National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls has saddled some big names in his time, with the likes of Kauto Star, Deman and Big Bucks helping the Somerset handler to ten trainer’s titles.
The horse that I own a share in, Alcala, can’t quite claim to match those racing greats just yet, but he can certainly put his name down as the flag bearer for Team Ditcheat over the summer.
Five victories on the spin included an impressive success in the Listed Summer Plate at Market Rasen, moving his record to six wins from his last eights starts since winning for the first time over fences at Ludlow in April.
It would appear that this talented 7yo has plenty more to give, so with the National Hunt season just about to spring into life, I had the great honour of catching up with the assistant trainer at Ditcheat, Harry Derham, to talk all things, Alcala.
You probably wouldn’t expect two lads in their early 20’s to be involved in owning and training racehorses, so it was nice to share my passion with someone who knows a lot more about the sport than I do.
We talked Alcala’s recent form, plans for the future and even one from Ditcheat to add to the notebook.
I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
Firstly, how impressed have you been with Alcala this summer, and what did you make of his performance in the Summer Plate?
“Very. He has always promised to be a high-class horse and it is satisfying to see him now deliver.
“You had to be very impressed with his win in the Summer Plate at Market Rasen. He travelled very comfortably throughout the race and always looked well in control.
“Sam Twiston-Davies gave him a great ride and it was a credit to the whole team at home for getting him there in such good shape.
Sam doing Sam things, yet another fantastic ride aboard Alcala. So so delighted Alcala is finally fulfilling his promise. A top team effort. https://t.co/ZxQzojHmyi
— Harry Derham (@Harry05Derham) July 22, 2017
What kind of a horse is he at home, and what is his normal routine leading up to a race?
“Alcala is a complete gentleman, very straightforward to deal with in and around his stable, although Kate who looks after him tells me he doesn’t like his tummy brushed, so maybe he’s a little ticklish.
“To be honest, it very much varies on the depth of race he is going into and how he is, it’s all about making sure he is as fit and healthy he can be going into each race.
Has anything changed in his training to bring about his recent success, or is it just a case of him developing with age?
“I think you hit the nail on the head. He quite simply developed with age and physical maturity.
“You often find that when they start winning, they grow in confidence, and Alcala is, without doubt, one of those.
“He has now started to believe in himself and is realising his potential.
We have seen that he prefers good ground these days, but do you and Paul think you have nailed down his ideal trip yet?
“I wouldn’t say it was nailed down, but our incline is probably two and a half to two and three quarters.
“He has an excellent cruising speed, which for me is his best asset.
— Harry Derham (@Harry05Derham) August 30, 2017
Do you think he’s better setting the pace as we’ve seen him do at Newton Abbot a few times, or coming from slightly off it as he did in the Summer Plate?
“As you have seen he is extremely versatile, although speaking to Sam he is generally at his best when coming from behind off a very fast pace.
“That allows him to use his cruising speed and jumping.”
What did you make of his recent run at Chepstow? Despite the slip, he seemed to be travelling well – does he have the potential to step up into Graded company?
“It was a long way out, so it’s very hard to predict how it would have ended up. I would say though that he was travelling well and had plenty left to give.
“Sam actually said he was doing a half-speed, and although there was a good horse in behind him, Sam said we were by no means done with. Which is very encouraging.
“It is hard to tell if he is up to graded company, but he is, without doubt, an improving horse.
Bearing in mind he’s been kept going through the summer, will he be given a break at some point before the turn of the year, or does he have some immediate targets in mind?
“At some stage, he will have a break but for now he is healthy and running well on good ground so we will keep going.
“He will tell us when he needs a break.
Do you have any long-term targets for him at the spring festivals? He’s currently priced up at 25/1 for the JLT at Cheltenham, would that be an option or do you see him going for something else?
“The JLT is most certainly not an option as come March he will no longer be a novice.
“Where and when he runs will very much depend on him, how he is and how much he continues to improve.
Would Aintree be a course that suits him?
“There’s no reason why not.
“He is a sound jumper, so in time he could end up having a go in something like a Topham.
“However, that is likely to be a long way off.
Finally, with the jumps season about to hit full swing, who is your horse to follow from Ditcheat?
“There is so many who are potentially nice at this time of year so I will go with Mont Des Avaloirs.
“Despite doing a lot wrong in his bumper on Sunday at Chepstow, he still ran out an impressive winner and looks a decent long-term prospect.
Since completing this fantastic interview with Harry, trainer Paul Nicholls has confirmed that he is keen to run Alcala at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting next week.
But in the meantime, thanks very much for reading and thanks again to Harry for taking time out to answer my questions.
Hopefully, we can catch up again in the New Year when Cheltenham targets may well be on the horizon.