Thursday, 1 October 2015

Going out on a high!

When I started training Star in April, my objective was simple: win one race.

When she ran her first race on 24th July, I thought it was achieveable.

As time has gone on, with her racing weekly, there have been times when I have thought it would never happen.  Being a high-end Grade 1 this season has been brutal when you reflect on the horses she has had to race against: Camden Casper, Master Plan, Evenwood Ruthless, Greentree Shorty, Wellfield Liam...all horses who have won numerous races in impressive times, including races outside of Scotland and heats and finals.  She has been beaten by some very good low grade horses.

On Sunday, we had two bites at the cherry.  The Jockey drove her in the first race, a straight Grade 1 race in which she led out in a fast first eighth, jacked the pace to a crawling 1.06 half and then couldn't sprint home, having let fast finishers like DKs Happy Dream and Donnas Dreamboy (who my father bred incidentally) catch up with the field having faltered in the early part of the race.  She finished 4th, and that familiar feeling of today not being the day settled in, although with Wales beating England in the Rugby World Cup group match the evening before, nothing could really dampen my spirits.  Plus, we had parked next to George Carson and opposite the O'Neils, which made for plenty of banter and conversation in the sun as the afternoon went on.

Wild Bill raced in the second, and after quickly washing Star down I managed to catch most of the race stood by the fence.  It was a straightforward victory for him: he led out, made all, and came home unchallenged to win comfortably by six lengths and in a new personal best time.  His race record now looks even more impressive than before:

Star wasn't up again until the eighth race, a C Class drivers race for drivers with no more than 7 lifetime wins.  George Carson, who previously trained her for six weeks for me earlier in the season, was to drive her, as Hugh O'Neil Jr Jr (who drove her in the last C Class race in July) had entered his own horse, Ayr Escape.  Hughie and George have been friends a long time and spent the break between the races winding each other up and trying to goad each other into silly tactics on the track.  I had to mildly threaten Hughie a couple of times because he was trying to encourage George to break his earlier record of a 28.6 first quarter with Star in July.  George's instructions from me had been simple - lead out, jack the pace and sprint home.  Aim for a half in 1.04 or 1.03 at a push and try to keep something in the tank to finish.  The Jockey's simple instructions were keep back from the start car as it begins to roll, then chase her up to the gate as she passes the 20 yard marker.

With Nicola (on Ayr Confusion), Hughie (on Ayr Escape), Tony (on Lyons Pass), Ross (on Miami Seelster) and Keir (on Another Man) all being friends of mine in the race, I didn't feel as stressed as usual once I put Star on the track.  It would be good to see any of them win.  I stood at the stable bend with Ally McKenzie and Raymond Stevenson who had fielded a runner in the race also, as well as Michael O'Neil, and we settled down to watch the madness unfold as it inevitably does when you put 7 young, and often inexperienced, drivers in a race together.  Star was drawn 2 on the gate outside Miami Seelster, with the rest of the field running lines as per their grade (as opposed to 10/20/30 yards).  The start car swung round the starting bend and caught Miami Seelster in the face which temporarily put him off stride, but that gave George and Star the chance they needed to lead out and not use too much fuel.  Hughie and Ayr Escape had a flying start as did Starzapan and Lauren Moran and at the quarter Hughie had taken up a position on Star's outside, pushing her to the quarter in 30.1.  Only when the gap opened up behind Star did he ease off and settle in second on the rail.  As they passed the half, Starzapan pulled out to mount a challenge and they went through the half in 1.02.1, with Lyons Pass having pulled up just after the start and Ayr Confusion and Another Man tailed off from the main four.

Starzapan was persistent as they headed into the back straight and I feared that in her usual style, Star was going to get passed in the last quarter.  George was at her with the whip and rocking in the sulky, but Starzapan failed to get her nose in front and Star began to pull ahead again.  Michael had run down to the gate onto the track to cheer on Hughie and Escape (sitting in third) and I then went after him (at this point I should issue a public apology as I apparently hit Michael quite hard - I have no recollection of this).  I vaguely remember shouting over the fence at George to 'keep hitting her', with a variety of expletives thrown in.  Stood behind them looking straight down the home stretch all I could see was George putting his whip hand in the air as he crossed the line and when Davie Douglas announced that she'd won, I *might* have screamed (I did scream), I then *might* have stood on the track and cried (I did cry) waiting for George and Star to come round another lap.  Thank you to my very good friend Michael O'Neil for being the first person to hug me, I just wish that it had been Escape that had finished second to Star.  I then *might* have kissed George (I did kiss George) before even thinking about letting Star's head down.  Then I couldn't stop crying, nor could I control my horse very well because she was sky high and I was probably the same which didn't help matters.

Walking Star to the winner's circle with George

Smarty, for the first time in 8 wins for our horses this season, came into the winner's photo (told me to get control of my horse) as did Hughie's girlfriend Kareen and cousin Alice as they are good friends of George's.  He bolted to get GDs Twist ready for the last race with the Jockey driving him and I think I *might* have shouted down the track that I loved him (I did shout that I loved him).

Shes Some Deal crossing the finishing line in front - AT LAST!
Several people spoke to me as I walked her back to the lorry, and I apologise if I didn't say anything back because I was on cloud nine.  A massive thanks to Scott Murray for helping me untack her (or in fact untacking her by himself, because I'd lost the ability to function) and instructing me to give her some water.  I managed to get her washed down in time to half-watch the Jockey finish second on GDs Twist, which was a minor improvement in form for the horse and that put an even bigger smile on George's face.

And then it was over.  I was on the phone to my parents and walking Star around as people filed out of the track and again, apologies if I didn't respond to some of the people who congratulated me.  This is now Thursday and I am still buzzing.  I have watched the race video back several times and it never gets old - George's victory wave as he crossed the line 1 1/2L ahead of Miami Seelster makes me laugh out loud.  I couldn't have asked for a more perfect victory.  George helped me out with Star when I initially bought Missile back and was struggling to manage my time in terms of work and personal commitmnts.  Not only did he train her to the best of his ability, including starting her workouts at Corbiewood, he looked after her as if she was his own.  He followed his instructions to perfection on Sunday and it paid off.  I was over the moon for him as well as the horse.

And with that victory, the one, elusive, win that we chased from 24th July to 27th September, our mission was accomplished.  After much thought and deliberation with Smarty, last night I made the decision to retire her from racing for the final time.  We are going out on a high, and there is no need for me to ask any more of my most faithful servant.  She will be able to enjoy the more relaxed pace of life until I decide what challenges we will take on together in the future, whether that be a return to hunting, improving our jumping or having a go at endurance.  I think there may be the distinct possibility of her having a foal one day, because I would love to keep a piece of her in the future.

Our journey together has ended in the most perfect way.  This won't be the last you hear of Shes Some Deal though, I can guarantee that.  She's some horse of a lifetime.

Over and out,

#1 Groom and her #1 horse

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