Thursday, March 06, 2014

A very happy meeting

Well, I can't say that the trip to Catterick was productive yesterday as Frankie (seen before and after the race) finished fifth of 16 (the fate of all good EW bets in a 16-runner handicap) so ended up with nothing to show for the outing; but it was very far from a bad trip too.  It was a thoroughly pleasant and straightforward outing, with the horse running respectably and with conditions, while not quite as springlike as those we appear to be getting used to 'down south', still remarkably clement for north Yorkshire in the first week of March.  And, as generally happens when one goes racing in Yorkshire, there were plenty of friendly faces with whom to spend the day.

Frankie again travelled and jumped with great elan yesterday.  The only disappointing thing was that he faded rather tamely at the end.  In the first two from the outset, he took up the lead leaving the back straight; and, turning in, he looked to have only one rival.  Disappointingly, he weakened after the second last, and ended up finishing only fifth.  In general, weak finishers tend to benefit from being ridden more quietly and/or running over shorter distances.  In his case, he really seems to relish racing prominently (not least because he seems to have much more confidence in his jumping if he has plenty of room) so I think that, for the time being, we'll restrict the changes to finding shorter races for him.

The real highlight of the day, though, was bumping into one of racing's nicest men, John Leadbetter, trainer of the only Scottish-trained Grand National winner (Rubstic, successful in 1979).  I probably hadn't seen John for a decade, and was really, really pleased when I was walking across the stable yard half an hour after Frankie's race, heard a familiar voice calling my name, and looked around to see him (pictured).  When I was a boy, the three local trainers, all based near Denholm, were Ken Oliver, Harry Bell and John Leadbetter, and John's a man whom I've liked and respected all my life.

John only ever trained a handful of generally very poor horses, and packed up training many years ago.  There used to be a lady living between Lilliesleaf and Galashiels called Mrs Napier who used to have horses with Ernie Weymes (and then Ernie's son John when he succeeded his father) and, after packing up training, John used to drive her to the races when she had a runner.  Every year or two I'd bump into them at the races somewhere in the north - but she must have died a good 10 years ago, and I hadn't seen John since then.

Anyway, I was delighted to see him yesterday.  Funnily enough, I often think of him - not least because I see Angela Barnes (daughter of Rubstic's jockey Maurice Barnes, and pictured in the previous paragraph last October on Long Hill, on Tac De Boistron and alongside Alex Cairns on Jakkalberry) every day in Marco Botti's string - and had been thinking that I hoped that I'd bump into him again at some stage.  So it was a very happy meeting - particularly as he looks terrific, not really looking any older than when he trained the Grand National winner 35 years ago.  He had a runner in the hunters' chase yesterday, hence his presence: he said that he hardly ever goes to the races nowadays as he's hunting virtually every other day - which is a lovely thing to hear a man who must be in his 70s saying.  On which subject, I looked up in an old Directory of the Turf (1988) today to see if I could check John's age (I couldn't) and loved his answer to the question, 'Recreations': "Hunting Rubstic", an answer all the more lovely for the fact that Rubstic was aged 19 in 1988.  That's life after racing!

Two other highlights of the last couple of days were (a) yesterday making the acquaintance of a really lovely cat who lives in Catterick's stable yard (and whom I now think of as The Catterick Cat) and (b) today resuming riding out after my 30-day post-op absence from the saddle.  I had been expecting to feel out of place when resuming after such a long absence, but happily I didn't - although it must be said that I certainly made things very, very easy for myself: I only rode one horse, and that one horse was Frankie (ears seen looking out over  Lord Derby's field) who is an easy ride at any time, but particularly when merely going for a trot the day after a race.  Well, I wasn't going to make it too hard for myself, was I?  It's no good getting older if you don't get wiser!


neil kearns said...

Nice to see the return of the horses ears shots glad to had your back in action
See the rulers are hiding behind the drug testers rvery unsatisfactory

neil kearns said...

Moral dilemma is it acceptable to cheer for one of one,s favourite horses Dunguib when you know the hi that will follow if he wins ?