Thursday, October 05, 2006

Perfect timing

By Storm timed her run perfectly yesterday to salute the judge on the same afternoon on which we bade farewell to Joe. As a most loyal and keen supporter of the stable, Joe, I feel, would very much have enjoyed that. Not, I am afraid, that I paid the win as much attention at the time as it deserved. One can't be in two places at the same time and I was absent from Nottingham in every sense: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Still, the brave midget didn't need my support, because she battled home like a true professional with Cliff Rimmer minding her, Ian Watkinson saddling and Kirsty Milczarek doing the steering. Many thanks to all three for helping this filly to a very special win - and to Jim and Martha who kept things running smoothly at home on a busy day. Especially to Martha, in fact, because she's been riding By Storm very well at exercise, as a lovely photo which adorns the latest news story testifies.

To anyone with whom I have discussed our runners this week (ie Lady Suffragette and By Storm), I apologise if I barely mentioned By Storm. The reasons for this are two-fold. Until after declaration time on Monday, I had basically written her off because I thought she was sure to be eliminated, as she was towards the bottom of a big entry. I was rather glum about this, because this was the perfect race for her - indeed, the only perfect race for her - so to be denied a run in it, as I was sure would happen, was hard to swallow. However, 10.30 Monday morning brought the welcome surprise that, presumably because of heavy rain in the midlands, far fewer horses had accepted for the race than I'd expected, so she was one of a full field of 16 who would be facing the starter. Before then, however, we had Lady Suffragette's trip to Nottingham to occupy us.

I looked for a much improved effort from Lady Suffragette, even though she is still far from the finished article, and I am pleased to say that we got it. Aided by a splendidly positive ride from the superb Catherine Gannon - and how the hell she is offered so few rides is a true mystery - Lady Suffragette was inspired to raise her game no end, finishing a fine joint-fourth, beaten maybe two lengths. It was a poor race so we won't be expecting her to make the grade immediately, but this has encouraged me to think she'll get there eventually.

And then, of course, on Wednesday, racing at Nottingham wasn't the focus of my day. With Cliff and Ian escorting By Storm to the track, I knew she was in safe hands so I could leave them to it as Emma, Colin and I hit the Glasgow road soon after 5am. Joe's send-off was a truly special occasion. Iris and Larry got it just right in appointing a member of what I believe is called the Humanitarian Society to oversee the service and say a valediction for Joe. This excellent man summed up Joe's life and spirit perfectly, as if he had known him all his life, and anyone who heard his words would have understood exactly why the lives which Joe touched were all so enhanced by the experience.

Among many very poignant touches from the ceremony to stick in my mind was the sight of a bunch of red and white flowers, sent by Trevor and Sheila on behalf of the Premier Cru, of which syndicate Joe was pretty much an honorary member thanks to his enthusiastic attendance at so many of Jack Dawson's runs and wins. Lawrence Wadey has summed up an aspect of Joe's character which I think is worth re-iterating: his generosity of spirit as demonstrated by his approach to ownership. He took true pleasure in the success of any horse from this stable, being genuinely happy for the horse's connections irrespective of whoever owned the horse, and he really welcomed all others to share in the excitement and thrill which he got from his horses. Happiness is for sharing, not hoarding, and the presence of those red and white flowers summed that up perfectly by showing that he wasn't alone in holding this philosophy. For those, incidentally, who were at Joe's farewell in spirit but couldn't be there in person, Larry is organising a celebration of her dad's life next Wednesday evening, 11th October, from 6pm onwards at VATS Wine Bar, 51 Lambs Conduit Street (at the Great Ormond Street end) in Holborn, WC1N 3NB. I know she'd be delighted to welcome as many friendly faces as possible.

After the funeral we adjourned to Joe's house, where Colin and I had been made welcome so many times in the past. An extra moment of poignancy was added by the DVD which Haydock Park had provided after Brief's win there 11 days previously. It was almost too good to be true that the disc contained not only the film of the race, but also the scenes in the winner's enclosure afterwards. In an ideal world there wouldn't be such a thing as a final day at the races, but in a mortal world where there has to be, what we were watching was pretty much the way a last outing should be. We owe a huge debt of thanks to dear, brave Brief Goodbye. And, unbeknownst to us, By Storm was limbering up for her victory lap as we watched that film. I am ashamed to say that she really wasn't in my mind at all at the time. I think there is only so much emotion that one can handle at any one time, and my subconscious was quite happy to put the anxiety one feels with a relatively high-pressure runner to one side: if things worked out well, I could savour them subsequently, and if she ran badly I could take the disappointment and work out what to do next in my own time. Basically, the situation was that By Storm would never have a better chance of winning than she had yesterday. I had been training her for two years on the stated presumption that, although ordinary, she was capable of winning, so if she didn't go very close yesterday, it would have meant that I had been encourageing Henry and Rosemary to waste a large amount of money and hope on a lost cause. I would have felt the opposite of proud of myself if that had turned out to be the case, whereas a win (or maybe a narrow defeat) would have meant enormous satisfaction. So, for me, there was a huge amount riding on the result, and it is possible to understand why it never crossed my mind to have a bet, because there was already more than enough at stake. I do just, however, in retrospect feel rather guilty that I hardly even thought to mention that she was running, never mind pass on the opinion that she was a 22/1 shot who had a very good chance of winning - but as earlier in the afternoon I had been explaining just why I believe trainers are the worst people to give an objective assessment of their charges' chances, I don't suppose my lack of voiced aspirations should be judged too harshly.

Just before I close this short entry, I should touch briefly on a few other matters. We'll be runner-less over the weekend with Jolizero having been top of the list of eliminees from the last at York on Saturday - which makes it inevitable that there will be at least one scratching from the race. Channel Four will be covering the meeting, presented I presume by my buddy Alastair Down - yes, you'll be surprised to learn that he and I had a most genial and constructive chinwag at Longchamp on Sunday, at his instigation. Credit where credit is due: he was friendly, thoughtful and sensible. (So how the hell has he ended up working on the John McCririck Show?). And in case anyone was wondering about the photo which illustrated the posting which I put up after Brief won at Haydock, it shows me conducting a dirty protest in support of the Ascot One. I read today that Seamus Heffernan has had his ban reduced, but not overturned, so if I wish to continue the protest maybe I now only need wet myself.


westtip said...

Wath, don't you mean Humanist Society? You've obviously been writing for Winning Post for too long if you're now making basic malapropisms like that. You'll be ins'erting rogue apostrophe's next.

Stato-man said...

What a brahma you should mention rogues and Winning Post last week as it was only last week that Father Joe sold the paper!