Thursday, May 12, 2011

Unsung heroes

By coincidence, I received a text from my friend John McNamara a couple of days after I'd written about the late David Chapman. I'm sure that John hadn't read my thoughts as expressed on this blog, but we had clearly, as so often, been thinking along the same lines. His typically lengthy text message concluded, "... Musing, on hearing of the sad news of David Chapman's death, about the daily, but lazy & thoughtless, media adoration of the trainers of huge strings of blue bloods to the detriment of a wonderfully talented handler who turned 40-rated losers into group performers again and again." I couldn't have put it better myself.
As you will have noticed in previous chapters, I do like to make partial amends on this blog for "the daily, but lazy & thoughtless" slant which is given to the general portayal of achievement within our little world, by highlighting a few quiet achievers. This is inevitably parochial, with the closer the achiever's home is to Exeter Road, the more likely his achievement is to be hailed. But that (parochialism) is the way of the world, so I make no apologies for drawing your attention to what I believe to be Ashley Hamblett's strike rate this season: I think that I am correct in saying that Ashley has had four rides this season, and two of them have won. His most recent win (I use the superlative rather than the comparitive, because of course his two wins this year do not represent the sum total of his achievements) came at Ascot last Saturday on the George Margarson-trained Imperial Guest, who won the last race, an 18-runner six-furlong handicap, by a neck and a head. Ashley has been riding out for three trainers in the mornings - George Margarson first (as the first photograph taken on Monday morning shows, with Ashley fourth in the George-led string - and eagle-eyed observers might see two extremely talented former jockeys, Sean Keightley and Gary Foster, just behind Ashley) then Peter Chapple-Hyam (whose string is pictured crossing the Bury Road towards the end of the winter, with Ashley between Gary Hindmarsh and Jack Mitchell) and then in this stable for Dave Morris - so he has now saluted the judge this year for two of his three employers, having ridden a winner for Peter on Easter Monday at Warwick. We've just got to see him in the winner's enclosure for Dave now, but that might be harder as Dave's ammunition is far from plentiful at present, and Dave's other rider, the similarly under-rated Adrian McCarthy (pictured leading Dave and Ashley home across the Severals at the end of March), should probably be regarded as the more senior rider in that queue of two.

We would, of course, say that the real quiet achiever in this parish has been Matt Crawley, who performed wonders to win over hurdles at Musselburgh without stirrups on Last Rose Of Summer for Rae Guest (pictured a couple of months ago with his wife Rachel in what has to be regarded as an increasing rare sighting of Rae in the saddle, which is rather a shame as Rae is one of the best riders I've ever seen) and has had very few rides since then to show for the feat. However, Matt won the 'Lester' for National Hunt Ride of the Season, so the achievement can no longer be regarded as a quiet one. Even so, though, I should hail him here because, as Matt's continued lack of patronage shows, the feats of the less celebrated names are easily forgotten. And they shouldn't be. And we should also hail Matt's employer Lucy Wadham, whose string has been going really well, most notably with the victory of Dorcas Lane in the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Craven Meeting at Newmarket. Lucy's nephew-in-law Hugo Palmer (Lucy's husband Justin is Hugo's uncle) has been in the news this week, having saddled his first winner when sending out Steady The Buffs to win the two-year-old maiden at Brighton on Monday under Adam Beschizza. Hugo (seen here on his grey hack alongside his string on a sunny morning early in the spring) is now ensconced in what was Luca's bottom yard on the Snailwell Road and he seems to be going about things in the right way, so I'd imagine that that victory will prove to be merely one of many for the filly's trainer. Adam, who I would have thought must be pretty much a certainty to be champion apprentice this season, then rode two winners for his aunt Julia Feilden at Yarmouth the following afternoon when I was there helping Jason Weaver to present the At The Races coverage - but a more surprising rider there was Russell Price (pictured on Warren Hill last month), making a come-back after several years out of the saddle and at an age when the few jockeys who are still riding are thinking of jacking it in. That was a suprise, but Russell's weight seems to be good and he certainly doesn't ride any less effectively than ever, so why not? Lack of riding ability has never been Russell's problem, and he seems to be working hard and applying himself, so there's no reason to say that this come-back won't see him return to the winner's enclosure at some stage.

At least all the above have been in the news for the right reasons - unlike two members of our community who have been in our prayers this past week. I went to the funeral at noon today in St. Mary's Church of Alan Scott, who died ten days ago at the age of 76. I hadn't even known that Alan had been unwell, but apparently he was diagnosed with cancer towards the end of the winter and then died eight weeks later. The last time I saw him was at Wolverhampton in the winter, in a role in which I had enjoyed bumping into him on numerous occasions over the years: that of travelling head lad for Robert Cowell, a role which he had filled for the entirety of Robert's training career. I didn't know Alan particularly well, but I always enjoyed seeing him, and he was a perfect example of the type of person who makes the racing community such a special one. He was a man I both liked and respected, and I offer my condolences to his family, most particularly his sons Nigel and Simon, both of whom spent lengthy periods working for Michael Stoute before moving on - in Nigel's case eventually out of racing.

We can only hope that a similar fate does not befall the hugely popular ex-jockey Richard Fox, who has been in a coma since collapsing in the Rookery Shopping Centre on 1,000 Guineas Day. Richard was one of the best light-weights of the '70s and '80s, and even, memorably, rode in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (finding himself in the right place at the right time when John Reid was injured at the start of the Prix de l'Abbaye, shortly before he was due to ride In The Groove for Richard's old friend and patron David Elsworth in the Arc) - but, talented though he was as a jockey, Richard's greatest talent surely has to be the never-failing ability to bring smiles to the faces of those around him (a talent which his son Dominic has inherited). Richard (pictured last July in Exeter Road with either Olivier Peslier or Mark Denaro) has remained one of the most popular and likeable inhabitants of this town, so let's hope that he can make a recovery - and, while initially the outlook seemed very bleak, the bulletin on the Racing Post site this evening seems more positive.

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