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)|
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)|
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)|
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)|
|Camden Castellano and Hugh Menzies winning the third heat (Graham Rees photo)|
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)|
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!|