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February 2023 Blog

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

This month has been very dry with none of the usual rain. Even St Valentine’s Day was a drought of cards and romance, with absolutely no gossip the next day. The fields and gateways were blissfully not muddy but the racecourses were too firm, resulting in non-runners and few entries. Clusters of snowdrops sprouted, hanging their little white bells like a jolly but silent choir. Despite these unseasonably dry, quiet conditions, February was still very busy. Adding to the usual yard commotion, certain people retired from the sport and horses were rehomed.

Good Luck Han

The end of January coincided with my friend Hannah Dean leaving racing. She’d spent a few years being Head of Travelling to Ben Pauling and led up Cheltenham Festival winners Le Breuil and Global Citizen. Between days racing, we spent many lunchtimes eating picnics or pub lunches, chatting as our two Jack Russells played together. We’d always catch up at the races and have a laugh, and message when each other had winners. Yet, racing is a hard game and any driving job is pretty constant – more of a way of life and the need to live often takes over. I wish Hannah loads of luck in her new career, training to be a prison officer. To be honest, dealing with several criminals will be less stressful than dealing with half ton thoroughbreds and racing grooms!

Peaks and Troughs On the 27th January, it was a mixed day at Donny. Rocked Up fell on the flat when sustaining a fatal injury under amateur AJ O’Neill, bringing down Neil Mulholland’s Crossing The Bar. His jockey was Richie McLernon, one of our own, who was sent into the threshing machine of thundering hooves. Richie was stood on, kicked and galloped over, resulting in a bad knee injury. He’s out for the next few weeks, sadly missing the Cheltenham Festival.

For many years, Richie has been a massive part of the yard and we’ll miss him on schooling and work mornings, plus at the races. He’s tough as teak and if he’s injured, he really is injured. Hopefully he’ll have a speedy recovery and be back very soon.

To turn a day that was saddened by the loss of a horse on its head – Half The Freedom then won under Kevin Brogan. This was another illustration of the peaks and troughs of this sport.

Half The Freedom with owners and super groom Tirana

Eight Runners and Three Winners

I’ve always said racehorses are like people – some I like, some I dislike, some I barely tolerate but others I love. One horse to steal my heart was Monbeg Genius. After being purchased from the sales, he never ran in bumper due to the ground being too firm before having the summer out. Being a picky eater, he came to live down at the pens last season to benefit from endless grass. Here, I got to know him properly. He is the sweetest, kindest character, who I nicknamed Minnie due to his smaller size. He won two hurdles last season and never faltered in his genuine attitude. His colour is dark bay with no flashy white markings, only a smattering of white hairs between his eyes but he is cute; he has a small head with small eyes and little pricky ears. He might not be the biggest stamp of a horse but is well put together and has plenty of pluck. He excels on a big, galloping track, having loved Newcastle and Chepstow above Aintree so far this season.

Minnie is a quiet ride and many people love to have him next to their name. Yet, before he’s doing two canters, he can be fresh. He was a lot worse when he first came to the yard. Once, he bronced with me, head disappeared between his knees, going onto the short gallop and another time, he rodeoed all the way up with Georgia Plumb on board, causing her pads to fly out from under her saddle. On the rounds, when starting back into work last season, he bucked Nick Healy cleanly off – Nick is tall and Minnie is little, so Minnie put some welly behind it.

I was delighted with Minnie when he won his third chase in a row on 3rd February. He won again at Chepstow – bringing him unbeaten, as someone pointed out on social media, in Wales. Maybe he thinks an iconic red dragon is chasing him! I could barely watch as they trapped up the home straight, especially when he stood off four from home. I was so happy – he’d done me proud. I treasure a horse who is a pleasure to ride and mannerly to handle at home and at the races, especially when one is a winner.

That day at Chepstow was very hectic with eight runners. I drove the four box, Head of Travelling Alex Howitt drove her usual two-box and Lauren Hay did a shuttle run, bringing the last two runners and taking the first two runners home. Half the runners lived out in the field so we busied ourselves with the usual shampooing. Whilst filling the lorry, I thought I’d grabbed a new five litre bottle of shampoo but when I was at the races, I realised it was Steri-7, which is disinfectant. Alex had also intended to bring shampoo but brought a bottle of tail detangler instead. All I had was a small amount of tea tree shampoo but it wasn’t enough to clean the horses thoroughly. We were hindered further by low water pressure, which was no more than a trickle and often cold. Thus, it was difficult to lather the shampoo into bubbles to remove the caked-on mud. We just brushed off the bits of mud we missed.

Nothing ran badly and all finished in the first six. After Minnie won, I led up ‘my’ Arrivederci, who is another favourite of mine, and he ran well enough. We had two other winners: Inch House won his first race for us and was the first winner led up by his groom Alex Pawlowska. Beachcomber won the bumper by sixteen lengths, though maybe was slightly lucky when a faller brought down a runner and hampered several others. Though, who cares? A win is a win.

Tommy Scu

On the 16th, top jockey Tom Scudamore announced his retirement. It was a surprise but understandable after bad falls and concussions. He was a brilliant rider – one of the best; cool, calm and a gentleman. The autumn before last, when Jonjo Junior was injured, Tom rode a lot of our runners and he always helped us by weighing out early when needed. Plus, there was of course, that Tom won the ‘Hennessy’ in 2020 on our Cloth Cap.

To me, Tom is the last of the old guard to retire – AP McCoy, Barry Geraghty and Dickie Johnson all went before him. It’s so bittersweet – a relief that they retired safe and sound but also a sadness that we won’t witness their greatness on a racecourse again. Over the years, I feel privileged to have watched these heroes ride, to have led them up and that they gave me feedback on my horses.

I will miss leading up Tom but racing is ingrained into him, no doubt he’ll keep popping up somewhere. He was on ITV Racing over the weekend – hopefully he’ll become a regular presenter on there.

A Retirement of a Different Kind

It’s always really lovely when our ex-racehorses get rehomed. This season, ex-amateur and former Jackdaws Castle employee Jenny Carr has rehomed three – Master Alan in October, who is now a hunter and this week, she picked up Sideshift and T’Araison. Shifty and Taz have been renamed Simon and Ronnie and already are loving their new lives in Devon. T’Araison was incredibly well bred: a full-brother to dual Cheltenham Gold Cup-winner Al Boum Photo. I had ridden him lots on the rounds and loved him, even though I always kept his head up in case he stuck in a buck. Jenny helps her mum Mary run their riding school near Exeter Racecourse and on a phone call prior to picking them up, Jenny reassured Mary that she would only be bringing back one ex-racehorse… when of course, she always planned to bring the two home. The newly named Simon and Ronnie will be riding horses, hunters and team chasers – as Jenny said, they will ‘do a bit of everything’. For the first few days, they were turned out and had their teeth and backs routinely checked; then they ate grass, soak up the Devonshire views and adapt to the many neighbouring ponies.

After all, it’s heaven in Devon.

60 And Counting

February tallied up a handful of winners; Walk Of No Shame was our sixteenth winner this season. The slight but gutsy Blue Shark (Sharky) won his fifth hurdle race in a row when scoring at Huntingdon. He’s another hero of a horse, slight in build and sweet natured. Many of us had fun on social media putting up his photograph alongside the Jaws theme tune and images of deathly shark’s teeth.

It was a great month for Sharky’s groom Tirana Jakulpi, who also had winners with Half The Freedon and the impressive Springwell Bay at Ascot last Saturday. I’m not sure if anyone is keeping a record of everyone’s totals but Tirana must be up there, if not in the lead.

Tirana with Springwell Bay and Sharky and winner number 60


During lunchtime, there are a steady stream of driving instructors’ cars going up and down the drive, containing the younger staff on their way into town to perfect their three-point turns, reverse parks and emergency stops. The majority of these L-plated vehicles belong to Brookes School of Motoring, which has been the go-to company for learner drivers in the Cotswolds for many years.

The most recent pass was Megan Petrie who is now let loose on the road. After initially failing, Meg had extra lessons and even went out under Georgia’s watchful and brave eye to get extra practise in, so deserved to pass.

I see all these learners as box drivers and heads of travelling of the future.

Baby Finn

Life has changed hugely for me since 20th December 2022 when my and Joe’s son was born. Finn Anthony came into this world at 10:12pm, weighing 7lbs and I can’t praise the midwifery staff in Gloucester hospital enough. Since then, colic has taken on a whole new meaning, rugs have been replaced by doll-sized outfits, I’m indoors instead of battling the winter weather, I've swapped mucking out for changing nappies and for a driver who’d gone countrywide with racehorses, I suddenly could barely go to Tesco’s with a baby. Sometimes I miss the bustle and busyness of being in the yard and I miss my favourite horses but other days, I take the approach of my dog Daisy, who stays at home with me, putting ratting and chasing cats on hold. My days are much quieter and horses are much easier to care for than tiny little humans but I wouldn’t change having Finn for anything. I can’t really recall life without him.

Finn with my colleague Megan Petrie, on the yard and at home

Colleague Spotlight

One of the yard’s learner drivers is 19-year-old Shannon Bishop. Known as Shanny, she came here in October 2021 after completing the foundation course at the British Racing School in Newmarket. There, she met a lot of friends but also fractured her wrist in a fall on the gallops. After mending, she returned to complete the course. A few more falls later and having always suffered from scoliosis, Shanny felt it was a safer option, and never wanting to give up her dream of working in horseracing, to stop riding and become a yardie. In the past, she spent time working for the successful smaller trainer, Richard Bandey.

Shanny with Prince Escalus

Shanny looks after the colossal Yes Indeed, Anyharminasking, Hasthing, Uptown Lady, recent winner Prince Escalus, New Beginnings, Land Genie and Are U Wise To That. She is a real racing fan and enthuses over champions of the past, horses and human, and has many photos, pictures and newspaper clippings plastered over her bedroom walls.

She is originally from Basingstoke, Hampshire, where her parents still live, her Dad with Shanny’s beloved whippet, Bluebell. She grew up going to Newbury races, progressing to the London tracks, like Sandown and Kempton, during her early teenage years. ‘Dad would always ask if I wanted to go and watch Altior, and off we’d go in rain and shine,’ she says with a smile.

Shanny with her Dad, Mum and her favourite Anyharminasking

Shanny loves all racing but it’s the mud and bravery of National Hunt that fully caught her heart. ‘I like the Flat,’ Shannon explains. ‘I do love the speed of the sprinters but you can’t beat the jumps.’ She is an asset to have on the yard because, during morning stables, she does many tasks on top of the mucking out and turning out. She helps out with horses receiving R&R in the spa, swims horses, feeds and always helps our vet, Peter Thurlow, with everything he needs from jogging up horses to being swamped by the lead apron during x-rays.

Did you have a horsey childhood? I’d go and watch my older sister Courtney ride in a riding school. I then started lessons when I was four.

How did you get into racing? I definitely first went racing as a tiny baby – my Dad’s a big racing fan and even my Mum would watch the big meetings. She now follows all of my horses at Jonjo’s.

What is your first racing memory? I can’t remember the horse’s name (Dad would though!) but we were at Newbury and had gone across the course to watch the race. We were very young and cold, and to warm us up Dad got us to run up the finishing straight after the winner. I’m sure we got on TV and it’s a really funny memory.

What is your best racing memory? I remember always getting Dad to back horses for me along with his own bets, and it was great when we both got money back. I will never forget seeing Big Buck’s at Newbury.

Favourite famous racehorse: Big Buck’s.

Favourite horse at work: Clondaw Promise and Anyharminasking. Though, I sadly lost Clondaw Promise last year.

Favourite racecourse: Newbury, for a day out and also to go to with work. It’s a long lead-up but a nice one. I’ve gone there throughout my life and now it’s great to be on the other side of the rails with the horses. I’ve been in the winner’s enclosure there with placed horses but would love a Newbury winner.

Best aspect to working at Jonjo’s: Going racing.

Worst aspect to working at Jonjo’s: Losing horses. Going racing with runners and coming home with one less is heart breaking.

Best day in racing so far: Anyharminasking (nicknamed Rupert, but shortened again to Rupey) winning the best turned out and coming fourth at Cheltenham in December. It was just a great day: going to Cheltenham with my favourite horse.

Also, at the beginning of last season, I took my two favourites, Anyharminasking and Clondaw Promise, racing on the same day to Uttoxeter and they were fourth and second. They were both lovely horses to take and ran well, so it was another good day.

My first ever lead-up was The Manuscript at Market Rasen in December 2020 and he won. Richard Johnson rode and it was his last winner for Jonjo – I won’t forget that day either. I also enjoyed taking Yes Indeed to Ascot – he’s another who is well behaved so it makes any day a great day.

There’s too many to list! To be honest, any day you bring the horses back home is a good day.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future? I’m only 19 so I have the world at my feet – I could go anywhere and do anything. In racing, I’d really love to have a winner at Newbury or Cheltenham.

Other hobbies: I don’t have time for other interests but even on my days off, I still love to go racing. I enjoy taking off a long weekend to go racing at Newbury on the Saturday morning. I enjoy dog walking, especially round the village of Kingsclere and down footpaths that go onto Andrew Balding’s gallops. I enjoy watching sport and going to the pub with my dad and visiting my Mum.

Shanny with her beloved Clondaw Promise

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Mar 01, 2023

I always look forward to reading your blogs, this one being even more special to read! Many congratulations to you both on the birth of Finn Anthony.

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