`November largely consisted of mucking out and then going racing as I was still the temporary head of travelling. The winners always stand out, but the majority of days are ordinary without winners and blur into each other. Alexandra Howitt, Nick Healy, Georgia Plumb and Lauren Hay have also helped out by doing a lot more driving than usual. We've all worked a lot of our weekends and Wednesday afternoons off, but have enjoyed every minute.
Cawthorne Lad winning at Stratford
On October 28th, the yard sent out a treble. Cawthorne Lad, ridden by Alain ‘Squeak’ Cawley, first time over fences at sunny Stratford. It was the first winner for owners Nigel and Sharon Wilks and a great day for Laddie’s groom, Shannon Bishop.
At a very rainy Ffos Las, Monbeg Genius (Minnie) won first time out over hurdles, ridden by Richie McLernon. He had previously won an Irish point-to-point and battled well to win in the mud. Minnie lives down the pens, so I adopted him as my own. He’s petite in stature with a small head, small muzzle and beady little eyes. He reminds me of a Jack Russell terrier: tiny but mighty.
Richie then followed up in the second division on Iron Bridge. It was a poignant victory, the first win for the late Trevor Hemmings. It was a genuine gutsy performance. Iron Bridge is still a gangly youngster; that tall, raw type that Mr Hemmings preferred, who hopefully will become a talented chaser in the future.
Then, portraying there’s no better leveller than racing, Sermando fell at the last when running well. He probably would have been placed or even won. In consolation, he won groom Chloe Cullen the best turned out prize. We were pretty wet by the end, but it’s never a bad day when loading up two winners, however much it rains.
The bad weather made driving home more difficult, with rain hammering onto the windscreen, the wipers on constantly. Just passed Junction 12 on the M5, there was a loud bang and the steering went horrendously wobbly, the lorry hanging violently to the left. I pulled over onto the hard shoulder, knowing we’d had a blow out on the passenger side. I called the breakdown, suddenly thankful that the rain we’d travelled through down the M4 had relented. It was actually scary being so exposed on the hard shoulder, even standing behind the metal barrier. Artics thundered past like powerful juggernauts; cars seemed demonic with speed. A traffic policeman stopped for a while, blue lights flashing. The tyre man turned up and we were on the road again about two hours after coming to a halt. Throughout, the three horses stood quietly, obviously tired from the soft going at Ffos Las. We finished up about 11 o’clock, which wasn't too bad, considering the circumstances.
On the 30th, Soaring Glory won brilliantly at Ascot under Tom Scudamore, who was replacing the injured Jonjo junior. ‘Soaring’ did soar, finishing really well. He’s a credit to groom Georgia, always shiny in the coat and happy in himself. He definitely grew over the summer and filled out. He looks very muscular, bigger in the hindquarters and thicker in the neck, much of which can be contributed to his usual rider, Kim Zimich. Furthermore, it was great to have Tom Scudamore ride us another winner.
Left: Pat and Nan Hickey, owners of Soaring Glory
Papa Tango Charly continued our good run when bolting up under Nick Schofield first time over fences at Carlisle. His groom is Nick Healy but Papa has loved life since moving to the pens, winning over hurdles and following it up today with this win over fences. Papa is a sweet, gentle horse, whose best friend is Clondaw Promise. Being two skinnier types, they are left to roam about in their field day and night. Each morning, after giving their riders the run-around, they always trot into their pen to be tacked up.
We had a double when Trapista won at Huntingdon, ridden by our new favourite jockey, Tom Scu.
That evening a few of us went to a local pub, the Hollow Bottom for the Racing Welfare Halloween social. The local area was quite well represented with people attending from both Jonjo's and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ yards, the two biggest in the area. (There might have been more though if Ben Pauling’s staff had not held a big Halloween party the night before.) We had free burgers and fries, quiz questions with a spooky theme (the winners allegedly used Google to help them but it didn’t matter) and a Halloween-themed dog fancy dress competition. My Daisy came third in her cape and witch’s hat, of which she hated every second wearing. A spider-dog finished second and a Dino-dog, half stegosaurus and half terrier, won the big gold trophy and hamper full of treats for his owner Alice Campbell.
Halloween also brought a scrumptious treat from owner Berys Connop, still laid up and unable to visit the yard and her horse Phil The Thrill. The delivery came from our favourite bakery in Broadway, The Cotswold Larder, and were oversized cookies decorated in caramel goo, and lots of spooky sweets, such as zombie eyes and mini pumpkins. They were delicious and very much appreciated. Another amazing owner sent four huge sponge cakes to celebrate the start of the season, which were gorgeous flavours: coffee, apple crumble, lemon and a Victoria sponge. We then received a lot of homemade bakes from the Top Speed syndicate, of which I love the flapjacks and brownies the best, but it’s a very hard choice. The thing about horsey people, we like our treats and can justify eating every crumb due to all the mucking out!
November started well when A Distant Place won over hurdles at Hereford under conditional Kevin Brogan. It was a sunny, golden day and ADP was a bull to lead up, strong and bouncing, but won really well. He's a gorgeous bright bay who, with all his prancing, won the BTO. This made up for him pushing me into the little hedges bordering the paddock all the way round.
The first frosts came crispy and silver around the 5th, which cried out Bonfire Night. Yet, it didn't last long and was replaced by uncharacteristically warm weather for November.
I never tire of going to the bigger racecourses and I was so happy about my first visit to Aintree for a couple of years. Limetree Boy finished a very pleasing third. He is gorgeously handsome and is a credit to groom, Tirana Jakupi, whose plaiting is really accomplished. Time To Get Up gave his groom Megan Petrie her first experience of leading up in a big race when he ran in the Grand Sefton. Even though he disappointed and finished last, it was still great to have had a day at Aintree, and to see a Peter Bowen-trained winner in Mac Tottie.
Clondy winning at Lingfield
The next day was another successful day (and winner number seven for the pens) when Clondaw Promise won over fences for Kev at Lingfield. ‘Clondy’ has lived in all the pens since late summer and loves being with his friend Papa – they are forever in each other’s shadows. He is always skinny but looks better than in the past due to being out to grass. His groom is Shannon, or Shanny as I call her. She is my main helper down the pens and she deserved another winner after Cawthorne Lad. Clondy is really kind and beautiful; one of our favourites.
That weekend, I was very happy to take Palmers Hill (Palmy) to Wetherby. He's looked after by yardman John Dina, who sadly couldn’t go due to his twenty fifth birthday celebrations. It’s always an honour to take a good horse racing, especially one who is a yard legend. Palmy is grumpy and often pins his long ears back, scowling. He has a ticklish belly and gets even grumpier when it's touched but he's still a gentleman and a hero. He deservedly won under Tom Scu. I was delighted and just lucky to take him. His win is due to John for always taking such good care of him, his head lad Alan Berry for all his care, and being ridden out alone every morning by the other head lad Johnny Kavanagh.
The canteen at Wetherby has been vastly improved; not the food, as this has always been delicious, but the building itself has been renewed into what could pass for a wooden chalet. There are lots of benches outside, along with some of the old seating; it will be lovely in the summer.
Wetherby's new canteen!
On the 15th, Zabeel Champion won for owner Martin Tedham, who also sponsors the yard. ‘Zabbie’ was rated 104 of the Flat when previously trained by Mark Johnston. Like many former Flat horses, he doesn't trot properly; he half trots, half canters in an odd ‘tranter’, also known as the Newmarket shuffle. Yet, he moved well round Leicester and won.
Having recovered from his shoulder injury, Jonjo Junior rode a winner on his first day back. He won a Market Rasen bumper on Springwell Bay by a whopping thirteen lengths.
During racing behind closed doors, Ascot had been particularly desolate, feeling extra quiet and empty. Yet, it was great to return there on the 19th to a much more normal Ascot. Its gloss returned; the lights were on in the vast stands and the crowds bustled creating a fizzy atmosphere.
French-recruit Yes Indeed (Deedy) was disappointing when finishing last and Garry Clermont would have won if he hadn't veered violently left at the last, allowing Nicky Henderson's runner to cruise, straight as an arrow, and win. His groom, rightfully gutted, John philosophically concluded that Ascot had never been a lucky track for him and I had to agree.
Shanny and John both won turnouts at Ascot and, I heard the following day that Alex did so too at Chepstow with Steady The Ship. No winners, but we did have across the card treble in turn outs!
My little Jack Russell Daisy has been exhibiting some very strange behaviour. Usually, when I get up before 5 o'clock she stays put, but from September she's been up as soon as my car keys tinkle, stretching, yawning, flapping her ears in a shake. She accompanies me to the pens and, whilst I muck out, she has a fun time ratting. She sniffs rats under the pallet flooring of the feed shed, pawing, scraping, squeaking and barking. She runs over the straw beds and up the fluffy banks. Sometimes she digs so deeply into the straw that all I can see is her piebald hindquarters and tiny tail wagging. She barks at rats who are deep in slumber, often growling and garuffing. It is all very entertaining, except for the muddy pawprints she leaves in the interior of my car. When the weather gets wetter and colder, I expect that Daisy will go back to lying in again, all warm and cosy.
Christmas is less than a month away and I've not even bought a single present yet. Another peril of being temporary Head of Travelling, I suppose. Luckily, Harrison Day is back soon and I’ll resume my normal duties. It’s been great being out on the roads a lot more but a bit of normality will be a relief.