Monday, 31 August 2015

Writer's block

The irony of having so much to say and losing the ability to say it.

My brain has gone on strike.  I suspect this is due to the lack of sleep since Thursday, the miles travelled (approximately 1000), the number of races I have stood and watched, the things I have learnt from others and the pressure now on me because this blog is growing arms and legs.

I have sat here for the past hour trying to find the words to describe the last five days and I can't.  What a sport we are involved in.  What a group of people to know.  I've seen things this weekend that I will never forget and I am so grateful to have been a part of it.

That's all I can say right now.  I promise there will be a detailed breakdown of the best (and worst) parts of the week once I get Kilnsey Show out of the way tomorrow.  I'll be stood up on that joint taking bets tomorrow off people who only see that one meeting every year, who marvel in the excitement of it, and I'll have to stop myself from bursting out laughing.  If only they saw the rest of what we get up to from May through to October every year.

Best sport in the world.

I'm away to catch up on some Zzz's.

Night y'all :)

#1 Travelling Groom

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Rule N15. Discuss.

"Horses required to re-qualify by Stewards of Meetings
N15. The Track Stewards may require a horse to re-qualify if:
[a] They are dissatisfied with its performance in a race and/or it finishes outside qualifying time.
[b] The Starter deems it unruly.
[c] It behaves in such a way that the Track Stewards consider it a danger to others.
[d] It makes several breaks in one race or breaks in two consecutive races."

When reading a rule that contains the instruction 'may', it is easy to assume that the enforcers of such a rule would automatically exercise their right to enforce the rule, particularly where the rule applies to an activity which involves some element of danger to participants. However, the sense of compulsion which is meant in the usage of the word ‘must’ is not present in the usage of the word 'may', and as a result there is almost an element of discretion attached.

Where rules are administered by paid or professional individuals who are experts in their field (i.e. referees, linesmen, adjudicators), the application of discretion may be tolerated by participants and spectators as by being experts, they are fully aware of the rules, the penalties that can be imposed and the consequences of taking (or not taking) action.  They can be held accountable by governing bodies when failure to administer or enforce the rules correctly results in an incident where one or more parties seeks recompense in some form.  When it is their livelihood that is at stake, they automatically impose a standard upon themselves which they must meet, as the consequences of failing to take the correct action may result in serious consequences for themselves, not just others.

Applying the above to the sport of harness racing, which has the inherent danger of killing or seriously injuring its participants, and particularly rule N15 as quoted, the use of the word 'may' begins to sit uneasily with me.  When you take into consideration also that the individuals who enforce and administer such rules are volunteers, some of whom are very new to the sport, it makes me wonder how a rule which allows such scope for discretion can be allowed to continue in its current form, when it is frequently not enforced in situations that clearly require it to be.

Before I go any further into examples or possible amendments to the rule, I must state that I have no issue with discretion being utilised in the application of rules. The main rule that requires the use of discretion in harness racing is that which applies to the use of the whip. What can look to one person as someone beating the living daylights out of a horse can look to another as though the horse is responding with each strike.  'Excessive use' is subjective and as such no hard and fast rule could be applied, so the stewards will be awarded a level of discretion.

As much as animal welfare should be at the heart of racing, with all due respect the rules regarding whip use are not a matter of life or death, and as such a discretionary approach to their application is acceptable.  However, rule N15 relates to the behaviour of horses during a race, which in this writer's opinion, can be as serious as a matter of life or death, or at least serious injury to both horses and drivers.

Many people think the sole purpose of qualifiers is to prove that a horse can pace (or trot) a mile in the requisite time - and while this may be an element of it, the primary purpose is actually to prove that a horse can behave in an acceptable and safe manner in race-like conditions, so as not to be a danger to itself or others in an actual race.  The qualifiying time at Corbiewood as of the 2015 season is 2 minutes 14 seconds;  most horses are capable of pacing in this time without making a mistake. However, many races, even at maiden and novice level, are won in or around 2.10, with fields of up to 8, and therefore the scope for inexperienced horses to make mistakes is increased.  Rule N15 allows for stewards to monitor inexperienced or 'dangerous' horses, and should they feel it necessary, these horses may be required to re-qualify (i.e. run in a qualifier to prove their manners or ability to complete a mile in the qualifying time again).

Throughout my travels across the country I have witnessed a number of cases which in my humble opinion should have been dealt with using N15(c) & (d).  Breakers which have shown no regard to where or when they gallop; whether it be behind the start car, mid-race or the final eighth; on the rail, parked, at the head of the field or the rear. Horses which gallop so violently that they go up in the air, veer sharply either right or left and which have fortunately only hampered other runners and not yet caused a serious accident.  I have witnessed a horse break 7 times in 10 starts.  I'm no mathematician, but at best that would include two consecutive races where the horse galloped, and at worst seven consecutive races.  As a horse owner and trainer, and with a connection to several drivers at Corbiewood, the obvious dangerous behaviour displayed by this horse was enough for me to speak to the stewards about possibly exercising their right under rule N15.

They chose not to, although the owner/trainer was given a warning that that would be the next step.

The problem I have with that is that the next time, which is the time that the stewards are monitoring the horse and it is on its final warning, could be the time that it causes an accident which results in sombody getting seriously hurt, or worse.

If rule N15 was not discretionary, i.e. it was worded 'must' or 'will' instead of 'may', there would be fewer opportunities to wait for an accident before dealing with the problem.  As it stands, we are essentially waiting to shut the door after the horse has bolted.

Somebody who has been in the sport a lot longer than me told me that the rule as it stands is not the issue, but the lack of enforcement is.  I appreciate that, but I believe that it is not enforced more regularly partly because of its wording.  There may be also be issues about stewards not wanting to 'punish' people they are associated with, as no steward in the country is not associated to one stable or another by some tedious link, but I believe it more to be that stewards are not, or maybe cannot, be held accountable for their lack of action under this rule as it is currently worded.  The same knowledgeable individual also explained that the rule worded as I have suggested would be difficult to enforce due to the number of grass tracks in the UK;  in America if a horse breaks, apparently it must re-qualify, but they race solely on hard tracks over there.  Personally, I see no difference with regard to the standards required from horses on any surface.  There is no weekly racing on the same grass track;  if a horse breaks in consecutive races at different grass tracks, the track cannot be held responsible.

I should not be able to attend any meeting in the UK and identify horses that will gallop prior to the races being run.  Alarmingly, I am very often correct.  That I can see the culprits, and also foresee the possible danger they present, should mean that others can.  I have lost count of the number of times people have said before a race: "if XXX doesn't gallop, it wins".  Pacers (and trotters) are NOT supposed to gallop. The fact that we are even discussing its potential to gallop means that on some level that horse is not safe to race.

Under the amendment that I am suggesting, my own horse Merrington Missile would have been made to re-qualify last season.  He was ill-mannered at the start of a race and if presented behind the start car too soon, would become unruly and the driver, whilst fighting with him to settle, would inadvertently put him off stride.  This was an issue that, had I been keeping the horse, I would have needed to address.  But I wasn't keeping him.  He was sold as a rider long before I needed to address the underlying problem that was causing my horse to be a hazard in a race.  As a conscientious owner, I would have addressed the issue, whether it was pain-related or lack of education or a required tack change.  Alarmingly, not everyone seems as interested in addressing the problems which make their horses gallop.  They appear to cross their fingers and hope for the best.

With this cavalier attitude rife in the sport, the responsibility then falls to the stewards to police it.  The rule is there so that they have the support of the governing body when doing so - and yet they still seem reluctant to.

I would like to see the rule amended so that the stewards are compelled to pull horses back into qualifiers if they do not meet the criteria.  The sport is inherently dangerous as it is; even if all horses in a race pace (or trot) and behave impeccably, due to the speed at which they are travelling, the tight gaps that drivers try to exploit, the instant nature in which decisions are made, accidents still happen.  There is a responsibility on those who govern the sport and those who administer and enforce the rules to reduce the chance of an accident as best they can.  The only element of discretion should be whether or not the behaviour, i.e. breaking, is induced by a third party.  Some horses never make mistakes of their own accord, but can be hampered so badly by another that they go off stride.  They should not be punished for this.

Furthermore, I would like to see a reduced qualifying time for those required to re-qualify under rule N15.  Most horses are able to behave whilst pacing a 2.14 mile, however when asked to race in sub-2.12 miles can falter badly.  I believe that the re-qualifying time should be a minimum of 2.12, if not faster (these times relate to Corbiewood; at York racing rarely goes slower than 2.05 so a re-qualifying time of 2.08 where the qualifying time is 2.10 would be suitable).

For the first time in any of my posts, I am requesting feedback.  There is a function that allows readers to comment; I am unsure if this requires you to have a Google account, but this is a discussion and I would like to know the thoughts of others.  I am considering approaching the BHRC about this matter prior to the AGM for it to be discussed on a national level; having already canvassed them to review the qualifying times at the hard tracks in the UK with success, I am hopeful that this would be something that the BHRC would consider.

I want to know what the pitfalls are in my proposal.  I want to know if there is any way that it can be improved or amended; or if the idea is simply not a very good one at all.

Know this - the reasoning behind this is not to punish horse owners and trainers; it is to reduce the element of danger within the sport.  Everything I do or suggest is with the best interest of the sport at heart.  I do not allow personal feelings towards individuals cloud my judgment, I am not out to seek revenge.  I do not like everybody in the sport, and I would be foolish to think that everybody liked me, but I would not wish harm on any horse or any individual who shares this common passion with me.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

All roads lead to Tregaron.

Tregaron is a three day harness racing festival on a grass track near the village of Pontrhydfendigaid (pont-reed-ven-dee-guide for you non-Welsh speakers), Ceredigion. It is located near the Cors Caron, or in English the Caron Bog - from which the lowest grade handicap final takes its name, the Cors Caron Cup - which is an area of boggy ground that lies between the track and the town of Tregaron.  Tregaron comes from Tref Caron meaning Caron Town, with Caron mutating to Garon and Tref dropping the 'f' - making Tre-Garon or Tregaron.

As much as you may think this is a pointless and boring historical Welsh lesson, it bears relevance to this forthcoming weekend.  Due to the nature of the boggy ground in that part of the country, and the notoriously wet summers that seem to afflict the United Kingdom and in particular Wales (Tregaron is in the shadow of the Cambrian Mountains, and for anybody who has any grasp of physical geography and weather, in basic terms rain usually falls on high ground), once again Tregaron's race meeting has been conversely affected.

In 2010, which was the first year I met Smarty, I can recall it being wet on the Thursday of the meeting (back then it was Thursday/Friday/Saturday as opposed to Friday/Saturday/Sunday in recent years).  The only reason I can recall that is that when I met him I know I was wearing a waterproof coat, and the following day I once again took shelter in the beer tent.  That's about all I can remember though (with beer tents comes beer...).

In 2011, after two days of wet racing on the Thursday and Friday, the Saturday was abandoned.

In 2012, heavy rain leading up to the meeting forced the organisers to relocate to the hard track at Amman Valley for a reduced 2-day meeting.

In 2013, the format of the 3 days changed, so that instead of Day 1 being the lowest grade handicap (Cors Caron), Day 2 being the middle grade handicap (Strata Florida) and Day 3 being the highest grade handicap (Welsh Classic), it became Strata Florida/Welsh Classic/Cors Caron.  The Cors Caron day moved from the Thursday to the Sunday, with the theory being that if the track only stood up to two days worth of racing, the day that would be lost would be the 'weakest' of the three.  Too many Welsh Classics were being affected by the rain and the amount of racing prior to the final on the third day.

In 2014, the format remained the same, despite the crowd being drastically reduced on the Sunday.  With many owners and trainers entered for the Brough meeting at Appleby on the Bank Holiday Monday, a lot travelled home on the Saturday night or the Sunday itself as the majority of horses racing on the Sunday were from Wales.

Here we are in 2015, and once again Mother Nature is causing havoc.  There has been torrential rain in Wales almost constantly for a week;  Boughrood was abandoned on Sunday which came as a surprise to us up in Scotland as for a change we had had relatively nice weather, and on Sunday itself as we drove back up the road from Tir Prince the night before, there was glorious sunshine all the way up the M6 and M74.  However, even on Sunday it was pouring it down in Wales - as my mother described it, it was 'like a monsoon'.

With this in mind, the committee behind Tregaron had to make a decision.  Following a track inspection on Monday evening, they announced on Tuesday that the meeting WOULD run at Tregaron (Amman Valley had once again offered the use of their track), however it would be reduced to two days (Friday and Saturday). The Cors Caron Cup has been done away with, so the Strata Florida handicap is now the middle of Grade 2 and up.  The Grade 1 horses, of which Young Stephen was one, and the Grade 2 horses that did not fall into the handicap heats, were balloted to run in races across the two days as not all could race.  Our luck was such that Stevie was balloted out, and worse still, is the last of the reserves.  In the event that there are non-runners in the race for which he is a reserve, he will be the last reserve to get in.

Fortunately Smarty and Michael had the forethought to enter him for Amman Valley on the Monday, which has previously failed to get a card on what with three days of Tregaron immediately preceding it.  He is also entered to race at Tir Prince on Tuesday 8th.  There is always next year after all, and I'm sure we will have a crack at a handicap heat and final at some point in the future.

So all roads lead to Tregaron after Corbiewood on Thursday night.  We will have a 5am start on the Friday to get there for just before midday; we are staying in Aberystwyth overnight, racing on the Saturday and then heading back to Scotland on the Saturday night.  On the Sunday, we have plans to attend an Open Day at Lucinda Russell's yard which is raising money for the Injured Jockeys Fund, a charity that I regularly donate to through their Christmas merchandise, before heading to Brough on Monday and then Kilnsey Show (my favourite trot!) on Tuesday.  What would have been six trots in six days becomes five trots in six days.

As for Cowboywood...Star is in a non-winners race of six, for horses that have not won their last six starts.  She is guaranteed a position on the gate, and I hope she gets pole position for the first time in her life.  The Jockey is off gallivanting and can't be there, so I have called up Scott Murray to drive her for me. He told me I'd made his day yesterday when I asked him to drive, and then even more so when I asked if he would also drive Wild Bill Hickok in the Grade 1 race.  I'll need to be there early tomorrow night to talk him through it, but I couldn't put him on an easier horse to handle and The Gaffer will tell him everything he needs to know about the little horse.  I must admit I'm looking forward to it; for the first time really since she started racing up here, she is in with a real chance of winning.  I really do hope tomorrow night is the night.

Before I sign off, just wanted to post another couple of photos of the horse affectionately known as Big Ears:

Shes Some Deal aka Star aka Big Ears

Jogging Star on the weekend
Wish us luck tomorrow night, we will most definitely need it!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Monday, 24 August 2015

Wild Bill does it again! And Mystery makes history!

That's right, Wild Bill Hickok made it three wins from four starts on Thursday night!  This week he actually saw the gate for the first time since Aberystwyth, although it was on the wide outside.  The Jockey didn't let that deter him and the little horse bolted out of the gate, heading into the first turn at breakneck speed.  He managed to settle and came back to the field when he was first challenged by Mid Day Scot, holding him off easily.  Next came Daytona, and again Wild Bill held off the challenge and went clear of the field again.  He came home relatively unchallenged to finish, and we were delighted.

However, the stewards immediately called The Jockey into the stewards' room and I was left to walk Wild Bill up and down the track waiting on the official result being given.  I had Star in the next race and when the horses in her race started coming on to the track to warm up, I had to take him off the track to get her ready.  I need to thank Michael and Hugh O'Neil for helping me get the cart off and for lending me a lead rope when the tractor and grader came around because I was stranded half way between the paddock gate and the winner's circle waiting to find out if we could get our winner's photo (we didn't).  As I got back to the box the result was announced as 'all clear'.  I then had to wait even longer for my driver to be released from the stewards' room, which meant Star had much less time to warm up as the other horses as the car began to roll almost immediately after she'd paraded and gone down the back straight.  I didn't realise how long all of this went on until Smarty told me that night that it was 35 minutes in total.  Thirty five minutes, for the result to stand.

Even better than that, The Jockey was up at the stables on Saturday morning when I was jogging Star and Smarty asked him what exactly happened.  The horse had veered in slightly as the gate began to pull away and it was the starter who had instigated the enquiry.  However, the stewards did not show The Jockey a replay of the video, so the length of time spent in the stewards room was simply them arguing over whether the horse veering in had been hampered.

Some people might say that The Jockey should have requested to see the video, and that the stewards are not at liberty to show a replay without a request.  However, for a driver who hasn't frequented the stewards room very often in his driving career, despite his slightly advanced years, and also a person who, it is fair to say, is on the shy and reserved side, I don't think his first thought would have been to request to see the video.  He was immediately asked to justify his actions.  Not everybody has the benefit of having a relative who claims to be from a legal background instructing them to 'say nothing until they've shown you the video' - although I AM from a legal background and in hindsight I SHOULD have asked to go into the stewards with him.  Unfortunately on the only other occasion where he was called in (last season, for alleged non-trying), the attitude of one of the stewards after the racing towards me caused me to lose my cool and then I'm of no use to anybody.

Anyway, what's done is done.  The Jockey isn't one of the drivers who is unfairly picked on repeatedly at Corbiewood, and he can fight his own battles.  Star didn't have a chance of winning her race what with Master Plan being in beside her so the reduced warm up time wasn't a major issue, although I didn't want my horse coming off the track injured because she wasn't sufficiently warmed up.  For the first time this season, she did not lead out from the gate and found a space on the rail in fifth (which is what I requested).  The race went 1.01.1 to the half and Master Plan came home in 2.02.15, which is the fastest time of the season so far at Corbiewood; Star finished fourth and posted a new PB of 2.06.16, which is a second and a half improvement from her run the week before.  I was pretty pleased if I'm honest.  My horse is definitely making leaps and bounds towards a run that will see her win.

On Saturday we travelled down to Tir Prince for the Crock of Gold Final meeting.  I must admit, it wasn't the best card I've ever seen at Tir Prince and I did expect to see better considering the nature of the event.  The Crock of Gold Final itself was full to the brim with the top FFA horses in the country and couldn't be faulted.  The rain tried its best to dampen spirits but by the time the CoG went to post it had dried up, and as things on the book quietened down I took up my spot by the rail to watch the parade and the race.  Stoneriggs Mystery was the favourite and rightly so, and despite his starting position drawn 7, he was still the horse I thought they all had to beat.  Despite the early pacesetters being in themselves strong contenders, Mystery did what Mystery does best - he put his ears back, his head forward and he paced as fast as his legs could move.  He is the type of horse that would run through a brick wall for you if you asked him to.  In the final quarter he wasn't even racing anybody; he was that much clear that I'd have been surprised if he could hear the field behind him fighting it out for the placings.  He's a horse who doesn't need another horse beside him to keep him rolling, once he's hit top gear he just keeps going and you can almost see the determination in him.  He knows what winning feels like and he wants to keep doing it.

When you look back at his career, as a British-bred horse who started from the bottom, it really is phenomenal.  Many people recall him winning his maiden impressively and knowing that he was going to go far; I wonder how many times that is said before a horse fails to reach the level expected of it or disappears into the wilderness?  But Mystery kept rising and kept winning.  At the beginning of this season, it was almost a case of 'make or break' for the horse; on past form he was a stronger horse at the beginning of a season, however in 2015 his first couple of runs were more than lacklustre (he broke on his first start at Appleby, and then was 7th at Wolverhampton).  Smarty and I spend a lot of time travelling around the country and therefore a lot of time talking about horses and racing, and the subject of Mystery's retirement did come up in conversation on more than one occasion.

On our drive to Tir Prince on 20th June, Smarty told me it was 'now or never' for the horse.  If he was ever going to get himself back in form, tonight was the night.

That night really was the night.

Despite finding himself parked two wide for nearly the whole race, Stoneriggs Mystery romped home in 1.56.5.  From there, he went to Aberystwyth where he claimed the FFA, then back to Tir Prince for another victory, this time in 1.58.6.  At Portmarnock he tasted defeat but only by a nose from Bath Lane in a track record time of 1.55, and upon his return to the UK the following week he won the Daniel Welling FFA at York.  His last five victories have earned him the best part of £9,000, and his victory in the Crock of Gold Final on Saturday night put him in the record books as the first horse to regain his title after winning it the first time around in 2012.  He is the Kauto Star of harness racing; the people's champion and the horse that never gives up.

From 57 starts he has recorded 33 victories, with a PB of 1.55.7 and earnings of £38,800.  That in itself is outstanding, but when you take into consideration the route by which he climbed to the top - the horse was not a 2, 3 or 4 year old champion.  He did not amass his pot of gold through the lucrative juvenile races.  His first start was a Grade 0 and 1 pace, and he now finds himself at the top of the tree as a Grade 12.

David Morton, the man who bought Mystery off his breeder after his first three starts (and wins) in 2009, has since bought and bred a number of other horses, all in the pursuit of his next FFA star.  I spoke to him after the racing and told him I didn't think he would ever find another horse like Stoneriggs Mystery, and he agreed with me.  To win one Crock of Gold is hard; to win two is even harder, but to win the second three years after the first, with the rise of younger FFA horses, off the back of a difficult 2014 season and two bad runs at the beginning of this season....that is what champions are made of.

Once again, I was glad to have witnessed it.  There are things I've seen in my short time in the sport that I will never forget, and Saturday night was one of them.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Another chaotic week

Once again I've failed to provide the results of the races for our two horses in a timely manner.  I also failed to get a race report done for Harnesslink until yesterday, which you can see here:

That basically sums up racing across the UK and Ireland from the last fortnight, in terms of Scottish owned and trained horses.  I've written about my trip to Ireland, and also about how our horses did on 6th August at Corbiewood.

If you read the report on Harnesslink before you continue reading the rest of this, then you will find out that on Thursday 13th August, Star finished second and Wild Bill won his race. There was a lot of drama preceding the meeting which was of a rather unsavoury nature.  I made reference to this in previous posts and also warned others that this would happen.  Regardless of the forewarning or knowledge that the whole thing would explode, it was still an incident that should not have happened.  Those concerned should hopefully be aware that they brought themselves and the sport in Scotland into disrepute.  Let that be the last that I mention it.

Back to Star to begin with, first up in race one.  People fancied her; I had no idea why.  I had a sneaky for Springfield Gem off the back of a win the week before (and the owner defiantly telling me in Potmarnock that she was going to win the following week and then at Appleby Brough meeting).  The driver was somewhat less confident, as based on times this season Star was a good 2 seconds better than the rest.  I must admit, before the race I didn't see the eventual winner as the winner, but at the bottom end of the handicap system a lot of horses go under the radar prior to runs like that.  Star was drawn 4 on the gate, which means that we have still yet to obtain pole position which would suit her more than it would suit any other horse in the country (apart from maybe Astounding and Meadowbranch Josh). She led out, as usual, in a 30 first quarter after Just Look At Me pushed her on her inside; Greentree Shorty challenged her before the half and kept her under pressure before tucking back in. Down the back straight for the final time Greentree Shorty came again and had a lot more in the tank than Star, who stayed on well for second to beat Springfield Gem by a nose, thanks to her enormous bucket head that many people in my life have slagged over the years.

Greentree Shorty puts Star under pressure at the half

Star has passed the finish line 8 times this season in front - just never at the actual finish

Not the 'red' rosette we wanted!
The horse that gives me her all
I was admittedly delighted with my second place and yet another rosette to add to the collection.  The Gaffer was at the lorry after the race and said that my horse gives me everything she has got, she tries her hardest and the fact that she always finds one or two too good isn't her fault - they are genuinely better horses than her.  I know that my horse gives me her all, she always has.  In whatever discipline we have tackled, she has tried her best for me. With this in mind, I can be excused for being a bit OTT with praise after races.  People might think I'm crazy, or too soft, or obsessed with my horse, but I know that she responds to praise the same way she responds to discipline - she responds and that's the point.  So I overly-praise her because I know she has given me her all, and I want her to know that I am pleased with her for that.

I hadn't even finished washing her down when the owner of the third-placed horse came to the lorry.  He is friends with the Jockey so I didn't think this was untoward.  However, because he had admitted before the race that he 'doesn't like losing' and because I was clearly so delighted even though I'd been beat, he felt the need to tell me that had his horse been trying, it would have beaten mine.

That, folks, is what you call raining on someone's parade.  Or being a killjoy, a spiteful, bitter, sore loser who doesn't like seeing other people happy when they're in the same position as you.  Trier or not, you do not go around saying that to the owners and trainers of your competition.  His card has been well and truly marked, that's for sure.  There is little for me to say on the matter, or to him.

Wild Bill then raced in the penultimate race off 10 yards drawn 3.  The Jockey was given strict instructions to go forward and be competitive from an early stage, as the last few weeks he'd found himself boxed in, much to his and the horse's discomfort.  So that's what he did - he went forward with quite an aggressive drive and landed second on the rail for much of the race.  He challenged the leader down the back straight and failed to pass him, and as they rolled off the last bend he looked to be letting the horse amble home for second, but then something triggered in his mind and he went about the horse in a manner that I have never seen him do in all the years I have known him.  It worked, because Bill got up by a nose literally on the line to win his novice and make it two wins and three seconds this season.  The Gaffer was walking his horse down the track to collect his rosette and meet me in the winner's circle patting him and saying 'well done Bill, good boy Bill' and it just made me laugh because he's not a man of many words, nor is he a man for open displays of affection to his horses (he refers to them as 'the little horse', 'the big horse' and 'the black horse' - that's Bill, Star and Stevie respectively). It seems that my enthusiasm and enjoyment of weekly racing with a straight forward horse is rubbing off on him as well.

I have to take this opportunity to say that for all the stick our driver gets for being a one-trick pony, or not very good, or too old, he drove two exceptional races last Thursday night.  We gave loose instructions which he followed, and the rest he did because he is actually good at the job.

The weekend saw us at York for the 2 day PACT charity meeting.  I didn't see a huge amount of the racing because I was working the second pitch for Smart Bookmakers which required a great deal of concentration and thought.  I did however find the time to chat to an absolute hero amongst equestrians, A P McCoy.  I have always been in the Ruby camp, and I've had several encounters with the rather charming Barry Geraghty (one involved him flashing me, which went down a treat!), but nonetheless I have the utmost respect for an individual who has put themselves through so much physically AND mentally as Tony McCoy has (he was Tony when I was growing up, not A P).  Bernard McGovern, bookmaker and professional talker, and I, didn't beat about the bush and when Frank Huschka and Willie Forrester brought A P up to speak to us, we got stuck in to it.  We had a few photos and he stood up on the joint for a short spell and then I started talking to him about the lesser known skill for which he is mildly famous - his writing.  I've read his biography, his autobiography and his first novel which I really enjoyed.  I joked with him about how much of it he'd written and then asked when the next one was coming out.  I was delighted to find out that the second one is complete and is a follow on from the first story, but it won't be out until he publishes his memoirs as his publishers have prioritised this.  We agreed that the novel is far more important than his memoirs!  For someone who has always come across so cold and without personality, he has such a sense of humour and is so humble.  All that time during his career he was simply focussed on the job at hand, and not remotely interested in being a sports personality.  That is what he is though, a true athlete and sporting hero but also a very down-to-earth and charming man.  I tweeted the selfie of us and was more than a little surprised to receive a reply from the man himself, which rounded off quite a good day!

An aspiring novelist with an established novelist - the legendary A P McCoy
Sunday was much the same in terms of workload, although I had a brief encounter with John Parrott (the snooker player), firstly in the winner's enclosure when Wellfield Official won the Junior FFA (DELIGHTED doesn't even cover it for how I felt for Rachel, Roy and everybody else associated with Wellfield Stud) and then afterwards when he came to speak to Bernard and me. I met John a few years ago when him and Gary Wiltshire were working for the BBC at Chepstow for the Welsh National.  Pretty sure I've still got the race card in the house somewhere with their signatures on it!

Whilst at York, word also got to me via Kayleigh Evans (the partner of Michael O'Mahony) that Young Stephen had won his novice race at Amman Valley.  In the space of 4 days, our team had managed to pick up two firsts and a second.  I had asked Paul Moon to keep an eye out for Stevie and this is the photo that his wife, Pam, took for me:

What an absolute sap that horse is!  He is racing on Sunday at Boughrood which is where we will be heading after the Crock of Gold Final night at Tir Prince on Saturday night.  Can't wait to see him.

But before then we have Corbiewood tonight and once again the two old faithfuls are on the card.  Once again, Star finds herself in a race that, bar an act of God, she cannot win.  Master Plan for the Gilvear stables requires a win to fall into the correct handicap band for Tregaron next weekend, therefore has entered for Corbiewood tonight with very little chance of getting beat (the horse recorded the fastest time of the day on the Saturday of Aberystwyth).  Evenwood Coolsting for the Mackenzie clan also makes a return and will be hard to beat.  As is always the case, I just want my horse off the track in one piece; a rosette would be a bonus but I'm not expecting the earth tonight, because one of these weeks I will actually find myself with the best horse in the race, and a decent draw, and Lady Luck on my side!  I don't ask for much do I?!

Wild Bill is in a more open event in the race before us, so has chances.  The same applies as with Star and there is no pressure on the little horse, but I would love to see him in the placings again to keep his brilliant record.

To round off this rather long post, I just want to say thank you to people for their support with all this writing.  I have never declared myself to be good at anything, because I'm really not.  I'm a Jack of all trades, master of none.  I started writing because I found it to be 1) a good way of advertising the sport from an insider's perspective; and 2) a release for all of the stuff that goes on inside my head.  Writing calms me down, it allows me to pour everything out.  The intention was never to have people approaching me at the races and telling me how good my posts are, which has happened.  So I am grateful and glad that the people who read this enjoy it.  I want to try and remind people why we fell in love with this sport, simply through my experiences of it on a daily basis.  I even received the following glowing reference from the bookmaker I worked with all weekend, the honorable Corbiewood regular himself, Mr Bernard McGovern:

"Anybody who is remotely interested in harness racing could do worse than read this young,vibrant gorgeous,energetic,punchingaboveherweightinthe lovestakes,Groom/owner/worker/doitall for the Smart stables, Her Blog is a tremendous walk through the life of a girl who attends more meets in a month than some folk cram into a season.



A breathe of fresh air in an otherwise pool of stagnicity"

I think he might have been angling for something over the weekend but he did NOT get any special treatment whilst in my company!  He should have learnt by now that I am a tough nut to crack, although flattery will get people everywhere with me!

Happy racing folks!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Racing on the Emerald Isle

You think the Welsh are friendly, but the Irish are fabulous. ~ Bonnie Tyler

That's just one way of describing them. There's also funny, charming, relaxed.  The Irish accent has always been my favourite accent; I love their general outlook on life, the fact that any Irishman can own a horse, and race it. Despite several trips to Ireland, and plenty of racing friends over there, I had never set foot in a harness racing track in Ireland before last weekend.

Four separate trips to Ireland in the past 8 years have included two rugby matches, the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown and the Irish National Stud, but the closest I got to harness racing was staying with Joe Sheridan and his family at Springhill Stud for a couple of days last spring with Rachel (Wellfield Stud's resident trainer).  Every year, Irish racing fans travel across to the UK for Appleby, Aberystwyth, Musselburgh, Tregaron and numerous meetings at York and Tir Prince, so I figured it was time I paid a return visit.

By the time Friday night came, I wasn't looking as forward to it as I had been due to racing-related hassle at Corbiewood the night before but I figured two days of racing without having to film races/locate a photographer/deal with sponsors/hand out rosettes/work on the gate would be what I needed.

I couldn't have been more right.

I didn't want to come home on Sunday night.  The problem was that if I didn't come home Sunday night, I might never have come home at all.

Don't get me wrong, Irish harness racing has all the same in-fighting and politics that Scottish harness racing does, the difference is that I am not remotely immersed in it.  People don't want or need me to fix problems, or complain to me about the way races are framed or the distances they're run over.  It was like a glimpse back to what racing used to be like for me - having a good time, watching the racing, having a few drinks and chatting to people who enjoy the same things as me.

Portmarnock was pretty mobbed both days, but the layout means that people are almost coralled into a smaller space which gives the effect that it's mayber busier than it is.  There's only five bookies, same as Tir Prince, and a decent grandstand, same as York.  The bar is the best of the hard tracks I've been to, not the biggest but pretty nice.

The racing was excellent, track records falling left, right and centre.  Rewrite History was the sole Scottish winner across the weekend in the 3YO heat and final, breaking the track record in the heat and then beating his own record in the final.  Other major points of interest were Miraculous winning the Vincent Delaney Memorial Final (he is the Art's Conquest half-brother to last year's victor, Titanium, who was sadly put to sleep on Saturday morning following complications encountered during an operation for colic), the fact I not only bet the horse (with someone else's money, and if you're reading this then I will pay you your stake money back when I see you next, I promise!) but I managed to back him at evens when he was a 1-2 shot.  The bookie owed me a favour as I'd walked into the track on the Saturday afternoon and offered to put his runners in the computer for him.  I suppose I was a clerk on tour, and very few people can fire a full racecard of runners into a laptop as fast as me!

Meadowbranch DJ won the fourth and final leg of the Inter-Dominion qualifying series so him and his connections will be flying out to Perth, Australia once they complete the specified time in quarantine.  I wish them well, as DJ will be flying the flag not only for Ireland but for the United Kingdom as well.

Once again though, and I will never tire of saying this, it's the people that make this sport so amazing.  There's very few places in the world that I could walk into and feel instantly at home.  It was great to catch up with the Sheridans again, and people like the Carberrys and my wee pal Sean Duggan (who has to be the most cheerful guy in the entire universe).  It was also the chance to see people I met at Aberystwyth again - the guy Gerry who was genuinely excited about life and Paul and Deano as well who made my Friday night at Aber with their wine and dancing.  Then there was the new people, the ones who are total strangers until you strike up conversation about something - usually horses - and suddenly you feel like you've known them forever and you can't remember a time that they weren't your friend.  At a two-day meeting like that, when you meet folk on the first day, you end up spending time with them on the second day as if you spend days at the races together all the time.

What I will say though is this:  you have to be open-minded about meeting new people.  If you turn up at a race meeting not wanting to make new friends or chat to people you only know by name, then these people won't force themselves upon you.  My best friend was genuinely surprised to have been so quickly accepted into the sport despite the fact that her knowledge and interest in horses is practically non-existent; I explained to her that if you're willing to talk to people, they will talk to you.  And then they just don't stop talking, and before you know it your summer is full of weekends away and beer tents and trying to beg the best price about a horse and jumping in people's winner's photos and arguing over who the best horse in the country is, or what's going to win the final.

I came back from Ireland rejuvenated and looking forward to the next few weeks of racing.  Tuesday night (11th) saw me at Tir Prince, tonight (13th) I'm at Corbiewood, Saturday and Sunday (15th/16th) I'll be at the big York two-day meeting, then Monday (17th - which happens to be my birthday) I'll be at Scorton; Thursday (20th) at Corbiewood, Saturday night (22nd) at Tir Prince for Crock of Gold night, Sunday (23rd) at Boughrood to hopefully see Young Stephen race.  Then it's the week that people who love racing usually just dream about, and I'll be one of very few people who will do this - Thursday (27th) at Corbiewood, Friday/Saturday/Sunday (28th/29th/30th) at Tregaron, Monday (31st) at Appleby and then Tuesday (1st Sept) at Kilnsey Show. That's racing from the highest level right down to the bottom and I am looking forward to each of them as much as the rest.

So thank you Ireland, to your people who reminded me what life is all about, and racing too.  I'll be back next year.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

What a week

I am fully aware that I am the worst blogger in the history of people who write blogs, considering nearly a week has passed since Star and Wild Bill raced.  What's worse, is that in my capacity as an article writer for Harnesslink, I have failed to provide a report for last week's racing at Corbiewood either.

Nobody has chased me for an update on either.  Therefore, the guilt I feel at not having put pen to paper for almost a week is self-imposed guilt.  For those of you know me, you will be aware that the person who puts pressure on me the most is me.  It's a flawed trait which I exhibit in every aspect of my life.  Updating this online diary of sorts is easily resolved, as I can ramble away about the week's adventures to my heart's content; trying to justify sending a report for racing on the 6th August to the editor when it's now the 12th August is slightly more difficult.  The only viable conclusion I can come to is that I will write a report for the full week's racing from the Scottish aspect (Grant Cullen's 100th lifetime winning drive on the 6th August, Rewrite History's 3YO Heat and Final win at Portmarnock on the 8th and 9th, Dreamfair I Say and Bestinthewest's victories at Tir Prince last night and then whatever I can say about tomorrow night at Corbiewood) all rolled into one.  After all, the sole purpose of those reports on Harnesslink is to remind the rest of the UK and the wider world that there is a thriving division of the sport up here, and that our horses can leave Corbiewood and compete on the bigger stage in the same manner that the best Irish, Welsh and English horses can.  Plus I didn't have time to do an actual report for last week...
Wild Bill after his race

So a quick synopsis of Thursday night in terms of my own team is as follows:  Wild Bill, for his fourth run of the season, was drawn 5 for the fourth time this season.  What are the chances?  Alone on the second line, he snuck up the inside rail to prevent the outside horses on the gate pulling in behind the leader and sat for much of the race surrounded.  He was unable to get out of the pocket until they rolled off the final bend by which time the leader couldn't be caught, although he paced as fast as his little legs could to try catching him.  The Jockey doesn't abuse a horse coming home if he knows it's beat and he's beating those behind him, so he coasted in for second.

Star was up two races later drawn 2 of 2, so that elusive pole position has still never been obtained.  She led out, although the inside horse did put up a bit of a fight, and settled into a relatively slow first half.  My friend and her mare came to challenge early but couldn't pass her and eventually faded to finish last. I'd bet her to come second to Camden Casper who beat her the week before twice and had won the final in 2.04.  He came to challenge at the 3/4 and passed her with ease; Star had the legs of the other horses in the race easily and again she coasted home for second under a relaxed drive.  I was delighted, as that was one step closer to the win I'm after.  The Jockey stands by his comment that Star won't be beaten out of a gate, and he also said he was playing with the early challenger, easing off to allow her to get 3/4 length up, then asking Star for a bit more to keep her parked.  He's a twisted individual at times.

Star leads the field...again.

Proudest owner in the world!
The only other point of note from Thursday night was that whilst sitting in the office with the race secretary after the qualifier and before the first race, two stewards came in asking urgently for someone to video the races from the commentary box as the usual person wasn't available and they couldn't find anybody.  I explained that I had horses to get ready for racing and couldn't do it, however they continued to stand there saying they needed someone and asking who could do it.  So I went and did it.  Well, the first three races anyway.  No idea how to use the camera, never been in the commentary box before...thought I'd done alright under the circumstances seeing as by the time I got up to the box the gate was rolling, and I even managed to find someone to film the remaining four races after I left to get my two on the track.  However, whilst away over the weekend, a 'friend' commented that she'd seen my efforts and didn't think I'd done a very good job.  Considering she didn't volunteer (as she was in the office with me at the time) but couldn't because she had ONE horse to get ready (in a later race), I didn't think it was particularly fair to slate me.  But then that's harness racing at its worst.

The card is out now for tomorrow evening's racing and Star is in the first in a field of 7.  There is nothing in the race with me that I know can definitely beat me in the manner that Camden Casper can, however with all that traffic the draw is more vital than ever.  Knowing my luck she'll be drawn on the second line, but if she were by some chance to get the gate then who knows what could happen?  Again all I ask for is my horse in one piece when she comes off the track, and if I pick up a rosette then I'll be delighted.  As for Wild Bill, he is in the fifth in a race where he has a very good chance of winning.  It was previously going to be for the GKC trophy, however connections of the trophy sponsor don't have a horse in the race so they've switched their sponsorship to a race that, bar an accident, they should win.  There are some truly bizarre folk around.

I'll save my write up from Ireland for another post, because I have a feeling it may be longer than I first anticipated.  That's what happens when you meet such great characters and you don't want them to remain a secret to the world.  These are the types of people that keep my love for the sport going.

Over and out,

The tiredest groom in the world (not just Scotland)

Thursday, 6 August 2015

If at first you don't succeed...

...come back the following week and be in another race where bar an act of God, you cannot win.

Star will be again running for a best-placed third, having landed on the gate in a Grade 1 & 2 race. Camden Casper, who won the final last week in 2.04, is sitting off 10 yards; Evenwood Coolsting who has been consistently placed and has won at Corbiewood is on the gate alongside us.  In the event that we draw inside Coolsting, we have a chance of holding the lead.  Should Coolsting draw inside of us, we cannot and will not lead (although no doubt the Jockey will believe he has the horse to lead...which may be true, but if we can avoid any repeats of the 28.6 first quarter saga of a couple of weeks ago, that would be the best for my horse and my self-esteem).

As for Wild Bill, he's in a five horse race where he has decent chances.  Having only won in 2.11 last week, I'd be surprised if his competition will give him much respect.  The Jockey drives his best races from the front, and if Wild Bill finally gets a gate draw then he may lead out.  But as last week proved, he can win from the pack, having sat and sat and sat until the door opened and he could nip out.  He's fortunate to be such a small horse, albeit the sulky is the same size as most other sulkies (standard 52'') but navigating a smaller horse is easier when trying to bully your way through tight gaps.

I am realistic with our chances - if we get a rosette from either then I'll be happy.  As long as they come off the track unharmed, I'll be happy.

I am apprehensive about going tonight, having had a difference of opinion with a couple of members of the committee which appears to have blown up outwith the committee.  This blog is my chance to be honest, as I do not have my Vice Chairman hat on or my STAGBI Director hat on.  In this blog, I am Sarah Thomas, horse owner, trainer, groom and harness racing enthusiast.  That statement does not protect me from any backlash from individuals, committees or governing bodies should I decide to be 100% truthful with my opinions of all three of the above.  I was born with a relatively decent amount of tact and diplomacy and therefore I will NEVER write with the same honesty that I speak to Smarty in the confines of our pokey little house.  I am not a troublemaker, I do not say or do things with the intent of stirring up trouble or upsetting people.  That is why I take offence to the insinuation of either of these.

Essentially I have had a query regarding non-advertising of a feature event at the track.  Having pushed our fixture list on every possible domain (Facebook page, Trott UK Forum, Visit Scotland), I was disheartened to learn over the last few weeks that there was a feature event scheduled to be run at Corbiewood that was not being put out in the public domain.  I was only aware of the conditons of the race and the purse due to being friends with a relation of the sponsor.  Smarty was also aware of the same as he is friends with a lad who is good friends with another relation of the sponsor.  The information was being filtered to us, and having spoken directly with the sponsor myself, I was aware of the entry conditons and prize money.  I was then told by the relation of the sponsor that the full details of the race were not to be made public.

My mind did not go into overdrive as to why this was the case, because there is only one reason.  Smarty came to the same, logical, conclusion.  The sponsor's relations wanted to win the race, as it is an inaugural memorial race for a relative who passed away last year.  Without sponsors, I am aware that we would struggle to run races for such good prize money.  I have no issue with the race being for maiden horses, and the prize money being so much.  I also have no issue with the race being restricted to Scottish owned, trained and driven horses (although this discourages public trainers from England from coming up to our track, which isn't what I personally want to happen).  However, the track can only accommodate 8 horses; as yet, with one week to go until this race is due to be run, nobody from the committee nor the sponsors has specified what will happen in the event that there are more than 8 entries.  Logic, and the format used by nearly all other tracks in the country, would suggest that the highest 8 on prize money would be eligible.  This may be difficult, as many maidens have £0 against them.

However, having again spoken to the relative of the sponsor, it was suggested that it would be the LOWEST 8 on prize money OR the first 8 to enter that would race.  I am still unaware as to whether entries are now being taken for the race, and if I had a horse and was not made aware as to the date of the race, the prize money, and the eligibility, plus what would happen if the race is over-subscribed, how can I enter?

If entries are now open for the race, and it has not been made public that it's first come, first served, how will I know to enter my horse sooner rather than later?
If I don't get my horse on because of this criteria, I have grounds to kick off for not getting in the race do I not?
Who will I kick off to?  The promoter.
Who is the promoter?  The SHRC committee.

And therein lies my problem.  Having raised concerns about this for the past fortnight, if things proceed in the manner that they are, I will be on the receiving end of grief from the members and licence holders.  Why me and not the other committee members?  Because Smarty and me are approachable, easy to locate at the track.  Two committee members are related to the sponsor and can't understand why nobody has raised any concerns with them.  The answer is in that sentence.

Furthermore, I was then told on Tuesday night that I had upset the sponsor, and her son, and that my friend had left the house crying because her gran was upset.  I am now responsible for upsetting people simply for asking questions on behalf of the members which I represent.  I will not be blamed for the chaos that is being caused by the race being staged.  The race isn't the issue for me, but the manner in which it has been advertised and staged is.

In this instance, when I asked the questions, and then asked again, and got nowhere other than unfair blame for something which was a byproduct of the event, my motto became this:

If at first you don't succeed...try again, and if that doesn't work, let people get on with things and look after number one.

So that's one issue off my chest.

Tune in for the next instalment where I finally let rip about the poor working relationship between the SHRC committee and Bells Field committee.  Long live my Article 10 right under the ECHR and HRA 1998 to freedom of expression.  That's right, I was a trainee solicitor once, and I learnt all the things I needed to keep myself right in life.

Wish us luck tonight!

Over and out,

#1 Scottish Groom

Monday, 3 August 2015

The buzz is back.

Which means that on Thursday night I had a 'whole'.

It's been several weeks since I've returned home from a race meeting absolutely buzzing, unable to sleep, and then woken up exhausted the next day from the adrenaline overload the night before.  Suffice it to say that on Friday, I was shattered!
For the frst time, I think, since I've raced horses in my own name, I didn't get myself worked up or stressed out.  I was calm, relaxed, the sun was shining and I was able to tack my horse up to warm up at my leisure.  What a difference it makes having a horse that has no quirks or behavioural issues.  I can simply mooch about, chucking bits of tack at her, and she stands like a statue.  The Gaffer is equally as fortunate with his charge, Wild Bill.
Is it luck though?  I go around in circles thinking about this; both horses are homebred and therefore were well-handled by us when foals/yearlings. That set them up to be good horses to break, and subsequently train.  Both were easy horses to back and get going under saddle (I would ride Wild Bill more if I thought the Gaffer wouldn't be annoyed...he doesn't actually know I broke his horse in to ride yet...). If you put in all that work, treat your horse right and take time with it, the subsequent product is not a result of luck at all.  That's why Missile was such a challenge, because his early years and training were with someone else, and they say that you can't go back and change all that.  Smarty said we'd never have another horse on our yard that somebody else has broken in, and yet here I am typing this with him telling me he's going to bid for a horse tonight, straight off the track. We can't help ourselves!  What's one more horse between friends?!

Anyway, I've digressed terribly when what you probably want to know, if you haven't already seen the results, is how we got on.  Star was first up in race 1, drawn 3 on the gate (there are 4 on the gate at Corbiewood, maximum 8 in a race due to the size of the track).  I told the Jockey that what I wanted from him and Star was a 2.08 mile and if possible, a rosette.  I knew Camden Casper and Evenwood Ruthless were unbeatable bar a mistake from either of them, and had to respect Ayr Prestige drawn 1.  I respected all of the competition, but I thought I had the horse to beat the remainder.  The Jockey led out as Grant Cullen on Casper pulled back from the two hole for fear his horse would break; Dougie Mackenzie and Ayr Prestige thought they could lead Star out but she was clear of them by the 1/8 marker and settled in for a 31 first quarter.  They hit the half in 1.03 with Casper trying to join Star on the outside and put her under pressure.  Fair play to her, she dug in her heels and actually held her lead until the 3/4, at which point Grant and Casper passed her (I was stood talking to myself telling the Jockey to let them go), then Gordon Gilvear and Evenwood Ruthless (Rufus) passed us and loomed large on the leader.  I was cheering her home from the paddock bend for third and I absolutely bounced down the home straight leading her to collect my yellow rosette!  She'd finished the mile in 2.07.9, so my driver had done his job the perfection.  I told him he could have the drive on her next week for that!

After the third of the three heats, I found out that Star had qualified for the final as one of the fastest placed horses.  She was drawn 5, so the inside on the second line.  Again I knew there was no real chance of her winning, mainly because she was in beside some really good horses but also because she's never run in a final before.  Instructions were to take a tow around, enjoy it and try to repeat the time for the heat.  I didn't clock him but I was told he'd gone somewhere around 2.08, not that I was particularly bothered, and despite trailing in last I was still bouncing for just being able to be a part of a final.  The winner (Camden Casper) went 2.04, which is something Star is almost definitely not capable of, so when you're beaten by horses of that calibre and in races that go those sorts of times, you can't be disappointed in finishing at the tail end.

Star leads the field heading past the stands for the first time

Proudly showing off our yellow rosette - chuffed to bits!

I can almost see your puzzled expressions, as I referred to 'winning' in the opening sentences, and yet Star only managed a third.  Using the power of deduction, that must mean that Wild Bill Hickok lost his maiden tag, which he most certainly did!  I hadn't tipped him in the online tipster competition I'm doing as the only person in front of me had tipped his own horse, Mayrita.  To be tactical, and because after her 2.06 run the previous Saturday I genuinely fancied her, I took her as my tip in that .  race.  Wild Bill was coming in to the race off the back of two second-placed runs, and as per his last run at Corbiewood, was drawn 5.  He had no choice but to sit in the pocket for much of the race, and the Jockey spent that time hanging off the back of the cart as if struggling to hold the horse.  I was stood at the paddock bend with the Gaffer and asked him if his horse pulls (I knew the answer anyway), which he confirmed he didn't, so goodness knows how the Jockey managed to make him look like such a puller.  Desperate for racing room, as the entered the final quarter of the race the horse on his outside began to fade, and he was forced to go three wide as the horse first over in front of him was struggling to pass the long time leader.  He rolled off the last bend and jogged in in a very sedate 2.11.  Pretty easy win for the little horse in all honesty.  I was delighted, our first winner of the season.  The Gaffer went back to the box to finish getting Star ready for the final so the Jockey and me went down to collect our red rosette and have our photo in the winner's circle.  The photographer asked where the entourage was, and I told him I didn't think we were very popular as a camp.  He thought I was joking...

Wild Bill (outside) moves three wide to pass the field off the final bend

Jogging in to victory

Nothing was capable of taking the shine off Thursday night.  It's that buzz that keeps me going when everything else in the sport seems to be crumbling around me, which appears to be the case right now.  But that's a post for another day.

Keep an eye out for my report from Thursday on, it'll hopefully be finished tonight or tomorrow at the latest (UK/Ire section of the site).  Glad to be able to write about my own horses for once!

Over and out,

#1 Scottish Groom