Colin Tizzard was feeling the heat this time last year. His Spurles Farm yard had not been in sparkling form. There was a bug in the yard.
Last week, he was feeling the cold.
“Blimey it was cold on the gallops this morning,” he groaned. “It was a brisk east wind, which is unusual. It was the coldest morning we have had all winter!”
Though handing over the reins to his son and assistant, Joe, at the end of the season, he is still as busy as ever and disappeared to tend to his string, of which “10 or a dozen” will head to the Cheltenham Festival.
This time it is different. Though there is no Cue Card or Native River to fly the flag in the big races, the horses are in hot form and Team Tizzard are chilled.
“We are a bit light on numbers, there is no two ways about it,” said Joe.
“Those elite horses, they are hard to come by and we have been lucky to have had them through the years. Cue Card kept taking us to the biggest stage and so did Native River.
“Hopefully we have some youngsters who are going to progress to that stage. I think we’ve got some chances in the handicaps but we haven’t got a standout horse, that’s for certain.”
Joe sees Eldorado Allen, who won the Grade Two Denman Chase at Newbury last month as the brightest prospect of victory at Cheltenham, in the Ryanair Chase.
“Eldorado Allen is the highest rated (of the team’s runners),” said Tizzard junior.
“He would have to have a really competitive each-way chance in the Ryanair.
“In the handicaps, the two in the Grand Annual (Elixir Du Nutz and Amarillo Sky), you wouldn’t be surprised if they both ran big races.
“If it got a bit of soft ground and something happened to Edwardstone in the Arkle, then the War Lord sneaks in, doesn’t he?
“They would be the four main ones.”
He added: “The two babies who are going, the two novice hurdlers (Scarface and Jpr One) we think are both quite smart horses. They are just going there for an education, and if they run better than that and get placed, we will be delighted with them.
“The rest of them are going there because they have got a chance of getting in the frame and being competitive. We want to be at Cheltenham, so we’ll be there.”
The yard had a desperate 2020-21 season, registering just 37 winners, down from 61 the previous year.
Things have been much better this term, however.
“We had a bad season, but a good Cheltenham,” admits Joe. “We ended up getting a few placed and were second to Nicky (Henderson) of the British trainers. We had a goodish Cheltenham, but there is nothing like winning.
“It wasn’t much fun at Cheltenham last year either, because there was nobody there and we weren’t even mixing with the Irish. So, it will be nice to get back there and have crowds there.”
With British horses winning just five of the Festival races last season, the Irish dominance was palpable and the imbalance will not be addressed quickly.
“This Irish domination is not something we are going to fix overnight, but I don’t think it will necessarily be the same in four or five years’ time,” said Joe.
“At the moment, they have got a really good bunch of horses but I think we can be competitive.
“The British won five races overall last year and we will win more than that this year, I’m sure of it.
“There are some good horses going in there. I don’t think it is that big a thing. They have just had a year where they have got some seriously good horses and those horses are then novices who will ping up through, so they will still be about for two or three years.
“They are not easy to come by, so hopefully we will have the next little flush of horses.”
Having tasted success with the likes of Cue Card in the Ryanair Chase and Native River in the Gold Cup, was it not a difficult transition to play second fiddle, knowing there is no superstar to fly the flag this time?
“We are competitive people,” insisted Joe. “We are not there to follow them round, there is no two ways about it.
“There is nothing you can do about it overnight. You just have to trust what you do and how you source your horses and back yourself.
“But you’d be lying if you you said, ‘yeah, I’m fine for the Irish to come over and win them all’. There is not a trainer in England who would say that. There is no point doing it to not be competitive.
“It is nice having those horses like Native River. We want to be competitive. Our team of 10 or a dozen horses, are going there and we are putting as much effort into making sure they are as good as they can be, because they have got a chance of running a big race.
“We have had 40-1 winners. Cure Card was 40-1 when he won the bumper. Golden Chieftain snuck in and he was a huge price (28-1 when winning the JLT Speciality Handicap Chase in 2013). It is doable, so we are concentrating as much as ever.
“At the moment, we just don’t have a Gold Cup horse or a huge horse like that.
“Hopefully, Eldorado Allen or Fiddlerontheroof will progress into that next year.
“We have had a good season this season. It was a tough year last year for whatever reason, they were not quite right. But yards go through that – we are not the only yard – but we have sorted it out and we have come through. We are having a stronger season now and we have horses to take to all three festivals, to Aintree as well as Punchestown.
“We are going to keep going, but it is nice to be competitive and have the big Saturday winners and to have your horses running consistently well. That is what it is all about. It is not fun when they are not finishing their races.”
After the season is done, Colin hands over to Joe. It will be a seamless transition.
“Dad’s not going to disappear when it changes. He’s still on the gallops every day and it’s a family business – nothing is about to change on that front.
“He’ll take full plaudits if we have a winner at Cheltenham – and so he should, as he’s been here all the way through it.”
A Cheltenham winner will certainly warm up Colin, even if the pipe and carpet slippers will take a bit of getting used to.