As one season exits, another begins. The British Flat season has reaped the rewards of the fantasticly, freakish Frankel amongst a plethora of outstanding talents from both young and old, yet all good things must, sadly, come to an end.
With Frankel's retirement fresh in the memory, attention turns to the unique crown jewel of British racing, the National Hunt jumping season. A season which harbours the gems of the Aintree Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival, it is perfectly complimented by the talent of an abundance of jockeys who experience an exceptionally high risk vocation on a daily basis.
Tony McCoy, fifteen times Champion Jockey, is the perfect example of the toughness required to become a National Hunt jockey. Having been kicked in the face by a horse on Friday aftrnoon, McCoy was signed off of the rest of his mounts for the day only to return less than 24 hours later, at Ascot's first National Hunt card of the season, to ride yet another winner to add to his ever-increasing win haul. For McCoy, the thirty stitches required and the teeth which had become displaced since Friday were just part and parcel of the job that he does best.
As the preparations at Ascot begun for Frankel's last ever race, the home of jumps racing opened its doors for yet another season. Cheltenham harbours a scintillating atmosphere, unrivalled anywhere in the world, and the October meeting was no different - albeit slightly more reserved than that roar expected as it opens its Festival doors in March.
For Cheltenham, the battle between Ireland and Britain was to take centre stage that Friday. A battle between Sea of Thunder, who stood tall with a lofty reputation in the Irish corner, and Paul Nicholls' Sire Collonges was a mouthwatering prospect for the National Hunt fans. The battle was won by Paul Nicholls' intriguingly perfect jumper, but the war, come March, may yet be won by the Irish rival.
Kauto Star, Denman, Neptune Collonges; These are all names of the jumping legends that Nicholls has trained in recent years and the likes of Sire Collonges (above), Silviniaco Conti and Al Ferof look to provide new blood to a stable that has lost all three to retirement in the last twelve months.
Can Sire Collonges become the next big thing in National Hunt? Cheltenham's November meeting may just provide us with the clues that would answer that.
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)