Thursday, June 03, 2021

Gone but not forgotten

Where does the time go?  It's lucky that we have the occasional runner, as otherwise I fear I might never write a chapter of this blog.  We've had two in the past week (Turn Of Phrase at Brighton on Friday and Kryptos at Windsor on Monday, with today being Thursday) and I hope that we shall have five more over the next few days, ie Cloudy Rose at Bath tomorrow evening, Eljaytee at Windsor on Monday evening, Hidden Pearl at Yarmouth on Wednesday, and then both Dereham and Turn Of Phrase at Nottingham on Thursday.  Busy, busy, busy.  It seems unlikely that, if one plans to have five runners, all five will run, but it could happen.  I hope so.  And I hope that the consequent travelling, activity, long hours and worry don't wear me out altogether!

It was good to go to Brighton again, the first time I had been there since we lost Roy. The first time since the late summer or autumn of 2019, in fact.  It was a very pleasant afternoon, as it generally is there.  Turn Of Phrase ran well but not quite well enough, finishing fourth.  I think and hope that she is going in the right direction.  The highlight of the afternoon was Liam Jones riding his first winner since resuming from his long spell on the sidelines through injury, so that must have been his first winner for two years or so.  I didn't actually see the race, but was delighted when I found out shortly afterwards that it had happened.  Another return to temps perdu was the traffic coming home, the Friday evening in advance of a Bank Holiday weekend.  Similarly, going (slowly) around the M25 to Windsor on Monday reminded one that lockdown is more or less over.

Kryptos' run at Windsor was the stand-out disappointment on an otherwise extremely pleasant afternoon in the glorious sunshine which finally arrived as May was drawing to a close.  He got into a lovely position and rhythm, but then apparently made a real meal of changing his legs going into the right-handed bend and was never travelling on an even keel thereafter.  It's rare for him to run below par (his previous seemingly poor run at Chester wasn't a poor run once one had digested the effect of a wide draw at Chester) but he did on Monday.  On the plus side, this was Saffie Osborne's first ride for us and I couldn't have been more impressed before, during and after the race.

She has her second ride for us tomorrow (and I hope that I'll still be similarly effusive come 6.50 tomorrow evening!).  That's two very good apprentices who have ridden for us in the past few days, ie Saffie and Thore Hammer Hansen.  With both, the claim (3lb in his instance and 5lb in hers) is a gift.  In fact, after Thore had ridden Turn Of Phrase last week at Brighton, I mused that, never mind having 3lb deducted from the weight one's horse has to carry, I'd be quite happy to carry 3lb more than one's allotted weight any time if it could guarantee that one's horse would be ridden as well as he rode her.

So we'll go to Bath tomorrow and see what happens, and then we'll worry about next week when we get there.  More immediately, I'll close on a sombre note, recalling two very good people who have recently passed away and who previously had featured strongly in this stable's life at one point of another.  The one of whom you will have heard was Kevin Peckham, who seems to have died on his 66th birthday in a tragic accident at a pre-training yard out towards Cheveley run by his son George.  For quite a few years we would see Kevin every day at the bottom of Long Hill close to the Bury Road crossing.  He was working for William Haggas and would be overseeing William's string on its way out to the Heath and on its way home.

Kevin, being Kevin, of course did much more than merely oversee William's string.  He was a friendly and reassuring face there for everyone.  If anyone was in trouble, it was never too much trouble for Kevin to lend a helping hand; and there was invariably a warm smile and friendly greeting for everyone whatever the circumstances.  I didn't know too much about Kevin's background (bar that he had enjoyed some success as an amateur rider in Ireland in the late '70s working for Liam Browne - and that is a recommendation in itself, as you'd have needed not to be too significantly outshone by the likes of  Mick Kinane, Stephen Craine and Tommy Carmody to be getting rides in that stable at that time) until I read his obituary in the Newmarket Journal, but you didn't have to know what Kevin had done in the past to realise that he was as skilled a horseman as he was kind a man: he clearly had the perfect, unflappable temperament for horsemanship.

Kevin was so proud when his son George started training and he was so happy to be able to help George once he had retired from his job in William's stable.  I saw him supervising George's horses on Southfields a few times when he first retired, but he clearly had moved over to the stud near Cheveley more recently.  It is only tragic that he didn't get to spend more years in this role which he so clearly relished, father and son working together, and I offer my most sincere sympathies to George and the rest of the family.  Kevin's loss is very keenly felt by people such as myself whose paths he only crossed casually; his family must miss him like hell.

Another great horseman who has recently passed away is one who was a great friend to this stable over the years: Gordon Kenny, whose son Sean very kindly came round the stable the other Sunday to give me the sad news.  Gordy spent the bulk of his career working for whoever was training at Royston at the time.  He served his apprenticeship with Willie Stephenson, when the stable was still in the town rather than out at King's Ride at the other end of the Heath, and then stayed there right the way through to Willie Stephenson's retirement.  He worked briefly for Alan Jarvis when he was there, and then for an extended period for John Jenkins once he had moved in.  His final few years of riding were the ones he spent in Newmarket, as for a few years at the end of the last century and at the start of this one he would drive over from Royston every morning to help me.

Gordy carried on riding out into his 60s, not that you'd have known he was in his 60s both because he rode with the confidence of a man 40 years his junior (albeit with more skill than most men 40 years his junior) and because he'd never let you know.  Gordy (aka Romeo, while in later years Peter Pan might have fitted just as well) lived life to the full (while being an absolutely devoted husband to Pat, to whom I guess he must have been married for over 60 years) and it was only towards the end (he was 83 when he died) that his age began to show.  I suspect he might have been in contention for a record for being the oldest person to have his first race-ride.  I don't know if Gordy did ever race-ride during his apprenticeship, but I do know that he rode in a race at the age of 59, when he went over to Jersey for a working holiday for a week and ended up having a ride on Dutosky at the meeting at Les Landes at the end of it!

As Gordy was a Royston man through and through, he didn't know many people in Newmarket when he first came over, only ones who had served their apprenticeship with Willie Stephenson such as David Papworth, Kenny Baker and Bruce Raymond (who lodged with Gordy and Pat for three years early on his apprenticeship).  But it was in Gordy's nature to make friends, and he was a much loved and great-fun part of this stable.  He became particularly friendly with Cliff Rimmer and Phil McEntee Sr, who of course passed away all too young.  I remember both Gordy (seen here in the final photograph in 1998) and Cliff coming over to Ireland with me for Phil's funeral at Julianstown in Co. Meath.  All three have gone now; gone, but very definitely not forgotten.

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