Thursday, December 30, 2010


Thanks to numerous kind people I've done very well this Christmas again. I've got quite a lot to read and to eat, and my sock drawer has been well replenished. However, the present which I've played with the most so far is my new Nikon 'Coolpix' camera, given to me by Emma, who was getting fed up with all the out-of-focus shots which I was producing with my Pentax. To be fair to Pentax, that is a good make of camera and the main reason why my one was under-performing was all the rough treatment which it has had to endure over the past couple of years. However, this is new one is a better model as well as a newer one - plus, I am sure that we agree, Nikon is the king of cameras (camerarum?), or at least it is if you're a Paul Simon fan. So I've already been having great fun with the Coolpix, although the old camera will still be the one which goes around in my pocket while I'm riding out, as we don't want the new one to become as beat-up as its predecessor any sooner than is necessary. The new camera was called into action to photograph Natagora (of course) on Christmas Day and then it got some proper use on Boxing Day morning, taking these lovely pictures of the view out of the window at 7.30 and 8.30. You'll understand why I'm now slightly wistful for the now-departed freeze-up, as the conditions shown here really are preferable to the swamp we're now living in!

The Coolpix then got its next outing yesterday when it accompanied me to Wolverhampton, where dear old Ethics Girl ensured that we ended the year in the best way possible way by winning over two miles. She's had a great year with three wins, thus doing a fair bit to help the stable to what I regard as a very satisfactory total of 12 wins. Of course, one could always do better, and that dozen has been achieved despite the fact that I managed to avoid winning with two of our nicest horses (Silken Thoughts and First Pressing) - but there's always next year! Anyway, yesterday's win was great and it gave me a good opportunity for some more Coolpix practice, although as I was leading the filly up I wasn't best placed to take photographs of her for much of the time. Still, the two-mile start is just down the straight from the winning post, so I was able to head down there to take one of her before the race, and subsequently to get a couple more before she and I were re-united as she came in off the track. Everything ran just so smoothly. I must say that from the moment we arrived at the track I was very hopeful of a very good run because she had travelled as well as I'd ever known her go to the races, coming off the truck completely cool and unruffled. She was in such a content, serene frame of mind all afternoon that I thought that she was now truly as ready as she'd ever be to run the two miles, and so it proved. She was, of course, massively helped by a perfect ride from Rab Havlin ,which is what one would expect: I'd remarked on numerous occasions previously that it was so wrong that Rab had never ridden us a winner, because every ride he'd had for us had been a true 10 out of 10, so it was nice finally to put him up on one who could win. I'd emphasised to Rab that he should ride with maximum patience and that under no circumstances should he be tempted to make his move to soon - so it was just wonderful to watch him out-wait the Head Waiter, George Baker, and have the last crack at George, who must have been thinking that he'd just had the last crack at the others. This win, incidentally, speaks volumes not only for Ethics Girl's genuineness, but also for her versatility: she has now won five races (two last year at three, and three this year at four) over distances of a mile, nine furlongs, 12 furlongs, 13.9 furlongs and 16.5 furlongs, so I don't know what the genonome project, or whatever this theory which tells us from the genes what distance a horse will win over is called, would make of her!

Incidentally, Ethics Girl had two gear changes yesterday, but I don't think that they were a factor in her victory. More obviously, she wore a tongue-tie for the first time. She'd had an easy week after her previous race as she needed to have a 'flu vaccination, so when she resumed galloping 1o days after that race (and six days before yesterday's race) she blew very hard and gurgled after the gallop, which wasn't surprising as, despite only being small, she is very stuffy. Anyway, for no very good reason, this prompted me to think that I might put a tongue-tie on her, even though logic said that as she'd won four races and put in umpteen good runs without one, it wasn't necessary - as, too, was suggested by the fact that the first time I rode her out in one (up Long Hill on Christmas Day) she gurgled even more than she had done without one! Her wind had come right, though, by raceday, but it was work which had done that; but even so I decided that there was no harm in running her in a tongue-tie anyway, as a tongue-tie only weighs a fraction of an ounce - but it would be very wrong to ascribe the victory to the gear change. The other gear change was less planned: she was the only runner we've had this year not to wear a breast-girth or breast-plate, simply because I forgot to pack on. She's actually so fat always that, 999 times out of 1,000, she really doesn't need one (as she'd demonstrated the previous day when I'd left her tacked up in her stable for a few minutes before taking her out for her work, by rolling in her shavings with the saddle on her back and not dislodging it!) and is one of the very few which I'm happy on occasions to ride out without one. So I eschewed the option of borrowing one, thinking that perhaps my forgetting was fate and was a sign that she might be in a close finish for first place and that the lack of over-weight (we have, of course, previously discussed my view that a breast-girth should not be worn as extra weight over and above the prescribed weight of the clothed jockey and his tack) might prove crucial. As it was, she won by three-quarters of a length so the breast-girth's absence wasn't crucial - but if she'd won by a narrower margin, who knows?

Yesterday's outing was made considerably jollier (even jollier) by good runs from several other local horses. Principal among these was the amazing John Ryan-trained four-year-old gelding Final Drive, who now seems the best northern hemisphere-bred son of a stallion whom I like, Viking Ruler. He has now won six of his last seven races. The first of those wins (on 15th November) was off a rating of 65; yesterday he won off 92. And yesterday's win was more easily achieved! Even more amazing is that prior to starting this spree, he had won two of his previous 18 starts. John has done ever so well with this horse, who has just been improving hand over fist over the past seven weeks. 2010 was always going to be a tricky year for John, who enjoyed a true annus mirabilis in 2009 when three of his small team won at Group or Listed level. Such a year is almost impossible to follow, but thanks to Final Drive (seen after pulling up and then returning to the winner's enclosure, with John jacket-less amidst the happy connections) his season has definitely ended on a really high note. Equally creditable, incidentally, has been what he has done this year with one last season's stars, Ocean Minstrel, whose wins in 2009 included Listed wins over a mile on the AW at Lingfield and over seven furlongs at Epsom on Oaks Day - in 2010 the horse ran consistently well throughout the autumn, culminating in a tremendous fourth of 32 in the Cesarewitch over two and a quarter miles. Another one to have the genomists scratching their heads! I too was scratching my head in advance of yesterday's racing because Jamie Spencer was down to ride Final Drive, but apparently wouldn't be taking any other rides at the meeting because he'd been on holiday and didn't think he'd be fit enough to take more than one ride. While this seems very praise-worthy, I did rather wonder how a jockey could be fit enough to ride one horse and not be fit enough to ride two - but of course Jamie was proved right: winning on Final Drive wasn't much of a test of fitness at all as the horse was on the bridle for all but about 100 yards of the race, and Jamie's trademark coolness was tailor-made for the horse, helping him to record his best win yet in the smoothest of styles.

Looking back, one has to feel rather sorry for the game Strike Force, who had the misfortune to chase home Final Drive when he won off 65. Both horses carried the same weight that day, so Strike Force really was facing a tough task. However, that didn't daunt him because he's had a win and two seconds from his four subsequent starts. He is another local horse and I've seen plenty of him this year, during which he has won three times, including once when ridden by his owner Alison Hutchinson, seen accompanying him back in off the track yesterday while Vinnie Johnston leads him and his apprentice rider Toby Atkinson in. Olivia Maylam trains him in Exning while Alison and Vinnie are very hands-on in his preparation, and between them they've done a wonderful job in a year which has seen the horse finish in the first three eight times. He ran ever so well yesterday, being beaten such a short nose that I really thought that he'd won as they passed the post and was then genuinely surprised to discover that he'd only finished second. In every respect bar the result, that run was as good as a win; and it was another pleasing run to watch on an enjoyable afternoon.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

So Father Christmas brought you a new camera John. I do hope you can handle the pressure of having to come up with the goods. Your now expected to come up with at the very least, a stable calender with near professional quality pics. May the force be with you John. Congratulations to all on a victorious end to 2010.