Thursday, 15 June 2017

2017 Season: Week 7 - Och aye we're racing in Scotland!


After two failed attempts at staging meetings on May 19th and June 2nd (due to a lack of entries), racing finally kicked off at Corbiewood on Friday 9th June with the STAGBI Broodmares Race the feature event.

I'm a big fan of these races, firstly because I'm a director on the board for STAGBI and secondly because I feel that mares have a bit of a tough time once they graduate from the stakes races because they aren't really catered for outwith these races.  They have to tough it in beside colts and geldings where they receive no concession for being the fairer sex.  That's why when mares like Greentree Serenity win major handicap finals I'm over the moon.  It's also why I came up with the concept of the Mares Pacing Series at Corbiewood.  We have mares in Scotland capable of beating the opposite sex in combined races, but when they race each other in the STAGBI races the quality of the racing is superb - it makes for a great spectacle for the crowd and a great betting race for the bookies and punters.  All the series does is extend that concept into legs and a final over the course of a 9 week period.

The 9th June happened to be the closing date for nominations for the Oakwood Stud Mares Pacing Series which is due to commence on Thursday 22nd June.  I'm delighted to announce that the series WILL be going ahead, however it will be with 11 mares and not the 12 originally sought.  Fear not mare owners, nothing will be altered in terms of prize money or entry fees due to the generosity of the sponsor, Oakwood Stud, and some clever book balancing (and more than a little foresight) by yours truly.

Of the 7 mares who raced in the STAGBI Future Broodmares race last Friday night, 6 are entered for the series.  You have no idea how much joy that fills me with, especially when you get a chance to watch the race from Friday in which Loriznitestar came out on top for mildly surprised owners Tam Sneddon and Lynne Elvin.  The mares OPH races are hard to win north of Hadrian's Wall, and even mares who have somewhat dominated other STAGBI mares races in other parts of the UK have travelled to Corbiewood to find that the preferred handicap method of racing on a tight track is as tough an opponent as the other good quality mares in the race.  These races have become really desirable on a mare's CV, which is partly the reason for their creation.  The added bonus is connections are invited to the annual BHRC & STAGBI awards to collect a trophy, something I didn't waste any time in advising the owners about!  Think I've sold my first table for the event next spring!

Loriznitestar & Grant Cullen (Bill Cardno photo)
Connections in the winner's circle (Bill Cardno photo)

Full results from the meeting can be found here on the SHRC website.  Note my efforts in linking all the races to the race replays (courtesy of Elizabeth O'Neil) and linking all of the horses to their BHRC race reports on the BHRC website.  Giving myself a pat on the back for that one.

You can also read a brief overview of the racing in my report published on the Harnesslink website.

I would just like to take a moment to give a special mention to one winning horse in particular, because aside from being borderline obsessed with mares, I am also borderline obsessed with multi-talented Standardbreds.  Step forward, Jasper Hill.

Jasper was bought last year by the MacKenzie family for their daughter, Carágh.  Since joining the family, he has continued to race in the sulky, but has also guided Carágh through her saddle test, tried his hoof at showing (ridden and in hand) and also showjumping.  Mum Nicky told me on Friday night after his heat win that only 2 weeks ago he was competing at showjumping.  Talk about a multi-purpose breed...and all at the tender age of 11!

Carágh & Jasper doing their saddle test at Corbiewood in 2016
Carágh & Jasper at the Standardbred Show at Corbiewood, May 2017

What a great family he has to keep his mind and body active with so many different disciplines - Jasper will never be bored!

I would also like to take a minute to thank Hugh O'Neil Jnr Jnr for agreeing to wear the GoPro when driving Killarney Howard.  We got some really good footage from a front runner who was just pipped on the line, which I have set to music.  Unfortunately the video doesn't appear to be working on all devices (primarily iPhones and iPads, although some have reported issues with Android phones also) however I have had no problem with various laptops and my own Android phone.  Hughie advises that he can watch the video on his iPhone when using the 'desktop version' (I don't know what that means but if you're an iPhone user and it makes sense to you then batter in).

Here it is, good luck trying to view it!

Before we say goodbye to Corbiewood and jump head first into my first visit to Pikehall in the Peak District, I just want to share this photo with you all, particularly for the benefit of my overseas readers:

(Bill Cardno photo)
Can I get a round of applause for Corbiewood judge/iPad photo finish operator/video recording equipment fixer/occasional track steward Brett Goodwillie who rocked up after his sister's wedding (before the reception which was just down the road) dressed like this?!

THAT is how you dress for the opening meeting of the season!  Take note racegoers, I will be expecting this from you all in 2018!

P.s. Brett, when I say that I am going to get a photo of you and I am going to put it on my blog and share it with the world, don't ever think I'm kidding!


Sunday 11th June saw us heading (rather a long way) south, to Derbyshire, for my first visit to Pikehall races.  Smarty has been several times before, but for various reasons I've always had to miss it.  Not this time.

I didn't know what to expect from the ten-race card.  Even less so when we pulled into a field on top of a hill.  I had heard that Alan Crowhurst, an award-winning sports photographer who specialises in horse racing photography would be in attendance and had hoped to speak with him, however our paths never crossed on what turned out to be a windy and wet day atop that hill!  Fortunately for me Alan has been kind enough to send me some of the photos he took of the racing:

I also had my camera with me (please don't read that as me putting myself in the same category as Alan) which was going to be primarily for creative photos for my camera club (I've been asked to do a presentation in the autumn for the club members using photos/videos that I've taken myself).  It was a good job I did have it with me, as there was no official photographer at the I stepped in.  I didn't realise this until the connections of the first race winner were standing patiently in the winner's circle waiting for their photo to be taken.  Never one to miss an opportunity, there I was.  The photos I took of the race winners are now on my photo blog/site.

I'll be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the racing.  I wrote about it on Facebook during the journey home, however the post was hijacked to a small degree by a handful of bookmakers who felt it appropriate to bemoan the handicap system, uncompetitive racing and poor trade.  I did try to explain that there's a time and a place (and perhaps even an appropriate channel via the BHRC Council or Handicapping Panel) but this fell on deaf ears.  No doubt this will get them started again when I post a link on Facebook...that's a risk I have to run I guess.

Back to the racing.  Talk about a gruelling track.  A handful of races were over the standard mile, but the remainder were over 1 1/4 miles which is tough enough on a level, hard track.  It's even tougher on the turf, where sections of this particular track have an uphill pull.  I saw plenty of horses struggling to see out the extended distance on Sunday, and even some of the race winners appeared to finish with the fuel tanks almost empty.  The rain showers only hindered things as the track became tacky and clearly energy-sapping.

It was a good day for Wales & West, as steward Jeff Langford was keen to point out after the first winner, Lakeside Paddy from the David Bevan stables.  It improved by 100% when David partnered the winner of the very next race, last year's heat and final winner John Barley, which he also trains.  David is currently training my dad's two year old filly, Rhyds Sapphire, so seeing his stable in form certainly calmed the nerves before the major stakes races begin next week!

Shades Of Grey was 'doing it for the girls' when winning the high grade pace in the company of the opposite sex, having won at the track 12 months ago also.  And also a shoutout for the chestnut trotting mare Une Pebe, who reminds me of Stoneriggs Mystery with the way she races - head down and gets to work.  She finished third behind the John Foy owned and trained duo Ugolin Viking and Sulky Du Blequin, although Johnny missed out on driving the winner having opted to partner last year's BHRC Trotter of the Year, Sulky.  Phil O'Neill once again took the honours on the new import who made it two from two after his initial victory at Tir Prince last month.

Ugolin Viking (Phil O'Neill) leading the field at Pikehall

The final saw David [Bevan] stick with last year's winner, John Barley, with the spare drive on Lakeside Paddy going to Mike Evans, who trains another horse for owner Alan Davies.  As the race developed I could see John Barley sitting handy two wide in midfield, with backmarker Soldier Stanley tailing him in scenes reminiscent of Evenwood Ruthless and Master Plan at Appleby.  Lakeside Paddy, during the course of things, had found himself shuffled right to the back of the field.  As the runners rounded onto the back staight for the final time, the backmarker seemed to take off at the exact moment every other horse was flat to the boards and going nowhere fast.  He took up a comfortable lead heading into the stretch with his stablemate trying to catch him; however the race was already over and he crossed the line six lengths clear of last year's winner.  A big shoutout must go to Rhyds Merlin who was partnered by Andrew Cairns for the first time (with regular driver Alan Haythornthwaite committed to heat winner Majs Lad), finishing third and putting in a really gutsy performance in the conditions.

Winning driver Mike Evans being interviewed by Darren Owen
Winning trainer (and runner up driver) David Bevan being interviewed
Both John Barley and Lakeside Paddy are sired by 'the pocket rocket', world record holder and O'Brien award winner, Doonbeg.  They continued where Triplicate, the four-year-old daughter of Doonbeg, had left off the day before when winning the €8,000 Robert Grendon Memorial Final at Portmarnock.  The stallion's progeny kept things up later on Sunday when his six-year-old son Porterstown Chris paced in 1.56.8 to victory at Portmarnock also.  Some weekend for the little horse!  Where do I sign up my mares for next year...?!

John Barley with David Bevan (L) & Lakeside Paddy with Mike Evans (R) give David a training 1-2 in the Pikehall Final

Speaking of racing at Portmarnock on the same weekend, it did not go unnoticed that the Murphy Stables from Co Cork had two winners in the shape of Tenor Meslois and Alineka Darche, both whom I had the pleasure of meeting when I visited in January.  I'm pleased to see the stable enjoying success, because (as I'm sure everyone else does, granted) they work really hard and they're really nice people.

And that pretty much sums it all up.  I would have loved to have been at Portmarnock on the Saturday (an idea Smarty and I put some serious effort into trying to organise at the eleventh hour) but in hindsight, I was tired enough come Monday morning so it was probably for the best that we didn't go on that short adventure.

This coming weekend sees racing from Corbiewood (Friday 16th, featuring the SHRC Derby for colts and fillies, including our very own Crosshill Ace), Tir Prince (Saturday 17th, featuring the NWHOA 2YO colts and fillies races, including my dad's very own Rhyds Sapphire), Carlisle @ Cumberland Show (Saturday 17th, featuring a £4000 handicap final and including Smarty as a bookmaker), Hellifield (Sunday 18th, featuring a £1250 handicap final and including Smarty as a bookmaker) and Allensmore (Sunday 18th, featuring a 9-horse saddle pace and including one of my best friends, Emma Langford).

I'll be at Corbiewood on Friday but will be missing the remainder of the racing due to commitments outside of racing which see me jetting south to Eastbourne for two days.  I wish I hadn't tried to sell the product that is this weekend's racing as well as I just did.  Now I want to go to it all.  Physically impossible anyway.

Go racing.  You have no excuse.  There are meetings this weekend in Scotland, Wales, Welsh Borders/England, North West England and North East England.  Get out and watch the sport in the flesh.  Facebook Live doesn't compare.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

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