Thursday, 30 June 2016

2016 Season: Week 8 - the return of Musselburgh

Drivers of the Famous Musselburgh Pace Final 2016 (Bill Cardno photo)
Before I launch in to the epic tale of the return of one of the crown jewels of British harness racing, I'd like to mention a little project I was working on last week.  In 2017, there is to be published a World Trotting Conference commemorative book.  The UK was asked to submit a piece for inclusion in this book, to include a brief history of the sport in our country, three 'legends' of racing (past or present) with photos, photos of our country's flag and also the largest track in the UK.  Kirsty at the BHRC contacted me as soon as the request came in, and with a deadline of 2 days, I set to work with Smarty to write something that hopefully the people of the UK could be proud of.

I had been in receipt of a box of BHRC calendars, trotting magazines and race programmes dating back to before I was born a couple of weeks back at Appleby, and must admit they came in very handy when researching two of the legends, who although are still key figures in the sport, had generated much of their success in years gone by.  The Hall of Fame entry I submitted to the BHRC for Stoneriggs J R also helped, which allowed me to save time on having to research race records, earnings etc. all over again.

All in all, writing the piece was as enjoyable as any other project I've worked on.  I genuinely enjoy writing, particularly where I'm learning as I go along, and by the time I have finished an article or report I'm desperate for people to read it and learn the same facts as I have, to appreciate the subject of the article in all its glory.  We can be proud of some of the horses, and people, that our sport has produced.

Anyway, enough about me and my writing.  You're getting enough of that simply by reading this.

On Wednesday, Smarty and I drove the 6 hours down to mid Wales to attend a meeting which I have been closely associated with from my time working for the Bevans - Cilmery.  It is one of my favourite meetings in the calendar and often throws up interesting results due to the stiff uphill finish - you'll want a good staying horse to win around there.  Worthwhile trying though, with £1000 on offer to the winner of the final.  With the heats and final in the Open Preferred Handicap format, many people favoured Grade 11 and top 3YO (now 4YO) Coalford Tetrick to win off the second line; when he won his heat, he became the fancied horse for the final, only giving less than 10 yards to Grade 1 horses on the gate.

If racing was as straightforward as that, half the people wouldn't be in it anymore, and it was Llwyns Delight, owned by Robin Price and trained and driven by brother Lee Price, STAGBI Director, who won the final after slowing the pace and turning the finish into a sprint.  Nobody thought to take on the leader early doors, and coming up the home straight the winner was as effortless as he had been in his heat.  One look at his breeding tells you why - Llywns Delight is from the well-known Bon family, his dam being Bon Sian who is also the dam of top racehorse Bon Jasper (who continues to race, and win, with Wales and Borders at 12 years of age).  The Bon breeding has been known for generations to produce staying horses, often on the small side, but good, good stayers nonetheless.  Our own mare, Dark Velvet, who won a maiden at Musselburgh in 2005, was out of Bon Cheval.  A family story that I shall regale you with some other time.  Congratulations to all winners on the night; notably Wellfield Ruby, Brywins Vincent and Lakeside Paddy, a promising looking 3YO by Doonbeg.

Lee Price and Llwyns Delight winning the Cilmery final (Graham Rees photo)

On Thursday night we ventured to Corbiewood for the traditional Musselburgh Eve meeting, after a long journey back up the M6 and a pitstop at David Wilson's to spend some of our winnings from the night before.  The meeting was poorly supported by horses and indeed spectators in light of the 22 races over the course of the next 2 days.  In the past, so I'm told, 'Musselburgh week' was a week-long festival and celebration of racing, with enough horses to stage races both sides of Musselburgh itself.  The Sunday fixture which had been scheduled after the premier meeting had been scrapped due to lack of entries, and the Thursday night meeting was made possible after the bookmakers sponsored a final in order for there to be sufficient races.  In all honesty, I suspect they needn't have bothered.  However, this is not a dig at anybody, but a sad reflection of the sport as a whole across the country.  There are less horses now than probably ever, and with that, less people.  Something the governing body may need to address sooner rather than later.

Nonetheless, the racing went ahead and I was delighted to see young Ross Leary picking up his third win with Miami Seelster in the first race.  He wasn't able to repeat in the final against Check On Wilma but put in a good drive to get his horse home in the placings.  They seem to be quite the double act.

Before we knew it, the morning of Musselburgh was upon us.  It was also the first day of Britain in it's post-EU form.  A lack of sleep the night before coupled with an early start meant I was pretty out of it all day and when I arrived at the track just over an hour before the first race, in which Cassius Clay was racing, my nerves were frazzled.  I very much like the comfort of knowing my way around most tracks, of knowing what the plan of action is, where I need to be at any time, where I need to take my horses...knowing these things helps me settle and work to a schedule.  Musselburgh turns all that on its head and leaves me feeling a bit lost.

Because my two boys were being uncharacteristically boisterous, I was forced to stay calm in order to make them calm.  Which, thankfully, worked, and they couldn't have behaved better in the paddock.  Cassius ran better than we had expected to finish second in his maiden, in a race not too dissimilar to that of Stevie's two years ago - several lengths between 1st and 2nd, and again to 3rd.  Stevie then raced in the third, and despite us hoping we could get him to the final he finished third, just missing out on a spot.  However, he ran well and was beaten by the eventual final winner, Cochise.  There is no shame in that.  We were happy with both horses' performances and have areas which we can work on at home and have learnt something along the way too for future attempets at Musselburgh.

The Gaffer and his horse, Cassius Clay
Leading up Cassius Clay before the first race (Kareen New photo)

After they were both washed, dried, walked and standing on the lorry I was able to watch the racing and enjoy it, and catch up with two thirds of #TeamWellfield, Annette Wilson and Rachel Sydenham.  When the three of us together there's usually an open bottle not too far behind, and this was no different to any other occasion!!  Great to spend time with them both.

#TeamWellfield #thepowerofthree
For me one of the greatest things about Musselburgh this year was the young driver who won the final, as well as two other races (the final winner's heat, and another heat which provided his mother with a drive in the final).  John Henry Nicholson is only 16 years old, and yet when being chased for the last 2 furlongs of the final by last year's leading driver, never turned a hair.  He led out and made all, on the biggest track he will race on in the UK, in a race with some of the top drivers from around the country, and won.  Smarty said two summers ago, not long after the boy had turned 15 and started driving, that he was good.  He was driving a horse called Rhyds Beijing at Haugh Field and Smarty told me he was the best young driver in the country.  Didn't take him long to prove Smarty right.  He didn't fluke those victories on Friday; he drove with confidence beyond his years.  There will be many people who may never have the raw talent that that lad has.  He'll go a long way.  There's also something so wonderful about a sport which allows people of all ages and both genders to compete against each other on an almost level playing field.  Harness racing is a sport for all.
Drivers of the Red John Memorial Hurricane Pace 2016 (Bill Cardno photo)

Sixteen-year-old John Henry Nicholson winning the final with Cochise (Bill Cardno photo)

On Saturday we enjoyed the hospitality of the Queen's Stand Restaurant as John sponsored a race in memory of his grandfather who loved the maiden races at the track.  Once lunch was over I took up my position as the most glamorous floor person on the track, although I kept getting distracted by the bar, and Wellfield Earl winning, and then having to lead Wellfield Official around the paddock.  Thankfully I have a very understanding 'boss'!

Spot the Famous Musselburgh Pace Trophy in the background!

My other highlights from the weekend on top of young Mr Nicholson winning in such style, were Evenwood Ruthless winning his heat by a whisker for Karen Kennedy and then going on to be third in the final, Brywinsmagicpotion romping home in the Hazel Kemp International FFA, Shades Of Grey winning a heat of the Famous Musselburgh Pace and also finishing runner up to her stablemate in the FFA the day before, Out Of This World putting two out-of-this-world performances in for Scott Murray to be second and third in his two races (God knows I was shouting you on Scott!) and Sports Trick adding the Famous Musslburgh Pace Final to his Appleby Spring Sunday Final from last month.
Sports Trick with Alan Haythornthwaite - look what winning means! (Bill Cardno photo)
It was a weekend spent with good friends, too many to name individually but for each and every one of you who made me laugh, I thank you. I look forward to seeing you all at Aberystwyth this weekend, and if not there, then wherever the show takes us after that!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

P.s. The goat's away on her holidays this week, I'm sure she'll be back shortly!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

2016 Season: Week 7 - A bit of something for everyone!

On Thursday night (16th June), racing returned to its historical week night slot with the SHRC 3YO Derby, split into a colts division and a fillies division, the feature event of the night.  I'm a sucker for a grey, so was delighted to see Porcelain Seelster winning after finishing runner up to colt winner Jacks Red in the 2YO Futurity at the track last year.

I'll not go into detail as I already have done here:

I may have gone a little OTT with the level of detail (as Steve Wolf joked with me) but the article was written whilst travelling in the car to Tir Prince on the Saturday afternoon and I'll admit, it killed a considerable chunk of time on the M6.

The Saturday night was spent at Tir Prince, where we witnessed Jessies Conquest display one of the most impressive performances I have ever seen any horse give.  Having been hampered at the start by a galloping horse, and subsequently being left maybe 20 lengths behind the leader, Marc Jones would have been forgiven for settling her far at the rear and using the mile for a workout.  He may indeed be the only driver in the country who would have attempted to actually win the race.  But then, he is the only driver ever to sit behind the filly who was voted 2015 BHRC 2YO Filly of the Year by all the member organisations and BHRC Council.  Only he truly knows what she is capable of.  She not only caught up with the field, but came four wide around the penultimate bend to romp home the most worthy of winners.  This was made all the more impressive considering she was racing seasoned campaigners.  I'll not forget that performance for a while.

Jessies Conquest winning at Tir Prince (Graham Rees photo)
 Another impressive performance came from Brywinsmagicpotion in the Crock of Gold heat when he showed his class to sprint home clear of Porterstown Road and Imjustalittleguy who themselves put in good performances.  Great to see Magicpotion winning at the highest level, because Lord only knows how tough it is to win at the top against the likes of Stoneriggs Mystery.

The evening was slightly marred by the lengthy stewards' enquiry following the final race in which Ayr Mission had the race taken away from him for an incident which seemingly mirrored an incident the weekend before at Monmouth.  On that occasion however, the driver was fined and the horse kept the race.  Perhaps there was more to it than first met the eye.  Who knows?

Rather than drive all the way back to Scotland, which would have seen us getting home around 3am, and then heading back down to North Yorkshire the following morning for Hellifield, we stopped over near Warrington at the venue which staged the inaugural STAGBI & BHRC Awards night back in February.  It was twelve months ago on this weekend that we first discovered the hotel, which seems to have become the first choice venue for the event going forward following a lot of positive feedback from the Welsh, English, Scottish and Irish people who attended this year.

On Sunday we set off for Hellifield, with a quick pitstop in the heart of Skipton.  It was here that we paid a visit to Sam Harrison at his home, and he then took us to see Saunders Beachgirl and Cliff.  It was great to see my little man, who is not-so-little anymore.  Neither of them were remotely interested in seeing us, although that may have had a lot to do with the fact that Sam was waving a bag around rather exuberantly and shouting.  That isn't really Beachgirl's style!

From there we drove the short distance to Hellifield, an enjoyable and well-supported meeting which hasn't always been kind to us as bookmakers.  The rain held off until the last few races, and there was plenty of good racing on offer.  Mikey Camden won his heat and the final for Frank and Raymond Huschka and Willie Forrester, but the performance of the day for me came from everyone's favourite, Afan Romeo.

I have a hypothetical stable, full of horses I wish I owned, or the type of horses I wish I owned, those with hearts bigger than themselves and a built-in radar which means they always know where the finish line is.  Afan Romeo is in this stable.  He has been since young Mac McMeekin (Jonjo's boy) was winning on him (he won here the year before, when Mac was only 15 and in the bike).  Romeo changed hands during the winter and joined the Ralph family, with Ronnie, his wife Maria and their four children who are all under the age of 10.  I saw the most heartwarming video on Facebook a couple of months ago, with Ronnie's three eldest grooming Romeo who was standing in the crossties like a statue whilst the three youngsters plaited him, brushed his legs, hugged him and patted him all over.  It was such a lovely thing to see, a racehorse in training displaying such patience and gentle awareness of his small caretakers.

When he won on Sunday, all I saw was three children bolting across the track to collect their rosette and trophy, and congratulate their family pet.  The two little boys fought over who got to carry the trophy back to the paddock and the little girl was jumping around with her arms in the air in delight.  That is what this game is all about!  We bumped into them at a petrol station on the journey back towards the motorway and Ronnie insisted that I have a photo with them and the trophy as I am 'Afan Romeo's #1 fan'.  Here it is:

Afan Romeo Supporter's Club

And that was the weekend in a very brief round up.  From juvenile racing around the smallest hard track, to FFA racing on the biggest hard track, to handicap heats and a final on a grass field in North Yorkshire, this weekend had it all.  I was glad to be a part of it!

Before I go, things that have gotten my goat this week:

- sour grapes.
- people who take issue with things that don't concern them.
- inconsistency.
- veiled threats.
- patriarchal views (I'm no feminist, but I have a voice).

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

2016 Season: Week 6

Things are really trucking along now in the racing season, with the first of the 'Big Four' at Appleby now a fortnight past, the Wolverhampton two-day meeting by and the inaugural meeting at Monmouth declared a success.  Corbiewood has staged three meetings of approximately 20, with Friday 10th June offering up the newest winner of the annual STAGBI Broodmares Race which went to the Hamish Muirhead-trained ATM in a thrilling climax which also saw Sureamsomething and Kikis Virtue feature at the finish.
ATM winning the 2016 STAGBI Future Broodmares race (Bill Cardno photo)
On a personal note, Friday was Crosshill Ace's first run in a qualifier for our camp.  She is being aimed at the Vincent Delaney prep race at Corbiewood on 8th July so this was part of the scheduled training plan.  Willie Drysdale took the drive as our stable jockey had an accident last week in which he injured his left hand and is unable to drive a car at present, let alone a horse.  He kept her back slightly from the gate, settled her in second as the 13 year old requalifier Artisan made the running, allowed DKs Happy Dream to pass her at the half and came home in fourth surrounded by aged racehorses.  She qualified in 2.12.4 and never put a foot wrong.  I was more than pleased with her performance and look forward to taking her back next Thursday to run in her second qualifier (unnecessary by the rules of the BHRC but something we want to do to give her more experience before she goes in to a race).

On Friday night I also took the opportunity on  behalf of STAGBI to present Bobby Miller, owner of Live In Beauty, with the trophy for winning the mares race last year.  Bobby had been unable to attend the BHRC/STAGBI joint awards event in February and I felt that it was important for him to receive the award in a proper presentation in light of the mare passing away during the winter.  The Miller family, trainer Paul Cullen and his wife Caroline came across to the winner's circle to be presented with flowers and the trophy by myself and Willie Paterson on behalf of the SHRC.  Congratulations to all of the connections, who will have a three year old Doonbeg son out of the mare racing shortly.
Presentation to Bobby Miller and family for Live In Beauty, 2014 & 2015 STAGBI Future Broodmares winner
After that I milled around, chatting to various people about various subjects.  I missed to back Camden Conquest at 3/1, but took the chance to bet Stoneriggs Banner at 2/1 which put some money in my pocket.  That said, I lost when backing Kikis Virtue to run second to Sureamsomething.  I'm confident the mare will win shortly.

I'd also like to say a big CONGRATULATIONS to Keir Cullen who drove his first winner on Friday night in the form of Reverend Run.  Led out, made all, and nearly had me in hysterics roaring his horse home off the last bend!

Keir Cullen's first driving win onboard Reverend Run (Bill Cardno photo)
On Sunday I headed to Appleby with the Gaffer, as Smarty had travelled to Monmouth to bookie on the Saturday and was meeting us there.  We had Cassius Clay on board for his first run of the season and the Gaffer was in the bike in his new colours.  I did vow to take a photo of him for a laugh but in light of his improved driving style, I'll not take the mick out of him.  Plus he tells me he'll be driving the horse next time out as well, so for now he has my full support.  Cassius finished fifth, a nice run with no mistakes and handled the going well despite the stickiness of the track after the heavy rainshower (which incidentally forced me to take shelter in the beer tent...)

As I've also included in my Harnesslink report (, Willie Paterson's stables had a stormer of a day with two winners and a second in a photo finish having only taken three runners.  Congratulations to the team, which comprises of Willie's son Gregor, eye-catching young driver Ross Leary, Bryan Moncrieff and owner/driver of Ayr Pandemic, Gary Logan.  Their three charges, Dreamfair Carrie, Ayr Pandemic and Hawthorns Maggie certainly carried on where the Scottish winners left off a fortnight ago at the main Appleby event.

And so we look forward to Thursday night at Corbiewood which features the SHRC 3YO Derby, which this year is split for the colts and fillies.  Crosshill Ace returns for her second qualifier with her now-regular driver Willie Drysdale taking the reins once again.  Be there!

Things that got my goat this week

Oh here goes again.  My poor goat doesn't know whether it's coming or going, but this week it's really been gotten again.

 - Remember Rule N15 of the BHRC rules?  That stewards may require a horse to requalify in certain circumstances, which includes where a horse breaks in two consecutive starts.  Remember that time Smarty proposed at a SHRC meeting that the SHRC compel the stewards at Corbiewood to use this rule by making it a club rule that stewards will require a horse to requalify if it breaks in two consecutive starts at the track (note, not elsewhere)?  And it got adopted?

Seemingly, a load of people knew nothing about it.  Funny how when you don't want something to be known at Corbiewood, everyone knows all about it within days, if not hours.  Funnier still that some people claiming ignorance of the rule had close friends and relatives at the meeting where it was adopted without objection.  People must not speak around the dinner table anymore.

In three meetings at Corbiewood, three horses have been asked to requalify.  The first two did so on Friday night without issue.  The third was requested to requalify after it had raced on Friday night.  I understand that the manner by which the stable was asked to requalify could have been handled a lot better, but regardless of the stewards' social skills, the rule itself is one of the best rules in existence.  It is the exact same rule as is in place in North America, where they're not going hell for leather around a three eighths of a mile track.  I am therefore alarmed at the reactions of some who believe the rule is backwards and unnecessary.  Safety of competitors should be of paramount importance to us all.  Although the rule does not eliminate the risk of accidents, it does take massive steps towards reducing the risk.  No horse is 'too good' to requalify if it continues to pose a risk to those who compete against it.

Remember that folks.  There is no point in shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.  When the rule was proposed by Smarty, it was not done so in his capacity as a bookmaker.  Lord only knows the bookies are fond of erratic and unpredictable horses that people want to back.  No, it was proposed in his capacity as an SHRC member and also as a BHRC licence holder.  We do not want our driver, or our horses, injured by the actions of a serial breaker.  We don't want ANY driver, or ANY horse, injured by the actions of a serial breaker.  Safety first.  Which is why I took great umbrage to my boyfriend being referred to as a 'twat' for suggesting the rule.  His heart is in the right place and there is no ulterior motive here.  But hey, bookies are money-grabbers with no real interest in the sport.  That's a whole different goat-related section for another time.

- People who say they're going to do something.  Just go ahead and do it.  Smarty once said to me, "Don't be afraid of the people who say what they're going to do to you; be afraid of the ones who just do it."

Over and out,

Disgruntled and mildly alarmed #1 Groom

P.S. on a more positive note, a lengthy conversation with a gentleman and a true harness racing supporter on Sunday lifted my spirits.  I'll keep doing what I'm doing ;)

Thursday, 9 June 2016

2016 Season: Week 5 - the feel good factor

Young Michael O'Neil has pestered the life out of me for some time to dedicate a post on my worldly blog to him, as Trainee Stud Manager at Ayr Standardbreds and now self-appointed Racing Manager at the same establishment.

I'm usually too busy condemning the governing body for yet another balls-up, or banging on about one of my own horses...and poor Michael slipped down my writing agenda.

However, it gives me great delight to be sitting here typing this story of perseverance, belief, passion and above all else, team work.  And Michael O'Neil is right at the heart of the story.

When Smarty and I walked into the track last Friday night, I had spotted an instantly-recognisable horse warming up, even with a driver change to throw us off the scent: Ayr Escape.  The way in which he carries himself distinguishes him from other horses; he is as good-looking a pacer as you could wish to find in the British Isles, and he has a knack for always landing on the right stride for photos.  The ultimate poser.

Smarty had turned to me and said, "I think he'll win tonight".  And we left it at that.

As I stood with Hugh O'Neil Jnr watching his youngest son, Michael, tack the horse up before his race, I relayed this story, only omitting Smarty's final contribution so as not to jinx the horse.  I am somewhat superstitious at the best of times.

I stood in the bar to watch the beginning of the race, which saw Escape lead out in the hands of catch driver William Greenhorn.  After half a mile he was still sitting in front comfortably and I dashed outside to stand by the rail to cheer him home.  It was here that I may have over-exuberantly shoved Caroline (Kennedy), Michael's aunt, in the same manner in which I shoved Michael the day Star won last season.  I don't know my own strength.  Sorry Caroline!

I'd agreed to stand at the stable bend with Michael but had been distracted by a conversation about French trotters, although in light of my accidental-punching it may have been for the best that I was stood at the opposite end of the track.

Ayr Escape won easily, and as we all piled on to the track to meet Escape, Wull and Michael in the winner's circle, we could see how much the win meant to Michael who was slightly overcome with emotion (been there done that, cried my eyes out last September).  In 63 starts spanning across five years, Escape has been denied victory.  The reason for this isn't absolute, however he was a classic example of a horse punished under an archaic and unfair handicap system whereby he rose through the system despite not winning; his place money, of which he picked up plenty, saw him handicapped more harshly.  Where then was the incentive for the O'Neil family to continue training and racing the horse, a previous 4YO SHRC Champion?

And yet, continue to train and race him they did.  At first it appeared to be to give their eldest son, Hughie, a chance to drive.  Now, it seems, it is to give their youngest son, Michael, a chance to train.  Week after week, Escape returned to the track to never put a foot wrong, only to be beaten.  Many joked about the horse and the driver, and although the driver did not get his moment in the limelight this time, the horse certainly did and the O'Neils will have had the last laugh.

I walked off the track with Michael and the horse, down behind the buildings and right to the bottom of the area where the horseboxes were parked.  I lost count of the number of people who congratulated Michael, including drivers who had been beaten by the horse in that very race.  As I said in my Harnesslink report, it was a cold heart that wasn't touched by the events of Friday night.  It was the ultimate feel good factor which the sport, not only in Scotland, needed.  The response on social media to the victory was overwhelming across the length and breadth of the UK - that is testament in itself to how well thought of the O'Neils are.  And let's face it, we're all suckers for a tale of the victorious underdog.

I reflected on the evening with Smarty as we drove home, and we agreed that it was the best we had felt leaving a race meeting for a long time.  The victory wasn't attributable to one individual, but to a whole family who have persevered in the face of defeat, a family whose roots are buried deep in the heart of harness racing in the UK.  If that doesn't make you feel good, nothing will.

So here's to Ayr Escape, and Michael O'Neil; to Hugh and Elizabeth O'Neil, Ryan O'Neil, Hughie O'Neil and Kareen New, and of course to the pilot on the night, William Greenhorn, with one of the most satisfying catch drives of the century.  Oh, and to Donkey.  I was assured that Donkey played a massive part in training Escape mentally for the task.

Kareen New photo
Bill Cardno photo
Bill Cardno photo - L-R George Carson, William Greenhorn, myself, Michael O'Neil, Kareen New, Elizabeth O'Neil, Hughie O'Neil, Joe Ritchie, Karen Kennedy & Caroline Kennedy  
Congratulating the one half of 'Big Burd & Boots' known as Boots - Kareen New photo
 A great production by Kareen New:

And also a link to my report of the full meeting on Harnesslink -

I missed Wolverhampton due to commitments at home so cannot fairly provide an opinion on the event of the individual races.  I will also be giving Monmouth a miss but will be at Corbiewood tomorrow night with my two year old, Crosshill Ace, and also Appleby on Sunday with Cassius Clay and Young Stephen.

Catch you all next week,

#1 Groom

P.s. the goat has been left unharmed this week, although those 'horseporn' videos are STILL doing the rounds on social media.  Stop it, it's weird.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

2016 Season: Week 4 - Sun, cider and Scottish success at Appleby!

I did say Appleby was due a weekend of good weather after some of the washouts it's had in the past, and I'm pleased to report that it was two days of glorious sunshine at Holme Farm.

And I am even more pleased to report that the Scottish contingent did their country proud with a whole host of winning horses, winning drivers, and quality performances.


William Greenhorn kicked things off for Scotland in the first race driving Bowriver for Alf and Joy Swinbank, a couple who have supported Corbiewood over the last few years by bringing horses up over the border to race (including 2015 October/November Horse of the Month, Springhill Dustin).  Bowriver won going away in the first division of the maidens.

The first Scottish horse to pick up a red rosette was Evenwood Ruthless in the third heat of the handicap, for owner Karen Kennedy, trainer Mark Kennedy and driver Gordon Gilvear.  Gordon's victory was made all the more impressive considering his right stirrup sheared off during the race.  When called into the stewards to explain why his foot was out of the stirrup for some of the race (as seen below in the photo), his reply was, "What stirrup?!". Evenwooddancinjess and Grant Cullen who had taken up the running down the back straight stayed on for third.

Evenwood Ruthless beating Oaks Maddico (Graham Rees photo)
Grant picked up another third in the next race with I Can Dream, missing out on a spot in the final on both occasions as the first two from each race progressed.

The next Scottish winner came in the form of Le Trot/TrotBritain's biggest supporter north of Hadrian's Wall: Gregor Menzies.  Viva Sautonne, a seven year old mare imported from France, led out and made all to give Gregor, Lisa (Farrelly) and family their first win of the season.

Viva Sautonne winning with ease (Graham Rees photo)
In the final, Sports Trick was the standout favourite however I fanced Rufus (Evenwood Ruthless) to run into a place so bet him accordingly.  As the only Scottish contender in the final, he dug in deep to hold on from Cochise to finish second behind an impressive Sports Trick.  I spoke to Gordon after the final who said he'd given the horse a bad drive but to finish second was an achievement in itself.  Well done to Karen & Marky, and to Gordon, for their success on Sunday.


On Monday the Scottish got off to a flyer with '2015 SHRC Driver of the Year' Grant Cullen and Springhill Art winning the first race.  The four year old mare, trained by Grant's father Paul, won with ease on her first ever start.

Springhill Art cruising to victory in the first division of the maidens (Graham Rees photo)
The second division was won by Rhyds Opal, however despite being an English-owned and trained mare, she was partnered by William Greenhorn who tasted victory for the second time over the weekend.

Making it three in a row for Scottish drivers, Gordon Gilvear romped home on the ante-post favourite Master Plan in the first heat for the Monday final.  The Gilvear-bred, owned, trained and driven gelding beat Irish raiders Lyons Nant Hall and Coalford Silk in impressive fashion.

Master Plan winning his heat with 'GG' (Graham Rees photo)
If that wasn't enough, in the third heat it was a 1-2-3 for Scotland, with Camden Castellano (Hugh Menzies driving for John Menzies) taking the honours from Reverend Run (Grant Cullen driving for Paul Cullen) who narrowly beat Pantihistamine (Gordon Gilvear driving for Tony Allan).

Camden Castellano and Hugh Menzies winning the third heat (Graham Rees photo)
In the fourth heat, Bayrigg Millionayr put in a good show for Richard Thomson to finish second and qualify for the final, making four of the 10 final runners Scottish trained and driven.

The Battle of the Big Guns was a top quality affair, and although lacking a directly Scottish competitor this year, I'd like to think the Scots will get behind last year's 'Big Gun', Stoneriggs Mystery (owned by David and Wilma Morton, Falkirk) and also half-brothers Ayr Regal and Ayr Majesty, bred by the O'Neils at Ayr Standardbreds.  Ayr Majesty ran on impressively to finish second behind Mystery for the second time this season.  One to watch in Free For Alls when the machine isn't present...

William Greenhorn went on to notch up his third winner of the meeting, again partnering a filly owned and trained by Paul Johnson - Elsa Camden.  And the next race the novice, went to George Drysdale and My Left Foot after plenty of thrills and spills when horses broke and ducked inside the track resulting in a handful of disqualifications.  Regardless of the drama, the winner was the best finishing horse and a deserving winner, again for Scotland.

Finally, it was the pinnacle of the meeting:  the Appleby Spring Monday Handicap Final.  Despite there being 4 Scottish runners in the final, all hopes were pinned on Master Plan.  And he did not disappoint, going on to win from Lyons Nant Hall, who in turn pipped Lyons Mischief to the line.

Before the race I'd been chatting to an Irish friend who asked what I thought would win the final.  When I replied with 'Master Plan', he told me he thought Nant Hall could beat him.  The gentleman hadn't been at Corbiewood the night Master Plan posted the fastest time of the season (2.02.15) when beating my poor mare Star (who also was beaten in Grade 1 races last year by Evenwood Ruthless, Camden Casper and SHRC Horse of the Year, Greentree Shorty).  I'll never forget how tough it was to win a Grade 1 race last summer!

Gordon was oh-so-close to winning both finals this year, and Karen Kennedy worked out he'd amassed £6600 in prize money across the two days.  It is also worth noting that Steven Gilvear, as the breeder of Master Plan, bags himself the Breeders Bonus of £500 for winning the selected aged horse race with a British-bred horse as chosen by the STAGBI Directors prior to the start of the season.

GG giving a sly smile to the crowd as he crossed the line (Graham Rees photo)
There you have it folks - you can't disagree that it was a tremendous weekend for Scottish horses and drivers.  Many of those who ran impressively had already run (and some of them won) at Corbiewood at the season opener.  No doubt many will return on June 12th for the New Fair meeting at Appleby.  But before then we have two Friday night meetings at Corbiewood, and a bumper entry already in for the first of these on June 3rd.

Before I go, it's Smarty's favourite segment: "Things that get my goat".  I wasn't going to post anything this week, as immediately following the weekend I felt unusually optimistic about the remainder of the season.  It's amazing what some sun and good racing will do to make you forget that the sport has, at best, plateaued, and at worst...well it's a slippery slope, put it that way.

So I was going to finish on a high note, and maybe surprise those who think I live to criticise.  And then I discovered the not-so-random integrity testing undertaken at Appleby and memories of BHRC Committee meetings during the winter came flooding back to me.  Call me pessimistic, but you'd be burying your head in the sand if you did.

It is my understanding that each horse racing in the Big Guns race on Monday was pre-race tested.  Fine.

It is also my understanding that after the race, only one horse from the eight was tested. Fine.  Except it was the one horse in the race that illustrated how completely pre-meditated the testing regime was.

The horse that was tested, after a true-to-form performance, was the horse trained by Rocker Laidler.  Not content with banning Alexis for using a low-grade banned substance and creating a whole host of new rules (including one which requires anyone applying for a Public Trainer licence, in this instance Rocker, to disclose any material information which may be of relevance to the application...including, in the words of the Vice Chairman at an official meeting [although I doubt it made the official minutes, even though I was taking them], "where his wife lives"), now they're going after her husband as well.  It's an ugly vendetta.

Gordon Garnett started this witch hunt, but it's being maintained by those who came after him and those who remained from under his reign.  While we as a sport welcome a 'celebrity' attending the VDM in Portmarnock in August who has previously failed a test in the USA, people within our own sport shun certain individuals in the UK who have failed tests for lesser substances (but, bizarrely, not others).

Oh, and before I go, the rule which has effectively banned Alexis Laidler from living in her own home because it is located at the stables from which her husband now trains with a Public Trainer's licence...well, just have a think about how many other people that new rule can affect should they fall foul of a rule in the future.  Food for thought.  Because if it applies to one, it must apply to all.  You know who'll make the biggest noise of all if it doesn't.


Over and out,

#1 Still-in-love-with-racing-but-shaking-my-head-in-disbelief Groom

Michael O'Neil (Ayr Standardbreds) & I enjoying the Appleby sunshine!