Success is defined as "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose". Set goals and work hard. Don't let anyone else define what your success should be. Every little thing that you do is part of the bigger picture; all of the minutes and hours and days at home are what make the two(+) minutes on the track happen. Above all else - keep doing what you do every day because one day, maybe next week, maybe next year, maybe some time in the distant future, it will become worth it.
But make sure you dream, for it's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.
Fortunately, what with the lengthy passage of time since the meeting and this post going live, you can read a fairly detailed synopsis of Corbiewood's racing here. Note: this covers both the first and second meetings at Corbiewood because basically it was the Wednesday after the opening meeting (which made it the day before the second one) before I realised that it would be a bit daft to put an article out so close to the second fixture. That's called using your initiative to hide your inability to produce anything to a deadline anymore.
From a personal POV, Cassius ran marginally better than his show at the first meeting to finish fourth; Stevie had a 'mare with the Jockey in the bike (they just DO NOT get on in a working capacity) and was beaten by a short head in his heat (the horse actually didn't do much wrong, but we won't go into the other factors which annoyed me about the race). In the final he lacked racing room but I was pleased to finish 7th of 7 as catch driver Willie Drysdale gave the horse a settled and confidence-boosting drive. There is more to racing than winning after all.
Appleby - Sunday
Day one of the first of the four festivals of racing and it was a scorcher. People keep saying that Appleby is due good weather one of these days and they finally got it. Although, according to the Facebook 'On This Day' feature (handy for remembering the dates of important events and also a pain in the backside for revisiting some of your cringeworthy statuses from when you were in uni), I've been sunburnt at Appleby the last 3 years in a row, along with my best friend Boots. So the weather can't have been that bad (although he is ginger, and I'm a ginger at heart).
Commentator Darren Owen had asked me if I would fill in on the mic interviewing connections of winners after each race, due to the logistical nightmare of him having to get from the commentary tower to the winner's circle. I rarely say no when people ask for my help so I had agreed to give it a go (although with an hour before the first race I was majorly regretting it and beginning to wonder if I could find a replacement at short notice). Thankfully, the first winner on the card was driven by Richard Haythornthwaite, who I know well enough for the questions and answers to come quite easily to both of us. After that, it became one of the easiest things I've ever done - I could talk to people about their horses all day as it is, and the connections in situations such as this will always be in a good mood because they've just won, so you really couldn't paint an easier job! I'm told my 'BBC England accent' helped though, for the crowd at least. Don't worry, I won't be rushing back to do the job because I'd hate for people to get sick of me (LOL) (saying LOL is so not me, but sometimes it's the only thing for it) but if I was asked again when people were stuck and needing help, at least I know I can do it. No stage fright here (have you seen me in McQs?!).
|Interviewing Grant Cullen after his win with Springhill Catch (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)|
- Dynaramic winning the first heat of the Sunday handicap - a thrilling way for the heats to start (with a photo finish), and the first Scottish winner of the meeting. Driver Hugh Menzies amused me during our interview when coming across as super confident that his horse had gotten up in time to beat Western Lover & Peter Jackson, albeit only by a nose. He was certainly more confident than Darren who had left it to the judges to split them!
- Springhill Catch winning the second heat of the Sunday handicap - another Scottish winner quickly followed for the Cullen stable. This is Keir Cullen's first season as a public trainer having taken over the mantle from his father, Paul, who has been the leading trainer in Scotland on multiple occasions, and it was good to see him and his brother Grant (the driver) in the winner's circle on a big stage.
- Blackwell Tiana winning the third heat of the Sunday handicap - while our sport may be full of a disproportionate number of characters in relation to its overall population, not many can match the unbridled enthusiasm of Jonjo McMeekin, co-owner of this mare with his father-in-law Wilf Burton. This mare was the subject of a conversation over the country's best carvery at the Anchor Inn back in early 2017, when Jonjo and his wife Claire were sat at the next table from Smarty & I. He was quite excited to tell us about a three-year-old filly he was working away with, only going 20s at that moment, but he liked her. Jonjo is the master of the long game, and this mare has emerged onto the track at 4 and looked every bit as good, if not better, than those of her age and sex which came down the stakes route. With multiple horses qualifying for the final, driver Rocker Laidler chose another horse and Jonjo took the reins with Tiana, looking to be the likely winner as she came three wide off the last bend but ultimately finishing third in a close four-way finish.
- Springhill Ruby winning the fourth heat & final of the Sunday handicap - twelve months earlier the final was won by a mare, Greentree Serenity, which set me on a path of ultimate appreciation for the race mares in this country. Very few things on the track make me happier than seeing mares win major handicap finals in mixed company. Springhill Ruby joined Greentree Serenity, Rhyds Passion (Hurricane Pace Final at Musselburgh) and Meldoon (Welsh Classic Final at Tregaron) on the roll of honour. This made it three from three in the 2018 season for the six-year-old daughter of Best Sunshine, trained by Alexis Laidler and driven by Rocker Laidler.
I have to say a massive well done to breeders the Sheridan family, Springhill Stud in Ireland, as they bred 3 of the 8 finalists, with Ruby and Catch finishing first and second, and Calaburn finishing fifth. I know how much the family likes to follow the success of the horses they breed and sell, so they'll have enjoyed keeping tabs on Appleby!
Appleby - Monday
As my article covered both days of racing, I'll simply do the same for Monday and run you through my personal highlights:
- Live In Star winning the first heat of the Monday handicap - another Scottish winner, and another winner for the Cullen stable, having finished 2nd and 4th in the final the day before (sandwiched between all of the Laidler runners). I like this horse, and I liked him enough to not only tip him for his heat but also for the final during the racing preview on social media with Darren before racing. Darren had mentioned the horses in the race that he felt would be the main protagonists, and when he asked me for my thoughts I just went steaming in with one he hadn't mentioned: Live In Star. OK, so it might have been a little bright for him (he has a habit of winning in the pitch black at Corbiewood) and he may not have had the comedy sunglasses trainer Keir promised me he'd have on, but I felt the horse had everything that was required to win a major handicap final. I even put my money where my mouth was and backed him ante-post for the final (and was later thanked by the bookies for not tipping the eventual winner of the final but instead pointing people towards Live In Star - although if anybody actually followed my selections, more fool you, because I'm ruled by my heart not my head which is why I rarely gamble).
- Jack Swagger winning the third heat of the Monday handicap - 'Maxi' as he is known has had a well-documented history of problems, some of which may have resulted in his early retirement (or worse) had he not been bred, owned, trained and driven over the last few years by people who have ultimately always believed in him. When I spoke to driver William Greenhorn after the race, I think he would have been happy to take that win alone, and the entire camp were over the moon. Deservedly so. A lot of people never know the difficulties faced behind the scenes and therefore never appreciate the emotion of the moment when things just work out.
- Sports Trick winning the fourth heat of the Monday handicap - here is another horse who has been plagued by problems. Having broken a pedal bone at Portmarnock in 2016, it was a long road back to racing for the Famous Musselburgh Pace winner and his 2017 season, in which he only started a handful of times, was disappointing for connections who were aware of this horse's true ability. After the race, driver James Haythornthwaite hinted that had he not performed to the standard they believed deep down he was still capable of, then the future of his racing career had looked very shaky. Fortunately for us all, Sports Trick proved that he was back, and it was not a surprise to see trainer Teresa [Haythornthwaite] in tears as she led him into the winner's circle. This woman has a habit of crying when I'm nearby with my camera! I was pleased for connections as, again, some people don't know how rough the road has been to get somewhere and don't appreciate then the feeling when it all comes good - I do. Seeing owners Claire and Shane Fletcher so visibly moved by the horse's win had me fighting back tears too. What can I say? I just love a story of overcoming adversity.
|Sports Trick heading to victory in the fourth heat (Sarah Thomas photo)|
|Owner Claire Fletcher & trainer Teresa Haythornthwaite embrace after the win (Sarah Thomas photo)|
|More happy tears! (Sarah Thomas photo)|
- Rhyds Sapphire winning the maiden & novice event - two from two for 'Saffie', owned by my parents and brother. Pleased for them as it was their first runner at Appleby, a place my parents have been travelling to for the past few years for the racing. And she had to do it the hard way; it was good to see her tough it because boy is she going to land in the deep end in the stakes races shortly!
- Jack Swagger winning the Appleby Whit Monday Spring Races Final - after the emotional victory in the heat, and with me cheering on Live In Star right up until the moment Jack Swagger swung off the bend and didn't look like being beaten (at which point I just started cheering on Willie G instead), I don't think many people truly believed this horse was going to win the final. What a thoroughly well deserved moment in the spotlight for a group of people who chose never to give up on a horse that many others would have given up on. I didn't expect trainer Alexis Laidler to start crying in the post-race interview, but I can't blame her for doing so. Breeder Joyce Greenhorn was slightly more composed and took over to express gratitude to both Rocker and Alexis, but later said to me that the horse has affected everyone around him. I'm surprised I didn't start crying to be honest, it's only a matter of time before that happens!
|Jack Swagger & William Greenhorn turning for home (Sarah Thomas photo)|
|Breeder Joyce Greenhorn leading 'Maxi' to the winner's circle (Sarah Thomas photo)|
Furthermore, what truly annoyed me about some of the comments was the total disregard of the success of other trainers at the meeting. Whilst the major handicap finals are the 'big ones' on the day, due to the largely unknown background stories of some of the other winners, a win in any other race is often sufficient success for connections. To have people, who have often never even brushed a horse, let alone gone through the sometimes seemingly impossible task of training a horse, assert that the success enjoyed by others wasn't 'enough' success, was insulting to everyone who has gotten a horse as a blank canvas and turned it into a racehorse, or started with something which other people will tell you cannot make it and proven them wrong. To everyone who trained a winner at Appleby - I give you me heartfelt congratulations. You achieved something that few others did. To those who raced horses with merit - I urge you to keep at it, your day will come. To those who went home disappointed - don't lose heart. The sum of all your efforts will lead you to something.
All of this leads me quite nicely onto the third part of the Appleby trio: the New Fair Meeting.
Appleby - New Fair
We left Crosshill Stables with two horses; we came home to Crosshill Stables with two horses. But they weren't the same two horses that left. We bade a fond farewell (or borderline tearful, if you saw the Jockey's daughter) to big Cassius Clay, who left for pastures new with the Laidler stable. Whilst we have enjoyed some success with him over the years, with Corbiewood and its 3/8 mile track being the centre of our universe, his 16'1hh frame just wasn't suited to it. I look forward to seeing him racing for his new connections this summer, and the day that he wins his first race for them you'll hear me cheering the loudest, that's for sure.
I can hear you all wondering (unless you're friends with me on Facebook or a follower of mine on Twitter or Instagram, in which case you've seen multiple photos of him already) who came home with us. Well, I am now the proud owner of Elmo Hanover, a 4YO gelded son of Dragon Again out of the Cams Card Shark mare, Erma La Em. A $42,000 yearling purchase out of Harrisburg, so far his career has been uninspiring and he is yet to lose his maiden tag. However, he has patches of form which hint at potential to win races, and I'm not one to shy away from a challenge. So Elmo and Big Burd (I know, it should be Bird, but I live in Scotland now where everyone shows a flagrant disregard to vowels) are going to take on the world together. OK, maybe not the world, maybe just Corbiewood, but we'll be doing it together anyway. Teamwork makes the dreamwork and all that.
|The dream team - Big B[u]rd & Elmo|
|Elmo Hanover <3|
Yeah, so, nice turn of foot eh?! I think he surprised a few people, none moreso than his driver who admitted in the post-race interview that he'd always thought the horse to be quite aggressive on the track (a common misconception I've been trying to dispell for some time) but in fact, he was 'a perfect gentleman'. Gold star to Hugh for saying all the right things on the mic!
|My favourite interview - for obvious reasons - with Hugh Menzies (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)|
|Stevie heads the field off the last bend in his heat (Bill Cardno photo)|
Going into the final, I knew he was up against it. I wasn't scared of any one particular horse (despite the armchair critics and keyboard warriors telling me, and everyone like me, that we cannot beat the leading stable and essentially should give up trying). I was scared of ALL of the horses. They all made it to the final based on their merits and every single one of them was capable of beating my horse. Being a part of the final after already winning, with a horse that has given us some amount of problems over the years, was a great feeling in itself.
I'm gonna let you watch the final for yourselves (you can cheer Stevie on as much as you like, unfortunately it won't change the result now!):
SO. DAMN. CLOSE.
We came, we tried, we went down fighting. I was able to load my horse back onto my lorry knowing he had given us 100% and in the end, it just wasn't quite enough. No excuses, no bad feeling. I hugged Jonjo and Wilf and Jack [Burton] before interviewing Jonjo and Rocker after the race. I saw how they conducted themselves in defeat only a week earlier when beaten by Springhill Ruby and Springhill Catch, and I wanted to make sure that is how I always handled defeat. You learn a lot about people in the way they both win and lose, and unfortunately this year already I have seen poor examples of both, but this family set an example and hopefully I was, and continue to be, able to do the same.
|Stevie giving it everything into the stretch in the final (Bill Cardno photo)|
|A fair haul|
Before I sign off (and start the post for the racing that's happened since), I hope you picked up on the title of the post and the reference in the cover photo to 'sums'. It turns out my GCSE Maths teacher, Mr Ward, was right, and I would use algebra in my life. Although, probably incorrectly.
Over and out,