Friday, 30 June 2017

2017 Season: Week 9 - 4-3-3...standard!

Four days.
Three countries.
Three race meetings.

Whacking in a football (soccer) reference because I can.

Thursday 22nd June at Corbiewood featured the opening leg of the Oakwood Stud Mares Pacing Series, something I don't think I've mentioned much.  JK, it's all I talk about.  Seven of the eleven nominated turned up on the night to run in the final race of the evening which was as thrilling a race as I could have hoped for.

It followed on from a tremendous high grade preferred race immediately before in which Bayrigg Millionayr made it back-to-back wins at the track.  I'm just not getting the reluctance from people to have preferred racing.  But that's for another time.

I've written a brief report for Harnesslink, which you can read here.  My reports are probably (read: definitely) the least prompt at being published because my time management skills are rapidly dwindling (aka 'stale').  It's now a case of telling people things will get done, but I can't say when.  'Better late than never' is now my life motto.  As long as Corbiewood is still being represented on the world stage, even in some small part, then that's the main thing!

I was pleased to see GDs Hazzard (aka 'Harry') winning for owners Dave & Gerry Thomson in the first race of the evening.  It was a good start for driver Andrew Cairns who went on to notch up a driving double when getting the catch drive on Camden Rocco for the 'Big Eck' Taylor stable.  The multi-talented Jasper Hill returned to winning ways and American Gigolo ran gallantly in defeat behind Bayrigg Millionayr in the top grade race after a big win at Carlisle less than a week earlier.

As for the mares was the English raider Porcelain Seelster who landed the spoils; yet as the field turned for home in front of me at the paddock bend the race could have gone any one of six different ways.  Long-time leader GDs Baby put in a strong run, Dontstoptheparty finished like a train, San Diego ran on for third.  Only 0.7 seconds covered the first six over the line.  And me, like a numpty, stood on the paddock bend trying to take photos and missed out on the shot of them storming down the stretch spread across the full width of the track.  Lesson learnt.  Still managed this photo all the same, in fading light and in the excitement of trying to watch the race and take photos simultaneously.

Rounding the final turn for home
Porcelain Seelster post-race
The SHRC website has been updated with the current standings after leg 1.  Fairly straight forward as we've only had the one race so far!  There are only five entries for the second leg this Thursday which means we may have a bumper entry for the third leg with the mares who won't have raced in either of the first two legs needing to run in the third in order to be eligible for the remaining three.  We shall wait and see!

From Corbiewood on Thursday we headed to York on Saturday 24th June for Championship Day.  I've always known this fixture to be Championship Day for as long as I've been in the sport, yet it seemed to have a number of monikers over the course of the weekend, my least favourite being 'festival' which for me suggests a meeting of more than one day (i.e. the four major handicap festivals at Aberystwyth, Appleby, Musselburgh and Tregaron).  Nonetheless, it was billed as a fantastic day of racing with 14 races on the card including a 2YO race, heats and finals of both the 3YO fillies and 3YO colts & geldings, a world record attempt for pacers under saddle over a mile and two Le Trot Series races for 3YOs and aged trotters.

I knew I was going to be busy as track photographer trying to get action photos of the winners (which nobody can inform me of before the race!) and presentation photos, and I also planned to get the GoPro on Alexis Laidler and Evenwood Sonofagun for the saddle race after the failed attempt at Appleby (where the camera was mounted on the body harness and captured a cracking view of the front of the saddle and some of the horse's neck).

I hadn't considered the extra workload which came my way in the shape of handing out rosettes and prize money to the first three across the line in each race, tasks which were unceremoniously dumped on me with little gratitude.  Not only do I take photos of the horses in races and in the winner's circle for purchase by connections and use as promotional material by the track and governing body, I also like to take photos of the aftermath of racing; the side of our sport which encapsulates everything that is so enjoyable about racing horses.  These are the type of candid photos which connections love, the ones which capture the raw emotion of success.  They also make great photos for use in promotional material for the sport as a whole as it shows the 'softer' side of racing; the side that people not involved in the sport tend not to think about when you say the words 'harness racing'.  Unfortunately, with the additional tasks that I was given, I had little opportunity to take such photos.

My Acey Baby (Crosshill Ace) landed in the first of the two fillies heats, beside champion 2YO and already prominent 3YO, Rhyds Mystique.  As my luck would have it, we'd drawn 4 on the gate with the ante-post favourite drawn in pole position.  I always say I'd be happy with a rosette of any colour (to my American readers, this must seem crazy to you, but place prize money only goes down to third and it barely covers the entry fee for the race so people like me really do get excited about some coloured ribbon - and I'm not ashamed to admit it!).  She finished third behind Mystique and Coalford Honey, meaning she'd landed a place in the final.

The second heat was a slightly more open affair and it was Lee Rix's Olivia Camden, bred by the owner of York Harness Raceway and Camden Stud, Mick Welling, who came out on top over Greenhilldebateable and Teatime Preacher.  SHRC 3YO Derby winner Victoria Camden was seemingly jostled at the start and broke stride however she still secured a place in the final later in the afternoon.

In the colts & geldings divisions, Springhill Glory and Benny Camden drew in separate heats and subsequently won their respective races impressively, setting things up for an exciting showdown in the final. Frankie Camden also ran credibly behind Springhill Glory, and Father Ted put in a huge performance to finish second behind Benny Camden and ahead of multiple winner this season, Rhyds Rockstar.

Then came the saddle race and the world record attempt to lower the existing record of 1.59.3 for a mile with a pacer.  Marcia Thompson from Equine Products UK Ltd was on hand to sponsor and judge the Best Turned Out award, which went to Rhyds Design and Lauren Moran.  But the race itself truly belonged to Evenwood Sonofagun and Alexis Laidler.  I'm going to be doing a whole separate post on this over the course of the next few days once I've gathered in all of the available media but in the meantime, just watch this:

This is the raw footage so apologies for the abrupt start and end, no editing has been done whatsoever!

It's absolutely magical to watch, not only the flying mile in 1.57.5 but the aftermath of the race with the crowd cheering, Alexis praising her horse and the emotions of all those connected with the stable.  I thought it was brilliant!
Evenwood Sonofagun & Alexis Laidler setting a new world record
In the 2YO race, I was most impressed with the first three home: Merrington Movinup, who has already won this season at Appleby; Ayr Empress, who was making her debut but who displayed a lot of talent in qualifiers at Corbiewood and ran tough with a two wide trip for much of the race; and Wellfield Witch, a grey filly I met back in January when visiting Roy Sheedy's stud near Newport, south Wales.  She ran well in a qualifier at Corbiewood a couple of weeks ago and showed plenty of scope at York when finishing third.

In the two trots, I was delighted (if a little surprised) to see Rhun Wilson guide both winners home.  The 3YO Eldivina D'Esge and the aged trotter Vireo De Regen are also both trained by Rhun, and were his first two winners under BHRC rules since joining from WBCRA at the start of the season.  I must add that the reason I was surprised is due to Rhun's lack of experience training trotters when racing with WBCRA - but he seems to have found a real strength in it and I did suggest he consider moving to France at this rate!

In the 3YO finals, Rhyds Mystique beat Greenhilldebateable in a pulsating finish, with Ace finishing once again in third with a solid performance.  The colts and geldings was a match between the 'big two' and Benny Camden tracked Springhill Glory throughout, looking at one stage to be in danger of getting boxed in but when the gap came driver Alan Richardson tipped out and the horse accelerated home in impressive fashion.

Benny Camden & Alan Richardson
I had a couple of other things to say regarding non-racing matters which put a bit of a dampener on the day for me personally however I have been advised by my media-savvy other half to not be controversial and in light of how that's gone for me in the past, he's probably right.  Social media policy - 1; Sarah Thomas - 0.

From York we travelled south for nearly 5 hours to stay with my parents in order for us to attend my former local trot, Cilmery.  Neither of us have missed this fixture since its inception in 2011.  It is arguably set in the most beautiful of locations, with the Epynt mountain range casting a spectacular backdrop to the stiff grass track at Cilmery Farm.  This was the first year that the meeting was held on a Sunday afternoon rather than a Wednesday evening and I felt there was a noticeable reduction in atmosphere both at the track and in the local pub after the racing, although this in no way detracted from the racing.  I'm unsure of the reasons behind moving the day/date, but I always felt the 'longest day' Wednesday was the perfect date for the meeting with 10 days to the big festival at Aberystwyth.

Stand out performances for me came from Crown Victoria, a 3YO filly by Crown Manhattan who will race against my own Ace at Aberystwyth.  She won comfortably at Cilmery after putting in a big performance at Pikehall a few weeks ago and I'm more than a little wary of her as competition (as much as I like her!).  Ring Of Fire from the Wye Stud stables was an eye-catching runner up also and will go on to win again this season after victory at Amman Valley a couple of weeks back.  Starstruck was another eye-catcher, trained and driven by Huw Thomas; she'll appreciate a slightly less testing track after putting in a strong run at Cilmery.  The 2YO Oakwood Playboy did not go unnoticed in the qualifiers, at a track that has not shown suitability for juveniles in the past.  Mahogany Oleg was another spotted in the qualifiers; we'll be keeping an eye on him as he's a Preacher Pan out of Mahogany Blaze, who is a full sister to our mare Vain In Spain (aka Rita) - the dam of Crosshill Ace.

The former winners of the Cilmery Final have been: Howards Contender, Wellfield Earl, Forest Gump, Wellfield Posh, Llwyns Delight and this year it was the turn of Mervyn Davies and Colin Bevan with Bucklands Foxtrot, or as I used to know him, 'Bongo'.  Coliin (and Shirley) are responsible for creating the meeting at Cilmery and it was great to see a success for the stable there after all of their years of hard work.  He was a popular winner and an impressive one too!

Bucklands Foxtrot & Colin Bevan
Winner winner!

And that's all from around the country!

Due to the fact that I am so behind with everything, this post goes live after Corbiewood's meeting for the current week but that has to feature in the next update because otherwise my weeks are all to pot!

I'm currently sat in traffic on the M56 heading to Aberystwyth for two days of exceptional racing including Acey Baby toughing it out in the 3YOs.  Hopefully I'll be reporting back next week with another rosette for the collection!  If only it could be a red one...

Over and out,

#1 Groom

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