Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Still in ice land

Yes, Alcalde. He's one of the horses we currently have entered, which is exciting as, unlike the other two who currently hold engagements (Ethics Girl and Kadouchski), he has not yet raced for this stable. He's in at Lingfield on Saturday, but as it's set to be four below there again tonight it's fair to write that one off straightaway. Fakenham on Sunday looks more of a possibility. If that meeting takes place, we'll have the surprising situation of Huntingdon and Fakenham racing on the same day, the result of Huntingdon's Peterborough Chase fixture having been put back from (I think) today, when racing obviously would have been out of the question, to Sunday, when it might be feasible. That seems a strange clash, but if Huntingdon, Fakenham and Yarmouth can all race on Easter Monday (which, bizarrely, they do) then there's no reason why both Fakenham and Huntingdon can't both race on Sunday - despite the presumably massive impact which that will have on Fakenham's gate. Folkestone on Tuesday would be the fall-back option for Alcalde, so let's hope that this thaw which we are told is on the way (not that you'd know it) will indeed allow him to make his National Hunt debut some time soon. All I can tell you about his preparation is that I've done everything I can to turn him from a summer- to a winter-competitor, including, as this photograph of him taken by Gemma on his return from exercise yesterday morning demonstrates, getting him accustomed to doing his work with a kilo of ice attached to his head. That should do the trick.

On the subject of Fakenham, I feel that I should share with you the course's current going/conditions. We never like to miss the opportunity to enjoy a brahma, and this overview, which contrasts splendidly with the usual prosaic bulletins issued by other clerks, is as brahmatic as they come. Fakenham, which was recently awarded the covetted ROA Gold Star Award, is blessed with an outstanding clerk of the course, David Hunter, and I think that his words here, issued at lunchtime on Sunday, will give you an idea why the track thrives so well under his stewardship:-

"Unraceable. 3 inches of snow on whole course. Good to Soft, Soft in places. No frost in ground. (GoingStick: Not available due to snow on Sunday at 12:30). Fresh strip all way around on hurdle course. Cold week forecast with day temps struggling to get above zero, night down to -5. Forecast not good to thaw snow! This weather is very depressing and I am really sick of it now! We had a good thawing day on Saturday, but it looks as if the coming week is going to be cold, it might get the better of us. Watch this space for updates. Keep warm and cheerful, David."

So we'll see. Last night wouldn't have done anything to hasten the resumption of East Anglian racing, the temperature here having dropped to minus eight, but it did come with the consolation that we had another visually splendid morning. I thought that it must have snowed overnight when I got up because there was just an awful lot more whiteness than there had been the previous evening, but it seems that there was just a lot more ice everywhere. The Bury Road crossing, illuminated by the couple of street lamps set beside it, looked lovely at 6.50 this morning as we first approached it (and note just how good are the high-visibility jackets, with somebody's head lad or assistant waiting to shepherd a string across the road) with the trees looking like something out of a Christmas show. The omni-present ice was even easier to see later on in the morning once the sun was up (ie above the horizon, even if not visible through the fog) with the view across the stable yard an hour and a half later looking wonderfully spooky. You can see why I had thought that it had snowed!

I enjoyed arguably the best views of the morning, though, the following lot when Adam and I (on Ethics Girl and Kadouchski) headed down to the Al Bahathri, getting onto the gallop just before it closed at 9.00 for its second harrowing of the morning. We had an unexpected bonus as Jane Chapple-Hyam appeared there at the same time with three horses, two sprinters (Brave Prospector and Secret Asset, seen in the first photograph pulling up at the bottom of Railway Land on the warm-up canter prior to heading over to the Al Bahathri gallop) and one stayer (Judge The Moment, seen in the second photograph following his two stablemates back through the freezing fog into the trees after the work-outs had been completed), and it made sense for the stayer to join our little group - which was a real bonus for us as it meant that we had the pleasure of galloping with a Royal Ascot winner (Judge having, of course, won last year's Ascot Stakes). I'm pleased to be able to report that Leicester selling hurdle form was upheld and my mount was able to hold his own! Anyway, that was really nice - and what was even nicer was the post-script to the work-out, which came this afternoon when Jane trained a double within about a quarter of an hour, Norman Orpen winning the feature handicap at Lingfield shortly before Ivan Vasiliyev won the long-distance two-year-old maiden at Kempton. Jane has her horses in excellent form; and this morning's trio all looked in good shape so let's hope that they can add to her stable's good record over the forthcoming weeks.

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