Monday, 7 September 2015

A visit to Arlary House

With Tregaron's main fixture reduced from three days to two, Smarty and I found ourselves with no work commitments on Sunday and decided that we would use our 'day off' to attend an open day at Lucinda Russell's National Hunt training facility at Arlary House, Milnathort, Kinross.  The event was in aid of the British Horse Society Scotland and the Injured Jockeys Fund, which is a charity that I donate to on an annual basis and have done so for a number of years. 

Lucinda Russell is currently the top National Hunt trainer in Scotland and has enjoyed success with a number of high profile horses over the past few years.  Her current stable star is Lie Forrit, who has  most recently tasted victory at Haydock on Valentine's Day this year.  I first came across her as a trainer when I saw a gorgeous grey, trained by her, by the name of Silver By Nature finish second in the 2009 Welsh National behind Dream Alliance.  Everyone raved about the winner but what I saw was a horse going three for one to hunt down the leader, and the line came too soon.  I knew then that that was a future Grand National winner, provided the conditions were right.  Silver loved the muck; the softer the ground, the more he was able to plod on.  He also seemed to thrive on distance.  Unfortunately, those optimum conditions never came (I must have been the only person wanting to see similar conditions to the 2001 Grand National when the going was soft, heavy in places).  I was lucky enough to see him in the flesh at Newbury when Smarty and I attended the Hennessy Gold Cup meeting in 2010, however he didn't repay me my loyalty by finishing in the placings (I'd bet him each way).  I still remember the exact moment when Smarty text me to let me know the terrible news that Silver By Nature had sustained a fatal injury at home on the gallops - I was out hunting on Star in Wales, sat during a quiet spell passing a hipflask with port around and when I read the message, I actually cried.  For me he remains the greatest stayer never to win the National.

Silver's death wasn't the only tragedy to hit Lucinda's yard in recent years; Cheltenham Festival winner Brindisi Breeze died in a freak accident in 2012 after jumping out of his paddock in the early hours of the morning and was subsequently struck by a tanker, and by a bizarre and deeply upsetting coincidence, the young jockey that rode him to that victory (and every other victory the horse had achieved) Campbell Gillies died the following month in an accident whilst on holiday.

Despite these tragedies, Lucinda and her staff appeared to have dusted themselves down and carried on.  It's interesting to note though that Campbell Gillies remains in their minds, as on the yard's website is featured a quote from Campbell on the homepage, describing the ethos of the workforce: (Scroll to the bottom)

Upon arrival we were given booklets containing the details of the horses currently residing at Arlary House with the suggestion that we pick a couple of horses to follow in the future.  With over 50 horses in residency at the yard, and more at Lucinda and Peter Scudamore's slightly smaller yard down the road, that seemed like a daunting task.  But we both have an eye for a horse, and we thought it would be a fun challenge to pick a handful to follow during the winter.  The first horse that caught my eye was a 4yo gelding by the name of Rising Tide, owned by Ronnie Bartlett.  Standing comfortably over 17hh, it was his height that drew me closer to his stable door.  I much prefer fences to hurdles, and always think a good chaser should have plenty of scope, which this youngster certainly did.  He was leggy, and needing time to mature, but there was something about him.  According to the notes in the booklet, he 'works well at home and has shown ability in his bumper'.  When we moved to the field to watch an in-hand parade, it was him and Lie Forrit who entered the ring last, and stayed the longest, while Lucinda sang their praises.  He was the first on my list to follow.

RISING TIDE - 2011 bay gelding - Dubai Destination x Erins Love
Rising Tide
Rising Tide
Next to the yard (which had 2 horse walkers) was a circular sand gallops where Lucinda does most of her conditioning work.  She talked about the basics of training racehorses, which is that the work on those gallops, i.e. conditioning work, would not get a horse fit.  Speed work is the only way to get a horse fit enough to race, but in order to start speed work, the horses must be conditioned correctly.  Once a week, every week, the horses use those 'conditioning' gallops.  The principle is exactly the same as how we train - we do hundreds, if not thousands, of conditioning miles at home from March through to the end of the season, but in order to get race fit, we have to do speed work, gradually increasing in speed until the horses are ready to race.  Obviously, Standardbreds tend to race on a weekly basis, unlike Thoroughbreds who might not race more than a handful of times during their season.

THE COBBLER SWAYNE - 2009 bay gelding - Milan x Turtle Lamp

The Cobbler Swayne

The Cobbler Swayne

In the 'lot' of eight that went out on the gallops, we spotted another few horses that we thought we would follow.  The first of these was The Cobbler Swayne, a 6yo gelding whose notes state that he has 'shown ability when placed over hurdles and will go chasing this year'.  A little on the stocky side, but well-conditioned and he was certainly keen on the gallops.  There was another 6yo gelding by Milan that I liked, by the name of One For Arthur. A 'very scopey gelding who was a star last season winning three times'. Lucinda said that she 'cannot wait to go chasing with him'.  He did look more like your typical chaser, and certainly carried presence.

ONE FOR ARTHUR - 2009 bay gelding - Milan x Nonnetia
One For Arthur
 Then came the obvious choice for me, as a lifelong fan of greys (One Man, Teeton Mill, Suny Bay, Senor El Betrutti, Or Royal, Grand Crus), Simarthur. A brother to Simonsig, this racy grey has already won a bumper and over hurdles, and Lucinda thinks he will win over fences.  He is currently for lease, which was tempting (until I remembered that I have no money) but Scu owns him and is so fond of him that they thought they would keep him and race him themselves.

SIMARTHUR - 2007 grey gelding - Erhaab x Dusty Too
The final horse in our 'five to follow' was another gelding by Milan, Big River. Smarty was very keen on this 5yo having seen him paraded in hand.  He will be campaigned over hurdles this coming season having won and finished second in his bumpers.

BIG RIVER - 2010 bay gelding - Milan x Call Kate

Big River

After the display of six laps in both directions, the horses were washed down and put on the walker.  We then went around the blocks of stables that we hadn't had a chance to visit beforehand, and spotted a couple of other horses that we liked for 'non-racing' reasons.  Smarty took a shine to a horse called Egret, a 5yo gelding who has tasted success in point-to-points.  The reason he liked him is because the horse was the most laid-back of every horse we saw.  We stood and stroked him for quite some time and he drifted off.  Then there was Degas Art, a bit of a star back in his heyday.  He was clearly gelded late, as he was built like a tank (reminded me a LOT of the trotter Darley Iron) and had stallion-like tendencies (biting), as one man who hovered around his stable felt the need to tell me.  He never bit me, although he did bite the man who warned me about the biting...

DEGAS ART aka the 'biter'
For a small donation to two worthwhile charities, it was definitely a good day out.  The staff were all turned out immaculately, the yard was spotless and the horses were in good condition.  There was a horse scales there, and Scu informed me that every horse gets weighed once a week, plus we had a nose around their feed barn and Smarty got stuck in about their haystore.  I spotted a couple of your stereotypical nervous looking Thoroughbreds, who due to their temperament I wasn't particularly keen on, but the majority of the horses were relaxed and appeared to be enjoying the attention from the large number of people milling around and taking photos.

The yard staff

Lucinda getting her hands dirty!

It is clear in the way that Lucinda talks about her charges that she loves what she does, and from her results she is obviously very good at it.  The facilities aren't of the same calibre as those I saw when visiting Lambourne a good few years ago, but in any sphere, if you have all the gear and no idea then you won't succeed.  I really look forward to watching those five horses through the winter months, particularly if they race at tracks that we are standing at (Haydock, Musselburgh, Ayr), and I sincerely hope that at least one turns out to be a star in the making.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

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