Thursday, March 03, 2011

Stoneacre Oddity

A very nice thing happened last week which I will relate. Riding out last Thursday I bumped into Ken Clutterbuck on a horse, which was great. Ken is a really nice man who used to train somewhere over near Royston (I think - I don't actually know where it was that he trained) before moving to Exning, where he bought the small yard at the back of Harraton Stables and also took on the Wheatsheaf pub across the road. So he was jollily training and publicaning and generally being a popular member of the local racing community - and then his marriage broke up, knocking him for six. 'The Colonel' (as his colour-bag bore the initials KFC, it is easy to work out why some people took to referring to him thus) consequently disappeared from view for two or three years as his life fell apart, which was very sad to see. Anyway, the good news is that his life appears to be back on track: he has the pub back and has resumed training from the same yard, which apparently he had put on the market but failed to sell, as he told me as he and I rode along the side of the Heath together seven days ago. This really brought a smile to my face - and then the icing on the cake was that he trained a winner later the same day. And, as I am ever on the look-out for race oddities, this winner really has pricked my interest.

The horse with whom Ken won at Kempton that evening was Stoneacre Gareth, whom he also owns and who I think was his first runner since returning to the training ranks. Ever thinking of points of trivia, I naturally reckoned that this horse must have been once trained by Peter Grayson (who trains a lot of Stoneacre ...s and Rightcar ...s) so the thought came to me that, I think, Grayson once supplied all the runners in a race at Lingfield - and, I wondered, did Stoneacre Gareth take part in that race? Anyway, I can't find such a race, so today's question is whether it did actually take place. I can find one race in which he trained seven of the nine runners (the 3.40 at Lingfield on 28th February 2008) and one in which he trained six of the nine runners (the 3.50 at Lingfield on 2nd February 2008); but, annoyingly, I can't find a race where he trained all the runners. Can anyone? (Three of his horses, incidentally, ran in both of those races - which were won by Stoneacre Sarah and Stoneacre Pat respectively - as did the Barry Hills-trained Allium and the Gary Moore-trained Capriccioso, while Stoneacre Gareth ran in neither race). (And I do like the Racing Post's analysis of the race on 28th February 2008: "With one trainer responsible for seven of the nine runners, this form will be best assessed by him.").

Anyway, Stoneacre Gareth did indeed start out with Grayson. A two-year-old in 2006, he was unplaced in his first four races before finding himself in a seven-furlong nursery at Wolverhampton on 28th November of that year, racing off a surprisingly high rating (73). Unsurprisingly, he started at a very long price (16/1 in a four-horse race) but surprisingly he dead-heated for first place. He was then kept very busy: he raced for Grayson 29 times (without winning again, and with his final 22 starts for the stable being over either five or six furlongs). His final run for the stable came in a five-furlong claimer at Lingfield early in his four-year-old career in February 2008. He finished third of the four runners, taking his record from 28 starts to one win (if you can claim a full win for a dead-heat), two seconds and one third. Three of the four races in which he had finished in the first three had been four-horse races. Unbelievably, after this race (in which the Racing Post suggested that he "probably achieved little") he was claimed for 7,000 pounds by Jonathan Jay, who was training in this street at the time. He'd gone off at 20/1 in that race - but, unbelievably (a word which, along with 'surprisingly', appears a lot in this chapter), he had his first start for Jonathan's stable nine days later and went off favourite in a 13-runner 9.5-furlong handicap. He finished seventh ("looked to fall short in the stamina department", as the Racing Post observed). Jonathan then ran him (unplaced) four more times including, unbelievably, in a 3600m hurdle race at Auteuil in Paris (in which he finished last of the 11 finishers in a 13-runner race)! His final two starts for Jonathan were in a 12-furlong handicap at Brighton (15th of 16, beaten 54 lengths) and in a two-mile maiden hurdle at Worcester (8th of 9, beaten 74 lengths). He then didn't run from that day (9th July 2008) until having his first run for Ken last week (24th February 2011) - when he won a 7-furlong handicap by six lengths as, surprisingly, a well-backed 7/1 shot! So weird. You've got to salute those who backed him as, on paper, he should have started around 200/1. The funny thing, though, is that it appears that he had been declared to run in January 2011 at Southwell under Adam Kirby, being heavily backed before being scratched as there was no suitable jockey available on the course to take the ride. According to the Racing Post, he was "down as being with Neil Mulholland" at the time - which is a strange way of writing that Neil Mulholland trained him. Anyway, that's the story of Ken's come-back winner; and if that doesn't have you scratching your head, then nothing will. And, of course, we've had the perfect postscript in the last race at Wolverhampton this evening: he won again (ridden by Adam Kirby, who also rode him last week) under a 6-lb penalty as the 4/6 favourite.

If the above Stoneacre Oddity (Stoneacre Brahma) doesn't make you think that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, then how about this? Outside the Bushel pub in the Rookery this afternoon was a sign saying that former Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Straton (sic) would be playing there this evening. If that doesn't seem strange to you, then you probably don't know the Bushel, into which you could comfortably fit twenty people. A suitable sub-headline might have been, "Be there, or enjoy your evening". I wasn't tempted as there'll be a much better option next week: Ken's pub, the Wheatsheaf in Exning, will be having its official re-opening on Friday 11th March. The band which includes former jockey (and now British Racing School senior instructor) Richard Perham will be playing, and that will be a good night. Be there, or be square, as they say.


Nathan said...

30th December 2006 - Grange Lili beat Foxy Music in a match at Lingfield. Grayson actually trained all five declared runners in the race, with three withdrawn on vet's certificates having run the previous day.

John Berry said...

Thanks Nathan. I'm glad that you've sorted that one out. Amazing that he was able to monopolize a race without using either a Stoneacre or a Rightcar - I'd been trying to find the race by looking at the careers of all such horses!