Friday, June 13, 2014

Seizing the days, again

Well, I did enjoy our trip to Yarmouth yesterday.  It's generally a very pleasant place to visit; so when the weather's perfect and both one's horses run well, that's pretty much a recipe for a lovely afternoon, notwithstanding that neither of the horses actually won.  Gift Of Silence ran a very good race (under a very good ride from Paddy Aspell) to finish third, and Ethics Girl, well ridden by Nicky Mackay, ran even better to finish second to the Ryan Moore-ridden 2/1 on favourite Nullarbor Sky, beaten only half a length with a fair gap back to the rest.  (And we won't get too worried that "the rest" in this instance equated to only two horses).

We're coming up for two years since Ethics last won a race and much of that period was frustrating as she was continuing to run well - but living on a career-high mark, which as she can be viewed as a veteran was slightly hard to swallow, as time and again she showed that she was significantly more harshly handicapped than her younger, less exposed rivals.  The handicapper has - probably thanks to her having contested a couple of claimers this spring - finally cut her some slack and, while she isn't as good as she used to be, at least she is now off a mark when one can go to the races and not feel beaten before one sets off.  As her very competitive performance yesterday reminded us.

Let's hope now that Roy can be competitive tomorrow (he being our next runner, because this evening's possible runner, Zarosa, has, as predicted, been scratched after the going at Chepstow changed from 'good to soft' to 'good, good to firm in places').  The track will be very firm at Bath tomorrow after a few dry days with temperatures in the low 20s; but it'll be the same for all of them and, while I do rather quail at the thought of asking any horse to gallop on such a firm surface, one can be too protective.  Certainly, there is no reason to feel that he will be any less able to function on the ground than any of the others; and the only two good races he has ever run (ie his two races as a three-year-old in 2013) both came on reasonably firm turf.  He ought to be competitive off his current mark, so let's hope that that theory can be put into practice.

I can't let this chapter end without a offering a few farewells.  This weekend Newmarket will welcome a party of Australian racing pilgrims, calling into HQ en route to a visit to Royal Ascot, as generally happens at this time every year.  It's always a pleasure to pass some time with our visitors, and I'll be joining the group in the Bedford Lodge on Sunday evening.  But the party will have a notable omission this year: the former Brisbane race-caller Wayne Wilson often came along as tour guide, but sadly last week he lost his very long and very brave battle against cancer.  As Sir Henry Cecil had done, Wayne made his battle last much longer than had initially seemed likely or possible - but sadly he couldn't extend it forever.

Wayne was a lovely man, and I was very pleased when I met him here a few years ago to have the opportunity to let him know how much how much his calls had spiced up my appreciation and enjoyment of Brisbane racing of what many of my generation will think of as its golden era, ie when Rough Habit was a standing dish during the winters.  He will be much missed - and his many friends in England will particularly mourn his loss at this time, as his compatriots arrive in town and he doesn't.

The past week has also seen the death of another Queenslander who earned honorary citizenship of Newmarket.  Russell Maddock was here before my time, but there are still plenty of people around the town who remember his stints in the '60s as stable jockey to Bernard van Cutsem, for whom his many victories included the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1967 on the legendary racemare Park Top.  I particularly recall George Douglass, who rode for the stable at the time and who subsequently became head lad to Luca Cumani, speaking of him with affection and respect, telling me that he was the best, most switched-on jockey with whom he ever worked.  Starting stalls were only just being introduced at the time, and their introduction obviously reduced the advantage held by good riders over their less skilled rivals - and I well remember George telling me that - as regards getting a horse smartly into his stride and then running along, well balanced and on the bridle - Russ Maddock was in a class of his own.

Happily, the other farewell should prove to be 'Au revoir' rather than 'Adieu'.  The Reverend Graham Locking has been a massive asset to this town over the past 14 years in his role as the Racing Chaplain.  Nobody could have done the job better, and he will be much missed in these parts when he heads away shortly to take up a position as a (Methodist, I presume) parish priest at Storrington in Sussex.  Graham's greatest gift is his ability to make religion relevant to everyone, irrespective of what, if any, religious beliefs a person might hold.

In the modern era, the church will marginalise itself into obscurity if it tries to appeal only to the ever-diminishing band of people who believe in God.  Graham recognises this, but also recognises that the basic principles of any religion - behaving responsibly and kindly, using one's allotted time on earth productively, caring for those around us, cherishing our blessings and loving our neighbours, comfort in another's trouble, courage in one's own - are the basic bedrocks of any society or civilization, religious or secular.  Graham is one of the most human people I know; and there are many, many people in this town whose lives have been enriched (and, in many cases, prolonged) because of his wisdom and his ability to help people make sense of the mess into which they have found that their life has descended.

A long-standing friend of mine, who happened to be working for me at the time, found himself a few years ago in a very vicious circle in which drinking was causing troubles which were prompting him to drink more, with the resultant worsening of his problems encouraging him to feel sorry for himself, with the consequent self-pity then being used as an excuse to drink more, dot, dot, dot.  I asked Graham if he could help, which task he took on with the cautionary note that he wouldn't be working any miracles, nor patting the man on the shoulder and saying, "There, there".  But if the man wanted to speak to him, he would be welcome to do so.

Anyway, the lost sheep agreed to see Graham, possibly under the misapprehension that he was going to be favoured with a generous helping of the sympathy which he believed to be his due.  Anyway, I saw the by-now-shell-shocked patient after his first visit, and his observation was, "Bloody hell, Graham doesn't pull any punches!".  Anyway, the shock treatment worked and the story has a happy ending, this man being one of many around this town whose paths have crossed Graham's when they needed him most.

Last Sunday, Emma and I went to a lovely and moving evensong service in St. Mary's Church to bid Graham farewell.  I'm glad that we went, and I'll be even more glad when I see Graham next.  The first five of this chapter's photographs, by the way, were taken yesterday; and the next five were taken today.  I hope that you'll identify the pictures of yesterday's runners, while tomorrow's competitor Roy is in the first of today's photos, trotting around the Severals under Hannah during first lot today.  And then the final photograph is of the aforementioned St. Mary's Church, taken on a glorious morning a couple of weeks ago.

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