself who is nattily named by Norman Court Stud. To say she was a standout foal is something of an understatement. Mick was delighted.
"This filly is a sweetheart. She tries all day for you and is incredibly genuine. She does everything at home; she's done a lot of work with the babies and has led them all the way through their preparation this winter. She did that because she has a great temperament and easy work like that has certainly paid dividends.
"She's thrived as the weather has improved of late and after just needing the run on her reappearance at Nottingham last month she did that very nicely yesterday.
"She'll get a trip in time and could be an improver as the season goes on. I think she's a smasher."
On the evening card at Newmarket, Lord Ilsley Racing's SAYESSE stepped up on his win at Brighton to take the novice auction stakes under George Baker. It's difficult to say what we have with SAYESSE because he remains a burly sort who is yet to look anything like the finished article but he certainly travels in his races and showed last night how he relishes a scrap.
He held off newcomer Mutoondresdashorse inside the final furlong last night to win by a short head but George was always confident, stating that SAYESSE knew his job and was always doing enough. Mick was pleased enough to start planning for even bigger and better things.
"Right, he's clearly very useful although the form of the race will underline how good in the coming weeks. He's raw and he's quite slobby still but he's sound, tough and hungry in every sense of the word.
"George was impressed and said that he's one of those horses that you'll never get to the bottom of becauise he's able to travel and then grind it out. He certainly has a very impressive attitude to the job.
"The new juvenile race system gives us plenty of options but I would be tempted to look at something like the Woodcote on Derby Day. He's exactly the type of horse who could handle that sort of occasion."
Last, but by no means least was SUMMER ICON who finally got her head in front at the tenth time of asking in the seven furlong fillies maiden. It's become something of a saga with SUMMER ICON who is clearly very talented, although at times quirky, but Silvestre De Sousa didn't mess about last night and the daughter of Sixties Icon pulled a long way clear in the company of Ryan Moore's Delve before emerging the winner by a head.
As Mick concedes, it was a victory that was long overdue.
"Job done in one sense and the ten grand bonus was most welcome. Training a 90 rated maiden is a frustrating experience but now we can look ahead and possibly take our time. She has always shown us plenty at home but she often did too much too soon in her races and never did herself justice.
"I want her to get a mile plus and she will in time but at the moment, over seven, she's got the chance to settle a little more. She has bags of ability as I've said and we'll be looking for a bit of black type now. I certainly think she's good enough."
Turning to our York runners, Mick was happy enough with both Harlequeen's fourth in the Musidora on Wednesday and Harrison's midfield finish in yesterday's Dante.
"HARLEQUEEN ran well enough but she doesn't help herself. The winner looks exceptional but I feel that the further our filly goes the better. They went hard and then slowed it up in the middle before sprinting for home on Wednesday and Harlequeen was all over the shop, keen and throwing her head about. She stayed on to just miss out on a place but she does need to learn her trade.
"She just needs experience and we'll take her to the 'Breakfast with the Stars' morning at Epsom and send her round the track. That doesn't mean she'll definitely line up in the Oaks but any experience will do her no harm.
"She'll most probably be one for the Ribblesdale at Ascot but we'll have a chat about that in a week or so.
"As for HARRISON in the Dante, I think it's fair to say that the Derby is now off the list of options but I was very pleased with him yesterday. He put himself right in the firing line with two furlongs to go and just plugged on. Silvestre said that he took a massive blow with him which surprised me but he is a big horse who is also still learning.
"It sounds silly to be happy when he's beaten eight lengths but he's come a hell of a long way. We'll go handicapping and look at Royal Ascot before stepping him up in trip later in the year."
It's all on the Gallops Page.
Lord Ilsley Racing's SAYESSE - A winner under Charlie Bishop yesterday
Two at Brighton and one at Nottingham with a few hard luck stories thrown in for good measure sums it all up at times. Three winners and still a grumble about Knight of the Air and Sarmadee filling the runner up berths.
Not to worry, there was delight for the members of Lord Ilsley Racing as they were at Brighton in numbers to roar home their two year old SAYESSE who took the novice auction stakes in convincing fashion under Charlie Bishop.
The son of first season sire Sayif made his debut less than three weeks ago at a very boggy Leicester and clearly he was sharper for it, with the switch to yesterday's fast conditions at Brighton clearly helping as he bounded clear by almost four lengths.
Mick was delighted for everyone involved.
"He's alright this colt and will give the syndicate a lot of fun because he's a big, raw boned individual who will improve all year. He's by no means just an early two year old runner because he's got plenty of size about him and carries an awful lot of condition for a juvenile who has taken all the work we've thrown at him in his stride.
"He looks like a nursery type and we don't have to rush him now although, as I've said, we've no worries about him running up light and we'll target anything suitable that comes along."
Only ten minutes later it was the turn of Gill and Dave Hedley's SIRI to enter the winner's enclosure as she won a fiercely contested duel at Nottingham to prevail by a nose under Silvestre De Sousa.
It was classic Silvestre who had to show all of his tenacity and strength in the three year old median auction maiden to hold off the challenge of High Draw for the best part of two furlongs.
Mick was chuffed that a talented filly has broken her maiden at the third time of asking having finished second on debut last season before trainer error saw her defeated on her seasonal reappearance last month.
"I ran her over a mile and a half to get her beat didn't I? Silly of me but it looked a weak race but hopefully Gill has forgiven me now!
"She's a good filly although she does have a fiery side to her. She basically throws a tantrum from time to time when she sees the stalls and that will take a lot of time and patience from Keith and the team at home. Jon Dennis deserves a medal for getting her in yesterday and it was just as well that he did.
"She'll hopefully get a mile and a quarter and she'll hopefully get her act together at the gate. From there - who knows how good she can be?"
Finally it was the rapid frame of Billy Parish's KING CRIMSON who blazed down the hill at Brighton to put the extended five furlong Class 4 handicap to bed without sighting the opposition.
KING CRIMSON, in his familiar front running style saw them all off under Charlie Bishop to delight the Boss and confirm that a return to a faster surface is exactly what he wanted.
"He's a very handy horse when things come right for him. He was probably a little out of his depth at Newmarket last time and just fell apart on very soft ground but a track like Brighton is perfect if he gets his own way.
"He'll be duelling with the handicapper throughout the year obviously but he'll win again because he's a real enthusiast and loves the job."
Norman Court Stud's CZABO & Silvestre De Sousa streaks clear of Midhmaar yesterday afternoon
A rampant performance from Norman Court Stud's CZABO saw the daughter of Sixties Icon emerge as a serious prospect in the three year old filly division as she beat the colts to take the Esher Cup under Silvestre De Sousa yesterday afternoon.
It was a terrific display on only CZABO's third career start and one that left everyone at West Ilsley hoping that we might have something special to look forward to with the Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Coronation Stakes now on the radar.
It's still early days obviously but the manner of her two and a quarter length success against Midhmaar with the rest left way behind was impressive and left Mick pondering his next move.
"That was great and I'll admit that I was a bit twitchy before the race because I realised that she was one of our major talents for this summer. I knew she was one of our best but that means nothing until they are tested against other people's horses and she passed that test with flying colours yesterday.
"OK, so she's only won a handicap off of a mark of 85, but the manner in which she did it was decisive and visually impressive. Silvestre said she gave him a terrific feel and we can look forward now.
"There's a Listed fillies race at York that we took with Laugh Out Loud a few years back and if we show up well there we'll head to the Curragh for the Guineas and then on to the Coronation.
"That sounds like a doddle doesn't it?! Ha ha, that's the ideal plan though and considering the improvement to come after her seasonal reappearance, I feel as though that's the level she belongs at.
"I'm delighted for everyone at Norman Court Stud and we've shown yet again what a talented stallion Sixties Icon is. He's improved all of our mares and it doesn't matter what trip they performed at - all he does is improve the mares. Look at SIXTIES SUE, she ran a cracker in the five furlong sprint yesterday and has plenty of talent and an incredible appetite for racing.
"Then you have HARRISON who ran a cracker in the last race yesterday to finish third and, giving weight away to both Stargazer and Lovell, I can honestly say that I was delighted with him.
"He's very talented and had a good blow afterwards but we're going to head for the Dante with him now. He deserves a shot at a race like that and we'll dream a little longer that he could be a middle distance horse with which we can take on the big boys this season.
The Motley Cru's FINGAL'S CAVE - A winner at Brighton last night
A pleasing win for a talented type last night at Brighton as The Motley Cru's FINGAL'S CAVE took the Class 4 L&S Printing Handicap over seven furlongs in the hands of Charlie Bishop.
A talented two year old, FINGAL'S CAVE lost his way in his three year old campaign but there are sure signs that he's finally starting to show his best form after winning on reappearance at Wolverhampton back in February and although things didn't go to plan next time up at Chelmsford, he travelled into last night's contest to win nicely by a length and a quarter, leaving Mick pleased with his progress.
"That was a decent performance because he's not entirely helping himself at the moment but his talent is there for all to see. He rapped a joint last year and lost his action and then his confidence and it was a long road back to where we are with him now.
"He's just starting to settle. He pulled far too hard at Chelmsford last time and needs to settle a lot more at the course. He's grand at home but clearly needs to relax. He's getting there slowly but surely and the more he can enjoy his racing the more he'll improve."
It's been a while and we apologise for the sparsity of our work morning videos but we're blaming the weather.
We had such an erratic winter that we had to pick and choose which mornings we could work the horses and therefore couldn't schedule it to get it all on film.
Still, we hope that we can show more of the work as the weather settles down. It's always great to have a morning over on the summer ground but we've only ventured over there twice in 2016 - There should be plenty to come though.
They are all on show today: Two year old colts and fillies all at different stages of their preparations and we hope that there's a star or two amongst them.
The same advice applies - Don't take the work too literally in terms of where horses finish in a gallop! That'll lead you to the poorhouse soon enough.
Go to the Gallops Page.
Silvestre De Sousa & WILLSY return to the winners enclosure at Bath last night
Just when you think you've seen it all, something pops up to amaze you. You wouldn't usually expect amazing and Bath to appear in the same sentence all that often but that's exactly what we saw last night from WILLSY.
The Class 4 Racs Interiors Handicap over five and a half furlongs saw WILLSY slowly away from the stalls. By 'slowly' he must have been all of ten lengths detatched from the field after a furlong and seemingly without any chance. That however would be to discount the champion jockey.
Silvestre De Sousa is capable of the odd riding miracle however and he set about asking the Bastian famiy's WILLSY for a bit of application fully four furlongs from home once he'd finally got into his stride.
It seemed an impossible task and even when the pair began to run on approaching the furlong pole, the feeling was that so much effort to catch up would take its toll in such soft ground.
But no, Silvestre asked again, WILLSY responded and we all went a bit mad. A memorable moment for a gelding who has the odd quirk but plenty of ability.
Mick was lost for words for some time:
"That was unusual to say the least! The horse seems to dawdle out of the stalls and whilst that's not entirely unusual for him, for him to do that last night was remarkable.
"I almost walked away because you'd be crackers to think he had any chance after the first furlong. Then again, you should never rule out Silvestre who never gives up on anything. That's one of his greatest strengths - his mindset is so positive he can make things happen.
"WILLSY will go up again for this and we'll just have to see how it goes from here on in. He has to cut out his slow starts which we'll work on, but he does have plenty of ability and goes on any sort of surface so that gives us options as we head into unknown territory with him."
With the dust settled after the exertions of Aintree, we can look back with a certain amount of pride in the part we played in the final years of SOMERSBY'S superb career on the racetrack.
Only a few years ago he was a horse that we all admired, most notably the day when Hen, Terry & Tim were beaming with pride in the winners enclosure at Ascot after the Victor Chandler Chase of 2012.
Little did we know that we would soon play a part in the final stages of such a popular horse's career.
We all count ourselves extremely lucky to have both enjoyed and endured so many days at the top level with him. He was tough, sound and consistent, although he could often throw in a stinker from time to time, usually when you least expected it.
That said though, on the very big occasions, most notably on his last three visits to the Cheltenham Festival, he showed everyone how admirable he is as a competitor. The thrust up the hill and the scare he gave Dodging Bullets in the 2015 renewal of the Champion Chase will live long in the memory.
The stats are truly remarkable. Although he only has that one Grade 1 Victory at Ascot to his name, he raced 41 times, winning on seven occasions and finishing placed nineteen times.
When you consider that he spent the vast majority of his time running in Graded races, that certainly underlines his enduring quality as a racehorse.
From Mick's point of view, training SOMERSBY was a unique challenge that brought with it a whole spectrum of emotions.
"That's it for the old boy and although I'm sad to see him go, I'm very proud that he's retired with a clean bill of health. He's got his little aches and pains obviously but who wouldn't after the career he's had? I'm sure he'll go on to enjoy a long and fruitful retirement.
"It was a strange set up to begin with because we were inheriting Hen's horses. We all knew about Somersby from watching his races but dealing with him on a day to day basis took some getting used to and I'm sure it was the same for him!
"He'd thrown a splint when he first came to us and to be honest the 2013/14 season was a bit of a write off. He took some time to get over the splint issue and struggled to take to his new life with us. He wasn't grubbing all that well and it was only when he returned in late summer of 2014 that he really knuckled down.
"Because of the previous season he'd come down to a mark of 155 and took the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in the November. That was the only time he won for us and although that was a great day, his performances in defeat were equally as thrilling.
"In their turn he found Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy, Dodging Bullets and then Sprinter Sacre again too good for him at the highest level and, although they all had their problems and were beaten by Somersby in between, at least one of them found their peak to mean he became the perennial runner up at the highest level.
"It makes you think what might have been had they all been sidelined at once! You obviously don't wish ill of any horse, but it was a quirk of fate that each one of them took turns to win championship races whilst Somersby was sound throughout.
"That's testimony to his durability though - SOMERSBY was always there, always ready to capitalise on any weaknesses and remarkably consistent in the grand scheme of things.
"He didn't like working with other horses at home so in the end we just let him do what he wanted in his work. That wasn't an issue though because he was always enthusiastic and, apart from those splint issues in the first year, he was easy to produce on the big days.
"He was a cantankerous character at times, Hen described him as 'neurotic' before he arrived and I know what she meant but the talented types often bring baggage along although that never got in the way of his work.
"I consider it to have been an honour to work with such a popular horse. I've not had time to get back to all of the kind messages we receieved when his retirement was announced because we're flat out with the flat horses at the moment, but the well wishes meant a lot.
"That's the true test of a horse's career. SOMERSBY might have fallen just short at the very top level but he didn't half keep them honest. Time and again he asked questions of the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets and time and again the public loved him for his bold approach and willingness to take them on.
"They were exceptional horses on their day and that, in turn, makes SOMERSBY exceptional in his own unique way.
"People loved him - That's the true test, he was loved by his public for so many years.
"An exceptional horse indeed."