October 2023 Blog
Spooky season has crept up on the yard in dark mornings and increasingly darker evenings. The brooms didn’t fly and the yard cats were ginger and tabby instead of pure black, but owls hooted, bats swooped and spiders created their lacy webs. Foxes howled and shrieked like spirits in the black woods and amber pumpkins were carved with candlelit grins.
Halloween led to the telling of several local stories. The ghost of estate worker Porky patrolling the empty desolate barn and the Grey Lady endlessly walking the round gallop, lamp long burnt out. I’m not sure how true these tales are but I suspect, they are the result of a pint or three too many down the Plough Inn.
Embracing the scary mood, Isabella Nowicki, Verity Peers, Ben Macey and Jack Wilmot bravely visited a scare maze and accounted psychopaths, zombies and hugging killer clowns. They all survived – to be honest, working in a racing yard means even a scare maze isn’t half as frightening as it should be. September Busyness
In September, the short gallop was resurfaced. For a fortnight, yellow diggers and dumper trucks were a rev, thunder and rumble of toing and froing, replacing the old black-brown surface with six hundred tons of Ecotrack, which resembled golden sand. The maintenance team were on seemingly continuous duties of hedge cutting, strimming and mowing.
Back Down The Pens
After my maternity leave finished in September, I returned to work parttime to take over running the pens, which are little corrals from where horses are trained from the paddocks, away from the main yard. Baby Finn has three days in a local nursery, where he has lots of fun and I return to a bit of ‘normality’. In that first month back, the weather changed from being warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirts to the first frost and then drenching floods of Storm Babet. Each of the gateways turned muddy again and racecourses went from firm to washed out and unraceable. As ever, in horse racing, there’s never a dull moment. There’s been a few notable changes to the routine down the pens, which I’ve retained as it means the horses are turned out for even longer, but I delightedly slipped back into my familiar role. Feeding, picking out hooves, checking legs, mucking out, bedding up, bringing in, turning out, haying, watering, creaming heels, spraying cuts, grooming, rugging up. I get to know the horses and fall in love with them all a little bit.
The ‘big field’ have their moments of not wanting to be caught but Inch House (Inchy) is a sweetheart, Petite Tonnerre (Pierre) is a leggy French beauty with a character as gentle as his big, long-lashed eyes suggest, Yes Indeed (DD) is a reformed delinquent who is now charming and will hopefully get into the winner’s enclosure this year, Brook Bay is a coal-coloured sweetie, Yes Day (Darren) is a tall, broad chaser in the making. My favourite Monbeg Genius (Minnie) is in his third season living down the pens and now resides with the tall, slim grey Impatient (Gimpy), who are both angels.
Crebilly (Billy) and Imperial Bede (Beady) are rogues, especially Billy. They lived with each other last season, returned from their summer break together for the past two years and are best pals who often eat out of the same feed pot. Mammies Boy is third wheeling in the same field but has buddied up with the final Jacob sheep leftover from the six that lived with Grand National winner Don’t Push It. File Illico (Lilo) and Highland Getaway (Stitch) don’t like coming in in the dark and prefer a later breakfast. They are former fussy eaters who now love to eat mix, rather than the nuts. Adding to my happiness at returning, Yes Day was the first winner for the pens this season. On October 8th, he won a maidan hurdle under Richie McLernon at Uttoxeter. A week later, Mt Fugi Park won at Ffos Las and was the yard’s twentieth winner so far. It’s been a slow burn with the winners but hopefully, we’ll keep clocking them up on a regular basis. The summer was quiet so that means we’re down on the tally of winners – but winter winners are the ones we seek.
Photo Credit: Nigel Kirby Photography
Flat jockey Frankie Dettori is like Marmite – he’s loved or disliked but I love him and all he’s done for racing. Watching him ride this summer has been a treat as he signed off by leap after leap from the saddle in his famous Flying Dismount. His is farewell tour turned into a European farewell tour but isn’t racing richer for him to be continuing in the USA? When I was in secondary school, I remember vividly his Magnificent Seven at Ascot. He shone brightly and then kept shining. He was always a great advocate for the sport – going on Question Of Sport, Top Of The Pops, Big Brother and many interviews on big radio stations. He was the passionate, emotional Italian who rode like a demon and rose up through blips of his riding career to rule again. He won Group 1s all over the world and all the big races – he was at home in the winner’s enclosure of Royal Ascot and other big meetings.
My First Winner of the Season
Over maternity leave, I'd acquired a few horses next to my name to 'look after' and one was Mellificent. She's a fiesty filly who gives evil looks and pins her ears back but is all front; underneath she's not at all bad tempered. She dug deep through the Cumbrian mud at Carlisle on the 26th to win by a length, jumping beautifully all the way round. The day was rather grey and drizzly but a winner made up for the miserable weather, as well as the many miles on the motorway. I've nicknamed Mellificent Millie and she was great to lead up. With lots of mares' races during the season, hopefully Millie will continue her success over hurdles.
There was a Halloween vibe at Carlisle. The cottage right next to the stable yard, which apparently is where the head groundsman Thomas and his family live, was adorned with spooky decorations, including a small battalion of pumpkins, cobwebs and a skeleton in the window.
Hellos and Goodbyes
The yard waved goodbye to long term team members Megan Petrie and Ionut ‘John’ Dina, who have both left to try out a normal life in Manchester. John has been a brilliant member of team for seven years and has done good horses, such as Palmers Hill. Megan came from the Northern Racing School and, over five years, progressed from doing yard duties to running the rehabilitation and therapies, as well as driving to the races. We’ll miss them a lot.
Yet, in the workplace cycle, as some leave, other people start. The new conditional James Smith has come from near Dublin and has already had a ride in JP McManus’ green and gold stripes on Trapista.
So, with October over and November here…the racing will just get better and better.