Friday, 28 October 2016

2016 Season: Week 25 - Brightwells Sale

The final weekend of the 2016 racing season in the UK came upon us suddenly, and yet at long last.  The previous weekend was always going to be mine and Smarty's last weekend of racing due to us travelling down to Wales for the annual Brightwells Standardbred Sale on the Monday.  Due to its close proximity to my parents' farm, we always make the 330-mile journey the day before so that we can spend what little free time we have with them.  Therefore for us, and many others, the season was already over.

Nonetheless, the show went on without us at the season finale at Corbiewood, where William Greenhorn was confirmed as both Scottish Harness Racing Club and British Harness Racing Club leading driver for 2016 for the first time in his career.  The owner and trainer titles were fought out at the last meeting, with Claire Fletcher securing the leading owner title as Indie Hanover and Porcelain Seelster scored in their respective races.  William 'Rocker' Laidler took the trainer's title in the absence of his wife, Alexis, the reigning champion, who was serving a ban for much of the season but who is now back to the day job having 'done the time'.

Killarney Howard made it four on the run in Bannockburn for the O'Neil family and young driver Hugh O'Neil Jnr Jnr, who missed out on SHRC Young Driver of the Year due to confusion over the age limit.  The title passes to Lauren Moran, who had a fantastic season with both Laydford Lad and Vyrnwy Smoke and is most deserving of the title.  Sunnyside Clinton picked a good time to record his first win off the back of his second-placed finish the week before, as owner Bill Howard and family had made the long journey from Lancashire (England) to Scotland to see the horse race.

In Wales, after a quick snoop around the barns at the Royal Welsh Showground where some of the horses were arriving in the dark for the sale the following day, I headed into town to meet with some of my fellow STAGBI directors for an impromptu meeting (seeing as we were all in the same place).  Smarty headed home with my parents and I can only imagine the conversations he must have had with my dad about his picks for the following day.  It was apparent that my dad was a man on a mission! (That must be where I get it from...)

On Monday morning I headed to the Showground for 09:00 to meet with STAGBI Administrator and fellow director Gwenan Thomas so that we could microchip scan all of the lots which had arrived prior to the sale starting.  This is a procedure which STAGBI introduced in 2015 following an incident at York Harness Raceway earlier in the 2015 season.  A two year old filly had qualified and following the race the stewards had located a microchip which did not match the microchip number on the horse's passport.  I stepped in to assist and subsequently attempted to identify the horse using the mark up drawing in the passport.  Unfortunately the horse did not match its drawing.  It transpired that when the filly was sold privately, the wrong horse was given with the right passport (the buyer wanted the horse which should have matched the passport, but she had been mixed up with another filly in the field).  This situation could not have been avoided by STAGBI introducing the chip scanning at the two Standardbred sales (York and Brightwells) as it was a private sale and the chip was scanned at the earliest possible date when the horse ran in its first qualifier.  Nonetheless, we decided that in order to reduce the risk of this happening at the sales at least, we would introduce microchip scanning as a matter of course.  Interestingly, at the time Brightwells advised that they did not scan for microchips across any of their equine sales.

All lots presented on the day were scanned with the correct chips present, meaning that every horse was what it should be (according to the entry form received and its accompanying passport).  I was finished up scanning at 10:45, so headed to the trade stands to stock up on rugs for the winter.  Smarty and I ended up with three turnout rugs (for Rita, Tracey and my little old lady, Smokey) and three stable rugs (for Stevie, Ace and Amy).  Stevie and Ace will be trained next year and had both managed to destroy their stable rugs this summer, and Amy is currently over at Corbiewood being broken in by Mark and Karen Kennedy and was delivered with an ill-fitting sweat rug because Smarty doesn't really get the difference between rugs (they're either water proof, or they're not) or their sizes (him and his father still firmly believe all of our horses are 15.1hh and will fit into 5'9'' rugs.  Not the case.).

I settled down in my usual spot to watch the sale, which is at the far end of the ring facing the auctioneer.  From here I was able to see most of the crowd and would hopefully be able to spot the bidders, having made a mental note of who was sat behind me in case they got stuck in as well.  It was also a good spot from which to take photos of the horses in the ring, although as the day went on I got distracted and stopped taking photos unfortunately.

The first lot my dad had his eye on was Frisco Frisk (f, 2012, Rogue Hall-Life Isjusta Dream-Life Sign), a mare who has raced at 2, 3 and 4 at the highest level, with 7 lifetime wins including the Little Welsh Dragoness 3YO at Tregaron and a heat of the Barney Joyce 3YO at Portmarnock in 2015.  I had told him to go for this one with the intention to put her to the stallion next year.  With her being by Rogue Hall, sire of Littlemill Rogue (25-9-10-5 at 2, 3 & 4), Coalford Silk (winner at Musselburgh this year and runner up in The Famous Musselburgh Pace) and Coalford Tetrick (champion 2YO, 3YO and 4YO track record holder at Portmarnock this season), and out of Life Isjusta Dream, dam of Frisco Havago (21-11-5-2 at 2 & 3), Frisco Dancer (2YO & 3YO Breeders Crown Champion), Frisco Fiddler (winner of the VDM 2012 & BHRC National Pacing Futurity) and Frisco Blue Moon (York 2YO Futurity Gold Division & York Rising Starzzz 2YO winner), she really wasn't a mare to let pass by with her breeding potential.  My old man didn't disappoint me!  He went for her, and he got her.
Frisco Frisk winning at Tir Prince in 2016
After the initial excitement had worn off, I sat and waited to see if my dad would buy a yearling filly, as was the plan.  He disappeared once again to stand in his 'bidding spot', leaving my mother and I sat wondering during the course of the bidding as to whether or not he was still 'in'.  The filly he'd picked out as his favourite was Rhyds Sapphire (f, 2015, Hasty Hall-CPR-Life Sign), the fourteenth foal from superstar broodmare CPR, dam of Rhyds Destiny, Rhyds Desire, Rhyds Design and Rhyds Topaz, as well as CPs Village Jigsaw, dam herself of Rhyds Ponder, Rhyds Solution and Rhyds Mystique.
Rhyds Sapphire at the sale
My dad has wanted a Rhyds filly for quite some time, and looking back I wish at times he'd gone further on some of the ones he had bid on (including but not restricted to Rhyds Topaz).  This time he meant business and as the hammer fell, we weren't sure if he was the buyer.  Until Mrs Wright turned around and gave him a hug (knowing how long he has admired her horses).  It was at this point that I abandoned marking my catalogue and taking photos to go and confirm the second purchase.  I actually shook my dad's hand.  He went into the sale knowing what he wanted, and he got exactly that.  Proud daughter moment!

A couple of weeks ago we had discussed over the phone what rugs I had left behind when Star and I moved to Scotland.  My dad's previous filly, Fresh Ayr, was only a little thing and had a 5'6'' turnout rug and a 5'6'' stable rug which were still intact and washed, ready to go.  These will probably fit Sapphire, or 'Saffie', but Frisk was far, far bigger so I had to return to the trade stands to purchase some more rugs (after confirming with her trainer, Alan Haythornthwaite, roughly what size she was).

I missed the tail end of the sale because I'd headed back up to the barns to fit the rugs on Frisk and check out the two new additions to the family.  Frisk tolerated the rug-fittings but subsequently put her bum against the stall door and made faces at everyone who dared look in at her.  I guess it was a long day of people poking and prodding and studying her, off the back of a fairly long and tough season (she went 1.59 on her last start of the season when beaten by Coalford Chief by the smallest of margins at Tir Prince).  Saffie on the other hand had calmed down considerably from her antics the evening before and was quite enjoying the attention she was getting from both my mum and me.  My mum, although not overly-horsey, likes to pet horses and Saffie was more than obliging.  Long may it continue.

Thankfully Gwenan sent me the full sales results on our journey back home, as well as publishing them on the STAGBI Facebook page.  For those interested in seeing them, here they are:

Lot HORSE Amount (£) Purchaser (n/s = not sold; n/f = not forward)
12 ART CONNECTION (USA) 800 Highbrooks Stud
13 DUCKWORK (USA) n/f n/f
15 ARTRIBUTE (USA) n/s n/s
17 AYR TYCOON n/s n/s
18 IMADREAMER n/s n/s
19 LANESIDE LACEY 400 J Manning
20 LANESIDE LOTUS 1600 S Lloyd
21 HASTY CHARM 1000 D Blease
22 HOLMES WILDFIRE 320 S Harbour
23 RHYDS JIFFY 1500 D McKenzie
24 RHYDS DILEMMA n/f n/f
26 BRYWINS ONE OFF 220 M Goggin
28 R U SERIOUS n/f n/s
31 AYR FELLA 700 R Lloyd & L Samuels
32 GOLD NESS 950 N Pryce
33 FRISCO FRISK 14000 R Thomas
35 CHINATOWN SAMUEL 2000 J A Moorhouse
36 AYR JUBILEE 950 G Dowse
46 BLACKFIELD LANDA 1200 L Cassells
47 CAENWOOD UNIQUE 2000 J Connors
48 RHYDS ROCK N ROLL 7700 R Cooper
50 OAKWOOD PLAYBOY 30000 Wye Stud
52 AYR MAJORETTE 12500 J Foody
53 GO COMPAYR 1400 M Wadhams
54 MATTICULOUS 32000 BKB Syndicate
55 CRACK A SMILE 21000 C Fletcher
56 RHYDS SHOOFLY 19000 Meadowbranch Stud
57 RHYDS RUMMY 14000 V Elvin
58 RHYDS SAPPHIRE 14000 R Thomas
59 BRYWINS MOCHA 1000 A Bryson
62 CHINATOWN KIKI 3700 V Elvin
63 CHINATOWN FURY 1000 G Evans
65 OAKWOOD IDEAL n/s n/s
66 OAKWOOD SPUR 3600 G Allan
67 OAKWOOD DELIGHT 4300 M Wadhams
69 RHYDS PRO AFFAIR 9500 N Stafford
71 NO LIMITS II 6500 N Stafford
72 MANHATTAN SWEETART 1250 S Collinson
73 BRYWINS BEACHVAMP 1600 K Ellis & P Bradder
77 MAHOGANY ELSA 650 Wellfield Stud
81 CAENWOOD EVE n/s n/s
82 BRYWINS DUCKDOWN 800 D Hitchcock

And now for the statistics nerds, here goes:

There were 59 horses entered for the sale; of these 51 were forward on the day of the sale.  Of these 51, 44 were sold through the ring (86% sale rate).

The total sale value was £254,490, a record amount.  The average sale value was £5,783.86 (£254,490/44).

The total yearling sale value was £226,250 for 33 lots sold.  The average sale value was £7,541.67 (£226,250/33).  This is a marked increase on the 2015 sale, which is in line with the increased yearling average at York sale three weeks ago.  This follows on from an increase from 2014 to 2015, which I believe once again is due to the raised profile of the juvenile and stakes races in the UK and Ireland, with the VDM prize money increasing in 2017 to €15,000.  The status of the BHRC Sire Stakes, British & Irish Breeders Crown, Irish Sire Stakes and North Wales stakes races at Tir Prince, along with the individual track stakes races and Dragon Series at Tregaron all plays a part as well.

Times are changing.  Smarty and I noted after York sale that the 'working man', the type of owner/trainer/driver who in the past could buy a chancy yearling at the lower end of the price range but still decently bred, is now pushed out of the market as the lower end increases in line with the middle and top end.  The sale at York was only an indicator of what was to come at Builth.  The alternative, if the market has become unaffordable, is to breed.  However, this isn't always an option either.  Well bred mares can be, and are, still expensive.  Stud fees, keep, scanning costs etc. are all additional costs.  Then there's the initial wait.  Once a mare is breeding regularly year on year though you can create a conveyor belt of horses to train for the future.  Some people don't like breeding and rearing horses; some don't have suitable facilities for this.  Another alternative to this is the formation of syndicates; pooling money to purchase better quality stock.  This works for some, but not others.  Particularly if one or more of the syndicate wishes to train the horse themselves.  Very muddy waters and not for everyone.

Prize money for stakes races is increasing; this is bringing new buyers into the sport and driving the cost of well bred horses up.  The kind of money changing hands in the last couple of years is enough to make many people's eyes water.  Smarty and I both know we cannot compete financially in this type of market - we have other commitments at this stage in our lives and we couldn't justify it.  Fortunately, we identified this upturn in the market before it took off too much, and invested in quality American and British broodmares in order to try to produce our own champions.  We both come from backgrounds of breeding horses before we met, and personally I favour the time from foaling to breaking over actually racing (although only just, as I love racing my own horses).  Having our first homebred filly racing at the highest level this year in the 2YO fillies races was a real thrill, and although her dam was our most expensive purchase (coming directly from Harrisburg), she is nonetheless an investment who could produce us a few more winners in the future.

We both left the sale to make the 6 hour journey back to Scotland feeling strangely upbeat.  It was encouraging to see a healthy market.  It was nice to see breeders receiving good prices for well bred, exceptionally turned out stock.  It was also nice to see people we know and call friends buying quality horses with hopes to race them next year.  There is a real buzz around now.  Things are on the up.

Over and out,

#1 Groom (with her hands firmly stuck in her pockets on sale day)

P.S. hello to all my American readers.  Thanks to Heather [Vitale] and Allan [Schott] both plugging my blog on their respective sites, my US views have rocketed and now massively outstrip my British views (obviously the ratio of people in both countries is very different).  Notwithstanding that, I'm glad you guys are giving this blog a go and (hopefully) enjoying it.  It's a long winter ahead over here in the UK before racing commences again in April 2017, so I'll be trying my best to keep things interesting.  If there's anything you would like to read, or find out, about racing over here (and/or the people involved in the sport) then feel free to comment and let me know!  I'm always open to new ideas!!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

2016 Season: Week 24 - Standardbreds take on showing!

The penultimate weekend of the 2016 racing season saw me skip Tir Prince in favour of another discipline, which is not often associated with Standardbreds but to which, with time and patience, they are able to excel at.  Showing.

Having bade farewell to Smarty on the Friday as he set off for Haydock Racecourse first, and then Tir Prince the following day, with his (un)trusty sidekick BMG, I set about preparing everything for the Anniversary Show at Howe, Fife, on Saturday.

STAGBI had been contacted by one of the organisers to ask if we would sponsor the in hand and ridden classes, and then later the Championship.  STAGBI provided the rosettes (made by Karen Kennedy of Corbiewood and Evenwood Ruthless fame) and then I personally sponsored the trophy on behalf of our very own Crosshill Stables.  After all, who knows?  Maybe one day a Crosshill horse may make it at the showing game.

When I made reference to the classes on Facebook during the week leading up to the show, one individual took great umbrage with the idea that STAGBI was sponsoring showing classes.  After all, Standardbreds are for racing.  And the person felt that STAGBI should give more back in sponsorship for racing.  Year on year the money that STAGBI has put back into racing has increased.  In 2016, we introduced the Breeders Bonus Scheme, whereby the breeders of British-bred horses which won any of the pre-selected races would receive a monetary prize.  This is in addition to the Breeders Premium, whereby the breeders of the three most successful horses in each country (by number of wins) receive a monetary prize (£600/£400/£200).  A prize is also awarded to the breeder of the most successful horse sold through the Brightwells sale (one payment of £500+).  Finally, in 2016 more Future Broodmares races were run than ever, with two in Wales (both at Amman Valley), one in England (York) and three in Scotland (all at Corbiewood).  We continue to look at ways to promote racing, but it must be remembered that we are a breed society, not a racing organisation.  If we give to one discipline, we must give to all in which Standardbreds compete.  As racing is the primary purpose for which they are bred, racing is what receives the highest amount of sponsorship.

Anyway, I digress a little.  On Saturday I made the 1 hour 15 minute journey north to Howe.  It was a wet and miserable morning and I was grateful that the show was being staged inside an enormous indoor arena, with a viewing area on the ground level.  There was also a large holding area where the horses gathered before entering the ring, and a full size arena attached to the main area in which competitors could warm up.  As a sponsor, I was invited to watch the day's showing from the upstairs viewing area, complete with its own bar, sofas, and a balcony which overlooked the main arena.  My only complaint over the full course of the day was how cold it was inside the building, but that is partly my fault for not realising how long a day it would be and not wearing more layers (the transition period between summer and winter is always the same for me every year.  I'm cold for a while until I establish how many layers are required to cope with the cold weather).

When I arrived I bumped straight into the O'Neils (Kelly, Alice & Michael), who were prepping Ayr Escape for his first time in the show ring.  You should remember Ayr Escape from some of my previous posts this season; back in June he won for the first time in 63 starts (five seasons) under the care of Michael O'Neil, who at the time was only 15.  His father Hugh had explained to me that Escape was worth his weight in gold as he allowed Michael to learn the ropes when it came to training, and it paid off.  Three weeks ago (nearly 4 now), Escape raced for the final time, after 108 lifetime starts.  In the last three weeks, whilst Michael and his parents were enjoying the sales in Lexington and visiting New York, Michael's cousins Alice and Kelly have been prepping Escape for his new career in the show ring.  They themselves are very experienced at showing, having done in hand and ridden showing for most of their lives.

After handing in the rosettes and trophy to the main desk, I was shown to the sponsors area.  There I met a couple who had travelled up from Shrewsbury on behalf of their organisation, '+15', which promotes disciplines which allow horses aged 15+ to compete.  The show at Howe was the first Scottish qualifying event - the horse(s) that amassed the most points (dependent on where they placed in their classes) would qualify for a national event, all for horses aged 15 and over.  We chatted for quite a while about harness racing, and how the maximum age is set at 14 years.  The lady asked me several times if I couldn't petition the governing body to extend this to 15 so that they could work in conjunction with the sport.  I'm not sure how I feel about this, and to save you all from going off on another tangent, I'll save that topic of discussion for another post.

To give Escape a practice run (warm up) at the showing lark, he was entered into the Novice In Hand class, which was open to all breeds, but restricted to horses or handlers who had little or no previous showing experience.  There were over 10 horses in the class, of all shapes, sizes and breeds.  Escape showed himself off well, and Alice took the time to explain his breed to the judge during her individual section.  He moved like a total pro, not fazed by the arena, the other horses or the supporters leaning over the side.  When the judge pulled him into the final line up in third place we were all delighted.  As the only Standardbred in the class, I thought this was an encouraging sign that he could place so well amongst so many other breeds and types.

Ayr Escape (Artiscape-Unforgotten-No Nukes) & Alice O'Neil
'Stride for stride'
After what we all deemed to be a successful start to the day, Escape returned to the ring two classes later to compete in the Standardbred In Hand class.  It was at this point that the judge completely fell in love with him.  When I entered the ring to present the rosettes, she told me that Escape was "beautiful, but he knows it!".  I was amazed that within less than half an hour of being in his company, she had managed to describe him perfectly.  He literally turns his head when he hears a camera going off; on the track with my camera set to continuous, he lands on the perfect stride in every frame.  Every time.  He's a beautiful horse by anyone's standards, but he really does know it.  The judge loved him so much that she awarded him first place, which we were all absolutely over the moon about.  This also meant that he went forward to the Championship where he would compete against the winner and runner up from the Standardbred Ridden class later in the day.  So it was now time for us to take a break and watch Alice and her Thoroughbred mare, Lottie, compete.
Owner Michael O'Neil clearly delighted with Escape's first place in the In Hand class

The ridden class in the afternoon was won by a beautiful part-Standardbred who is new to showing but already proving to be rather good at it, with the other qualifer for the Championship coming in the form of a 22-year-old Control Factor mare called Storm Control.  Her owner told me she had competed at showjumping in her former years to a relatively high level, as well as dressage and now showing.  She looked fantastic for her age.
Storm Control performing in the Standardbred Ridden class
We had to wait rather a long time for the Championship in the evening, by which time we were all pretty much ready to go home.  As the three horses entered the ring for the Championship, I thought perhaps the judge would award Champion and Ridden Champion to the two ridden horses as it was easier for them to 'show off' than it would be for Escape in hand.  When it looked as though she had made her decision, I entered the ring with the rosettes and trophy.  She told me that she was going to award the two places to the full breds, and the Championship had to go to Escape because she "love, love, LOVED him".  It was all I could do not to turn to Michael and his family on the side of the arena and give them the thumbs up!  When she called Alice and Escape forward as the Champion I must admit I did have a tear in my eye!  And so did Alice.  It was thoroughly deserved and so wonderful to see a horse who was racing less than a month ago being awarded the highest prize at a new discipline.  The owner of Storm was also delighted to be named Reserve Champion, as she thought perhaps the two places would go to the two class winners.  Happy faces all round!

The Scottish Standardbred Showing Champion, Ayr Escape & Reserve Champion, Storm Control
Although the classes weren't as well supported as I had hoped they would be, I am not deterred and I will be trying to get Standardbred classes added to a number of shows in Scotland in the coming months.  After that, I may try to work with owners across Wales and England to see if this is something we can roll out across the UK.  Standardbreds, like Thoroughbreds, need somewhere to go once they finish racing, or indeed if they weren't able to make the races in the first place.  Some mares have the potential to go on to be broodmares and create the next generation of racehorses, but very few colts go on to be stallions and indeed, most are gelded.  What happens to the geldings when they retire from racing at 6, 7, 8 etc.?  Some can stand in fields growing old while their owners watch over them.  But not everybody is able to keep older horses (I laughed to myself at the concept that a 7 year old horse could be classed as 'old').  These horses have as much as 20 years left of living to do.  And I know from personal experience how great they are at other disciplines.  So do a few other people, and slowly the opinion of the breed is changing.

Events like the Standardbred classes at Howe allow the general public who have never met the breed before to learn about them.  The judge was bowled over by their manners; before the Championship the organiser made a small presentation providing information about Standardbreds and harness racing.  This is called free advertising, to all those people who moan the face off me saying things like this are a waste of time.  People left the centre on Saturday knowing about Standardbreds (I talked to several strangers, as I do, and told them exactly why I was there) and witnessing how wonderful a breed they are in temperament and looks.  The owner of Storm even told me that she would be very interested in looking for another Standardbred once she retires Storm, based purely on how great a mare she has been for her.

I am on a personal mission to educate people about these horses and everything they are capable of (which is everything).  Events like this give me a platform by which to show off Standardbreds, who really just show themselves off so well.  I'm fortunate to know a large number of people who share this personal mission.  We want to give all Standardbreds, not just those we own, a chance at going on to do something else when they finish racing.  Events like this also show racing owners that their horses have options when they finish racing.

Those people who own Standardbreds as pleasure horses speak openly about how great their horses are and how wonderful the breed is, and I thank them for that.  What I would ask though is that some of these people educate themselves on the sport for which their horses were bred.  I read far too many times about people who 'rescued' their current horse from racing.  I read far too many times about people who assume that because their horse likes to go fast when they first start riding them, that they were raced on the roads illegally.  These misconceptions (in the majority of cases) harm the sport from which these horses came.  So the other part of my personal mission is to educate Standardbred owners as well.  I am one woman on several missions.  Ask Smarty.  It's a daily mission to get him to do the dishes...

On Sunday I returned to Corbiewood after two weeks away from the track.  I don't really know what to say here.  I am conscious that this blog is a platform from which I can take British harness racing to the wider world in all its glory and greatness.  But I'm also not a liar.  I am at least able to find the good amongst the bad, so on that subject it was fantastic to see Killarney Howard and driver Hugh O'Neil Jnr Jnr enjoying their third successive win in as many weeks at the track, all but guaranteeing them the coveted 'Horse of the Month' award at the forthcoming dinner dance in November.  It was also wonderful to see old warhorse Ladyford Lad, aged 13, notching up another victory this season, this time with the contortionist blacksmith Jackie Campbell taking the reins.  Sunnyside Clinton from my friend George Carson's stable also ran credibly to finish second in his race, showing improvement with each run.

I'll not dwell long on the uglier side of the day's racing, but long enough that you are at least all aware of Corbiewood's shortcomings as a track sustained by the same pool of people on a weekly basis.

Ever heard of the proverb, "Familiarity breeds contempt"?

By definition, it means that extensive knowledge of or close association with someone or something leads to a loss of respect for them or it.

Some of what I witnessed on the Sunday was due to a lack of respect for other drivers and for horses.  Drivers cutting each other up and taking the legs off horses (resulting in horses falling and cutting themselves badly), drivers shouting abuse at each other, licence holders (owners, trainers and drivers) physically fighting one another off the track and spectators shouting such vulgar phrases during races as "F*CK HIM UP!", which one can only deduce was a direction to a driver to pull in on top of another (bearing in mind this was after a horse had been brought down earlier on, and whose injuries I had witnessed first hand whilst it was being treated by the vet).  After having missed the previous two meetings out of choice and not circumstance, I was watching the racing and the people with fresh eyes and I'll be brutally honest:  I didn't like what I saw.  A very hostile environment both on and off the track.  People will do anything just to win £300.

The above small section in a much larger post will attract plenty of negative criticism towards me both over the next few days, and potentially longer (some people will hold a grudge and challenge me the first time they see me in person, which could be some weeks from now).  Regardless of the overall upbeat nature of the post, I have cast criticism out into the wider world and therefore I am now a terrible person.  Go figure.

Over and out,

#1 Groom (unpopular in some quarters...)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

What defines a horse's nationality?

Saunders Beachgirl (Beach Towel-Jenny Lobell-Oil Burner)
Vain In Spain (Artsplace-Open Plains-Western Hanover)
Crosshill Ace (Cams Card Shark-Vain In Spain-Artsplace)

Q: What do these three horses have in common?

A: I own them.  And, more importantly for the purposes of this discussion, they are all American-bred.  Their sires have never stood in the UK.  They were all conceived in the USA.

However, two of them were born in the UK.

Beachgirl and Ace were both imported in utero, some 20 years apart.  Their places of birth are Wales and Scotland respectively.  Does this make them British?

For the purposes of stakes racing, no.  Crosshill Ace was not entitled to run in the Sire Stakes this year, and but for the creation of the Breeders Crown All American Fillies, she wouldn't have been entitled to run in the Breeders Crown either.

Neither of them are registered with the United States Trotting Assocation ('USTA').  Neither of them have freezebrands.  And yet, we refer to them as 'Yanks'.  If we were to export Crosshill Ace back to America, she would be deemed to be a British import.

So is a horse's nationality defined by it's country of birth?

Saunders Beachgirl nor Crosshill Ace can be described as British due to their breeding.  Yet they would not be described as American (certainly in America at least) due to their country of birth.  Which one prevails?

As we're in the UK, we'll say that pedigree wins and in this example, Beachgirl and Ace are as American as Vain In Spain, who has the USTA registration and the freezebrand to go with the American breeding.

Saunders Beachgirl - American, British or Britmerican?
Vain In Spain - definitely American!  Not Spanish...
Crosshill Ace - American, British or Britmerican? (Bill Cardno photo)
Tarawood Messi (Arts Conquest-One Meg Mile-Cole Muffler)
Porterstown Road (No Pan Intended-Sara Loren Rd-On The Road Again)

Taking pedigree out of the equation, here we have what appears to be two Irish horses.

What makes them Irish?

Tarawood Messi was bred in Ireland and is owned by an Irish man.  Porterstown Road is trained in Ireland, therefore he resides in Ireland for at least 6 months of the year (if not more).  But is this enough to make them Irish?

The reason I ask is that before long nominations will be invited for the British Harness Racing Club ('BHRC') annual awards.  One of the categories is 'Overseas Horse of the Year'.  Last year's winner was Meadowbranch DJ, winner of the Inter-Dominion Qualifying Series, bred and owned by Meadowbranch Stables and trained by William Flanagan.  The only obvious criteria for the award being that the 'overseas' horse, in this case an Irish horse, must have raced in the UK at some point during the season.

Whilst discussing potential winners of the various 2016 awards with Smarty we arrived at the 'Overseas Horse of the Year' award.  My initial suggestion for the winner seemed obvious: Porterstown Road.  Winner of the Crock of Gold 2016, he would appear to be the most accomplished 'Irish' horse to have raced in the UK this year.

Then it got complicated.  Trained in Ireland by Geoff Dunne, the horse is in fact owned by the Executor of RGB Webster (formerly Robert G B Webster).  Formerly Mr Webster, and now his Executor, reside in Wales.  Therefore he is British-owned.  This raised the question of whether or not he is deemed to be an 'overseas' horse.  Is the fact that he is trained in Ireland sufficient for him to be classed as an Irish horse?

Looking back at the Beachgirl/Ace theory of pedigree, Porterstown Road was bred in America by Hanover Shoe Farms.  His registered name with STAGBI carries the suffix 'USA', which denotes that he was in fact born in the USA, like Vain In Spain.  He is, to all intents and purposes, American by nationality.  For the purposes of the BHRC awards, being American bears no relevance.  Horses are eligible in each category regardless of whether they are American or British, or to a lesser extent, Canadian, Australian or from New Zealand.  So pedigree makes no difference in this instance.  Being American does not aid his claim to be classed as an 'overseas' horse.  When Porterstown Road lined up in the Crock of Gold Final, he was deemed to be 'an Irish raider'.  Is this simply because he is trained in Ireland and therefore had to travel across the Irish Sea to race that night?

It could all be as simple as that.  Despite the fact that he is Welsh-owned, the fact that the horse resides in Ireland for the duration of the season may be sufficient for him to be classed as 'Irish'.  Even though he's American.

Porterstown Road - driven by an American in Ireland... (Graham Rees photo)
Porterstown Road - driven by an Irishman in Wales... (Graham Rees photo)

But then I remembered Tarawood Messi.  Up until the end of June this year not only was he Irish-owned, but he was also Irish-trained.  Formerly by William Flanagan and more recently by Geoff Dunne at the beginning of this season, he was as Irish a horse as you could get.  Bred by Tarawood Stud, he is still owned by Charley and Noreen Bennett who, despite appearing to spend most of their time in the UK, do actually live in Ireland.  However, from July onwards of this year the horse has been trained by Joanne Cairns and living in England.  He races most regularly in the UK and not in Ireland.

Again looking back to the Beachgirl/Ace example, Messi was born in Ireland.  His sire was standing in the UK at the time, making him a British stallion despite being imported from America (I know, it gets really confusing).  His dam is also an American import, living in Ireland.  Place of birth makes him Irish.  Having Irish owners makes him Irish.  Being trained by an Englishwoman in England...well that's where the waters are muddied.  When finishing fourth in the Crock of Gold Final, Messi did not have to cross the Irish Sea to compete.  In fact, in all of his placed runs in top company this year, he has not had to cross the Irish Sea.  Therefore, can he be classed as an 'overseas' horse?
Tarawood Messi - driven by an Irishman in Ireland.  Simple! (Nadina Ironia photo)

Tarawood Messi - driven by an Irishman in England.  Not so simple...

I do not know the answer to this one.  I will be contacting the BHRC to ask them to clarify the criteria for the award, NOT so that any horse can be excluded, but so that guidance can be given to the clubs and committees of whose members will be voting on the award winners.  I can just picture the Scottish Harness Racing Club (SHRC) meeting now when the nominees are announced: "but that horse isn't overseas because it's trained here".  I like to have an answer for those who pipe up.

Turning to horses within the UK, more specifically those in England, Scotland and Wales.  What makes them English, Scottish and Welsh?

Place of birth?
Owner's country of residence?
Trainer's country of residence?

Let's look at some examples.

First up, the ill-fated Meadowbranch Josh.  The reason I want to start with him is because in 2015, when he entered the Inter-Dominion Qualifying Series to compete for a spot in the Inter-Dominion Series in Australia, he was described by the BHRC's Australian Media Consultant as an 'Irish raider'.  I took umbrage with this, as I have a tendency to do with things that really shouldn't be of such significance to anyone, because the horse had been owned by a Welshman since he was a yearling.  Yes, he was born and bred in Ireland; by a stallion standing in Ireland out of a mare who has lived in Ireland for most of her years.  But his home was in Wales and at the time of the event he was trained in Wales.

In my epitaph for Josh on this blog, I referred to him as 'Wales' FFA horse' (or words to that effect). Even during the 2016 season when he was being trained by Rocker Laidler in England, he remained a Welsh horse in my eyes.  I am not alone in this view.  I would argue that in this instance, his Welsh owner made him a Welsh horse.

Meadowbranch Josh - winning in Wales, driven by an Englishman (but trained in Wales)
Meadowbranch Josh - winning in England, driven by an Englishman (and trained in England).  But still Welsh? (Jayne Ward photo)
Continuing with that theme then, let's look at Stoneriggs Mystery.  This may be a slightly contentious one but I believe I am slightly more impartial than many Scots would be in this scenario.  Mystery is English-bred.  However, following 3 runs in his 3YO season owned by his breeder, from the age of 4 to the present day he has been owned by a Scotsman.  In 72 starts in the UK, he has only been trained by two different individuals: Alexis Laidler and Sheelagh Lord; both English trainers.  I know that he spends his winters in Scotland with his owner.  When he races at Corbiewood he is welcomed home like a hero.  But does that make him Scottish?  To me, he doesn't 'feel' Scottish.  Not in the same way Josh 'felt' Welsh.  Being Scottish-owned doesn't seem like enough to make him a Scottish horse.  If anything, he seems to me to be English.  And I can only deduce from that that it's his trainers that cause me to come to that conclusion.

Stoneriggs Mystery - Scottish or not Scottish? (Graham Rees photo)
Stoneriggs Mystery - racing around Corbiewood; Scottish or not Scottish? (Bill Cardno photo)

The most interesting one of all though must be Brywinsmagicpotion.  Conceived in the USA, born in Wales, owned by a Scotsman and trained all his life in England.  What nationality is 'BMP'?!  Based on the Beachgirl/Ace theory, in the wider sense he is British, not American (despite not being entitled to run in British stakes races as a juvenile).  Based on his pedigree, he IS American.  To Americans, he's British.  Still with me?!

So we'll say he's British (although I think I'm going to coin the term 'Britmerican' for American-bred horses imported in utero and born on British soil).  Born in Wales, that would make him a Welsh horse.  After all, he carries a well-known Welsh prefix in 'Brywins'.  Purchased by Scotsman James Gammie, he has remained in the same ownership from the beginning of his racing career in 2010 to the present day.  Yet, despite having a Scottish owner, he has never raced at Corbiewood, the sole hard track in Scotland.  He's raced at Bell's Field and Musselburgh, but they are once-a-year fixtures.  His connection to his English trainers causes many racegoers who are not familiar with his owner to believe that he is English-owned as well as trained.  Indeed, many Scottish racegoers themselves would class him as an English horse.  Yet, these same people would think of Stoneriggs Mystery as a Scottish horse.  Is that because he races at Corbiewood on occasion?  Who knows...
Brywinsmagicpotion - winning in Scotland, but is he Scottish? (Bill Cardno photo)
Brywinsmagicpotion - pictured winning in Ireland with his English driver, English groom, Scottish owners, a Scotsman living in Wales and an Australian.  I need to lie down in a dark room... (Nadina Ironia photo)
It's not easy to define a horse's nationality.  To the wider world, all the horses in the UK are British, and all the horses in Ireland are Irish.  To the people here, a horse's nationality is subjective.  I know of Scottish owners who have English trainers training horses bred in England, who deem their horses to be Scottish.  Smarty said to be Scottish you must race regularly on your 'home track' at Corbiewood.  Star [She's Some Deal] raced nowhere else other than Corbiewood last year, but I'll still think of her as Welsh, because I'm Welsh.  And even though we now live in Scotland together, we'll always be Welsh.  Although, her mother was Irish-bred and her father was imported from the USA so is she really Welsh?!
Shes Some Deal - by an American stallion (standing in the UK, so now a British stallion) out of an Irish mare, born in Wales, living and racing in Scotland with her Welsh owner who also lives in Scotland, driven by a Scotsman (Bill Cardno photo)

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Sunday, 9 October 2016

2016 Season: Week 23 - York Sale

Finally the weekend of Camden Stud/York Sale arrived.

I was asked back at the beginning of August if I would organise the sale on behalf of Camden Stud and York Harness Raceway owner Mick Welling.  I have an inability to say 'no', so I said 'yes'.  The job may have not been as hard for my predecessors as it seemed to be for me, trying to juggle my full time job and personal commitments with taking sale entries, writing sale details, designing the catalogues and then selling them.  But I did it nonetheless, to the best of my ability.

On Friday I took the day off from my 9-5 to drive down to York to get myself set up for Saturday's sale.  After four hours' driving with two pit stops I was checked in to my hotel, a couple of miles from the track, and I headed straight over to see what was going on.

I arrived to find Mick, Elsa McKechnie and her partner Peter Holgate washing the yearlings in the purpose-built wash bay at the end of the main stable block.  Dawn Forrest was the first to arrive after me and was immediately passed a scraper to help dry the horses.  Not long after, David Bevan, wife Nicky and children Lewis and Sophie arrived to chip in.  Mick's right hand man Frank was mucking out each stable as the yearlings were brought out to be washed.  I set about scanning microchips to verify each horse and collecting passports; when Mick's partner Lindsey arrived we made tea for the troops before Elsa, Peter and Dawn began plaiting up the horses.  I left before it began to get too dark so that I could meet friends who had travelled up from the south, and so that I could get everything that was still needing to be done finished so I could have an early night (I didn't end up having an early night after all thanks to John Gill, Rab Wilson, John O'Neil and Ryan O'Neil and the bar staff in The Bay Horse...).

Sale Day was an early start so that I could be at the track to crack on with assigning hip numbers to the lots and scanning microchips of the arriving horses.  It didn't seem too stressful a morning but once the people began to arrive it soon became a bit mad and I had to start delegating jobs in the stable block so that I could get the sales office open.  A delay on the incoming flight from Dublin to Leeds Bradford Airport forced us to postpone the start of the horse sale, so we kicked things off with the tack sale which included a variety of jog carts, race bikes, wheels, harness, rugs, boots and hopples.

With buyers wanting to settle up immediately after the tack lots were sold, I was unable to actually watch any of the sale although I could hear the auctioneer from the sales office.  Then, later on during the day I was unable to watch the racing because I was taking money for the horse sales.  Paying vendors and processing STAGBI paperwork meant that it was 7pm before I was able to pack up and prepare to leave the track to come back to Scotland.  However, every vendor had been paid, every horse collected, every buyer provided with their correct paperwork.  Everything was done.

Without further ado, here are the OFFICIAL sales results from the sale:

LOT 1 - SHOWTIME ARTIST (f, 2015) - Meursault Hanover x Showtime Woman  NOT SOLD

LOT 2 - SHOWTIME ROSA (f, 2015) - Meursault Hanover x Majestic Rosa  NOT SOLD

LOT 3 - DARCY CAMDEN (f, 2015) - Yankee Lariat x Seven Seas  £2800
Buyer: Lee Rix
LOT 4 - NANCY CAMDEN (f, 2015) - Mypanmar x Second Symphony  £5500
Buyer: Billy Timmins
LOT 5 - RONNIE CAMDEN (c, 2015) - Bettors Delight x Musical Tone  £20,000
Buyer: Chris Wadhams
LOT 6 - BUSKING DOLLAR (f, 2015) - Busking Lad x Shes The Dollar  £500
Buyer: Alan Davies
LOT 7 - BUSKING SUE (f, 2015) - Busking Lad x Peterstone Ma Sue  NOT SOLD

LOT 8 - GREENTREE ILLUSION (f, 2015) - Hasty Hall x Coalford Magic  £2600
Buyer: Chris Thornton
LOT 9 - GREENTREE SEELSTER (g, 2015) - Pierce Seelster x Greentree Fantasy  £1500
Buyer: Joseph Mound
LOT 10 - BOBBY CAMDEN (c, 2015) - Art Professor x Rhyds Kayla  £21,000
Buyer: Claire Hall
LOT 11 - GEORGIE CAMDEN (c, 2015) - Mypanmar x Yankee Jiffey  £9300
Buyer: Peter Davison
LOT 12 - ISABELLA CAMDEN (f, 2015) - Art Professor x Belovedangel  £11,500
Buyer: Edward McCarthy
LOT 13 - AYR PAPARAZZI (c, 2015) - Soulofthematter x Poudine Du Pan  £2350
Buyer: J R Howard
LOT 14 - AYR PIONEER (c, 2015) - Soulofthematter x Ayr Wing  £1600
Buyer: Joseph Mound
LOT 15 - BRYWINS BEACHART (c, 2015) - Star On The Beach x Art Connection  £1550
Buyer: Shane Howard
LOT 16 - BRYWINS BEACHLIFE (c, 2015) - Share The Delight x Lifes Magic Girl  £2550
Buyer: Gareth Dowse
LOT 17 - IVY CAMDEN (f, 2015) - Mypanmar x Rose Croix  £7000
Buyer: Robert Rowan
LOT 18 - ROBYN CAMDEN (f, 2015) - Art Professor x Keystone Havoc  £15,200
Buyer: The All Out Syndicate
LOT 19 - TEDDY CAMDEN (c, 2015) - Stonebridge Galaxy x So Hip It Hurts  £6700
Buyer: Billy Timmins
LOT 20 - STIRLINGDANCERHALL (m, 2012) - American Ideal x Belle Reve  NOT FORWARD

LOT 21 - AGATHE ROYAL (m, 2010) - Johnny Be Good x Indiana Dulef  NOT FORWARD

LOT 22 - SANS LIMITES (m, 2006) - General Du Pommeau x Amonga DHilly  £800
Buyer: George Button
LOT 23 - VERY CORNUAILLAISE (m, 2009) - Hibiscus Du Rib x Odile D'Anjou  £1750 
Buyer: Gordon Garnett
LOT 24 - THREE PACK (g, 2007) - Corot x Madone Du Pam  NOT FORWARD

LOT 25 - GABRIELLA CAMDEN (f, 2013) - Pro Bono Best x Seven Seas  NOT SOLD

LOT 26 - CAENWOOD CLASSIC (f, 2013) - Hasty Hall x Artribute  £1000
Buyer: Chris Wadhams
LOT 27 - EPONA STAR (m, 2010) - Hasty Hall x Pirnielodge Epona  £1200
Buyer: Chris Wadhams

In total there were 27 horses entered; 24 were presented for sale through the ring.  Of these 24, 4 were not sold.  The total sale value was £116,400.  The average price across all horses forward was £4850.  The total sale value of the yearlings was £111,650.  The average yearling price was £5,876.36.  The Camden Stud yearlings made a total of £99,000.  The average price per Camden Stud yearling was £11,000.

I would personally like to thank the following people for their help in the lead up to the sale and also on the day of the sale itself:

Anthony Fettah
Sue Young
David Bevan
Gareth Bevan
Jason Podmore
Kirsty Lee
Gwenan Thomas
Frank & Dave
Lindsey Morley
Mick Welling
Gary Dowse
Elsa McKechnie
Peter Holgate
Dawn Forrest
Craig Stevenson
John Smart
Bernard McGovern
Geoff (the auctioneer)


DARCY CAMDEN (f, Yankee Lariat-Seven Seas-Northern Luck)
ROBYN CAMDEN (f, Art Professor-Keystone Havoc-Shady Character)
IVY CAMDEN (f, Mypanmar-Rose Croix-Jate Lobell)
NANCY CAMDEN (f, Mypanmar-Second Symphony-Abercrombie)
ISABELLA CAMDEN (f, Art Professor-Belovedangel-Artsplace)
TEDDY CAMDEN (c, Stonebridge Galaxy-So Hip It Hurts-Camluck)
GEORGIE CAMDEN (c, Mypanmar-Yankee Jiffey-Artsplace)
RONNIE CAMDEN (c, Bettors Delight-Musical Tone-Matts Scooter)
BOBBY CAMDEN (c, Art Professor-Rhyds Kayla-Hasty Hall)

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Monday, 3 October 2016

2016 Season: Week 21 - A weekend of firsts and lasts

On Saturday 24th September, Smarty and I ventured south to Tir Prince in north Wales, for the BHRC Sire Stakes meeting.

In a weekend of firsts, it was the first time that I witnessed a walkover. As Itsmycheck was the sole remaining entrant in the 4YO colts & geldings event once all stakes fees were paid, he was the winner by walkover.  Rumour has it that prior to the fixture the horse had spent 2 weeks in the field and once word was out that there were no other entries, was pulled back in to make the appearance.  This consisted of 4 jogged laps of the track before returning to the winner's circle to be awarded the trophy.  Not wishing to detract from the winning connections, but where were the other horses?  Why were the fields so depleted for such a seemingly prestigious event?  One suggestion is that the fixture is too late in the season, when you consider that the 4 year olds are out for the first meeting of the year at the beginning of May to race in the Senior Welsh Dragon; not only is it a long season for the horses but by the end of September, if there has been a stand out horse in any category then many choose to shy away from racing it as the season progresses.

Writer's note:  The above is an observation garnished with opinion.  It is in no way intended to be a slur against any individual, promoter or organisation connected with any horse or venue mentioned above.  My constructive criticism has previously been forwarded to the relevant bodies with a view to improving situations such as these for the future.

The 2YO Fillies, 3YO Colts and 3YO Fillies all went the way of the horses which I believe will be award winners in their respective categories at the STAGBI & BHRC Awards Dinner (Rhyds Mystique, Miraculous & Jessies Conquest).  The 2YO Colts remained as open a category as ever, as Rhyds Decoy (Ceredigion 2YO & Tir Prince VDM Prep winner) overturned favourite Johnny Camden (Breeders Crown & BHRC Futurity Champion).  No Brakes was perhaps luckless in third after faltering late with a questionable run up the inside of the winner, but looks to show potential for the future.

The 4YO Fillies division featured the largest number of entrants, with 6 facing the starter.  Frisco Frisk, for sale in the annual Brightwells Sale on Monday 24th October, led out and made all but despite putting in a solid performance could only manage third as Irish contenders Kickass Katie and Meadowbranch Milli passed her on the run in.  Kickass Katie was an impressive winner on the night, and an eye-catcher at Tregaron when finishing third in the final behind Elysium Thunder and Meadowbranch Milli.

In the non-Stakes races, Thornton Bronte ran out a noteworthy winner in his career debut in the Maiden & Novice event, as owner Martin Platt possibly hopes the horse can go on to become his replacement for my favourite horse, Colonel Mustard who was retired this year.  Blytheview Peach notched up her first victory in the Open grades and recorded back-to-back wins after a win at Almeley the weekend before on the grass.  Lyons Eryl Hall was an impressive winner in the higher grade race after some solid performances of late.

In the first of the two Le Trot races, I was slightly distracted by Sultan Dautmoniere who unfortunately (and rather bizarrely, knowing his early season training) galloped for the full mile.  However, a couple of horses did catch my eye, particularly the winner Spot Du Mouchel and the runner up, Ubu Of Fairy (to be honest I just love HIS name!).  I am still a massive fan of the mare Salvado Bello though, I think she's a 'topper' (to quote Smarty).  In the second Le Trot, Sacha Of Carless made it four wins in a row when beating the BHRC Trotter of the Year 2015, Show Business.  However a Steward's Enquiry was called immediately after the race and the winner was subsequently disqualified for going through his mark at the start; he should have been a 20 yard trailer alongside Show Business, but started the race on the gate.  I'm a Show Business fan, and although he has been very lightly raced this year, he has notched up 3 wins from 4 starts.

The pinnacle of the evening's racing was the final leg of the Standardbred Sales Co. Battle of the Big Guns Series.  Lyons Mischief was a worthy winner, having only been out of the first three once in his last 8 runs in top company.  He really is a star for the future and one to watch in the FFA class next year, alongside runner up Ayr Majesty who finally looks to have stepped up to the plate.  Just a quick note on the third-placed horse Tarawood Messi; both he and Wellfield Ghost were embroiled in an alarming speed duel for the first half mile.  Ghost faded badly to last and looked distressed coming home, however Messi stayed on for third which considering he is probably a Junior FFA horse, was quite impressive.
Lyons Mischief (Hasty Hall-Lyons Montana-Davids Pass) & Mick Lord (Graham Rees photo)
Despite not being there on the night to race, last year's 'Big Gun' Champion Stoneriggs Mystery retained his title courtesy of wins in the series at Appleby and Corbiewood, and a fifth in his only other start (Tregaron).  I for one was delighted with his.  Year on year Mystery receives his share of negative criticism, and although his season hasn't been as successful as last year's, he has still won 4 of his 11 starts and £5,690 in prize money.  He's won everything there is for a FFA horse to win.  He's not unbeatable, but find me a horse that is?

Stoneriggs Mystery leading the field (blue & white bluff) in the Appleby Battle of the Big Guns
Having stayed near Chester on Saturday night, we drove up to Corbiewood on the Sunday morning and arrived half an hour before the first race.  That may seem like we were cutting it fine, but not as fine as Rachael Ayres and Annette Wilson who had been sunning it up in Magaluf for the past week and who both arrived after race 2.  Rachael's horse, Artbreaker, had already won the first race (although she was there to see her other horse Diamond O'Neil win later in the day).  Runner-up in the first race, Killarney Howard, also ran well without his owner there to cheer him on as Kareen New and best friend Alice O'Neil arrived shortly after the race.

Continuing the theme of 'firsts', Annette Wilson, having rocked up after the second race not long after landing back in the country, changed into her colours and went out onto the track for her sole drive of the day in the sixth race.  Smarty had said to me during the week, "do you know what I think will win on Sunday?  Dreamfair Dancer with Netty driving it".  Based on that statement alone, I had a small flutter.

Netty drove the race to perfection, and it can be viewed here.  This was Netty's first ever win, and the most popular victory at Corbiewood in a long time going by the number of people cheering her home from the stands!!  Well done Mrs!

Annette Wilson after her first driving win on Dreamfair Dancer
Now this wasn't just a weekend of firsts.  Sadly, this weekend also witnessed one particular horse's last ever race.  Ayr Escape, the 10-year-old son of Artiscape out of Unforgotten (No Nukes), retired following his 108th lifetime start.  In a career spanning 8 seasons, he notched up 7 wins including the Corbiewood 4YO Championship Final where he posted his lifetime mark of 2.02.5.  The victory came after defeat in his heat at the hands of none other than Stoneriggs Mystery, however when Mystery faltered on the final bend turning for home in the final, Escape took his chance and paced to victory.

Escape has already featured in my writing once this summer, when he won earlier in the season after five years and 60+ starts without a win.  The dedication of the team around him, headed by caretaker Michael O'Neil, paid off and it was a popular victory at Escape's home track.

On Sunday I sat down with Michael after Escape had run his final race, finishing sixth, and told him he should be proud of everything Escape has achieved.  He provided Michael's brother, Hugh, with his first ever driving win, he provided Michael with his first ever training win, and he provided the whole family with hours, even days, of fun and joy.  For him to race every season from the age of 3 through to 10, in 108 races, and retire sound having never spent a day lame, that in itself is an achievement.

Escape left the track on Sunday for the final time, but he has a home for life at Ayr Standardbreds.  His future showing career is already making headway as he is entered to compete in Standardbred-only classes before the end of the month.  I'm sure you will join me in wishing him all the very best in his future.

Ayr Escape winning at Corbiewood on 3rd June 2016 (Bill Cardno photo)

Lining up before his 7th lifetime win (Kareen New photo)

Michael & me celebrating Escape's most recent victory
I'm sure you'll agree he's a looker!
The video story of Escape's first victory in five years -

Ayr Escape's final day at the races -

Michael [O'Neil] turned to me on Sunday and said "I'm fed up of telling people that Escape is the best horse in the world".  What I said to him is what I will say to you all: the horse has no idea how lucky he is to have someone who thinks that about him.

The world is full of horses whose owners don't think half as much of them as he thinks of Escape.

I hope more horses can find their own Michael.

Over and out,

#1 Groom