Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Many Happy Returns

We're in the middle of a glut of significant birthdays. Many happy returns to all those in celebratory mode, some of whom I will hail here. Today is the fiftieth birthday of Vanda Sturch, who has a particular place in my personal history because, of all the people I know in Newmarket, I have known her the longest. When I was a boy, Vanda was working for Gordon Richards, and she used to look after any horses my mother owned there. She and my mum became good friends, which was nice, and the link has been continued now that Vanda, along with her husband Phil and daughter Emma, live in the same street as I do: Exeter Road. I didn't know in advance that today was her fiftieth, but I knew early on, because her house had been festooned in decorations under cover of darkness, so I probably became aware of the landmark at around 7.08 this morning.

Vanda is the second of our friends to turn fifty this week, because Gerry Chesneaux, the king of the ring (phnarr, phnarr - no smuttiness intended) hit the same mark yesterday. And she's actually the third to celebrate a big birthday this week, following Joff's fortieth on Sunday. Not that I've ever spoken to him, but I should also acknowledge that Barry Hills, one of Britain's finest trainers, turned seventy yesterday - and celebrated with a winner at Lingfield. Plus one at each of today's Flat meetings, Folkestone and Southwell. Barry Hills also appears to have the distinction of being one of British racing's very few successful figures not to have appeared in court as a character witness on behalf of the Mr Big of the cocaine world, Brian Wright (more fairly described as Britain's nicest man, if you believe most of our leading trainers and jockeys) who has just been put away - doesn't it make you proud to be involved in the sport? It's obviously a year for milestones, because unless I'm mistaken Michael Tidmarsh has a landmark birthday this year, and then of course Richard Sims will hit the Big Five-Oh in December. He celebrated his fortieth in drag (purporting to be, at various stages of the festivities, Stevie Nicks and Linda McCartney), so I shudder to think what tricks he has up his sleeve to horrify the membership of the veterans' section of the Keysborough Squash Club this time around.

I'm very pleased with the photographs which Emma has attached to my previous blog chapter, the only problem being that I've had requests for more of them - there were a couple of action-packed shots as we cantered down to the start in a bunch, and then there are one or two very usable views at the start as the golden pink sun lights up the grey sky. Keen-eyed observers will be able to detect the Rowley Mile grandstand in the distance through the mist.

I've also been thinking of several more shots which I should take on future rides. This morning when I was passing the time of day with Nick Pearce, who always gives us a friendly welcome from William Jarvis' string, I thought the blog should contain a photo of him. Nick has become something of a legend. He is a very accomplished point-to-point hoop (he rode two winners at Cottenham at the weekend) who first came to our attention driving around the town in a car displaying the very prominent logo 'Nick Pearce Jump Jockey'. That was actually rather handy, just in case we mistook him for Nick Pearce Flat Jockey (an easy mistake to make, as he's only an inch or two taller than I am). Since then, he has established himself as a valuable source of friendly and helpful advice and support to Olly on his occasional competitive ventures, even if he does appear to be Olly's nemesis: I feel that if Olly ever did ride a winner, Nick would be sure to ride at least a double on the card. Nick has also established himself as a really nice guy whom I always enjoy seeing in the mornings, so I think he definitely deserves to appear as an illustration to a future blog.

As you'll have seen, we had a snap of Luca's string in the previous chapter - the rider in the foreground is Camilla Milbank, on, so I'm told, Minority Report, who I seem to remember as having been a leading fancy for last year's Royal Hunt Cup - and I think I should now follow up with a shot of Charlie McBride's small string. Charlie had yet another winner today (with an Act One, would you believe?) and horse for horse he must be the most successful trainer in the town over the past few months. He really deserves his success because he is as dedicated and industrious as they come. As you'll be aware, we have another battler happily settled in our yard now, as Dave Morris is now in his fifth week here. I'll have to take a picture of him too. There is a zoom lens on the camera, but it's only a fairly basic one, so I'll probably need to be quite close to Dave when I take the picture, so that you'll be able to pick him out. Nobody has yet moved into his former yard across the road, but the word is that Don Cantillon is the purchaser and there are now signs of preparatory work going on there, so I suspect we'll see the Don in residence shortly. And I did see him walking up the street a day or two ago. But we'll just have to wait and see what happens: secrecy is one of Don's many quirks but, once he and his string are in, not even he will be able to keep his presence a mystery. It'll be good, because it will increase the eccentricity factor of Exeter Road - already very high - even further. Plus its canine factor, when the famous Skip, who has been seen on horse-back on numerous racecourses and has probably spent even more time annoying horses on the Heath than Alice, takes up residence.

I'll just leave you with a review of today's racing, because Jason Weaver treated us to a truly delightful remark on At The Races which does not deserve to go unrecorded. We've already acknowledged Charlie McBride's winner, and we should also remark on the win at Southwell of the Simon Griffiths-trained Count Cougar, who took his record for 2007 to four wins and a second from five starts. And that's following two wins in 2006 and three in 2005 - very praiseworthy. Also deserving of applause is Paul Midgeley, who won with what had seemed a very unlikely horse. Kadia, an Arkadian Hero grand-daughter of the mighty Soba, races in the same colours which Soba bore, but her form prior to today was atrocious: beaten 89 lengths in a bumper over fourteen furlongs, then beaten 25 lengths in maiden over eight furlongs, then beaten 11.5 lengths in a maiden (won by our friend Shaftesbury Avenue) over seven furlongs. And today, in a desperately weak 4-runner six furlong maiden on the fibresand, she went off at 20/1 - and won under Micky Fenton. A very nice result - and just what her pedigree would have predicted.

Anyway, to Jason. Placed in the second race at Folkestone was a lovely grey three-year-old maiden who had caught my eye (because of his lovely behaviour as much as anything) on the Heath earlier in the year, Welsh Auction, trained by Geoff Huffer and owned in partnership by Usk Valley Stud. And then placed in the third race was our old friend Mick Is Back, the ultra-industrious three-year-old by Diktat ex Classy Cleo. He won four days ago on his eighth start of the year (he's now finished in the first four seven times in 2007, and we're only on April 3rd), and he should have won again today, but he was a certainty beaten after Stephen Donohoe found all the trouble going. When he did get out, he made up about four lengths in the last 100m, but just failed to catch the Neville Callaghan-trained Doctor Ned, ridden by William Buick (5). Sadly for little William, who had had a fall in the Brocklesby on Saturday, he took another tumble today, because he fell off just after the post, suffering concussion but, fortunately, nothing worse than that. It could, of course, have been a lot worse, especially when one considers a condition which Pippa Cuckson has brought to my attention today: "serious trauma to the nether regions". This, apparently, can afflict beast as well as man. Pippa has requested that I don't expound on this topic on the blog, so I won't. Anyway (I will get to the point eventually), Jason Weaver's account of this incident was that William Buick "had an unceremonious dump just after the line". Perhaps Jason's understanding of the phrase "to have a dump" is different from mine, but I'm still chuckling at the thought of the poor groundsman who'll have to clear up afterwards. And I'm trying to work out whether serious trauma to the nether regions would have caused or inhibited this midemeanour.

That'll do for one evening. I'm now off to drop Emma off at a dinner at the racecourse. It's a pre-Guineas publicity evening, where the press mingle with Newmarket's better trainers and, hopefully, summon up the enthusiasm to write about how swimmingly things are going in HQ. She went to it last year and, bizarrely, both Michael Prosser (clerk of the course) and Lisa Hancock (commander in chief) asked her why I wasn't there; to her shame, she didn't tell the true answer (that they hadn't invited me), but instead mumbled something about my being too busy (blogging!) to turn up, which probably killed whatever extremely slender chance I had of receiving an invitation this time around.


D.D. Fan Club said...

Spring must be in the air. You have treated us to very enjoyable blogs recently and I detect that there is a real positive undertone to them. Or could it be married life? I know that he looks 50 but surely Dickie is some years short of that mark.
All systems go for Gold Coast on saturday.

The Lemon said...

On a note that has nothinh to with this blog, i have been reminded in the RP today about Derek Thompson's rather unfortunate accident with a darning needle. for those who missed the report, Thommo had apparenly been using a darning needle, which he dropped and then trod on. do we think Thommo is taking his role as House Wife's choice too far by doing the darning?!

Signorinetta said...

It's almost as suspicious as the time last year the Thommo allegedly slipped on some black ice in Newmarket - at a time when conditions were far from frozen.

easygoer2 said...

I hope that there was someone with Thommo at the time of his impalement to tell him to "enjoy the moment".

D.D. Fan Club said...

No comment from Mr Sims re his age.He seems to have disappeared from this site with Wildcat. He did threaten to turn up at Gold Coast races tomorrow but I think Ive put him off.

problemwalrus said...

I like the comment about "enjoy the moment".Those post race interviews drive me bananas.Keep on winning Robert Thornton.
The "from the saddle " photos are excellent - the Heath looks great early mornings.
Is there such a thing as a ceremonious dump?The mind boggles.

Statoman said...

Wath, you sold all the staff at Winning Post a lemon on Saturday - shame on you!
PS: Emma, I cannot find any reference for Gemma's squash credentials on the "meet the gang' page. Maybe you should arrange for Gemma to have qualifying hitout with Phil Harman first before taking on the master for a "rumble in the jungle" televised live to millions.