Wednesday, April 10, 2013


To happier matters.  And where better to start than with the Grand National?  Growing up in the Scottish Borders, I was raised on the legend of the local Grand National runners-up Wyndburgh and Freddie, and of the locally-owned but Yorkshire-trained winner Merryman, whose owner Winnie Wallace lived nearby.  I was still living up there when another local horse, Sebastian V, finished second in 1978 behind the Perthshire-owned but Cumbrian-trained (and Welsh-ridden) Lucius - and then the next year the supposed hoodoo (and, aged 12, I wasn't quite old enough to be certain that the concept of a hoodoo on Scottish-trained horses in the National was nonsense) was broken when John Leadbetter sent out Rubstic to win the Grand National from his tiny stable just out the other side of Denholm.

Anyway, five of these six horses (ie all bar Sebastian, as you might be able to make out) come together in this lovely picture (above) which adorns our drawing room wall and whose presence gives me great pleasure.  And now we have another Scottish hero who deserves to be included in this line-up: Auroras Encore might be trained in Yorkshire, but he's Scottish-owned (most notably from my point of view by Jim Beaumont, a lovely man who is on the committee at Musselburgh and whose welcome is one of the many reasons why it's always a pleasure to make the long trek up to that course) and was Scottish-ridden too, Ryan Mania, a son of Galashiels, having given him a flawless ride to win on Saturday.  And that was great.

Also great was that the Foxhunters was won by a properly local horse: Tartan Snow, owned and trained by Stuart Coltherd somewhere (I think) between Midlem and Selkirk, qualified with the Duke of Buccleuch's Foxhounds, and ridden by a Borders lad, 18-year-old Jamie Hamilton.  The latter had only appeared on my radar 13 days previously, when I'd been in the ATR studio and he'd ridden a winner for his boss Richard Fahey in the amateurs' race at Doncaster's opening turf Flat fixture.  I was very impressed by him that day and was bold enough to predict that that he had a bright future as a jumps jockey - but, even so, I didn't think that he could start proving me right merely 13 days later by riding a 100/1 winner over the Grand National fences.

What else is good?  Well, the weather, for a start (and for once).  Today is a spring day.  It didn't freeze last night and, after a grey start, the sun came out around 11.00 am (and in the third paragraph you can see watery sunshine 'blazing' on Simayill on Bury Hill around noon).  And now, at 2.30 in the afternoon, we're into double figures (ie it's 10 degrees) so, all in all, we have a spring day.  With a band of rain set to move over the country and the temperatures forecast then to get into the teens on Sunday, we could at last see the emergence of the famed but so far elusive 'spring grass'.  And in the past few days the flowers on the daffodils have started to come out, only about three or four weeks after they should have done, and only a week or two after they should have started to die.  There was not a single flower up on the July Course round-about (as you can see in the second paragraph)  when we got back from Lingfield on Wednesday evening last week, which seems scarcely possible for 3rd April, but I'd guess that there might be a few there now.

That's good - but even better is the sight of two people back in the saddle after long and serious spells on the sidelines.  You can see Patrice - whose surname I'm afraid that I don't know but whom I've known for many years, during which he has worked variously for Clive Brittain, Michael Bell and, now, Jeremy Noseda - in the fourth paragraph on a frosty morning eight days ago.  The sight of Patrice, a very nice Frenchman, is a daily heart-warmer, as he was on death's door at the end of last year, surviving only because of extensive bowel surgery which, fingers crossed, removed not only the guts of him, but also the cancer of him.  He was in hospital for a long time and then I didn't see him for quite a while after he'd come out - and when I did see him, although he was supposedly well on the way to recovery, he still looked very, very ill.  However, he's as tough as you come, and his dearest wish of getting back to work came to fruition a month or so ago.  He's a true hero, and an inspiration to us all.  Carpe diem.

Similarly inspirational is Shannon Edmondson, son of Robert (whom you might recall winning the apprentices' championship in the '70s and whom you can see in the previous paragraph on one of Willie Musson's horses a couple of years ago) and Sue.  Sue has worked for our neighbour Willie Musson for a long time, and Robert too worked there in recent years, having previously worked for Jane Chapple-Hyam for a while, and for David Loder for the entirety of the latter's training career.  Anyway, Shannon used to go into Willie's stable with her mum when she was young, and started work there when she had left school.  She wasn't a very confident rider at first, but by sticking at it she blossomed, as this paragraph's picture, taken a couple of years ago, shows.

Eventually she had become good enough for Willie to take out an apprentices' license for her, she had a ride - and then more than a year ago she had a very, very bad fall.  I think that she broke legs, hips, whatever, was in hospital for ages, and then faced a very long convalescence indeed.  You'd have understood if she'd never wanted to sit on a horse again - but that wasn't the case.  She started off again over the winter on one of Ed Dunlop's children's ponies  - and this week she has reappeared in Willie Musson's string, as you can see in this photograph taken today.  She's a lovely girl and must be a source of great pride to her parents - while she's a source of inspiration to us all.

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