Thursday, 30 July 2015

Another bite at the cherry.

Tonight we're going for another crack at a win with both Star and Wild Bill, although if I thought we were up against it last week, we're even more up against it this week.

There doesn't appear to be such a thing as an 'easy' race anymore...last season Eternal Flame picked up three wins at Corbiewood early doors despite being no more than 85% fit (she beat Rhyds Rainbow at the start of the season before Rainbow went on to win numerous 3YO stakes races and set a new record for 3YOs at York).  An injury put her out for the remainder of the season before she had a chance to hit peak fitness.

In hindsight, it says more about how good she was than how 'easy' those races were.  Fortunately the injury wasn't career-threatening, however the time off wouldn't have made it viable for her to return to training (Smarty & me could have trained her through October and November as the season was extended, but as she is the Gaffer's horse and his interest wanes around September due to work commitments and his racing pigeons, it wasn't our place to take over training her).

Tonight Star will find herself in a heat alongside Camden Casper (winner of his maiden at Tir Prince and his novice at Appleby), Ayr Prestige and the always-improving Evenwood Ruthless.  Quite frankly, the chances of her even picking up a rosette are slim.  Casper has the potential to gallop;  Evenwood Ruthless has galloped in the past, although only the once and has never looked like it since.  If we draw the one hole, we lead out but she's not to get gunned like she did last week.  Even if the Jockey could hold his position and jack the pace, the race is full of drivers who want to head for tops.  However, I am not bothered by defeat.  To get beaten by better horses than yours is what racing is about.  Some of those horses aren't 'true' grade 1 horses, in that they haven't found their level within the handicap system.  As the system is based on prize money won as opposed to an independen handicapper's opinion of horses' ability, there will be a number of horses that whilst working their way through the handicap system, find themselves too good for the class they're in.  My horse is not one of those horses, but the horses that she must race against now will gradually move up the system and she will no longer need to race them.  New horses may come through, but as the season progresses, less and less new horses come out.  We may sneak a race some day.

As for Wild Bill, off the back of two second-placed runs (at Aberystwyth and Corbiewood last week), he is slightly fancied.  However, he is in beside Mayrita, a maiden that went 2.06 last week and still got beat.  Wild Bill has yet to go that fast, if he can, and although times are deceptive he will be up against it if the mare keeps improving.  If we get rosettes with either of them, I'll be happy.

Stevie is away; he travelled down with Hamish Muirhead to Tir Prince and was collected to go to his new training establishment for the next couple of months.  His trainer jogged him yesterday and says he's a good mover.  Whenever we sell horses or send them away to be trained, we pride ourselves on their behaviour.  It is testament to the way that they are broken in and handled (and disciplined) that they go away from home and we receive good reports back.  I would hate for someone to come back to me saying that a horse we had had was ill-mannered or badly behaved.  I know Stevie is a bit hot-headed and doesn't like jogging in company, and had I not been in full-time work this summer then we could have jogged him and Star together which would have helped him settle.  However, he is a gentleman to catch, tack up, jog, wash down.  He doesn't kick, bite or fidget.  He is good to shoe, clip and load, and travels well. He's well behaved in the stable too and quiet to handle.  I am proud of the way he's turned out.  Even Missile, who hates me and is an absolute sod to handle in the cross ties, is well-behaved when he's on a lead rope, even stood in a field with horses galloping around him.  He knows that when he's being held, he's not to mess around.  And this from a horse that wanted to take chunks out of me when I first got him and was described by all as 'handy with his back legs'!

Tuesday night at Tir Prince in terms of the racing was excellent; in terms of the bookmaking wasn't so good.  That's the nature of the beast.  I was fortunate enough to meet Steve Wolf, the man who encouraged me to write after reading my old blog when I was down in Wales.  I think it was him that said I had a 'flair for writing', or if that statement came from somebody else reading this then please correct me!  We chatted briefly about the racing here, the racing where he's from (Florida) and his trip to Scotland to hopefully visit Corbiewood tonight.  I did warn him that Corbiewood wasn't the same as Tir Prince, because as much as I am proud of our little track, it's probably quite underwhelming to the general public and most definitely to one of harness racing's most prominent international journalists.  Steve reassured me that when he first found racing, it was at the fairs where maybe six owners would each pay in $50 and then race for the $300 pot, so he had seen the sport from the bottom to the top.  It made me think about my time in the sport, and how I have seen it from the bottom to the top - from Wales & Borders racing up and down the steep hills at Hundred House Show, to Crock of Gold night at Tir Prince when Laneside Lexus beat the boys from the outside hole (she was subsequently exported to Canada to race).  When you have witnessed the sheer desire to race that the people who compete with Wales & Borders possess, it never leaves you.  To race for £20 or £30 simply to be able to say that you won;  there are so many more trophies on offer with them as well because the incentive isn't really money.  Of course there's the gamblers, and the people who 'keep' their horses for the big meetings (Caersws, Penybont) but the rest is made up of people who just want to race.  I seem to carry that attitude with me as well.

So it's Corbiewood tonight, then Elizabeth O'Neil's 50th birthday party tomorrow night (basically just a party for racing people), York on Saturday and a day off on Sunday.  I won't be at Bells Field (@ Haugh Field) as I had made other plans.  Sometimes a day off from it once in a while does you the world of good.

Wish us luck tonight, goodness knows we'll need it!

Over and out,

#1 Scottish Groom

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Rosettes - but no red ones!

Alas it was not meant to be.

Three horses, three solid chances, a second, a third and a fourth.

That's racing!  Wild Bill Hickok fared best with his second place by 3/4L to Western Gift (Andrew Cairns). Drawn on the inside second line, he was boxed in for much of the race and nearly came a cropper when trying to move out ahead of the erratic Come By down the back straight, clipping the wheel of the cart in front.  When he found racing room, the race was all but over and in all honesty the winner had the legs of him so second was the best we could have done there.

Star...well, Star ran her heart out all things considered.  It dawned on me that there are three types of C Class driver - those who are up and coming young drivers that will work their way up through the ranks (Grant Cullen was a C Class driver once remember),  those who hold a licence in the event they may pick up a catch drive from their stable and therefore seldom drive so haven't had the chance of winning races, and those who are stuck at that level and can't/won't progress.  As such, when the two drivers drawn 1 and 2 were instructed by their camps to lead out, it resulted in a speed duel and an unconfirmed record for the fastest ever quarter in Corbiewood's 49-year history.  Guess whose horse ran that 28.6 second quarter?  Yeah, you guessed right.  There was simply no way on this earth my horse was going to maintain any level of stamina after that, having travelled 1.55 speed on a track whose mile record is 3 or 4 seconds slower than that.  Needless to say, she was well beat when finishing third, although in hindsight with the winner going 2.05, she was never going to win.  We could have at least run for second, but then I wouldn't have witnessed that burst of speed that I knew was in there somewhere.

Young Stephen was the most unlucky - his driver, the Jockey, seemingly lost all ability to drive and considering the horse had drawn third out on the second line, gunned it and found himself parked.  The race was won in 2.04, and as much of a 2.04 horse as Stevie may or may not be, the pace was too quick and being made to run two wide was too much for an inexperienced horse.

As disappointing as all of the above may seem, WE WERE FINE. All three horses came off the track uninjured, as did the two drivers.  That remains the most important thing.  A little bit of prize money was collected, which softens the blow of defeat somewhat.  However, having foolishly made the decision to stay after racing for the entertainment, I found myself subjected to an alarming level of negative comments and apparent gratification that we had been beat, and so convincingly.  In fact, I was asked what my 'big, fat, useless thing' was doing going 28 to the quarter.  Following a number of comments about my 'useless' horse that evening, that tipped me over the edge and I must admit I had to take time out for a little bit of a cry.  There was criticism about both of the drivers, and although elements of this criticism were correct, people are very quick to criticise people who can or will do something that they won't.  I can see a bad drive; two of the three drives were in fact that, however there is a constant undertone of nastiness about the comments made at Corbiewood.

I have seen friends lose races this season for many reasons.  I have either consoled them, or remained silent on the matter.  I myself am gracious in defeat - after all, in 8 runs last season Missile only won once, however others cannot be gracious in your defeat.  It's alarming.

I spoke at length with a good friend of Smarty's, his clerk at Corbiewood who is associated strongly with the Gilvear family from Stirling.  They have had a lot of success over the years and currently have a number of good, or exceptional, racehorses (Rewrite History, Master Plan, Bestinthewest).  Ron has always been good to me since I moved to Scotland, and although honest, never speaks out of turn or with the intent to upset.  His attitude is to ignore it, because it will never change.  In Smarty's words, 'that's the way it's always been'.  I hate that phrase, I really do, because at one point in history women weren't allowed to vote, or work, or wear trousers, because 'that's the way it's always been'.  If we carried on doing things the way they've always been done, there would be no such thing as progress.

In history, there must have been individuals who were willing to stand up and try to break the mould.  I have to decide if I have it in me to try to do that.  I am aware that this post is very similar to the last one, but for those of you who have never been a part of the harness racing scene, you cannot begin to imagine how overwhelming it is, like a dark cloud hovering over you at all times.  I'm an optimistic, upbeat person.  I won't be beat!

Anyway, the racing over the weekend was fantastic.  The track was the busiest I have ever seen it and was well-supported by owners, trainers, drivers and of course the fantastic sponsors who allowed us to stage finals with such good prize money.  I was pleased to see Bob Craw's Robhall win the Matt Turner Memorial Final - after having received the horse as a 21st birthday present off Hamish Muirhead, he has had some tremendous success with him, including a heat at Appleby and the York 4YO Championship this season alone.  I was also delighted for Gary and Tony Allan's Pantihistamine winning a heat, after 40 runs without a win.  If ever there was a horse that would benefit under the proposed new handicap system, that would be it.  Well done to the Allan family for never giving up on 'Shane', because it would have been cheaper and easier to sell him or leave him in a field.  Also I have to get in a bit about Grant Cullen, who won the Alex Thomson Snr Memorial Rosebowl Final with the recent purchase for Bobby Rowan, Reverend Run (half brother to Corbiewood specialist Funtime Frankie).  I LOVE to see Grant winning, having defended him in a BHRC meeting when certain members of the Council were trying to block his application for a Class A licence to drive.  He's been clearing up at Corbiewood, but has also won at Appleby, Aberystwyth and Tir Prince this season.  He's 21 years old and is good at what he does, and he'll know better than most youngsters what jealousy from others feels like.  Plus we get on like a house on fire and he's a really good friend!

Next stop for our horses is Thursday 30th July at Corbiewood, if we can get a card.  Star and Wild Bill are entered so it's a waiting game now.  Stevie is currently on his way to Tir Prince with Hamish Muirhead to be collected by Michael O'Mahony, the young Irish lad who learnt his trade under John Richardson at Meadowbranch Stables in Dublin.  Having trained a horse for my father for the last 3 seasons, Smarty recommended him to a friend for a horse that needed a change of stable and has now decided that Michael is the man to teach Stevie how to race.  Wales has the benefit of half mile grass and hard tracks, plus Michael isn't afraid to travel up to York with horses.  He's a master of a late finish in a race, and ALWAYS looks cool, calm and collected when driving.  His style of driving will suit Stevie, who is too keen to hit the front right now.  Stevie will benefit from the type of racing on offer in Wales, and will get a good education while he's there.

I'm about to hit the road too to head for Tir Prince for the Breeders Crown UK and Ireland meeting.  I'm hoping to meet Steve Wolf, the gentleman who invited me to write for Harnesslink back last year, as he's over on a working holiday leading up to the Vincent Delaney Memorial Weekend in Portmarnock.

Over and out,

#1 Scottish groom

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Looking forward to the weekend

There are other things that I could do, but there's really nothing that I love as much as horse racing. ~ Chantal Sutherland

And ain't that the truth!

I have one more day in my 'normal' job and then it's three meetings in three days - a 7pm kickoff at Corbiewood tomorrow evening followed by an afternoon meeting again at the track on Saturday and I'm rounding it off with York on Sunday.

The reason that I am more excited than usual about this (because quite frankly the whole weekend is a recipe for me being exhausted when I return to work on Monday) is because tomorrow night at Corbiewood, our camp has 3 runners.  We only have three horses in the stable, so we're literally taking our tank.  Stevie (Young Stephen) races in the second race, a novice event; Bill (Wild Bill Hickok) is in the sixth, a maiden race, and Star (Shes Some Deal) makes her debut after two seasons off in race seven, a Class C drivers race for drivers who have won no more than 7 races lifetime.

Star requalified on Monday while I was in Wales at the Royal Welsh Show and Smarty made the executive decision (having been delegated control by me) to enter her in the race, as it is over a mile (all races bar the C Class, maiden and novice events are over 1m3f this weekend to simulate the distance raced at Musselburgh, which would have been this weekend were there not ongoing repairs to the racecourse).  George, who had been training her for me, was super keen to drive her however a horse that he trains, Killarney Howard, is in the same race being driven by his owner, Jackie Campbell, and the BHRC rules stipulate that a trainer/driver cannot drive a horse not trained by him/her in the same race featuring a horse trained by him/her.  This is why, if you look into it closer, that the top professional drivers do not hold trainer's licences - their wives/partners do.  For example, Mick Lord (driver), Sheelagh Lord (trainer); Rocker Laidler (driver), Alexis Laidler (trainer); Alan Haythornthwaite (driver), Teresa Haythornthwaite (trainer); and Andrew Cairns (driver), Joanne Cairns (trainer).  These women do in fact train the horses, but by holding the licence to do so, the men are free to drive outside horses in races featuring horses trained in their stables.

So with George out of the game, so to speak, we turned to Hugh O'Neil Jr Jr, a very good friend of George's (and ours), and the son of a friend of Smarty's.  I have connections to the O'Neil family from Ayr, firstly through being on the board of directors of STAGBI with Ryan O'Neil (partner in Ayr Standardbreds) and secondly through the horse that my parents bought in 2012 from them at Builth Sale (Fresh Ayr).  Smarty has grown up with the family, and has holidayed to America with both Ryan and his brother Hugh (father of Hughie) in the past.  It was an obvious choice for us, and Hughie was over the moon to have been asked.  Right now I genuinely don't know who is more excited about the race, although I can guarantee that Star most definitely isn't - all she is thinking about right now is her next meal!

Stevie and Bill head to Corbiewood as our strongest chances - after a poor run from Stevie at Aberystwyth, he returned to Corbiewood for a workout a week and a half ago and was placed in beside three open class horses capable of good times around the track.  Although they only raced in 2.08 (the pacemaker kept the pace slow and it appeared all four wanted to sprint finish), Stevie finished with the three horses and appeared to settle off the pace early which was the main objective.  Wild Bill ran well at Aberystwyth and will relish the return to the tighter track at Corbiewood, with him being slightly on the small side.

Realistically, all three are in with good chances.  A hat-trick on our first race outing in Scotland isn't out of the question, however it is pie in the sky kind of stuff.  If it were to happen, I'm not sure I'd be able to hold myself together!  My involvement in this sport has never been all about winning, but it would be a great feeling after all of the hard work we've all put in with our three horses.

On Saturday we get a day off; the Jockey won't be attending as he has a personal event elsewhere, the Gaffer and I will simply be spectating but Smarty will still be working.  I anticipate that I may be feeling slightly tender as there is karaoke in the bar after racing tomorrow night and I am the resident annoying person who sings too much in Bannockburn so naturally I will be obliging! On Sunday I return to clerking duties, which means I can keep an eye on the wayward bookmaker and make sure we remain on the right path...

So wish us well, whether you'll be there in person or not, and naturally I shall return with a brief report of the meeting as soon as possible.  I will post a link to the detailed race reports I will submit to Harnesslink for your perusal - here's the link to last week's at the citadel:

Happy reading.

Over and out,

#1 Scottish Groom

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Where there is a will, there's a way.

“People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs.” ― Carl Sagan

For the past week I have thought long and hard about this matter.  Bearing in mind that my main goal is to 'sell' harness racing to the public as a great product, I have always shied away from highlighting some of the negative aspects of the sport.  But it would be na├»ve of me to think that those who read my blog would believe all is rosy within the game - after all, nothing in this world is perfect.

I'm not going to discuss non-trying, 'doping' or underhand racing tactics, although these do exist in varying degrees throughout the sport (and in all other racing, all over the world), but something which rules, tests and stewards can never abolish - the people.

I have said, in print and verbally, that the best thing about harness racing is the people.  Nowhere else will you find such a colourful array of people - farmers, travellers, tradesmen, vets, office-types, young, old, from all the corners of the UK and Ireland.  Having expanded my network of acquaintances (and dare I say, friends?) at Aberystwyth, upon my return I was genuinely buoyed by the feeling of togetherness shared amongst racing people.  At no point was I asked how much money I earned, or what type of house I grew up in, or what my parents did for a living.  The only questions I was required to answer were 'What's your name?', 'Are you coming to Portmarnock?' and 'What would you like to drink?'.  All questions I was more than happy to answer!  Racing folk take people as they find them.  By the time the weekend was over, I had two offers of lifts from the airport to the track in August, around 10 new friends on Facebook and several new numbers in my phone.

With this in mind, I bounced into Corbiewood, where I have always felt the same sense of camaraderie.  Things unravelled very quickly after this point.  Cracks had begun to appear in my positive outlook regarding Scotland and its racing fraternity long before it all fell apart.  Following a decision by the SHRC committee to stage heats and a final at the opening meeting for Grades 2 up (in the same manner as we had done at Cilmery after Wellfield Earl won the £1000 final and went from a Grade 1 to a Grade 5, not winning a race for a season and a half after that victory), many licence holders were unhappy about this.  One gentleman spoke very abuptly to me about it one morning whilst I was visiting friends at the track; I was a touch delicate from a wild one the night before and therefore not in the mood for an argument, but I explained as best I could the reasoning behind the decision.  I was forced to explain, repeatedly, that the SHRC had NOT acted outside its jurisdiction in framing the races as we had, despite his claims that handicapping is a matter reserved for the BHRC.  I tired of explaining that this was a framing matter, not a handicapping matter, and eventually gave up.  He subsequently walked around making a fool of me in front of other people at the track.  This was the last time we spoke.  In hindsight, at least this person had the decency to approach me to my face and thrash it out.  An attitude that is unfortunately not shared by many of the others I have come up against since.

Other licence holders held us to ransom - with the knowledge that we were struggling for entries (having failed to stage the first two meetings in the calendar due to a lack of entries), they openly refused to enter their Grade 1 horses as they felt aggrieved to be excluded from the opportunity to run in a final.  The committee held a crisis meeting and eventually conceded to these demands.  The main objective was to get the season started, which we achieved.  However, I began to look around me at some of those taking part in the sport and wondering what planet they had come from.  In Wales, we did not have the luxury of a fixed venue every week, and in particular our camp had to travel a minimum of an hour to attend a meeting (apart from Cilmery, which we started ourselves in 2010).  We raced everywhere, sometimes with poor race framing, poor prize money and poor tracks, because WE SIMPLY WANTED TO RACE.  This attitude does not extend to all participants in Scotland.  It is a mindset I will never understand.

These were the cracks which were forming.  I continued to try to see the best in everyone and everything, in the way that only a lifelong optimist can.  I can assure you, what has happened in the last fortnight is enough to test anyone's resolve.

Firstly, having left my horse with a friend to train for a few weeks (for personal reasons), she was brought to the track to complete her second workout in 2.35.  Smarty assured our friend that he was able to do this before the racing commenced on the Thursday evening; this was at 5pm.  Our friend, foolishly put a number cloth on the horse which was intended for another horse that was due to run in a qualifier later in the evening.  He did this because he thought you were not allowed on the track without a number cloth.  I cannot stress enough here how innocent these MISTAKES were, on his part and mine.  Star worked out, was washed down, and went home with my friend immediately after the other horse had run in its qualifier as he had received some bad news.  I was subsequently, and I thought innocently, asked by a friend and fellow committee member, what Star's racing name was.  I thought nothing more of it.

The following Monday, at the workout and qualifier night at the track, my friend was hauled in front of the stewards for breaking a club rule in working my horse out on a race night.  The incident had been reported to the stewards on the Thursday.  Smarty was incensed.  This is a practice which happens all over the UK, and regularly at Corbiewood.  The stewards dealt with me and my friend accordingly, and rest assured, we will not make the same mistake again.  I left the track that night in the knowledge that somebody who I race alongside on a weekly basis, had grassed on us.  I subsequently found out that a lot of people at the track had been asking what the name of my horse was - I was the subject of the track gossip - yet at no point had anybody spoken to me regarding the matter.  I was very upset, trying to second guess all of the once-innocent questions my friends had asked about Star, and felt like I couldn't trust anybody.

Smarty knew that whoever had reported us would show their hand, and show their hand they did.  The whole affair was brought out in the open at a committee meeting this week, when one of the committee members asked the rest of the group why the incident had been allowed to happen.  This question immediately indicated which camp had reported me.  Words were said, and it was made very clear to me that a group of people who were once friends of mine, whose houses I have sat in, whose tea and cakes I have been treated to, had taken issue with something I had innocently and mistakenly done, as they believed that I was doing as I pleased due to being the Vice Chairman.  Being caught doing something wrong doesn't bother me - I endeavour to live my life following the rules, and on this occasion made an honest mistake.  However, an unwritten rule was broken, and nobody had the decency to speak to me face to face about it.

Furthermore, the same person (on behalf of their camp) then criticised the framing of the races at Corbiewood which allowed a Grade 1 horse to win by 18L at the previous meeting (report on Harnesslink can be found at  Aside from the fact that the handicap system placed this horse in this grade, and occasionally horses that are much better than their handicap mark appear (Stoneriggs Mystery, FFAller and one of the greatest racehorses in British harness racing history won his maiden in 1.59 after all), rather than enjoy the spectacle and quietly hope that this horse could head onto the national platform and represent Scotland on the bigger stage (we take pride in having superstars - every time Rewrite History races we want him to win), certain people felt the need to run down the victory and declare it to be a 'poor spectacle' for the paying public.  Considering the paying public at Corbiewood is primarily racing people, the whole outburst smacked of jealousy.  I advised that the individual should avoid standing with such bitter company.

And therein lies the problem.  Jealousy.  It is inherent within the sport, and not only in Scotland (although probably moreso because we are the same people racing at the same venue on a weekly basis).  As time passes, I see the different factions grating against each other, avoiding each other, whispering behind each other's backs.  I thought I was exempt from it, but it transpires that I am not.  It is the worst thing about the sport.  And yet these people are the best thing about it.  It is a concept I struggled with so intensely over the weekend that I decided I would stand down as the Vice Chairman at the next AGM, on the advice of my other half.  He can see how hard I am trying to take things forward, and he knows how deeply I am affected by negativity.  I couldn't come to terms with the brick walls that I have to face.

Then on Monday I had what I can only describe as an epiphany.  The realisation that in standing down, 'they' would win.  'They' being any person who wants to see those who try, fail.  I can't name names, not because I don't want to but because people don't speak out openly about how they feel, they don't openly admit to being the 'party-poopers'.  But all the people who behind my back, behind the backs of the people who work hard to try to get this spectacle out there, wish defeat upon us, refuse to change their mindsets, cling on to the past and 'the way things have always been done'.

I have never given up on anything in my life.  What I want, I get, because I put in the hard work to achieve it.  And I am not alone.  There are other people like me; people who I am fortunate enough to have alongside me on the committee, people on other committees, people at the BHRC.  Unpaid, overworked, under-appreciated people who don't want thanks, but don't want criticism at every turn.  We do this for the good of the sport we love, in the hope that one day we'll crack whatever it is that has held us back for so long.

I believe I will witness that day.  If I stop believing it, then we may as well give up.  If I remain the last optimistic person in the country, the dream lives on.  Where there is a will, there definitely IS a way.

It has taken me a lot of time and effort to write this; as initially stated I do not want to broadcast the sport of harness racing as being afflicted with internal problems but the harsh reality is that it is.  So is any other competitive sport.  It is simply made harder to stomach for people like me, whose skins aren't yet thick enough, because we are so few in number and those who stand against you are often those you would call your friends.

The dream lives on.  I continue to write for Harnesslink, and I cannot thank Steve Wolf for giving me the opportunity to do this.  I look forward to meeting him at last during his working vacation to the UK and Ireland at the end of this month.  He really has inspired me to pursue my love for writing.  I have been able to add Corbiewood to the Visit Scotland website on their horse racing page ( and have received queries from members of the public with regard to the facilities and forthcoming fixtures.  The SHRC Facebook page continues to grow, with nearly 700 'likes' since its creation a couple of months ago.  Paul Moon, author of The Racing Horse blog, has featured some of my writing on his own blog, and I look forward to meeting him at Allensmore this coming weekend.  And as a final note, I am organising a 'Racehorse to Riding Horse' parade at Corbiewood on Sunday 11th October, which I hope would not only become an annual event, but something that other tracks around the country might adopt.  It combines my two goals - introducing riding people to racing, and proving to racing people that Standardbreds CAN go on to other careers when they finish racing (something I have championed since my early days with STAGBI).

I repeat my motto as a conclusion: where there is a will, there's a way.  Don't you stop believin' it!

Over and out,
#1 Scottish groom, author, dogsbody & eternal optimist

Friday, 10 July 2015

Long road home.

Sure is a long road home from Aber.  I'm talking physically as well as metaphorically; we rolled into our bed on Sunday night (Monday morning) at 02:00.  A weekend consisting of five hours sleep across two days might have been slightly easier to recover from had we come home victorious, but alas it was not to be for the Smart stables this time.

The weekend started well for the Scottish invaders though.  At a meeting that is notoriously dominated by the Irish visitors, we held our own on day one.  The first race of the weekend belonged to Y Not Wait N C, the Cullen owned, trained and driven maiden who romped home by 12 lengths virtually unchallenged during the entire race.  After a rather late night in the Pier, this was the boost quite a few of us needed to get into the swing of things!  We were waiting a while for winner number two, but it eventually came in race 10 in the form of the Gilvear owned, trained and driven Master Plan who won by an impressive margin of 15L in what turned out to subsequently be the fastest time of the day.  Impressive for a Grade 1, whichever way you look at it.

After that the wins came in quick succession; the very next race was dominated by the French trotter Quarillon D'Or and Gregor Menzies who led from start to finish and refused to let the competition grind him down up the home straight.  The horse, affectionately known as Fred by those of us who have spent time with the Menzies stable, was a popular winner amongst the trotting fraternity and provided Gregor and family with the justification for persevering with trotters in a pacing-dominated sport.

Just two races later and it was winner number four for Scotland on the day - the mighty Rewrite History who was 7 wins from 8 starts (his only defeat coming by way of a second place to Titanium in the 3YO York Championship final which set a new British 3YO record).  What made the result of the race even sweeter was that the only other Scottish runner, Hamish Muirhead's filly ATM, finished a worthy second place, so it was an impressive Scottish 1-2 in the event.  Needless to say I was in every single winner's photo...the Irish do it so why can't I as an honorary Scot?!

At the end of day 1, Gordon Gilvear was top driver on points, John Gilvear was top trainer on points and Master Plan had achieved the fastest time of the day.  Our long journey had been worthwhile.

Alas, day 2 wasn't able to match the first day's heights of success.  After torrential downpours throughout much of the late morning, the track had become more than a little slippery and, in places, was cutting up badly.  Wild Bill Hickok drew 5 of 5 on the gate in race 2, with Young Stephen landing the normally plum draw of 1 in race 3.  However, the inside of the track didn't take long to cut up and we knew that this wasn't the optimum position to be in before racing had even started.

Wild Bill and the Jockey gunned it out of the gate; he broke momentarily on the bend but managed to get back down as he led down the back straight for the first time. We knew that the horse was perhaps a run away from 100% ready and in all honesty he had made the journey more as a travel companion for Stevie, and as they headed up the home straight for the finish he looked to be finishing third, however rallied against the second placed horse and managed to hang on for the blue rosette.  We thought this was a promising start, with our fancied charge in the next race.

Unfortunately, things went downhill, and quickly.  Stevie was really unsettled on his first long distance journey from home, despite having settled in the stables we'd rented.  He bolted out of the gate, somewhat uncontrollable, and although looked to have a comfortable 3L lead heading into the back straight first time around, was there through no choice of his driver.  He subsequently galloped, and finding himself mid-field at the half, went on to gallop again badly around the paddock bend on the second lap.  He was an Also Ran at the conclusion of the race - this in itself was disappointing, but what was more disappointing was that at no stage in this horse's career has he ever threatened to gallop.  We work our horses on a grass track and he has been 100% sound and level.  The Jockey simply came off the track and said the horse was all over the place, refusing to settle and essentially out of control.

This is the most important thing I will ever say - we accepted all of the above.  We packed our horses up, drove them home, and are trying again.  Yes, we travelled a long way to race, at quite some expense, but we are not complaining.  The horses came home in one piece, as did our driver, and that is all that matters. In the days since Aber there has been a lot of activity on social media and forums with regard to the cost of going there to race versus the prize money paid out - my answer to this is 'if you don't want to pay the costs, don't go'.  By now, if people think there's real money to be made in this game (unless you are a top professional trainer), then they're dafter than I thought.  Having had the benefit of working on two separate committees, one which staged a one off annual meeting and one which stages in excess of 20 meetings a season, I am in awe of the people who raise the money to stage a race meeting.  It is hard work.  Those who moan about the poor prize money and the cost of racing have never once helped stage a meeting.  Racing isn't compulsory; it is a hobby that we CHOOSE to participate in.  Keeping horses has cost me more in my life than I would dare to quantify, and will continue to be a drain on my purse for the rest of my life.

Why do I keep horses then?

Because without horses, and without racing, my life would be a shell of the life I lead right now.

On a final note, I would like to congratulate all of the winning connections of the horses that showed great skill, strength, speed and stamina to win over the weekend.  My highlight, and I am biased because he's a very good friend of mine, was Richard Haythornthwaite and Imjustalittleguy in the Saturday final.  Trained by an 'amateur', a man who looks after his horse by himself, takes it to meetings and has some fun with it, Richard Walker not only took home a substantial amount of prize money, but he also cleaned up at the bookies as they foolishly sent his horse off at around 18-1. He also beat the top professional Irish stables, experts at clearing up at these festivals.  His driver could not have been calmer when the three fancied Irish horses went clear with a quarter to go, but before the last eighth I could see the foot on the gas and the enormous run coming from the little horse.  It was a truly remarkable race to witness.

Before I sign off, my thanks must go to all of my friends for making the social side of the meeting one to remember.  Also to the new friends I made, who won't be forgotten and who I will hopefully be reunited with when I travel to Portmarnock for the Vincent Delaney Memorial in August.  This truly is the best sport in the world!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Introducing Crosshill Bombay

Having taken last year out from blogging, I never gave a full introduction to the first crop from Smarty's and my new breeding venture - Crosshill Stables.

The piece of land that we keep our horses on has always been referred to as 'Crosshill', which is why we chose the name.  No matter where we end up, that will always be the place where we started.

So last year we started with Crosshill Ace (filly, Cams Card Shark-Vain In Spain-Artsplace), Crosshill Azalea (filly, Mypanmar-Saunders Beachgirl-Beach Towel), Crosshill Amethyst (filly, Mypanmar-Coalford Tracey-Coalford Laag) and Crosshill Aurora (colt, Hasty Hall-Tates Creek-Western Ideal).  We still have all four of them, and they are affectionately known as Ace, Jenny, Amy and Wilko.

This post though is to introduce the 2015 'crop'...of one!  We took three mares back to the stallion last year, but only two resulted in successful conceptions and only one carried to full term. The result is the bonniest little filly I've met for a long time.  Her name is Crosshill Bombay, but she is known as Nala to us.  She was born at 00:15 on Friday June 5th with minimal intervention from Smarty (I *just* missed the show thanks to him being on that specific check); by the time I'd arrived she was already sitting up on the ground.  We sat and waited for her to get to her feet, assisted her for the first time as she didn't seem to be in much of a rush, and hung around until she'd had her first drink.

Crosshill Bombay (aka Nala) enjoying one of her favourite activities

The reason she is called Nala is due to the nickname the Jockey has given to her sire, Mypanmar.  Having seen him a handful of times he had started calling him 'The Lion', and with this in mind, coupled with the fact that the chances were this would be the last Mypanmar we bred (at least until he's proven himself as a sire), I decided that if we had a colt, we would call him Simba, and if we had a filly, she would be Nala.  I had my fingers crossed for a Simba, and a chestnut one at that, but out popped a black filly.  As Smarty and I always say, 'better to have a live filly than a dead colt'.  And ain't that the truth!

Mother and daughter - Rita & Nala
 Her sire, Mypanmar, boasts a record of 1.48.3 and was the winner of nearly $1.5 million. By The Panderosa (1.49.4) out of Road To Pandalay (Matts Scooter), Mypanmar's career spanned over six years, which illustrates his durability and desire to keep winning.  From the Camden Stud website:

"I've trained thousands of horses and he is one of my favourites of all time you have to respect him. He is so good looking, size, conformation and attitude he is flawless in all those areas. He could go on any size track. He was extremely good on a half mile track. He is a big horse but was real clean gaited I think that shows his versatility. I cant say enough about him"
  • Track Record Monticello 1.51.2 - J. Campbell July 2007.
  • He made Harness Racing History as the first Chestnut horse to win a sub 1.50 mile when he paced to win in 1.49.3 at Mohawk Racetrack
  • He set a new Track and World Record for four year olds at Colonial Downs on a greater than one mile tracks 1.48.4
  • He is the third richest son of the sensational sire "The Panderosa" behind "SHADOW PLAY" $1,549,881 and "PONDER" $1,522,93


Currently standing with Sue & John Thompson at Morton Grange Farm, Darlington, alongside Art Professor, Arts Conquest, Eagle Luck, Stonebridge Galaxy and Yankee Lariat, all imported and owned by Mick Welling, Camden Stud, York.  I think you'll agree, he is quite the looker.  I have always been a fan of stallions who are aware of their own presence, and he certainly is that.

Her dam, Vain In Spain, is a 1.54.2 Artsplace mare out of Open Plains (Western Hanover).  A purchase in Harrisburg for Smarty and I in 2013 when she was in foal to Cams Card Shark (the resulting foal being Crosshill Ace), Vain In Spain, aka Rita, has produced a winner of 9 lifetime starts and nearly $70,000 in the form of Alexas Hope, a 4yo full sister to Ace.  Alexas Hope continues to race in Canada (she is due to race again on Friday 10th July).  Rita's dam, Open Plains, is a full sister to the phenomenal Won The West, who boasts a lifetime record of 1.47 and earnings of just under $4 million.
Vain In Spain (aka Senorita = Rita) at Harrisburg Sale

Our hopes for Nala are the same as most breeders - that she firstly will make it to the race track; and secondly will be a good racehorse.  At the moment, despite her being only a few weeks old, our aim is to head for the juvenile races which are increasing in popularity and prestige as time goes on.

Therein ends the introduction.  If I continue to write over the course of the next few years then perhaps Nala may feature in future blog posts.  Here's to hoping, anyway!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

In full swing...

As per the title.  Things really are in full swing right now.

I bet you're wondering why I decided to get back blogging again seeing as I haven't been sighted since March 18th (I can only apologise for that)...and the reasons are two-fold.  On Saturday, whilst travelling to York Harness Raceway for the Championship Day with Smarty and his bookmaking friend, BMG, I was asked by our companion why he was no longer able to read my posts on  Firstly, it was because I had removed the hyperlink from my Trott UK Proboards signature, to be replaced by a link to the SHRC Facebook page which I have created (check it out, it's pretty good -, and secondly because I simply haven't written on here since March.  This prompted me to start thinking about getting a lot of the racing-related stuff that goes on in my head out again in print.

The second trigger for this precise post was due to some casual Facebook-browsing last night.  I have a bad habit of clicking on someone's profile to see a post, then clicking on the profile of someone who has liked or commented on it, and before I know it I'm looking at the profile for an absolute stranger who, through the six degrees of separation, knows my best friend.  The exact individual was a gentleman by the name of Paul Moon, who writes a blog called The Racing Horse ( - worth a read).  I'd spotted him on Facebook thanks to a number of people in Wales sharing his blog posts from Amman Valley and Allensmore races (shout out to Rachel Sydenham for that actually, mainly because her and the Wellfield herd seem to feature prominently in said blog), and my own blog had been shared on his page by a lady I'm assuming to be his wife.  I realised then that people do actually read what I have to write, and I love writing, so I should resurrect the blog for the remainder of the season at least.

So here we are. I haven't been totally idle on the writing front; the complete opposite in fact.  Through my contact at Harnesslink, I have been compiling a race report for each meeting held at Corbiewood so far (which is 4) as well as from York's Championship Day.  If you're interested in hearing what happened at those meetings, the links are as follows:

Friday 29th May @ Corbiewood:

Friday 5th June @ Corbiewood:

Thursday 18th June @ Corbiewood:

Thursday 25th June @ Corbiewood:

Saturday 27th June @ York:

The feedback I've had for each report has been great and it's encouraged me to persevere with it, even if I do find myself somewhat short on time these days.  I've also been in contact with a gentleman by the name of Bill Hutchison, who is something of an expert in the harness racing media sphere, and he's in the UK for the next 12 weeks having travelled over from his native Australia to act as the International Media Consultant for the BHRC.  He's been giving me a few tips and tricks to help with my reports, which are a little on the wordy side. Perhaps I can endeavour to keep things a bit more concise going forward (I'll be getting practie after the next meeting at Corbiewood which is tomorrow evening).

In other racing news, I am currently sitting top of the Trott UK Top Tipster board having been top for the last 3 meetings at Corbie and also joint top at York. The margin between me and the second placed person (my friend Ryan) is pretty narrow so I cannot afford to rest on my laurels and unfortunately for me, this week's card looks more competitive than the last few and the winners aren't jumping out at me. I'll need to go home tonight and give it some real thought and consideration before I submit my picks.

Now onto probably the most important thing, and the reason my blog is named what it is: the horses. Last time I posted I *think* Stevie and Wild Bill had come in from their winter break to begin their slow work.  Star came in after I returned from a week's holiday in Spain with a few racing folk so we currently have three horses in training.  Stevie (Young Stephen) and Bill (Wild Bill Hickok) are both entered to race at Aberystwyth this coming weekend (on the Sunday, in a novice and maiden respectively).  Both horses have been working well at home, with Bill requalifying at Corbiewood a couple of weeks ago in a comfortable 2.12. He had to requalify as he raced as a 2yo and then had 3 years off, due to the number of horses the Smarts had to train and to give him time to mature a bit, as he was a touch small as a youngster.  We're going to Aber feeling hopeful, but knowing that it's a long way to travel (the furthest Stevie will have ever been away from home) and a tough bunch of horses to beat, as these types of meetings attract the best horses.  All you can do is try, and we'll sure do that!

Pretty much the whole gang is travelling down.  We're leaving Friday morning, to allow the horses to settle Friday evening into their new surroundings, and then on Saturday we'll try to sort out some way of exercising them.  The gaffer and his wife are travelling in the lorry; the jockey and his partner are travelling down in one car and then Smarty, my best friend Ashley and me are travelling in another.  This is a minor Scottish invasion and honestly the first time all of us have travelled away with horses in the time I've known Smarty. It's quite exciting!

 Young Stephen (left), 5yo gelding by Daylon Alert out of Dark Velvet (Raque Bogart).

Wild Bill Hickok (right), 6yo gelding by Daylon Alert out of Dark Velvet (Raque Bogart), enjoying a drink from the hosepipe.

I'll leave it at that for now, but there is so much more to update you on.  In my next post I shall introduce you to the newest member of Crosshill Stables, and also an old face who has made a 'welcome' return!

Wish us luck for the weekend!

Sarah, Star, Stevie & Wild Bill