Saturday, December 04, 2010

Look down with pleasure

We bade farwell to Chris this week, and I think that it's very fitting that we had two horses which Chris used to ride run very well; and the fact that one of them, Kadouchski, provided the opportunity for Hannah to excel on her first race-ride would have given Chris further pleasure.

As you might have read in the Racing Post, Chris' fatal accident came when he was riding Kadouchski, which made the events even more tragic because Kadouchski was a horse whom Chris loved riding. That's understandable because Kadouchski is a kind and willing horse, and I know that Chris would have been looking down on Kempton on Wednesday, smiling with approval as Kadouchski gave Hannah a wonderful introduction to race-riding. And he'd have been absolutely delighted, as we all were, that Hannah rose to the occasion by riding really well. Hannah only turned 16 in July and then started work full-time the following week. Even though she had had plenty of part-time practice while still at school, it is still remarkable that her riding has progressed so quickly, but she has certainly helped herself, not least by working very, very hard on her fitness, as was shown when she attended the race-riding course at the British Racing School and became the first girl ever to top the class of aspiring apprentices in the fitness test. (Unsurprisingly, that part of the test is normally dominated by the boys).

Going into Wednesday's race, I was remarkably sanguine because, while one never really knows what is going to happen when an apprentice has his or her first ride (even getting round can't be guaranteed, a fact which was brought to my attention at Southwell a few years ago), I felt very confident that Hannah and Kadouchski would both acquit themselves with credit. We'd put the finishing touches to the preparation when Hannah had jumped Kadouchski out of the stalls on Bury Hill all-weather the previous morning (this photograph making it clear why we didn't use the stalls on the grass), an exercise which made it clear that there oughtn't to be any trouble at the start of the race. On the day, everything went so well. I hadn't specifically chosen the race because of it being a hands-and-heels apprentices' race, but I'm so glad that it was one of those because the supervision and tuition both before and after the race which the apprentices received was superb. Michael Tebbutt was the ex-jockey guiding them through the race-day procedure and it was such a weight off my mind that he, rather than I, had the task of ensuring that all ran smoothly for Hannah. Furthermore, Iva kindly took her down there and made sure that she felt at home and was made welcome in the jockeys' room, where I'm told that Cathy Gannon too went out of her way to help Hannah's first race-day go well. Kadouchski played his part by behaving well and running well, but he was certainly helped to do so by Hannah riding him sensibly and skilfully. We knew going into the race that he was in good form and that he's fairly well handicapped on the Flat, but basically he was a horse who has only ever won over hurdles running over a mile, and was having his first start for nearly 11 months. So, with him running so well to finish fourth, beaten less than a length, and Hannah riding him so well, it was a perfect illustration that, in the words of Graeme Connors, "winning isn't always being first across the line". Thus the day was a very happy and satisfying occasion. We were all so pleased, and I am sure that Hannah's father Richard must have been a very proud man indeed. And I know that the day would have given Chris, who always gave Hannah plenty of encouragement in her riding, as much pleasure as it gave all of us here.

The following day, Thursday, was even more emotional. Emma, Hugh and I went to Chris' funeral near Bristol (as, incidentally, did Jockey Club Estates manager William Gittus, which was very decent of him) and that was very moving, not least because Chris' partner Ausma gave a lovely to her friend. That sad ceremony was followed by the perfect post-script. Thankfully, during a week which has seen widespread disruption on various roads because of snow and ice, we were able to drive from Bristol to a very cold and snowy Wolverhampton in time to watch Rhythm Stick run in the last (7.00) and thus were able to see that brave horse slog his way to a very well-timed victory. By Storm won for this stable on the day of Joe McCarthy's funeral four years ago, and Rhythm Stick performed the same service this week, providing a victory which would have brought Chris a great deal of pleasure. Rhythm Stick - or Whipper as he's still usually called (by me anyway) after having originally been known by his father's name until he had a name of his own - has been a slow-maturing horse who was just a bit of an ugly duckling in his younger days, but over the course of this summer he has slowly been pulling himself together; and I remember one day Chris returning to the stable on him, having I think cantered around Side Hill, and saying, "This horse has done gone round there very well - he's going very nicely". He was right, as the horse was indeed starting to learn to do things like an athlete, and he'd have been delighted to see the proof of it on Thursday, when the horse had to show ability, strength, stamina and determination to gallop to a gritty victory, notwithstanding that his SP of 4/7 in what was a very weak 6-runner race (thanks largely to the paper favourite being stranded in snow-bound Epsom) suggested that he was facing a fairly simple task. We have a white-board in the tea-room which is scrubbed clear at the start of each year, then to be filled with names and places whenever we have a horse finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th. Prior to last week, there had been nine entries in the 'winner' column, and it had been in everyone's mind that it would be lovely to get at least ten entries there. Hugh told me that Chris, full of enthusiasm for the stable as ever, had several times mentioned how nice it would be if there could be ten names written under that head-line by the end of the year, so I know that he would have been looking down with particular pleasure when that particular horse hit the target on that particular day. Thursday was indeed a day which we will never forget.


racingfan said...

has obviously been difficult for all attached to the stable recently, but Kadouchski and Hannah put up a brilliant performance I thought, it must have been nerve racking as a jockey as she was a little behind the rest of the pack but didnt panic and brought the horse through with a lovely run to finish fourth, I would think a race over an extra furlong or two and a win should be just around the corner, maybe hannahs first winner as well,

Keep up the good work, are there any runners expected in the next week,



John Berry said...

Only one entry during the week, Ian, which is Asterisk, and I think that I'll probably give her a bit longer between races. Alcalde's hurdles debut might be the next outing, whenever that proves to be.

Nathan said...

A fitting end to the day indeed John. I'm not sure if you received my email on weds but my thoughts were with you all on Thurs. It's great to see Hannah's smiling face coming back after the race and lovely to read how Iva and Cathy Gannon rallied round. It's been a few years since i was involved in racing and although things have improved, it's still very tough for the girls to get a start in race riding. I would be interested to read more about how the apprentices are guided through the race day procedure by an ex-jockey?