Thursday, September 02, 2010

Bank Holiday brahmae

It's been a pleasure to have summer back, for a short while at least, after the rain, chills and gloom of the last full week of August: this week has been lovely so far. Conditions were pleasant at Warwick on Monday and even balmier at Lingfield yesterday, and the ubiquitous soft ground has been replaced by conditions on the faster side of good. I never used to think of Warwick as providing a nice surface in the second half of the season, but I'd have no complaints whatsoever about the ground on which the horses had to race on Bank Holiday Monday. Even Ian Watkinson was happy! Ian, as many of you will recall, was one of the leading jumps jockeys of the '70s until his career was ended prematurely by injuries sustained in a fall in 1979. Ian really loved race-riding and he found it very hard to have to give it away so suddenly at at time when his career had seemed still seemingly on an upward curve. He's done plenty of non-competitive riding since that sad day, and trained successfully for a while at Cootamundra (NSW), but nowadays he contents himself with transporting horses to the races - while marvelling all the time at the general lowering of standards across the board, including the test which National Hunt racing imposes. It was good to bump into him shortly after our arrival - and even better to receive a text from him shortly afterwards, at which point I hadn't yet ventured onto the track, although he clearly had: "Without exception, every course I have visited since my enforced retirement has appeared to have reduced the size of the 'chase fences; this cannot be said of Warwick, as you will see."! When I bumped into Ian later in the afternoon, I chuckled that I'd inspected his fences, to which he replied, with a gleeful smile, "Yes, they're higher than the wings!". They will, of course, not remain this height and will have been brutally trimmed by the time that Warwick's new jumping season commences, but they have at least provided a good Bank Holiday brahma. I don't know, though, whether their forbidding aspect would have proved inspirational to one of the competitors, the notoriously unenthusiastic steeplechaser Najca De Thaix (pictured above, looking very well) who must surely have come close to setting some sort of record by making his first appearance of the Flat for 2,144 days! Unsurprisingly, he didn't run very well, but then again neither did our two runners, Alpen Glen and Batgirl, so we'll just have to see if we can't get things a bit more right/a bit less wrong in the future. Alpen Glen did, at least, show a tiny bit more than she'd done on the previous two occasions we'd run her.

A similar remark could be made about Destiny Rules, who ran at Lingfield yesterday. She's a sweet filly who really deserves to do well, and her owner/breeders Richard and Sara are similarly deserving of success. She'd shown very little in two previous starts, but we'd been hoping that more time and more distance might help her, and she ran competitively enough yesterday on her first attempt at a mile and a half to suggest that such a hope might not be forlorn. She was really good yesterday because she's previously found racing quite daunting, but she seems to be gaining in self-confidence, which can only help her in both the preliminaries and the races themselves. We'd done a lot of work with her in the stalls since she'd got upset in them at Thirsk on her resumption, and yesterday all went very well. Part of the credit for this must go to the starter Willie Jardine, who was helpfulness personified: when I asked him if we could have a blindfold on the filly and I could lead her in, he readily acceded, but gave me an alternative of not wearing a blindfold but going in last (the other option, of course, being that if we wore a blindfold, we'd have to go in first). We opted for his suggestion, and it worked very well indeed. Mind you, as she left the stall only about two seconds after I did she didn't have much time to get worked up, but everything ran so smoothly that I think we'd have been alright even if we'd had a delay.

Shortly after my return from Lingfield, a major brahmafest ensued because we welcomed Peter Hutchinson and his partner Sarah for an overnight visit. All of you should recall Peter's father Ron riding in Europe with huge success in the '60s and '70s, and some of you might remember Peter riding here for a while as an apprentice in the mid-'80s - and also his elder brother Ray being champion amateur on the Flat here. Peter's still riding, which is a good effort as he gave it away for seven years prior to making a come-back two years ago. Although he's enjoyed plenty of success, winning the premiership in Adelaide several times and landing several Group One victories including the Caulfield Cup on the David Hayes-trained Fraar, he's also been very unlucky throughout his career, sustaining numerous injuries. It was, therefore, no surprise to see him arrive with his left arm strapped up, courtesy of the elbow being broken in a fall at Geelong six weeks ago. Happily, this has not blighted his trip to Europe, his first for 22 years. He's such a nice and entertaining man that it was great that they included this place on their itinerary, and I'm pleased to report that it worked out really well. We went on a tour of the Heath this morning and everything fell into place nicely. We bumped into Jon Adams, with whom Peter had been apprenticed in Geoff Lewis' stable and who is now one of Jeremy Noseda's head lads, on the Severals (pictured above); Jane Chapple-Hyam, whom Peter had first met when she'd worked alongside him for Colin Hayes at Lindsay Park, gave us a great tour of her stable (in which, of course, so many of Peter's father's big winners had been trained by Harry Wragg); and then we bumped into Lester Piggott, whom Peter has known since he was a little boy, on Warren Hill with William Haggas and Michael Bell, who trains in the stable (Fitzroy House) in which Peter's brother Ray trained when he was in Newmarket 25 years ago. So that was just really nice. He and Sarah, though, haven't been the only Aussies here in the past week because, for reasons at which one can only guess, we've had a rosella flying around. This bird, of course, almost certainly, won't have come from Australia, but we can regard him as such because that's whence rosellas in general hail. At first glance, you might struggle to spot the rosella on this cyprus tree at the bottom of the yard; but home in and there he/she is, which is just lovely. The sun's shining and it's nearly time to feed so I might head out now to see if he/she's still around.

1 comment:

problemwalrus said...

I agree with the comments on steeplechase fences, they do seem to be on a slimfast diet!! Apart from Warwick's of course! Newbury used to be proud that their fences were four feet seven and a half inches ie above the minimum for years but now I think they are lesser beasts. And Aintrees Mildmay fences are sadly thinning on top.And I've commented o Haydock before.Also regarding your comment on rules for race meetings I recall that two longer distances needed to be included in a meeting. There were quite specific guidelines for numbers of fences and hurdles at each distance too.
Not sure what happened to these rule and whether there is in fact some kind of enforcement agency!