Sunday, 3 March 2019

2018: A Year In Review - Part 3

We'll settle for making the review a three-parter and cover the final 3 months of 2018 in this last post.  Not forgetting my 'alternative' awards for last season!

October

On October 1st Smarty and I boarded a plane and headed for Cleveland, Ohio (via Iceland), to start a 12-day road trip which would see us finish up in Nashville, Tennessee.  The plan for the first 9 days was to take in as much harness racing as possible before spending the last part of our holiday relaxing and getting our fill of country music (Smarty was totally converted by the time we flew back to the UK, as evidenced by the fact that recently when I came home from work he was sat listening to 'Total Country' on the telly).

Cleveland may have seemed like a strange place to start a road trip (the guy at the Border Control desk thought it was weird that of all the places in America we could visit, we chose Cleveland) but there was method to the madness: for those who don't realise, Cleveland is the 'home of the flying turns' aka Northfield Park.


Our first adventure took us to Sahbra Farms, a training centre situated about 16 miles away from the racetrack.  It came by way of recommendation from Steve Wolf, whose friend Paul Holzman has his training base there, and it was there that we were able to meet the legendary Southwind Amazon (USA leading horse by wins in 2018 [22 wins at close of the year]).  It was very good of Paul to take time out of his day to show us the superstar, as well as answer Smarty's endless list of questions about different training methods!

Southwind Amazon on a turn out day
We also bumped into Kelly O'Donnell, former trainer of Dragon Again - this bore some relevance at the time as I had my very own 'dragon' back home in the shape of the mighty Elmo - who was a great host and spent ages talking us through all of the photos of the horses in his office.  As we headed out of the place we popped in to Jessica Roegner's barn where we came across a familiar face - Godiva Seelster, who we met in February 2016 at Pompano when in the care of Dan and Wally Hennessy.  Jessica was another one who was good enough to let us disrupt her day with question after question!

That night we made our first visit to Northfield Park.  Heather Vitale had put me in contact with the Horsemen's Rep, Amy Hollar, with the simple disclaimer that I would love her and that she's hysterical.  I can confirm that I do, and she is.  Amy gave us the grand tour of the paddock, leaving Smarty in the drivers' room discussing the various aspects of bookmaking whilst I landed in the start car for what was meant to be one race and ended up as three-in-a-row.  Ronnie Wrenn Jr was forced to sign a pair of his gloves for his #1 UK fan, Watson Harrop Jr; and Keith Kash Jr somehow got railroaded into giving me his rain jacket (if you don't ask, you don't get).  We finally tracked down Aaron Merriman (remember when I did that driver interview in the back of the lorry at Portmarnock?  No?  You can read it here in that case...) and in between his many drives, he asked if we had plans the following day.  We didn't, and that is how the epic road trip to The Meadows began!

Personalised souvenirs for friends back home!
Good job Ronnie had a spare pair of gloves...
My view from the start car
Keith Kash, who gave me his jacket because everyone else was giving me stuff!
The next day we met Aaron in the car park at Northfield Park's casino (and were verbally abused by a passing vehicle as Amy Hollar shouted at us to ask if we were hookers) and headed to Pennsylvania.  It was great to see behind-the-scenes how Aaron operates - and it was even better to survive the road trip (JK, he's not a bad driver, I'm just a nervous passenger).  We discussed everything from politics to pigeon racing and pretty much everything in between and felt like it was one of the shortest journeys I've ever been on!

Upon arrival at the track we were met by Dawnelle Mock, PR guru at The Meadows, who gave us the guided tour of the paddock and owner/trainer/driver facilities.  She then handed us over to the inimitable Heather Wilder (minus Mike, who was holidaying in Vegas) who gave us a further guided tour of the grandstand area, before whisking us up to the commentary booth to see Roger Huston.  Roger has been travelling to the UK and Ireland to announce races for a number of years and I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time at the VDM weekend at Portmarnock earlier in 2018, as well as Heather.  Anyway, without warning I was shimmied into a chair and before I knew it I was being interviewed by Roger on the live Meadows simulcast commentary, which according to Roger is beamed out to around one million listeners.  No preparation, just me waffling on about how awesome our trip was and the differences between the UK and USA harness racing scenes (that list is endless).






















Cue another start car trip (or 3) for Sarah, then an introduction to track photographer (and in my eyes absolute hero) Chris Gooden, before Smarty wandered off to give young Irish driver Jack Killeen some 'advice' before he went out for the first of his two drives of the afternoon.  Jack met Heather and Mike [Wilder] at the VDM meeting in Portmarnock in the August, and by the autumn had landed himself somewhere to stay in order to give driving a go in the USA.  Heather and I settled trackside to watch the racing, and after Jack's first drive landed him a second place (on what he felt was his better chance of the two), we thought maybe we should give him some vocal support for his second drive.  Bearing in mind that Smarty and I hadn't planned to be at The Meadows on this day but for Aaron's very kind offer, it was absolutely out of this world for us to be there for Jack's first win on American soil!  Pretty sure Heather and I screamed the full last half before running like two crazy people to the golf buggy to meet Smarty and head over to photobomb the winner's photo (whilst I was FB Live for the whole thing).  The full day was absolutely surreal and wouldn't have been half the experience it was if it wasn't for the people named above (and everyone else who made us feel so welcome).

View from the start car
Caught on camera, on camera, by Chris Gooden
With harness racing's winning-most driver of all time, Dave Palone (>18,000 wins)
Jack Killeen on board Late Night Delight
Before Heather & I started screaming...
So much love for Heather W!!
Photobombing winner's photos since 2008
We had a BLAST!
You'd think after the day we had had, we'd be ready to crash out.  But no, we were living a day in the life of...Aaron Merriman, so we met back up with him and whizzed our way back over the state border into Ohio to make the meeting at Northfield Park that night.  This was the crazy part...even though this was only our second night at Northfield, having been away for the day it genuinely felt like we were coming home.  I likened the atmosphere amongst the horsemen and women to Corbiewood, our local track in Scotland.  We were being greeted by people like old friends - including Smarty's new BFF Dakota Jackson, who happened to have a twin brother [Zach], both of whom may or may not be coming to the UK at some point in the future (after watching the race footage of Elmo's final win at Longnor they were desperate to come here and try it out for themselves!).  I was spreading the word as best I could at The Meadows, and here was Smarty spreading the word...well, with videos of Longnor.

The day didn't end after the last race...from the track we headed to a bar and met some of Aaron's friends, including my new Canadian friend Darrell (who had better be reading this, even if it's like 3 months after I've posted it).  He was responsible for the jagerbombs...inside my head I was reciting the mantra of my late teens - "No more J'bombs for the S Thom"; alas, it didn't stop me.

In my defence I had his share of the jagerbombs too
Day three and it was time to hit the road.  We were winding our way down to Lexington slowly, with a pit stop for ice cream in Mt Hope (mainly because I wanted to see Amish people going about their daily business) and another pit stop at Delaware County Fairgrounds where I gatecrashed the (completely deserted) track to see what it felt like coming down the home straight where the Little Brown Jug is staged.  I even climbed in amongst the topiary spelling out the name of one of the world's most iconic races.  I think the drink from the night before was playing havoc with me.

Before I tried to complete a lap of the track...
From there we called in at Sugar Valley Farm to visit the resting place of Dragon Again (obsessed).  There we met 'Uncle Billy', who was more than happy to show us two of the stallions who were currently residing at the farm - Mr Wiggles and My MVP.  Before we left he told us a story about a trotting filly his nephew [Joe McLead] had purchased after being explicitly told not to 'buy any trotters'.  Said filly went on to win multiple times at the highest level, and indeed did so again in a World Record-equalling time at the Red Mile two days later.  Her name was Im Pink Too, half-sister to Hambletonian winner, Pinkman. But before we get to that, Smarty and I left Sugar Valley and headed to Midland Acres.  Here we met Sheila.  Now I don't know how I'm ever going to get in touch with Sheila again, but if anybody is ever visiting Ohio, please go and meet this woman.  We intended this to be a flying visit, which became over two hours, and quite frankly could have been the remainder of our holiday because Sheila was a delight.

Between those two trees rests a legend
Sheila introduced us to some of the stallions - Art Official; Big Bad John; Yankee Cruiser and first-season sire Long Tom, who she treated with a level of affection many would reserve for their children alone.  After that she took us through to the office, and upon learning that we were heading to the sales at Lexington, showed us the catalogue and her pick of the sale - none other than Im Pink Too.  Her exact words were 'she's the one to buy!' - and she must have said them at least 10 times.  By this time we were well-versed in Im Pink Too's story and we may have been accidentally giving off vibes that we were maybe interested in purchasing her.  Who knows, but we left that place with the biggest smiles on our faces.  Sheila was one of those people in the world who gets supreme job satisfaction and I found her enthusiasm absolutely infectious.


On the Friday we landed in Lexington for three days of racing at the world famous Red Mile.  Smarty had basically died and gone to heaven and spent much of his time over the course of the three days sat high in the grandstand studying the horses warming up and ultimately enjoying the highest standard of racing.  Me on the other hand...I was milling around 'celeb-spotting' and bumping into familiar faces.  Oh, and some casual photobombing in the winner's circle as well.  Standard.  The first of these visits to the winner's circle came when Annie Hill won the third, a 2YO Fillies Pace for British owner Tom Hill and trainer Chris Oakes, who Smarty and I had been in semi-regular contact with since meeting in Florida two years earlier.  My thought process was 'I'm British, Tom's British, it doesn't matter that he doesn't know me, we know the same people, I'm going in'. It's a tenuous link but I've photobombed on lesser grounds before and I have zero shame.  After that I met up with Amy Hollar (her off of Northfield Park) who introduced me to her sister, Jennifer, and brother-in-law Brian Brown.  Somehow during this phase of enjoying the air con inside Joe Sbrocco joined the mix and before I knew what was happening I was drinking whisky sours and watching Joe jump the queue to get us drinks because apparently Joe Sbrocco doesn't queue.  He doesn't need to, because just like my Grampa in Builth on a Saturday night, everyone knows Joe.



Whilst hanging out with Amy we witnessed a new 2YO World Record for pacing fillies being set as Warrawee Ubeaut flew home in 1:48.3, before Amy took us on a tour of the place.  She was keen to introduce Smarty to the 'whales', and whilst I didn't really understand what was happening (I was quite merrily drinking my whiskey sour and nodding along), it was something to do with gambling, I'm guessing with rather a lot of money.  Smarty knew what was going on anyway. 

We'd spotted Dexter Dunn out on the track a couple of times and indeed he was driving in the last race on the card, so once the racing was over Amy took us through to the paddock to meet a few people and help us get our bearings before we tracked down Double D.  Dexter took us round to Brett and Stacey Miller's camper and we sat down for a few beers and a major catch up, having not seen Dexter since the VDM meeting at Portmarnock in 2016.  For anyone who hasn't read my blog for very long, I interviewed Dexter back in 2016 when he visited the UK to drive en route to Ireland.  Smarty and I drove Dexter and his cousin Tom from Edinburgh to Tir Prince in north Wales, during which time I interviewed him for my blog but also he and Smarty started the world's strangest bromance.  Anyway, whilst sitting at the camper reminiscing and finding out how Dexter was settling in to the North American racing scene, Yannick Gingras rocked up and joined the party.  During conversation, Dexter disappeared to find a pair of gloves he had offered to give me as a prize for a driving competition back in the UK and straight away Yannick wanted to know what the gloves were for.  A short conversation about fundraising ideas later, he offered to give me his set of colours on the condition that I returned after the last race on Sunday to get them from him.  I didn't need telling twice!


It was a shame to leave the track as we could literally have stayed there chatting all night but we had plans to head to the sales at Fasig-Tipton - I'll keep this section short as it wasn't really the highlight of my visit to Kentucky.  In my opinion, if you're not buying, the sales are a bit...boring.  I love the sales here in the UK because I know all the people so I'm the nosy one rubber-necking to see who's bidding and who holds their number up when the hammer falls.  I like to know who's bought what (and yes, I know the official sales results are published within 12 hours but I like to know as it's happening).  Whilst it was great to walk around the facilities and have a few horses Smarty had marked in his catalogue out to inspect, it is much of a muchness after a while.  There are only so many horses you can look at in the collection ring and in the sale ring itself without even raising your hand once before a girl gets a bit bored.  I did however track down Joann Looney King on the Saturday evening at the sales and introduced myself as 'Heather's friend, Sarah', which opened the door to me photobombing again at the track the following day...

On the Saturday morning we headed out of Lexington and into the country to Saga Farm, Georgetown, to find a horse we both adore - Blissful Hall.  Schare Adams, owner of the farm, was in Lexington however her friend Sue Shields was at home and was more than happy to take us to see the old boy (with some carrots, just to keep him sweet!).  Having been gelded since retiring from stud, Blissful is now living out his days as a field companion for youngsters and, I suspect, being spoilt rotten by anyone who comes into contact with him.  He's an absolute gentleman, as well as being a complete legend - and as we explained to Sue, we are currently expecting a foal by a half-brother to Blissful (Hasty Hall), and another foal by a son of Blissful (Matador Hall).  It was great to be able to see him in the flesh!

Just chillin' with Blissful Hall
From Saga Farm we ventured to the Kentucky Horse Park.  Whilst this is a venue that could take all day to explore, we didn't have all day and ultimately, we were only there for one reason: to find Won The West, who resides in the Hall of Champions. The reasoning behind this visit (and let's face it, there is always some sort of method to the madness) was because Won The West's full sister, Open Plains, is the dam of our broodmare Vain In Spain (dam of Crosshill Ace and Crosshill Diablo [Denver]).  With Denver being the first colt from the mare, we were keen to see 'W' in the flesh to see what we're aiming for.  If we could get one a fraction as good then we'd be onto a winner!

Won The West - basically family!
You'd think we'd have done enough for the day by now but it was only just past midday and we had a date with the Red Mile, and in particular had to keep an eye out for Im Pink Too in the first.  She didn't take much finding as she came home clear down the stretch in 1:49.4 (26.3 last quarter), which meant I was able to get a decent shot from the space I'd managed to stake out in the reserved seating section (just act like you're meant to be there...until someone who is actually meant to be there turns up and looks at you like you're not meant to be there and you scarper).  Im Pink Too was very impressive and it certainly added to the hype of her going into the sales ring on the Sunday night (she subsequently topped the inaugural Mixed Sale at $300,000).



Fast forward a few races and it was another trotter making the headlines - this time Homicide Hunter, trained by Chris Oakes.  We met HH at Pompano in 2016 shortly after he came into Chris' care and we were able to watch him qualify; little did we know he was on his way to setting a World Record: 1:48.4 with a blistering 26.0 last quarter (the quickest of the day across both gaits).  When you actually take into consideration the quality of the horses racing all day and the records that were falling...that's a phenomenal feat to be achieved, and by a trotter no less.

The other highlight of the second day for me was seeing McWicked and Lazarus N going head-to-head in the Open Pace.  Leading up to our visit to America I had been leaning towards the McWicked camp (just like when Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit used to race each other and although I appreciated the both of them equally, Always B Miki was the horse I wanted to win) - seeing him in the flesh warming up and during the race just confirmed it for me.  He has a great attitude to racing and a will to win, you can genuinely see that.




Sunday, our third and final day in Lexington featured the Kentucky Futurity for 3YO trotters  Whilst Smarty and I didn't commit ourselves strongly to the fillies' eliminations and final, we took a huge interest in the colts' races and after watching Tactical Landing (for Jimmy Takter) and Six Pack (for Ake Svanstedt) win their eliminations in very different manners (albeit the same time, for all the clock watchers), we nailed our colours to the mast of Tactical Landing.  On this occasion we got it wrong, as Six Pack held off all challengers to win the $434,000 race, however Tactical Landing subsequently went on to win the Breeders Crown for his division at Pocono Downs later that month and then the TVG Free For All Trot against aged trotters at The Meadowlands in the November before retiring to stud.  So we weren't far out with our judgment in the long run!

Having bumped into Joann Looney King the evening before at the sales, I made a beeline for the paddock to see if I could find her before Shartin N's race (and also to make sure Yannick hadn't forgotten his promise of the signed colours!).  I found Joann and husband Jim watching the racing and was able to see firsthand the preparation and nerves experienced before racing a horse at the highest level.  Joann admitted that she is a nervous wreck before a race and I witnessed that - she even asked Jim if maybe they should consider scratching the mare because she wasn't sure if she was showing signs of tying up after warming up.  Jim remained unruffled throughout, and as I left the paddock I told Joann I hoped I'd be seeing her in the winner's circle shortly, although her nerves had started to rub off on me and I felt that familiar feeling I get when I put my own horses on the track back home.  Joann nor me had any cause for worry, as Shartin N brought her A game and was driven to perfection by Tim Tetrick to win in 1:48.2.  Cue another winner's circle photobomb, and indeed a selfie with Joann while we were there!


The Red Mile was incredible: the facilities, the atmosphere, the quality of racing...it was second to none.  It was topped off by some brilliant company across the 3 days: in addition to everyone already mentioned, we also spent time with Donal Murphy off of Ireland, and I was able to finally meet Dean Hoffman, the man who described me as 'a truly remarkable woman...or [I've] got them all fooled!".  We had an absolute blast!


Whilst our departure from Lexington heralded the end of the racing segment of our road trip (we were destined for 3 days of live music and alcohol), we did manage to meet up with Ryan Macedonio and Kate Forry for food during our stay in Nashville.  I suspect Ryan now thinks I'm madder than he originally thought when he interviewed me for Trotcast earlier in the year!

Upon our return to the UK, we headed straight to the annual sales in Builth Wells.  We had marked a horse from the 'Horses in Training' section to fill the void that was going to be left by Elmo Hanover (who had been sold to Wales where the style of racing would suit him more) - however whilst in Nashville we found out the horse had been sold privately before the sale.  I had gone to the trouble of marking my catalogue on the flight with some of the yearlings I liked on paper which might not be too expensive, but the general consensus between Smarty and I was that we didn't need a long-term project (what with youngsters of our own at home due to come through in the next few years) so we went to the sale with no intention to buy.

Famous last words.

At the sale, I am jointly responsible for scanning microchips to ensure the horses presented are correct as per their paperwork.  One of the benefits of this task is that I get to be up close and personal with every horse at the sale, which means I'm able to check them all out before the sale begins.  Sometimes you haven't marked a horse because it hasn't necessarily caught your eye on paper and chances are you won't go to take a look at it, but I have no choice.  I have to check all of the horses - sometimes I'll leave a stall to read my catalogue thoroughly as I've liked the horse in the flesh.  In this instance, I was nearing the end of the list of horses to scan and as my co-worker and I headed out of one barn to search for any latecomers, we were passed by a very flashy colt being led in.  A quick check of the list revealed that he hadn't been scanned, so we waited for him to be taken into his stall before confirming his microchip details.  I liked him.  A lot.  I also knew that I had an asterisk next to his name in my catalogue.  I rang Smarty immediately (it had been too early a start for him to get to the sale when I left my parents' home) and told him to go and take a look at #56 when he arrived.

Smarty could find no major faults with the horse; a discussion ensued as to our bidding limit.  Eventually Smarty decided we didn't need another youngster, because we had no intention of racing a horse at 2 so it would be over 18 months until the horse would see the track.  His parting words to me were 'but if you want him, I'm not stopping you buying him yourself'.  So that's what I did.  I ran inside, asked my Dad if I could borrow his buyer's number and set about buying myself a horse.  I didn't think I'd get him as my budget had been halved with the removal of a partner from the equation, but as the auctioneer stalled and asked again for any further bids, here comes Smarty running up the stairs to where I was sitting (with me thinking 'oh no, I'm in for it now') to tell me to keep going if I needed to.  I didn't need to.  The hammer fell at £800.  I had my horse and thought he was an absolute steal*.  One out; one in - Elmo had been delivered the previous day, and now 'Joe' was coming home to Scotland with me.  Orphaned at 12 days old and successfully fostered on to a Welsh cob mare, his breeder had passed away before seeing the fruits of his endeavours.  Joe has a long way to go, but we are going to give it our best shot.  Also, Smarty wanted in as a partner in ownership before we'd even driven half way back up the country.

Lot 56 - Afan EJO (The Cammissioner-Bells Image-Armbro Harrier)
*to this day, I still think the same.

November

You thought this was nearly over, didn't you?!  Well fear not, it nearly is.

November brought with it the annual awards events and both the SHRC and the BHRC & STAGBI awards events were moved forward (having been in January and February of 2018) to fall into the correct year of racing.  This required multiple new dress purchases by me.

Smarty and I attended the SHRC awards dinner in Stirling to collect our Horse of the Month - July award for the mighty Elmo Hanover, which was a very proud moment for us both despite Elmo having flown the nest.  This horse has had a profound effect on Smarty and I, 'he is what he is' became 'it is what it is', our new motto in life.  Enjoy things for what they are, not what you want them to be.

At the end of the month I returned to co-hosting duties with Thoroughbred and harness racing announcer Darren Owen at the BHRC & STAGBI awards dinner, featuring TrotBritain award winners also.  As per usual I was stressed in the build up but once things got underway everything went smoothly.  Darren had encouraged a more relaxed approach to the hosting this year and this worked for me - sipping gin & tonic throughout the presentation helped settle my nerves!  Highlights of the evening for me were seeing the mare Rhyds Passion crowned Horse of the Year following the licence holders' vote, and introducing driver Steve Lees into the Hall of Fame - the standing ovation and cheers he received gave me goosebumps and his acceptance speech had me in stitches!



December

You'll be glad to hear there wasn't much to report in December.  Other than us quietly breaking in Joe at our own speed, December was very much a quiet month all round.  The drama on social media about the forthcoming season usually waits until the turn of the year to fire up so on the face of it all looked well on the UK harness racing scene.

We all know that doesn't last...

And that's it folks.  Three posts covering twelve months and as much of what I can remember crammed in to every single one of them.  Finally, to round things off, it's time to announce my 'alternative' award winners for the 2018 season.  Usually I go through each of the BHRC divisions and explain why I've chosen who I chose - although this year most of the award winners were actually the horses I voted for in the ballot so I'll only mention those who I would have alternatively awarded to.

2YO Colt of the Year - NORTHERN PRIDE - this horse didn't win the BHRC 2YO Colt of the Year award (the title went to Oakwoodinittowinit) however I felt 'wee Nigel's victories in the VDM Colts Final at Portmarnock and then the SHRC 2YO Futurity at Corbiewood were superb.  He was very impressive when running out an eight length winner of the latter and some in Scotland would say he may be the best they've seen of his age going around there.


Drive of the Year - OK, so the person I nominated for this actually won the award after a public vote but I wanted to explain why I nominated them to begin with: Lauren Moran & Vyrnwy Smoke.  Long story short, Lauren has sat in the pocket for most of the race, tracking two very good horses in front of her.  At the business end of things, she has a choice to make - stick to the rail, keep going forward and run the increasing risk of being stuck behind a horse that could become deadwood very quickly, or take back at a crucial moment, switch three wide and mount an almost impossible challenge on the last two bends.  It was clear to Smarty what she should do (he was standing on the bench shouting 'SHE'LL NEED TO GO THE HIGH ROAD!') but Smarty wasn't the one sitting behind the horse in a race, trying to make a split second judgment without seeing clearly what was happening in front of her.  She took the boldest option based on the fact that she felt she had a chance of winning if she went wide, but no chance of winning if she stayed where she was.  It was the right decision.  You could see from across the track the moment she asked her horse to slam the brakes on and switch out, and the crack she gave 'Smokey' to get him back going again was impressive from someone so petite.  Smokey answered the call anyway and the duo painted the stand rail as they stormed to victory in the closing strides.  From a 'pro' driver it would have been an impressive performance.  From someone who essentially only ever drives their own horse, surrounded by more experienced drivers, it was incredible.  The recipient of the Tim Tetrick-sponsored 'Drive of the Year' award, and now the #1 Scottish Groom-endorsed 'Drive of the Year' award is LAUREN MORAN!

Congratulations Lauren!
** NEW AWARD **
Introducing a new award for this year, the True Grit Award to be awarded to a horse that I feel showed consistent guts and determination througout the season.

After much deliberation at HQ, the recipient of this inaugural award is Bowriver, owned and trained by Alf & Joy Swinbank.  From 25 starts in 2018, starting on 12th May and finishing up on 7th October, Bowriver achieved 3 wins, 2 seconds and 3 thirds.  This could, and perhaps should have been 4 wins, however a disqualification at Wolverhampton due to numerous horses going through their mark at the start put paid to that.  In my humble opinion, and indeed probably many others, the horse would have won the race had things gone smoothly at the start as it was likely to have been his best performance all season.  Racing in Wales, England and Scotland, Bowriver showed up time and time again and gave his all and even after defeat, continued to bounce back for his next run.  Genuine, honest and full of true grit, congratulations to Bowriver and his connections!

Bowriver & Joy Swinbank
Finally we get to the main (human) award: the Astounding Supporter of the Year award.  For the past few seasons I have given out this award to the person or people who I feel capture the essence of what racing horses is all about - the sheer delight of winning races, that unbridled joy when a horse you are involved with crosses the line in front.  Sometimes it's a major event, other times it's a run-of-the-mill race at a bread-and-butter meeting.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is that in the moments immediately after the horse does what someone has hoped and dreamed about, the emotion of knowing all the blood, sweat, tears and hard work has finally paid off comes pouring out.  I don't take the bestowment of this award lightly, and after a lot of thought I have eventually settled on the winner for 2018.

Step forward please Miss Savannah Nicholson.  On September 8th at Tir Prince, the Nicholson and Ralph families' Diamant De Godrel stepped up to the plate as a 7-1 fancy for the £10,000 Gold Le Trot final.  This was simply the best of the best trotting horses in the UK and indeed Ireland (Ultimo D'Ouville had crossed the Irish Sea to take a crack at it also).  When young John Henry Nicholson, a lad who has truly made a name for himself in the few years that he has been driving, crossed the line three lengths clear of his nearest rival, his sister Savannah became hysterical.  I can't describe it any other way than that.  'D Godrel', as John Henry calls him in his frequent Snapchat posts, had been my nap of the meeting, although Savannah wasn't anywhere near as confident.  Having nearly lost the horse when he first arrived from France earlier in the year, connections had worked hard to get him to the level he was at towards the latter part of the season, with multiple wins under his belt.  His inclusion in the Gold Final had not initially been received well by them, as they thought they were destined for the Silver division where the competition may not have been as stiff for a horse who had already proven he could compete with the top tier trotters.  However their concerns were misplaced.  Immediately after the race Savannah couldn't speak for crying.  In fact, at one point it was only the embraces from friends that was keeping her from falling over!  That raw emotion...that's what this game is all about.  Congratulations Savannah, not only for winning my entirely made up award but also on the successes that your family have enjoyed in 2018.  Here's to more of the same for 2019!!

Savannah says 'D Godrel' is #1
Crying...again!

And that, my dear readers, is that.  From start to finish 2018 was full of ups and downs, highlights and low points.  This sport we all love is a rollercoaster but year after year we keep coming back for more.  The main thing is that we all enjoy what we do and strive to find those moments, like Savannah did, that make all the hard work worthwhile.  Be as good in defeat as you are in success.  Remember there is always another day.  If you achieve your goal, set a new one.  Keep trying and keep racing.

See you all in 2019.

Over and out,

#1 Scottish Groom

Thursday, 31 January 2019

2018: A Year In Review - Part 2

Oh so you came back for some more?

*thought I'd gotten away with that for a minute...*

July

The second of the four 'crown jewel' meetings saw most of the country head to the Welsh coast for what was rumoured to be (and has subsequently been confirmed as) the last staging of the Ceredigion two day festival at Aberystwyth.  This is a particular favourite with Scottish harness racing fans, mainly for the good weather, the great welcome and the better nightlife.  For us the weekend began with bitter disappointment as we had Stevie primed for an assault on Welsh turf, however Mr Self-Destruct had different ideas and a freshly-mangled leg put us out of the game only a couple of days before leaving.

Somehow I found myself on post-race interview duties again, although this time laid off the alcohol (purely because I was struggling to cope in the heat and also because I needed a clear head in order to carry off the fetching high-vis vest I was forced to wear to reduce the risk of being run over by horses...).

My Buddy delivered a popular Welsh win for owner/trainer/driver and postman (come ONNNN) Alan Jones in the Group 2 Travis Perkins Final, whilst the Laidlers returned to winning ways on the big stage with former stakes-sensation Springhill Glory landing the Group 1 Park Lodge Final.

#Squadgoals - with some of the crew at Aberystwyth
The Star Makers Final was staged at Tir Prince in the middle of the month, and although we had qualified Al Jolson for the event, an injury put him out for the season so we had no vested interest in the race.  Looking at it with an open mind it looked a highly competitive race, and it was the Jones family's Father Ted who landed the spoils on the night.  Despite stating that he would run a lap in only his underwear if the horse won, owner/trainer/driver Marc failed to live up to his promise...the jury is out as to whether we were cheated or secretly blessed!

Whilst we were bringing Dark Velvet, Rita & Denver home from Wales, Rodney Camden from the Foody stable was dominating at Wolsingham when winning the Joy Robson Memorial Final.

Towards the back end of the month the third 'crown jewel' fixture was staged at Musselburgh and it was a popular Scottish victory in the Group 2 Hurricane Pace Final on day one as the Gilvear family's Someones Fantasy toughed it to run out a gutsy winner.  The second day saw a Musselburgh queen return to the winner's circle as 2017 Hurricane Pace Final winner Rhyds Passion won both her heat and the coveted Group 1 Famous Musselburgh Pace Final in very impressive fashion.  I didn't think I could love her more after this day...but as the season progressed so did she!

Rhyds Passion & James Haythornthwaite cruising to victory in the Famous Musselburgh Pace Final (Bill Cardno photo)
OK I'm done talking about everyone else's July.  Especially when July was my month.  Well, not so much mine, more Elmo's.  After my co-owner Smarty tried to convince me to swap the horse for some semen (not the semen again) at Aberystwyth because he didn't think he'd turn into much, I remained firm in the face of adversity.  With Stevie nursing a mangled leg and Al scratched for the remainder of the year, on July 12th I joked that if Elmo Hanover was my stable star then it really showed how bad my stable was.  I arranged for one of the gaiting straps to snap at a convenient moment in the race to act as a deterrent for horses to get close to my pacing camel (disclaimer: I'm kidding, it happened BY ACCIDENT), and it worked.  We recorded win #1 with the mighty Elmo and boy did it feel gooooooood.  It wasn't graceful, but it didn't need to be.  My boy finally knew what winning felt like and I wanted him to remember that feeling in the hope that he might actually do it again.  And he did, just 2 weeks later at Corbiewood once again.  He also came SOOOOO CLOOOOOOSE to creating uproar at Musselburgh as he was just beaten by another Scottish horse, All Smiles from the Mackenzie stable.  I was stood with his previous owner as he came romping like a camel on an escape mission from a desert tour towards the finish line and the only thing that would have been better than the look on his face in that moment would be the look on his face if he'd actually won.  I may have been scraping him off the floor.  All of this was sufficient to secure Elmo the SHRC Horse of the Month award for July.  I hope you can feel the pride that is emanating from me as I write that.

After win number one - PROUD OWNER! (Annette Sproul photo)

August

On Scottish soil, former Scottish Horse of the Year Starzapan came to the fore at exactly the right moment to win the Greentree Standardbreds Mares Pacing Series Final for all at Trackside Racing Stables.  It was a delight to hand over the trophy to Mrs Mackenzie, the First Lady of Corbiewood and a woman all of us look up to (despite her diminuitive stature), whose son, Ally, trains the mare and whose grandson, Stuart, drove the mare to victory.

The First Lady of Corbiewood, Mrs Mackenzie, being presented with the trophy
My first foray out of Scotland in August came by way of the VDM weekend at Portmarnock, Dublin.  I had somehow landed the job of conducting some pre-race and post-race interviews alongside Darren.  I got to spend some quality time with my spirit sister Heather Vitale and I also met Heather and Mike Wilder for the first time, even interviewing Mike after a winning drive on the Sunday.  This meeting proved to be very beneficial when Smarty and I ventured across the Atlantic to the States later in the year.  Evenwood Sonofagun defied logic to overcome his rivals in the FFA and it was a brilliant Scottish win for the Gilvear family once again as their 2YO Northern Pride netted top honours in the VDM Colts Final.
 
Big Burd & Boots on tour at the VDM Weekend in Portmarnock, Dublin

Team Haythornthwaite reigned supreme at Bells Field in Scotland as the Fletcher's Tommy Camden won the Group 2 main event, whilst at the opposite end of the country on the same day Ayr Musketeer and Jaimie Davies took out the Group 2 Boughrood Final in Wales.  We had a 'mare at Bells Field as Stevie ran out on the paddock bend, broke, yet still got up for second to secure a place in the final.  Elmo, despite appearing to like the stiffer, staying style of racing, wasn't 100% and it showed as he trailed in mid-field.  Personally Bells isn't my favourite track to race at and I feel as though I've given it a fair go.  I wish Boughrood was closer, or not on the same day, as I'd rather be there in all honesty.

The fourth and final 'crown jewel' fixture at Tregaron was the best its been in recent years.  Wins for my friends the O'Neil family (with Ayr Treasure) and Emma Langford (with Camden Pro) went down a storm as I showed blatant disregard to the long drive home by getting drunk in the beer tent with friends from Ireland.  I joined Tim Kelleher, Barry 'Pinno' Pinnington and Darren Owen for a lively interview panel across both days, with Tim asking me (whilst under the influence in the beer tent) if my opinions really were my own, as they were 'quite good...for a girl'.  He's lucky he's got Irish charm, or I could take offence at that...Father Ted (of Star Makers Final fame) won the Strata Florida Final on the Friday and Teatime Preacher (of record-breaking maiden fame earlier in the year) landed the Welsh Classic Final on the Saturday to add another Group 1 to the Laidlers' haul for the year.

The point at which I decided Smarty could drive the full 7 hours home...and no, I don't know why Tim is on a chair.
From Tregaron we returned to the last event of the season at Appleby, with less fortune than we'd had on our previous visits with Stevie.  A third-placed effort in his heat got him a spot in the final but it wasn't to be and with hindsight we should have managed his campaign slightly better at that stage in the season.  We live and learn.  Team Laidler absolutely nailed Appleby in 2018, landing all four of the finals there as Merrington Checkm8 became the final piece in a successful jigsaw when winning the Brough Final.

Our last adventure of the month saw Smarty, George [Carson] and I head south to Kilnsey Show with Elmo and Sunnyside Clinton.  We were luckless on the day, but it spawned an idea which would see us drive on a 10+ hour round trip to the depths of Staffordshire just over a week later with the same team on board...the rest, as they say, is history.

Elmo (left) & Clinton...if only we knew what was on the horizon...
September

After having been reliably told by the Gaffer on Elmo's last start at Corbiewood that I wouldn't win another race with him because he didn't 'want to race', Smarty, George and I set off to Longnor.  I needed one more win in order for Smarty's infamous bet with Elmo's previous owner to pay off; with Cassius having notched up two wins at Pikehall and Bells Field, both horses were on two wins apiece.  Cassius found himself out for the season after Bells due to being sore so it was all eyes on Elmo.

None of us had ever been to Longnor before.  Smarty had found videos on Youtube of previous meetings there to get some sort of idea of the type of thing we were letting ourselves in for; and everybody else who had ever been before told us it would be like nothing else we had ever encountered.  A slight technical hitch with the box meant that we had an unscheduled pit stop at a garage near Penrith (thanks to Google for helping us find a garage and to the mechanic for fitting us in and ordering a replacement part at such short notice - Clinton and Elmo spent the guts of an hour walking around an industrial estate and looking at sheep), but after the initial hiccup we managed to find Longnor with plenty of time to spare, which meant George and Smarty were able to walk the track before racing began and get a feel for what was in store.

A total lack of phone signal meant that for the next few hours we were living in a tiny bubble alongside some other hardcore harness racing enthusiasts - bearing in mind this was a Thursday afternoon and the only reason I wasn't in work was because I had booked the day off to go to Glasgow to see a band called 'Striking Matches', however they had cancelled the gig the week before which paved the way for this trek to Longnor.  'What's for you won't go by you', so the saying goes, and it's right.  On that day we were meant to be at Longnor.

For anyone reading this not acquainted with the handicap system, there exists an allowance or 'lift' of 10 or 20 yards for C Class (or novice) drivers depending on how many wins they have amassed.  The purpose of this is to encourage trainers to allow inexperienced drivers to drive for them, particularly on horses who would benefit from being brought back down a grade or 2 to be more competitive.  As Elmo was a Grade 1 (the lowest open handicap grade), he could not benefit from any lifts, and despite there being A Class drivers available in Elmo's race at Longnor, we still chose to put George (a C Class driver) on board.  The reason I am making this point is simple: whilst there was a sizeable bet at stake, and decent prize money on offer which would make the long journey far more bearable, the ultimate purpose of having Elmo to begin with was to have fun.  There seemed nothing more fun than letting our enthusiastic friend get involved.  We chose to put up a C Class driver with 2 career wins to his name over far more experienced drivers who were available, for no obvious benefit to ourselves.  The benefit, which was obvious to Smarty and I, was that it made George part of the team and part of the fun.  If you can't enjoy your hobby with like-minded friends, you're probably doing it wrong.

Long story short (but I'll post the video further down) is that despite a slightly hairy moment on the last two bends where I thought George and Elmo were going to get hooked up with long time leader Rhyds Gambler and James Haythornthwaite on their inside, as Wellfield Ginger and Sarah Allen mounted their challenge to their outside, Elmo and George won.  Win number 3.  The long drive, the breakdown, the wet weather which saw me rummaging around the back of the box to find a very unflattering pair of orange high vis overalls to keep me dry was all worthwhile.

Not 15 minutes later George was back out on the track with Sunnyside Clinton, a horse he was training for one of his owners, and he made it a quickfire double with a performance that could only be described as a procession as he led from pillar to post.  In the space of half an hour George had doubled his lifetime tally of winning drives.

We were able to enjoy the interim races between the heats and final before I had to prep my catch driver, Richard Haythornthwaite.  George was obliged to drive Clinton due to being his trainer, and with only one driver at the track who hadn't driven a horse to qualify for the final, Richard was my man (well technically his father Alan hadn't either, but he had decamped to the beer tent long before the rain had blown over).  For the last few years I have supposedly been acting as an unofficial agent for Richard, however never given him a drive on a horse of my own.  I don't think he expected his first drive for me to be on the mighty Elmo, a horse who up until that day drew more disparaging comments than complimentary.  The advice was simple - keep chasing him, do not let him switch off.  All of us at the box felt that Clinton had the strongest chance of winning, so I told Richard that in an ideal world he could finish second to George.  My parting words were 'but y'know, try to win'.

Elmo had slightly different ideas to us about racing and tried to mount an escape bid back off the track just before the off, so I found myself inside the track as the race began having walked him around in a circle as the starter began to get them under orders (think of it as being an outrider, but without the horse...like an 'outwalker').  I was alone for the race, bar a steward stood about 15 feet away from me, and had to go through the motions of trying to figure out if my horse was travelling well enough to be in the mix at the business end all by myself.  As they passed the crowd at the start of the final lap I could see Richard giving him a proper shake of the reins and he didn't look like he was going to find anything...then commentator Peter Deighton used a phrase which will stay with me forever - "can Richard conjure up a run with Elmo Hanover?  And he is doing, he's cutting him back all the time! Elmo Hanover - just look at him go!"

As they turned off the last bend and I realised that Elmo was actually going to win the final, I'm not ashamed to say I found myself on my knees and totally overcome with emotion.  The emotion was mainly shock and disbelief, but shortly afterwards it was replaced by the greatest sense of pride.  My 'Hopeless Hanover', the horse my other half tried to get me to swap for 'as many straws as you can get, but try for 6', the horse my stable driver told me was 'useless', the horse my future father-in-law told me only 2 weeks earlier wouldn't win another race that year...he won heat and final, two trophies, the most prize money I've ever won in one day and a sportsman's bet, all in one go.

You'll possibly never have seen anything like it, but you can watch both races here.

Winner Winner!
In other news throughout September, Mayfellden Hetty netted the Laidlers yet another final at Wolsingham Show, one of the greatest meetings of the season and the one I am touting to become the Little Brown Jug of the United Kingdom, and at Haugh Field it was the Laidlers with Rhyds Sapphire and Karen Kennedy with Evenwood Ruthless who took home the spoils, winning heat and final of the low grade handicap and high grade handicap respectively.  A week later we were back at Tir Prince for the Crock of Gold Final and Le Trot trotting finals; this year Evenwood Sonofagun was able to keep all the glory to himself as he was an outright winner of the country's top FFA (having dead-heated with long-time rival Miraculous in 2017).  Team Nicholson & Ronnie Ralph landed the £10,000 Gold Final with their French trotter, Diamant De Godrel, with Emmanuelle Morvilliers from Le Trot present on the evening to celebrate with all the final winners.  On the same day, the Foody's and Lee Fletcher were entertaining the crowds at Stanhope Show when winning the final there with Porterstown Jimmy - a few of us managed to catch the race via Facebook Live, although we couldn't see who was in front and just had to rely on the commentary.

Back on Scottish soil, the major weekend at Corbiewood, the Murdock Weekend, was one for the Cullens and Gilvears.  Lyons Nant Hall took out the Dark Rum FFA on the Saturday with Grant Cullen in the bike, and Puissant Hanover landed the Bob Kennedy Memorial for Gordon Gilvear.  On Sunday they dominated in the feature events again, with VDM Colts winner Northern Pride easing to an impressive win in the SHRC 2YO Futurity for GG, and Tyler Camden a popular winner of the Joe Murdock Memorial Final for Grant.

The last meeting that I attended in 2018 was at Dunstall Park, Wolverhampton on 29th September.  Acting as official photographer once again, it was an enjoyable day of racing with Rhyds Mystique winning the STAGBI Future Broodmares race, Wellfield Earl and Roy Sheedy showing the young ones how it's done in the C Class race and Evenwood Sonofagun holding off rivals in a thrilling 4-horse high grade handicap which saw all four coming to the line together.

Smarty ventured to Corbiewood the following day but I found myself at home packing for our two week trip to America which was due to begin in less than 24 hours...

Stay tuned for Part 3 (unless you did Ohio in the 90's, in which case you'll not find anything of interest in the next instalment).

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Friday, 25 January 2019

2018: A Year In Review - Part 1

Let me first start with a grovelling apology.  Firstly, because it's now well into 2019 which seems a bit rubbish that I'm only now getting around to my review of 2018.  Secondly, because you will notice by looking at my previous post that I basically dropped massively off the radar after July.  The second half of 2018 saw no new posts whatsoever from me, which is probably my worst record since I began blogging.  No excuses, I fell off the wagon big style.  I was still active on other social media platforms throughout that period, but with so many different things to juggle in life this blog was the first ball to get dropped.  Nobody is more disappointed about that than me, trust me, as I love sharing news, views and personal achievements right here.  I'm sorry to the handful of people who read these posts religiously, and the larger audience who dip in and out for some light-hearted entertainment!

On that note, my New Year's resolution is to keep this blog going for 2019.  I can't promise weekly updates, but I can promise that I won't go AWOL half way through the season!!

Now to look back at 2018.  I figured the easiest and best way to do that would be to break the year down into the 12 months, before announcing my annual 'alternative' award winners (note: as with previous years, there are no prizes, monetary or otherwise, and don't be expecting a trophy.  Just know that to have one of my awards bestowed upon you is enough).

Here goes...

January

Taking into consideration that the harness racing season only stretches from May to October, there isn't much happening during these 'off-season' months.  However, in January 2018 the Scottish Harness Racing Club staged its annual awards event at the Golden Lion Hotel in Stirling.  This was the first year that I was able to attend since moving to Scotland in 2014, and Smarty and I were keen to do so as our good friend George Carson was to receive the 'Horse of the Month - July' award for his successes with Valentine Camden (owned by George's father, Gilmour, and trained by George himself).  The highlight of Val's July [2017] campaign had been his heat win in the Hurricane Pace at Musselburgh followed up with a second placed finish in the final behind BHRC Mare of the Year Rhyds Passion.  Along with the O'Neil family, we wanted to support George on the night, and in addition to this I had also convinced the committee to allow me to compile and show presentation videos for each of the winners (which was a great success, in my opinion at least).

Trainer George Carson, currently at Pompano Park in Florida

February

The awards season rolled on and before I knew it the BHRC & STAGBI awards evening was upon us.  For the first time Trot Britain joined in with the celebrations and added their awards to proceedings.  Another first was host Darren Owen sharing the stage for the evening...with yours truly.  This was my first 'gig' on stage, and I was terrified.  It didn't help that we had major technical issues regarding the audio for the videos that I had spent weeks preparing and I was running around like a headless chicken trying to fix things whilst also introducing the awards I was responsible for.  I made a few errors, I fluffed my lines a couple of times and I definitely announced the coveted 'Horse of the Year' winner before the official envelope was opened (I had to know in advance for the purposes of preparing the video, and I think in my desperation for the whole experience of being on stage to be over I rushed it...FAIL).  BUT, everyone enjoyed themselves, the videos were posted online after the event for people to enjoy fully and in their own time and a few people tried to rebuild my dented confidence by reassuring me that I wasn't the total disaster that I had convinced myself I was.  At the end of the day, we celebrated and we had fun.  That's a win in my eyes.

Making my hosting debut at the BHRC & STAGBI awards in Haydock

March

Upon consultation with Smarty, we have decided nothing happened in March.  Well, except it snowed, really, really bad.  That caused a lot of interruption to many people's training regime as a large number of horses were already back in training for the 2018 season (our horses included) so for a week to 10 days a lot of horses were kept off their work due to weather conditions.  Not the champion stable though; the Laidlers cleared their track and kept on trucking through it from their base in County Durham, and this dedication at the roughest point of the year weatherwise really paid dividends once the season was finally upon us.

April

Qualifiers and workout days started up at Tir Prince.  I didn't go to any as they were mid-week events but Smarty disappeared down south a couple of times (much to other people's bewilderment when they saw him).  Nothing else to report!

May

FINALLY the harness racing season was upon us, with proceedings kicking off at Tir Prince for their only fixture of the season where handicap races were the feature.  Commentator Darren Owen suggested we give a Facebook Live preview and post-racing review for the first time, and this spawned the beginning of many similar videos throughout the season both together as a double act, and separately when we were at opposite ends of the country.  We managed to get a wide variety of different people involved in these videos as the season marched on, and I've received a huge amount of positive feedback about them so expect more in 2019!

Team Haythornthwaite took out the first handicap final of the year (Anto Russell Memorial Final @ Tir Prince) with Plan B; the three-year-old Merrington Movinup landed the Camden Stud Spring Final @ Tregaron quite effortlessly for the Laidlers; Live In Star recorded his second final win in pitch darkness at Corbiewood for the Cullen stable; Team Laidler took home their second handicap final win with Easy Company at Presteigne; and not to be outdone the Haythornthwaites took their second final with Oaks Telstar at Corbiewood.  The first of the four 'crown jewel' events at Appleby saw the Laidlers dominate, with Springhill Ruby landing the Group 2 Sunday final and Jack Swagger (driven by 'Super Sub' William Greenhorn, co-owner of the horse and husband of the breeder, Joyce) taking out the Group 1 Monday final.  From a Scottish perspective, brothers Keir and Grant Cullen had to be commended for their training and driving performances respectively, finishing second in both finals (Springhill Catch - Sunday; Live In Star - Monday).

The two day meeting was also the platform upon which I launched my post-race interviewing 'career'.  The usual host was unavailable so Darren [Owen] asked if I would step into the breach.  Not one to say no to anything I duly obliged.  Terrified and completely clueless, but aided by copious amounts of fruit cider and gin & tonic (thanks to my BFF and my mother) it all went rather well.  Well, until I asked the crowd to ' please give a massive round of applause for the Appleby Monday Final winner JACK SWAGGER, and your winning driver ROCKER LAIDLER...'*turns mic off*...*looks over at William Greenhorn walking back to the paddock*...*realises he was the winning driver*...*turns mic back on* '...your winning driver WILLIAM GREENHORN!'.  People knew what I meant.

William Greenhorn & Jack Swagger (Sarah Thomas photo)
Breeder Joyce Greenhorn with Jack Swagger (Sarah Thomas photo)

On a personal level we welcomed a Hasty Hall colt into the world (Crosshill Diablo, aka Denver); re-qualified Young Stephen (aka Stevie) and raced him for the first time in 2 years; and won a qualifying leg of the inaugural Star Makers Series with David Lowther's Al Jolson (who taught me very quickly the pitfalls of training a grey horse - borderline impossible to keep clean!).  Sadly we also had to say goodbye to a very good friend of ours, Gilmour Carson, after a lengthy battle with cancer, and this hit all of us in our group hard.  Gilmour would do anything for anyone and in the short time that I knew him he came to my rescue on more than one occasion.  Racing hasn't been the same without him as part of the crew, but we have all ralled around his son, George, to make sure that he's never stuck.  Much like his father, George has come to my rescue a few times since then as well so I'm not really sure anymore who's helping who.

Probably spotted a speck of dirt on Al's face...
Crosshill Diablo (c, Hasty Hall-Vain In Spain-Artsplace)
June

Only a week after the Laidler domination at the Appleby two day festival racegoers in the northern half of the country returned to the track for the New Fair meeting.  Clearly on a roll, the champion trainer made it 3 finals from 3 when Blackwell Tiana, owned by Wilf Burton & Jonjo McMeekin, narrowly defeated our very own Young Stephen in a nail biting final.  Although disappointed that Stevie was once again denied his day in the sun, and this time by the narrowest of margins, I was delighted for connections of the winner.  We had after all won our heat with Hugh Menzies driving Stevie for the first time, so I knew there was life in the old dog yet (Stevie, not Hugh...).  Social media erupted later on that day with claims that the sport was being unfairly dominated by the Laidler camp, but to keep this short I shall simply refer you back to 'March'.  I had even stated in the preview with Darren on FB Live that whilst I had big hopes for Stevie in his heat, he was short of a workout (the snow had delayed us somewhat earlier in the spring).

Young Stephen & Hugh Menzies head to victory at the New Fair meeting (Bill Cardno photo)
The Laidler train kept on rolling as Teatime Preacher set a new track record for her age & sex when becoming the fastest maiden winner in Tir Prince's history on a night that saw multiple track records fall.  Rockin Mambo had his first taste of FFA success in the first of the Crock of Gold heats, although connections still held hopes of winning a major handicap with the son of Rocknroll Hanover before switching to FFA events exclusively.

The Fletcher and Haythornthwaite combo dominated the SHRC 3YOs at Corbiewood when Casimir Royal Flush and Crack A Smile took out the fillies and colts/geldings divisions respectively.  James [Haythornthwaite] was on somewhat of a roll himself, landing the £5000 Cumberland Show Final with a catch drive onboard Jimmy Winter's Midnight Diamond.  Unfortunately the meeting was marred by multiple incidents on, off and inside the track and such was the threat to the reputation of the sport at the venue and the total lack of impartiality from officials present that I was compelled to submit an independent report of events to the governing body.  To date not all parties have been formally dealt with, which is disappointing, but not entirely surprising.  I hope never to find myself in a position where I am apologising on behalf of my fellow horsemen for their conduct again.

The fortunes of the 'smaller' stables continued following Winter's success at Carlisle, with all 7 races at Hellifield won by stables outwith the typical 'professional' stables.  Team Foody landed heat and final with All Good Hanover, as well as a maiden with Rodney Camden, and were denied a fourth victory following a stewards enquiry involving Jack Sparrow (first past the post, but placings altered due to interference with the eventual winner, GDs Hurricane).

The field lines up at the picturesque Hellifield (Sarah Thomas photo)
The month of June was rounded off with Rockin Mambo recording another FFA win at Tir Prince when beating 2017 Horse of the Year Evenwood Sonofagun in the British Pacing Classic over 1m 2f.

At home with the Smart squad, I decided to take Dark Velvet, dam of Young Stephen and Wild Bill Hickok, back to the stallion after having been in the wilderness since her last foal in 2011.  I had purchased a service to first-season stallion Matador Hall as part of a fundraiser stallion auction and Smarty's late grandfather had once told me I could take a foal off the mare if I wanted to.  So that's what I'm doing.  We also bade farewell to big elephant features Cassius Clay as he was sold as part of a deal which saw (the famous on Facebook) Elmo Hanover join the ranks.  Now you know we're just warming up...

Fear not dear readers, part 2 (and indeed, possibly parts 3 and 4) will be posted imminently.  Let me just get myself another G & T....

Interviewing my driver at Appleby New Fair, after he won on my horse...


Over and out,

#1 Scottish Groom