Thursday, 29 September 2016

2016 Season: Week 20 - The Murdock Weekend

Welcome to Corbiewood's biggest annual two day fixture: the Murdock Weekend.

Named in honour of Joe Murdock, whose family sponsor the high grade final on the Sunday in his memory, the event entered its tenth year this year and was pitched as being bigger and better than ever.

The pinnacle of the first day of racing was the Victor Carson Memorial Final, in memory of my friend George's uncle who passed away.  George managed to qualify two for the final, with GDs Baby finishing second in the first heat to I Can Dream (Grant Cullen) and Valentine Camden second to Porcelain Seelster (James Haythornthwaite) in the fifth heat.  Porterstown Keith (Stephen Cairney) was the surprise winner in heat 2, Indie Hanover (Richard Haythornthwaite) ensured the Fletchers had two runners in the final alongside their grey filly when winning the third, and the 10-year-old Country Jetstream (Andrew Cairns) also made the final when winning the fourth heat.  With five heats and only eight eligible for the final, the five race winners were joined by the three fastest losers; Ystwyth Valley, third behind Porcelain Seelster and Valentine Camden in the fastest of the five heats, qualified for the final but subseqently was withdrawn.

I stood and watched the final with Ally and Stuart Mackenzie.  Ally and I tend to agree on most things and in this case it was that Porcelain Seelster had everything to do from the back, but was the standout best horse in the race.  Everything went her way and she was a comfortable winner with a length victory over stablemate Indie Hanover, giving the Fletchers a 1-2 in the final and brothers James & Richard Haythornthwaite the same.

Porcelain Seelster (Camluck-Pantecostal-No Pan Intended) & James Haythornthwaite (Bill Cardno photo)
In the two maiden and novice events on the day it was two English raiders in the form of the roan Hasty Rocket (William Greenhorn) and Madison Camden (Grant Cullen) who landed the spoils.  The Dark Rum FFA, featuring 4 top Scottish horses, the Irish-owned and English-trained Tarawood Messi and the Welsh-owned, English-trained Meadowbranch Josh, went the way of the Haugh Field Trophy Final winner Dreamfair I Say and Brian Gilvear.  This was the horse's first start at Corbiewood, a track only a couple of miles away from his stable.

Dreamfair I Say (Dreamfair Vogel-Today I Say-Todays Man) winning the Dark Rum FFA (Bill Cardno photo)
Unfortunately, the day was tarnished by an unfortunate accident in the FFA in which Meadowbranch Josh shattered his pastern and was subseqeuntly, sadly, put to sleep.  The 9-year-old gelded son of The Cammissioner, out of the top mare Churchill Queen, was purchased by Trevor Morgans as a yearling during a visit to Meadowbranch Stud.  Although bred in Ireland, over the years he became known as the Welsh Free For Aller and gained a lot of support from Welsh spectators when competing at the highest level against the country's finest.

His career began in 2010 as a three year old, where he was a runner up on his debut at Tir Prince.  Less than a week later he notched up his first victory at Trevor's home track of Aberystwyth in the hands of Jason Podmore, who trained him throughout his inaugural season and recorded one other victory that year.  Their partnership continued into 2011 despite the horse returning to the coast to be trained by Trevor, as Jason remained as his pilot.  In 2011 he only had 7 starts, with another two victories to double his lifetime tally.

In 2012 Josh recorded his biggest win to date.  Following a win at Leominster earlier in the season, he won his heat and then went on to win the final at the Tan Y Castell meeting staged at Aberystwyth.  This was a popular 'home' victory for the Morgans family, and the last win of the season for Josh who subsequently spent some time with Patrick Morris who had become Josh's regular driver earlier in the season.

The following year was a stellar year for Josh, as he notched up no fewer than 7 victories.  With a winning 'prep run' at Leominster, Josh headed to Appleby where he won his heat and went on to be runner up in the Spring Handicap Final, a major handicap final at one of the 'jewels in the crown' fixtures in the British season.  He followed this up with back-to-back wins, including once again at Aberystwyth where he won a heat at the Ceredigion meeting, another of the 'jewels in the crown'.  From here he had to step up and face the big boys.  In his signature plucky style, he won his first ever Free For All, a heat of the Crock of Gold at Tir Prince, and although unplaced in the final (in 2013 the format was heats and finals on the same night) he went on to win the FFA at the Tan Y Castell fixture on the Aberystwyth track on his next start.

In 2014 he added another 7 wins to his tally, with five coming in his first seven starts of the season (including 2 at his favourite track, you guessed it, Aberystwyth!).  Having earned his lifetime mark of 1.57 flat at York in his final victory of the 2013 season, he went on to repeat performances of 1.57.7 at both Amman Valley and York in 2014.  In 2015, he recorded four wins from his first five starts, including a Crock of Gold heat (in 2015 the format became heats during the course of the season with the final later in the year) and the inaugural leg of the Standardbred Sales Co. Battle of the Big Guns at Appleby.  He won a second heat of the Crock of Gold before finishing sixth in the final.

In 2016, Josh joined the Laidler stables and recorded four victories on four different tracks.  The first came at the spring meeting at Tregaron when partnered by this season's leading driver, William Greenhorn.  After finishing third in the Battle of the Big Guns at Appleby, he travelled south to the new track at Monmouth where he won the Doonbeg Flying Mile OPH.  A fortnight later he travelled to Scotland to race in the first ever Famous Musselburgh Sprint over five furlongs where he blitzed in in 1.26.2.  His final victory came at the inaugural harness racing meeting at Newcastle Racecourse (Gosforth Park) on Friday 9th September, his last run before the fateful race at Corbiewood on 17th September.  Josh was definitely a horse for 'firsts', and his victory at Newcastle came out of the blue to all but his most loyal supporters.

From 82 lifetime starts, winner of 29 races with earnings of over £18,000.  His lifetime best was 1.57 at York, with his record set at 1.59.8 at Tir Prince and 1.57.7 at Amman Valley.  He boasted a 35.37% win rate and a 53.66% place rate.  He was Wales' FFA star and he will be sorely missed by more than those closely associated with him.
Meadowbranch Josh winning the first leg of the Battle of the Big Guns at Appleby, 2015 (Graham Rees photo)
Meadowbranch Josh winning the FFA at Monmouth, 2016 (Graham Rees photo)
Meadowbranch Josh winning the Battle of the Big Guns leg at Newcastle, 2016 (Jayne Ward photo)
On the Sunday, following a night of drunken antics involving far too much karaoke and some questionable dancing (Jackie Campbell - you should take up a career in contortionism, the shapes you can pull aren't even normal), I headed to the track to declare Ace in the SHRC 2YO Futurity Fillies division.  Smarty had instructed me to remain in the office until the draw was done, telling me that declarations would close at 12:30pm and the draw would be done by 1pm.  Having arrived just after midday, I waited until 1pm before asking the secretary when the draw would be done.  I was told that it would happen once all horses had declared.  When I asked what time declarations closed, I was told it was when all horses had declared.  Not sure that's how it's supposed to work.  I was left scratching my head at that one, I'll be honest.  Anyway, the draw eventually took place; we were in race 6, which had started off with 4 runners when the card went to print, but was reduced to 3 following some bizarre starter/stewarding decisions the day before when Crosshill Azalea broke on the gate in her first ever run.  Knowing full well she was running the following day in order to be eligible for the Sire Stakes meeting at Tir Prince the following weekend, they chose to make the filly requalify after breaking in only one race (the club rule is horses must requalify if they break in two consecutive starts at the track).  Therefore, not only did she miss the SHRC Futurity, but she was also forced to miss the Sire Stakes.  One can't help but wonder if the outcome of the break on the Saturday might have been different had the trainer's face been a different one.

Having not had a decent draw since she qualified, and having also not been in front during a race since running in qualifiers, I had everything crossed for the pole position.  Although with everything that had been going wrong in the week or so leading up to the meeting, I wasn't holding out much hope.

Luck has to change at some point, and on Sunday 18th September, my luck changed.  Crosshill Ace was drawn 1 on the gate, Littlemill Jo was drawn 2 and 2YO filly track record holder and Breeders Crown champion Victoria Camden was drawn 3.

Before I go into a blow-by-blow account of my own horse's race, I should mention the heat winners and qualifiers for the Joe Murdock Memorial Final.  The first heat went the way of the Tony 'more panic than Yannick' Allan-trained Lyons Pass (William Drysdale), who set a blistering first half pace from on top to come home a length clear of the strong-finishing Loriznitestar (Grant Cullen).  Mega Star (William Greenhorn), the horse who got loose during the final at Brough at the end of August, took the second heat ahead of the plucky 11-year-old Diamond O'Neil (Andrew Cairns).  Greenhorn had a tough call to make as the regular driver of both horses but got it right this time, giving him yet another winner on his quest to become the UK's Champion Driver for the first time.

Tough racemare Starzapan (Stuart Mackenzie) notched up her fifth win of the season when finishing three quarters of a length in front of Dontstoptheparty (Brian Gilvear) in the third heat; and making up the octet for the pinnacle of the day's racing, the final, were Robhall (Grant Cullen) and Camden Massino (William Greenhorn).  Robhall also recorded his fifth victory of the season when taking the fourth heat.

The exciting prospect Live In Star (Grant Cullen) made it two wins in as many weeks, propelling himself into Open Class company next time out as he won the Novice event, finishing ahead of New London Hanover (Gordon Gilvear) and JMs Macy Hallstar (William Greenhorn).  I firmly believe you will hear the names of all three next season as they progress through the racing ranks.  Live In Star is a three-year-old son of World Record Holder Doonbeg, out of the good racemare Live In Beauty, herself a two-time STAGBI Future Broodmares winner at Corbiewood.  Sadly she was lost before the start of the season; however in Star, breeder and owner Bobby Miller has continued the family line.

The last three races on the day were the SHRC Futurity Fillies Division, Colts Division and Murdock Final.  For the first time in its history, the Futurity was split between colts and fillies, with the winner of the trophy being the 2YO with the fastest time.  This had been due to the total number of horses entered at the final payment stage being greater than the maximum number of horses allowed in a race; with voluntary and compulsory withdrawals before the day, the fillies were 3 in number and the colts were 4.  As the card had been published with the races split, they remained separate.

Rather than me provide a written report of Ace's race, here's the video (hopefully):

As you can see, she won, and comfortably.  Our friend Scott Schwartz who we met at Pompano in February asked Smarty what type of racing it was that he was watching in the video.  I think he was unimpressed.  Scott - what I say to you is that we beat what was in front of us on the day.  That's all anyone can try to do!

I was over the moon with the result, and with her performance.  All summer long we have campaigned this filly at the highest level and despite giving it her all every time, she's either been beaten by bad draws or better horses.  That day was our day in the sun.

The colts raced straight afterwards, and I just managed to catch the end of the race to see Share A Smile win for owner Margaret Ferns, trainer Hamish Muirhead and driver Hugh Menzies.  You might recall that Share A Smile, or Smiler, travelled alongside Ace to Portmarnock for the VDM.  They were the only two Scottish horses to compete that weekend.  I was delighted to see him pick up the colts division.
Share A Smile (Pro Bono Best-Raise A Smile-Grinfromeartoear)  (Bill Cardno photo)

As I'd led Ace off the track, Greenhorn had told the Gaffer and me that he hadn't driven the race to time but to tactics, and as Ace had gone 2.07.8 he fully anticipated that the colts would go faster and we would not receive the trophy.  I stood and watched the connections of Smiler in the winner's circle with Karen Kennedy and the trophy and assumed they had won it.  Shortly afterwards Karen emerged from the bar carrying the trophy, informing me that the colts race had only gone 2.09.3.  In addition to the perpetual trophy, I also received a trophy to keep and a rosette to add to mine and Ace's colourful collection.
Crosshill Ace (Cams Card Shark-Vain In Spain-Artsplace) (Bill Cardno photo)
I watched the final sat on a picnic bench up near the stables, intending to take my numbercloth back to the office but distracted by Michael O'Neil buying me celebratory ice cream and being weighed down with trophies.  From my viewpoint, behind the 8 horses as they stormed down the home straight together, I was able to call the eventual winner about 100 yards out.  In running, despite being 4 wide and painting the standside rail, Brian Gilvear timed his challenge to perfection to drive Dontstoptheparty to a resounding victory.  The following pictures illustrate just how thrilling a finish it was, with all 8 competitors finishing within 4 lengths of each other (the first 5 home finishing three quarters of a length, a head, a neck and a neck apart respectively).

The closing yards of the Joe Murdock Memorial Final (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Dontstoptheparty (nearest the rail) charges home under a well-timed drive from Brian Gilvear (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Four lengths split the field at the finish (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Ron Caddies and Logan Fowler (right) lead Dontstoptheparty to the winner's circle (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Members of the Murdock family joined the Gilvear family & friends in the winner's circle to present the Memorial Trophy (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Dontstoptheparty cheered home by the bumper crowd at Corbiewood (Bill Cardno photo)

Before I sign off on this lengthy (but hopefully enjoyable) update, I would just like to take a moment to reflect upon the career of another horse who sadly raced for the final time at Corbiewood over the weekend.  In a startingly similar turn of events to the previous day, Hawthorns Maggie also shattered a pastern and was subsequently, very sadly for all concerned, put to sleep.

The 8-year-old daughter of Coalford Art out of the mare Dot Comm began her career in the hands of William Kyle and San Pondo Racing as a juvenile in 2010.  From two starts at 2, she maintained a 100% win record, winning both the heat and final of the Corbiewood 2YO Futurity, staged a week apart.  She continued her winning form, kicking off her three-year-old season with another win at Corbiewood.  Her form transferred to the turf, where she was a runner up in her heat in the Appleby 3YO Grass Championship before finishing third in the final.  In 2012 she changed hands, trained by the Paterson family for Robert Govan.  Winning highlights in this season included the STAGBI Future Broodmares Race, having reached the minimum age to compete (4), as well as numerous placed efforts.  In 2013 she won the Joe Murdock Final, as well as her heat on the day.  Although luckless in 2014 and 2015, she ran consistently and provided untold experience for her young driver, Gregor Paterson, picking up several places along the way.

It was in 2016 however that she came back into form, with wins at both Appleby New Fair meeting and the Ceredigion Festival at Aberystwyth.  In doing so, she competed in two prestigious handicap finals in the UK grass season amongst top company.

From 109 starts, she won 11 times and recorded a 37% place rate across her long career.  A firm favourite in the Paterson stable, she will be missed by many.

Hawthorns Maggie winning her heat at Aberystwyth, July 2016 (Graham Rees photo)
That's all folks.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

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