Friday, July 23, 2010


With Robin Gibson having kindly given this blog such a good wrap in Sunday's 'Surf & Turf' section of the Racing Post, it should have behoved me to put finger to keyboard sooner than this. However, I think that I have had a good excuse: prior to today, I had six consecutive days of going to the races, a sequence which I'm sure that I had never previously attained. Basic and essential administrative tasks, never mind indulgent and inconsequential diarizing, consequently went on the back-burner for a while.

Happily, the six days of sport were largely satisfying ones, the five runners yielding two wins, a pleasing third, a pleasing fifth and only one poor run (courtesy of our podgy little girl Jenny, seen here under Iva in the parade ring at Yarmouth on Monday); while the trip to the races without a runner (of which more in the next chapter) was also a good one. The upshot of this good form was that, when we went to Sandown yesterday, we did so bearing a Racing Post which had this stable at the top of the 'Hot Trainers' list. That is a very pleasant place to be - particularly if one doesn't go there often, this being the first time I'd been there since 2005. Five runners in the previous two weeks had yielded three winners, and 60% was a figure high enough to secure the top spot. Ah, though, the transience of success! Lest one get carried away by the supposed achievement, it is worth remembering that when we have our next runner (on Monday), the figure will have dropped to 40% - and when we have our next runners after that (probably three days later), the figure will almost certainly be down to 33%. Et cetera. And, of course, it's only two weeks since we were on the 'Cold List', a tundra which we are sure to revisit sooner rather than later! The irony, of course, is that one doesn't do anything different to get on one list or the other: sometimes things just fall into place and at other (more frequent) times, they don't.

The brief stay on the Hot List has, ironically, coincided with a spell of weather less hot, with my meteorological nadir having come at Bangor on Tuesday, a race-meeting which was memorably wet. The climate remained mediterranean here that day, but the evening at Bangor was extremely wet and progressively colder. The members of the All Points West Partnership, plus Hugh and I, got soaked before, during and after Ex Con's magnficent victory in a race which featured an extra obstacle: what one might describe as a 'water splash'. It was really rather spectacular when the horses galloped unexpectedly through a large puddle between the first and second hurdles, and again on the second circuit, sending sheets of water flying around them. I've seen Flat meetings called off for less, but happily the participants at Bangor adopted an admirably old-fashioned attitude to what was only really a minor hazard and there was no talk of abandonment. This extra obstacle was far from the only memorable aspect of the victory, a saga in which, for once, the fates seemed to conspire in our favour. A host of horses were jocked up in the previous day's paper, but surprisingly only six were declared. This number dropped to five when the favourite was scratched on the morning of the race, leaving Ex Con as favourite and Danny Zuko, trained by my one-time colleague and housemate Donald McCain, as second favourite. On my arrival in the weighing room at Bangor, I ran into Donald, whose first words, as he surveyed the torrential rain beyond the window, were, "Ours needs it like a road" - whereas Ex Con, although he doesn't like soft ground, doesn't actually like firm ground either, so the conditions for the first race - ie ground somewhere between good and good to soft, albeit with a lot of standing water on the surface - were pretty much ideal for him. Had his race been a couple of hours later, the race would have been run on soft ground and the story might well have been very different. As it was, though, things worked out just perfectly and Ex Con (pictured looking very pleased with himself both before and after the race) had little difficulty in providing Rhys Flint (in another change to my predicted riding arrangements, poor Peter Toole having been hurt in a fall while schooling for Charlie Mann that morning) with what he described as "the easiest winner I've ever ridden". It was a very, very pleasing day.

One could make the same comment about Sunday, which saw Douchkette gain a well-deserved victory over hurdles in the very competent hands of Danny Cook. I'd never previously met Danny Cook, but I had admired his winning big-race ride last season at Haydock on one of my favourite horses, Our Vic; having now met and used him, I now approve of him even more because he gave the filly a very polished ride, providing a perfect example of the principle quality of a top-class sportsman, ie the ability to make something difficult look easy. Douchkette is a wonderfully tough, genuine and enthusiastic filly, but she isn't very good, she isn't a natural two-miler and she isn't an easy ride - but Danny's very cool ride made her look all of those. If, however, he deserves plenty of plaudits for her victory, Adam deserves even more because he does a great job with the filly on a daily basis. There's no harm in her, but she is a lively ride (as this first, pre-race, photograph suggests) who I am sure must try his patience at times; but, typically, he invariably rides her calmly, quietly and kindly, so I hope that it was with great pride that he led her back into the winner's enclosure (pictured). Danny Charlesworth (who wasn't present) and Hetty Charlet (who was) can also take pride in the win because they bred the filly and, while this was only a fairly weak selling hurdle, I hope that they were able to concur with the philosophy of the late, great Arthur Stephenson that 'little fish are sweet'. I certainly was able to do so.

As regards our other runners, Jenny has been alluded to above. She 'needs to lift', as our antipodean cousins might say. Let's hope that she can. If she needs inspiration, she can surely find it in her contemporary Ethics Girl (pictured in the parade ring at Sandown yesterday) who ran her usual creditable and brave race to finish fifth in a very competitive handicap, despite not having the run of the race. Silken Thoughts, happily, is shaping as if she might be setting herself up to be a similarly professional galloper. It's early days with her yet, but her run at Lingfield on Saturday evening, only the third start of her young life, was very creditable. Cathy Gannon's verdict afterwards was admirably concise - "You've got yourselves a lovely filly" - and I don't think she was referring merely to the filly's ability. So far, Silken Thoughts' form is good and so is her enthusiasm - and, as Ethics Girl has shown, putting the two together can make for a lovely racehorse. Let's hope that, like Ethics, she can add physical resilence to the list of her qualities because, if she can, she looks sure to provide the Renewal Partnership with plenty more fun and excitement. It was, incidentally, just as well that she did run so well, because her efforts salvaged what was otherwise a debacle of an outing. We weren't that far down the road when we received news that the M25 around Dartford was at a standstill, news which prompted me to drive via the western side of London, thus adding 35 miles to the journey but probably knocking a similar amount of minutes off it. However, that news wasn't the first setback of the trip, because I'd already realised that I'd left home without a shirt, being as usual attired in T-shirt and shorts, intending to change at the races. Nor was the news of the traffic problems the last hold-up, because the truck went amiss during the journey, not badly enough to prevent us from reaching Lingfield, but badly enough to ensure that it couldn't be driven home later that evening. Happily, though, this potential problem was solved by the kindness of Chris Wall, who allowed the filly (pictured before and after the race) and us to return on his horsebox, Chris' foreman Bill Lord kindly driving us home in comfort and style. So that was good - as was the fact that, by a miracle, I happened not to be wearing one of my usual shoddy T-shirts, but a smart, almost clean one with a collar, which meant that, in the informality of a summer's evening meeting, I didn't stick out like a sore thumb despite my oversight. I had that morning dressed relatively smartly (by my standards - even if Emma's observation "Good of you to dress up" seemed loaded with irony) as my morning tasks included acting as tour guide on the Heath to a party of young (well, even younger than me, if that's possible) bloodstock enthusiasts, organised by the Next Generation Committee of the Thoroughbred Breeders' Assocation. As I love Newmarket, love its history and love the sound of my own voice, it had been a pleasure to provide this group with a brief explanation of what was happening on the Heath during morning work. And the fact that the assignment meant that, although attired not nearly as smartly as Hugh in the final photograph, I wasn't too scruffily dressed at Lingfield in the evening came as its unexpected bonus!

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