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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

June Diary 2021

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

May slid into June with a torrent of nature. Blossom garnished trees, musky scented cow parsley grew tall, buttercups sprouted in swathes and bees hummed amid little sunbursts of dandelions. A birdsong orchestra added summery tunes.

The blossom has now fallen like confetti and the cow parsley has lost its froth, but the emerald green of thick matted foliage remains. Blue skies dotted with cotton wool clouds suggested sunshine, which meant the big turnout rugs were taken off the holidaying herds.

It’s my job to wash and dry the rugs, sorting out the ones for repair and storage. The stable rugs and sheets go in the big industrial washing machine and the heavyweight turnouts are power-hosed.

I spread them out like bearskin rugs, blast away with jets of hot water and soap; then flip them over and repeat on the lining. The saturated rugs weigh a ton and are then rinsed with jets of cold water, removing any remaining dirt, mud and encrusted poo. The rugs drip-dry in the fresh air before being dried thoroughly in the drying room for a few days and then stored until winter.

On June 2nd, ITV Racing’s handsome presenter Chris Hughes visited the yard to record a series of promotional videos. He was looked after by Lauren Hay. I missed much of it due to my normal tasks but I tagged along for his final challenge. Conditional jockey Will Marshall and Chris were dared to leap in the horse pool. Will took some persuading. Stripping down to boxers and farmer’s tan, showing off muscly abs, he dived into the icy blue water for a few seconds. Much to the crowd’s disappointment, Chris chickened out and whether his Love Island-esque physique remains is still a mystery! It was all good promotion for racing and the shoot will be aired during the inaugural National Racehorse Week in September.

Will received June’s Employee of the Month for riding his first winner for us on Jolymaker at Huntingdon. He came here in January, having spent five seasons at Dan Skelton’s and he’s slotted into the team very quickly. During the past few weeks, he’s been driving tractors, strimming, pressure-washing and completing lots of other jobs to help out the maintenance team.

Will Marshall with the Boss.

A kitten became the newest member of the team. Oscar is fluffy, smoky coloured with a striped tail. Hissing and spitting at first, he’s now less feral. He is a great climber, using needle claws to scale jodhpured legs.

In addition to spoiling Gin, the marmalade moggy, Head lad Johnny Kavanaugh is already looking after Oscar like a house cat, purchasing a bag of Go-Cat. Thus, I’m not sure how effective a mouser he’ll become.

Back in January, Powerful Hero (Magic) arrived from Australia. He’s a beautiful dark colour, with the whitened freeze-brands on his shoulders that racehorses from New Zealand and Australia always have. He came during heavy frosts with a sleek and shining smooth coat. His body clock, all upside down, has caused him to grow his winter coat now – tufty but not woolly, so he doesn’t need clipping.

Kea and Powerful Hero

On 5th June, the yard sent out a double at Worcester. An Tailliur won for the third time and Papa Tango Charlie won his first race under Rules. He is looked after by Nick Healy and has always been a skinny sort so was sent to the pens, where daily turn out has increased his appetite. I felt a lot of satisfaction, because it was the first winner for the pens this season.

The boss’ little terrier Hughie celebrated his twelfth birthday on 11th. His muzzle has greyed and his eyes appear cloudy, but he’s still a hero of a dog.

The same day, I jumped at the chance of leading up at York. Yulong Magic Reef (Reefy) and I left early, arriving in plenty of time. Reefy was a great traveller, and I stopped at Starbucks for breakfast. I was immediately impressed with York Racecourse. There was a communal pressure washer to clean out the lorry and the stable yard was lovely with lawns and flowerbeds. I told the BHA security guys at the gate that I’d never been and they said, ‘Welcome to the best racecourse!’ Due to coronavirus procedures being in place, the colour bags were driven over the course, saving stable staff the walk.

After a shampoo, I plaited up Reefy, who stood still, enjoying the attention. The lead-up was long; after leaving the stable yard we grouped in a ring behind the stables and walked over together. Reefy was a gent, but I could imagine being pulled all that way wouldn’t be pleasant. There’s something different about Flat racing that I love – the courses are stunning. Po-faced lilac pansies bordered the paddock and there was a pink flower wall up by the bars; a jazz band added a jolly tempo, and a Moët bar brimmed with class.

The best bit was the colourful crowds, obviously happy to be back on a racecourse and how smart! Beautiful dresses, cartwheel hats and fascinators, even straw boaters and carnation buttonholes. Their expensive perfume and excited chatter wafted on the breeze as they poured over race cards.

Reefy did me proud by winning the best turned out – the bath and plaits worked! It was extremely nice to be able to meet the sponsors – all socially distanced and behind masks – but another piece of normality back. However, he didn’t run that well – the jockey was pushing him way sooner than he should have done! York Racecourse even make washing off easy by having the hoses are behind the pre-parade so they are washed off and dry by the time you get back to the stables. I had a tasty panini in the canteen and took a slab of carrot cake and doughnut (all free) for the journey home, concluding a fabulous day at York. In fact, the long lead-up didn’t even matter!

The next day, Kea Taylor and I took Opine to sunny Bath for the first. It was Kea’s first time Flat racing, but I had been to Bath previously. It too is a pretty course; just without the opulence and pomp of York. I was delighted to go as Hollie Doyle was riding – I couldn’t wait to meet someone who has done so much for racing, riding Royal Ascot winners and coming third in SPOTY. I waited outside the weighing room until Hollie appeared with the saddle, the yellow and black silks billowing round her.

Yep, she is tiny! I felt like a whale by comparison and she was so lovely too, talkative and just like she seems on the TV. All three of us were hoping Opine got his nose in front, as he had nearly done so at Wolverhampton, but alas he was third. He didn’t run a bad race and Hollie got on well with him again, so hopefully he’ll win soon.

Kea and I fan-girled over Hollie for a bit on the way home. I’d had another great day Flat racing!

A sparkling gem in our local market town of Stow-on-the-Wold is Cotswold Baguettes. Run by a friendly team with an amazingly delicious menu made in front of customers and a vast choice of cakes under glass domes.

Prices are reasonable too. When in Stow for another reason, I’d gone there as a treat. As I headed back to my car, clutching baguette and brownie, I met Lauren Hay, Tom Story and Shannon Bishop going in the opposite way down the street, plainly off to join the lunchtime queue. We always look a funny meeting in public, all in our navy-blue polo shirts, like Butlins’ red coats off the premises.

Whether it’s in the summer heat or a freezing winter’s day, to nurse a hangover or sate the munchies, Cotswold Baguettes is always worth visiting.

On the 19th, I took part in the Macmillan Mighty Hike in the northern Lake District. Back in September 2019, I had finished a similar twenty-six-mile route through the Wye Valley, which ironically had started from Chepstow Racecourse. The food stops on route were plentiful and lunch was generous; the camaraderie on the way round was uplifting. A train of numbered marchers in the emerald green of Macmillan, all walking with the charity and cancer care in mind. I was meant to do the one in the Lakes last year but, of course, it was cancelled.

I’d loved my first one and I loved this one, though the going was hilly and rocky, often treacherous. The route wound round Ullswater, up and down fell, and was definitely longer than the lead-up at York!

I kept up my pace, despite niggles from a couple of blisters and after lunch walked with a lovely and chatty lady called Katie. Even though I flagged towards the end, I was delighted with my time, which was 08 hours, twenty minutes, finishing seventy-second. I did suffer later that evening and the next day, my legs were beyond stiff and sore; even my arms ached. Yet, most importantly, I’ve so far raised over £500 for an amazing charity. I highly recommend doing a Mighty Hike, for all the aches and pains afterwards, the day was so worth it.

June has seen stores bought from the sales and are being broken in. July will see the first horses plucked out the field and put back to work. The proper season, the cold weather presently eclipsed by the heat and sunshine, is still a few months away but time will fly by.

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