Monday, June 20, 2011

At home to the captain

In the previous chapter when I said that it's not a bad thing to be reminded that Capt. Cock-up pays visits to other stables, the point I was making was about the re-assurance which that provides, because he certainly knocks on our door all too frequently. And, sure enough, he found us at home on Saturday, once again. However, before detailing the latest tale of woe, I might point out that Saturday was otherwise a lovely day. You wouldn't have guessed it at the outset, though, as, unbelievably, it was still raining at daybreak, after bucketfuls of rain had tumbled down throughout the previous evening. Fortunately it did dry up soon after 5.30 and actually became a very pleasant morning, which set the tone for (most of) the day; and by the time I made a very rare trip to the Limekilns - which, amazingly, were still open after all that rain, and still providing very nice ground just on the fast side of good - at around 7.15 (where some of Luca's horses are pictured), the sun was trying to come out.

The bulk of the pleasure of Saturday came courtesy of our house-guest Clare Lindop, whose first taste of the July Course proved to be a very happy one. She had originally been looking forward to riding at Royal Ascot that day, but those hopes were dashed when it become plain that her intended mount Medicean Man would be eliminated from the Wokingham. Not to worry: the disappointment was eased when that horse's trainer Jeremy Gask booked her instead to ride Ivory Silk at Newmarket, which was really nice as she hadn't ridden at Newmarket on her previous visit to Britain. That mare was actually her third mount of the day, because Michael Stoute made her very welcome in the morning, putting her on Workforce's Dalakhani three-year-old half-sister Spectacle (pictured atop a soggy Long Hill) first lot and an unraced Galileo two-year-old colt second lot. Compared to that first rather murky photograph, the day had really perked up by the afternoon, and Ivory Silk competed in glorious sunshine. Right on cue, the mare, who had never previously won on grass, rose to the occasion in splendid style, doing everything right to record a smooth victory to give a perfect illustration that a good jockey in one environment is a good jockey in another. It was great because the mare clearly isn't an easy ride, but everything looked just so straightforward - which is, of course, what being good at any sport is really about. It was a really happy occasion, made all the better for the fact that the race and post-race interview with Mike Cattermole (pictured) were live on Channel Four. (And we'll overlook the fact that probably nobody would have been watching Channel Four at the time, with Royal Ascot, including James Sherwood's remarkable replacement Louis whom we ought to discuss at some point, on the BBC at the same time.)

And thereafter things went downhill somewhat. Asterisk has always been very buzzy, having arrived here in April of her two-year-old season from James Given's stable with the caution that she was very, very bad in the stalls. She's still difficult, which is why she always wears a rug and I always lead her in, but she's never given serious trouble and never received a warning. She's been getting better as she gets older, and she seemed the most relaxed I've seen her on Saturday as she readied herself to give Iva her long-awaited comeback ride. However, the clouds were gathering, factually and metaphorically, and, although I'd say that she was the calmest she's been before any of her races, she was still a bit fractious while I was standing in the stalls with her a few seconds before the intended start - and, when she half-reared while I was holding the cheekpiece of her bridle, the bridle broke. B**ger me! How unlucky can you get? She stood calmly as we tried to piece it together and then while we waited for a head-collar to be found, but there was no replacement bridle around - so, non-runner. Unbelievable! Still, in the great scheme of things it was merely an irritation. No lives were lost, nobody was hurt - and, as poor Yarmy's terrible recent accident has reminded us this month, that's far from guaranteed any time one goes in the stalls. And, when things don't work out quite as you'd hoped at the races, it's always easier to swallow when you're only two miles from home, rather than two hundred. So that was how a memorable Royal Ascot week ended for me. We didn't have much to show for it, but the pleasure of observing success for others more than made up for that - with the Golden Jubilee/Wokingham double for the stable of our friend James Fanshawe (pictured this morning riding his hack out of the morning sun on Long Hill) giving the day a further glow of happiness.

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