Sunday, July 13, 2014

The spies who came in from the cold

Cometh the hour, cometh the Mare.  You might have noticed that we rather needed a winner, not having had one since last August.  I can't say that I was too concerned by this drought (in fact, I was probably less concerned than I perhaps ought to have been) because I hadn't been disappointed by many of our runners in the intervening 11 months, and I didn't really feel that there was too much going wrong.  However, I'm very well aware that the outside world tends to look at things in black and white: that the Cold List in the Cold List, and that a zero percent strike-rate is a zero percent strike-rate.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it doesn't take too long an unsuccessful run for the world to form the impression that one has forgotten how to train, or has otherwise taken one's eye off the ball - or, indeed, to remind oneself that one never knew how to train in the first place.  Anyway, whatever, it was a great thrill to see Ethics Girl bring us in from the cold at Epsom on Thursday.  She's a true star, and once again she galloped to the rescue when we needed her assistance most.  And if one is going to come off the Cold List, there are few better places to do so than at Epsom; and, if one is going to come off the Cold List at Epsom, there is no better distance to do it over than over the full Derby course.

Aside from the fact that when one has gone a long period without training a winner one tends to stop thinking seriously about whether a horse can or can't win the race, it was easy enough to fancy Ethics on Thursday, as her course form was good, and her recent form was good too.  Furthermore, as the day went on things went well, if one takes omens seriously (which I do).  Not, though, that the weather was looking promising for much of the time, as anyone who watched that afternoon's action from Newmarket - ie on "Ladies' Day", the first of the three days of the July Meeting - will know.

Ethics really doesn't handle wet tracks at all, so the rain which set in here in the morning was even less welcome than such rain generally is.  We left here early in the afternoon in heavy rain (Epsom was an evening meeting, and we weren't in until the fourth race at 7.50) and, while I was hoping that the rain was indeed localized, things weren't looking promising for much of the way.  It was still raining hard when we reached the M25, still raining when we crossed the Dartford Bridge (at which time we heard on the radio that the M11 southbound carriageway had been shut not long after we had gone down it, so we'd dodged a bullet there) and still raining when we passed the Lingfield turn-off.

Miraculously, the rain stopped shortly afterwards, and during the final 10 miles of the journey it became clear that Epsom had missed all the day's rain (albeit narrowly) and that there was no reason for the ground to have changed from its 'good to firm, good in places', which was ideal; as, indeed, was the sky, which appeared to suggest that it would remain dry through the evening, notwithstanding that the heavens turned very grey for about five minutes just as we were heading up to the enclosures for our race.  So that was grand.  Furthermore, the omens on the journey had been terrific.  We'd passed three trains including the Eurostar, which is always a good sign; and not only were we running in the Beach Boys 17th July Handicap, but 'God only knows' came on the radio when we were only a few miles from the course.  What could have been better?

Well, we'd already had a wonderful omen even before leaving home, as we had been lucky enough to enjoy a visit from The Prodigal Son, ie Camelot, who only deigns to favour us with his presence once a blue moon nowadays.  In fact, it's being kind to him to say that he visited, as he didn't show up voluntarily.  For all his aloofness, though, he does at least still have the good grace to come to call if he knows that I can see him; and when I happened to catch sight of him in Exeter Road that morning, he duly came in from the cold, trotting over to suffer my affections for a few minutes and to condescend to eat a small portion of the fatted calf which I put in a dish for him, before heading away to continue his mysterious peregrinations.  He can't, though, have been as unmoved by the chance meeting as he pretended, because he insisted on taking a couple of 'selfies' (looking cross, as usual) with me before his departure, as you can.

So that was a terrific day, not least because it is always a pleasure to train a winner for the 1997 Partnership, who have been the most loyal and supportive patrons any trainer could ever wish for.  Furthermore, Epsom is such a special place and, while we'd had a few minor placings there (I particularly remember Brief Goodbye managing to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory one evening there under Jason Weaver in a race which I still can't really work out how he didn't win, and also Ethics finishing second in the Steve Donoghue Apprentices' Derby under Marc Halford, probably three years ago) I'd never been lucky enough previously to stand in the famous winner's circle.  Thanks to this dear, brave and ageless mare, and thanks to a typically excellent ride from Oisin Murphy, I've been there now, so I'm very happy about that - especially as it came at a time when I was beginning quietly to wonder whether I'd ever train a winner again!

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