As we come to the end of 2018 and into the New Year, it is clear that this is a time of rebuilding at Jackdaws Castle.
As you drive through the gates at the top of the hill (at least when Jonjo remembers to open them) you are immediately aware that the infrastructure at this outstanding yard has never been better.
The Polytrack gallops have recently been given a refresh and the new rubber schooling hurdles have been a revelation.
Jonjo is a huge fan. “They definitely help with cuts and scratches and I think they are a brilliant idea, to be honest. I don’t know why all the tracks don’t have them. They would save a lot of money and save a lot of veterinary fees! “The horses also seem to jump them better which makes for better progress to go chasing.”
Jonjo remains quietly determined – because that is his nature – to find the right horses to get the team right back up there.
I was just thinking that, unlike Manchester United, whose boss seemed to have totally lost the plot, your man at the helm is proving a steadying influence as this process continues.
Let’s face it, top athletes such as Synchronized, More Of That and Taquin De Seuil are extremely hard to replace and they don’t just land in your lap. You have to go out and find them. They are out there somewhere and Jonjo has been relentless in attending all of the top sales this year and will continue to do so to bring new horses – and some new owners – into the fold. If you are considering getting involved in a partnership or syndicate, Jonjo is happy to have potential owners join him at the Sales Ring, just drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
He explained: “You try and keep buying. You buy one because you think they are nice. Hopefully so long as they are lucky, they can go forward. Unfortunately you can’t see what’s inside them!”
Speaking of luck. Palmers Hill, who gave the yard a highlight when providing Jonjo Jr. with his first win at Cheltenham in November, and who looked to have such a bright future for JP McManus, is on the easy list. “Unfortunately he went wrong after the race and is out for the season. We hope he will be back next year,” explained a rueful Jonjo.
“We have some nice young ones but they are just babies so won’t take a lot of racing just yet. We could do with another superstar but unfortunately they have all been retired but that’s the way it goes – it just takes one to build it up again.”
Minella Rocco, the Gold Cup runner-up in 2017, is a big lad but he is fragile and although he suffered a setback not too long ago, Jonjo reports that he is back on target again and hopefully will be running again at the end of January. His work is being stepped up as you read this.
It’s hard not to like Rocco who has shown he is capable of mixing it with the very best. He still has time on his side.
The year had got off to an awful start when Taquin De Seuil lost his life at Huntingdon, ironically over hurdles after so many brave and successful days out over fences. Jonjo would say “That’s racing” and indeed it is, but it was still a mighty blow, especially to owners Martin Broughton and Friends.
So, it is good to see Martin’s other horses doing so well recently. Django Django, Monbeg Gold, Quarenta and newest arrival, Arrivederci, have all won in recent weeks.
Jonjo said: “We think a bit of Arrivederci and he will have another two runs in the spring. Hopefully he will go some way to filling the gap left by Taquin.”
Cloth Cap, owned by Trevor Hemmings, has been paying his way this season with wins at Stratford and Catterick. He has had an infection but will be back in the New Year.
Keep an eye on the progress of Sky Pirate, owned by Lady and Alice Bamford, who was going to get involved in the finish of a highly competitive amateur riders handicap chase at Cheltenham in November only to fall two out.
“He has done nothing wrong” says Jonjo, “and was a bit unlucky last time. He is not a superstar yet but is quietly improving and could be one for the four-miler or the Kim Muir at the Festival. He is only young, rising six, but one day he could even make into a Grand National horse.”
At the other end of the scale, Eastlake, a yard favourite, may not be the force he once was but he loves being in training and will be trying out some hunter chasing. At least he has the option after almost being claimed by colic recently.
So I would say there is much to be optimistic about as another year ticks by. The facilities at Jackdaws are as good as new and as Jonjo says: “The place deserves good horses. Of course we’d like a lot of good ones around the place as it makes life a lot easier. Without them it makes life a little tougher. But you’ve got to keep your head down and keep going forward.”
The new look website has gone live over the Christmas break, not that the old one looked old-fashioned in the slightest, but that is what Jackdaws Castle is all about – always looking forward, always looking to get even better.
Happy New Year to one and all and hope to see you at the races.