Wednesday, 7 June 2017

2017 Season: Weeks 4, 5 & 6 - I know I DRONE on...

Ok, so I know I'm massively behind schedule with these posts, which are supposed to be weekly.

Unfortunately I've been waiting on some drone footage from Tir Prince in order to make the title of this post a little bit less weird and to date, this hasn't found its way to me.  With three days of great racing at Appleby over the past two weekends since the Tir Prince fixture, I felt it was time I wrote something.  So this is a bumper edition, minus the drone footage for which the post shall remain titled.  Rest assured, if it does filter down to me from those above, it will be featured in some way in a future post.  And lesson learnt - time waits for no man, and neither must I.

Week Four - Tir Prince

Week four - one meeting.  Well, one meeting for Smarty and me.  We had intended to travel south from Tir Prince on the Saturday night to be at Presteigne on the Sunday, but common sense prevailed (in terms of me having a job to go back to early on Monday morning after getting home after midnight had we gone) and we headed back up north on the Saturday night.  I was still zonked on Sunday!


I spent much of the evening trying to obtain as much footage as possible from the two GoPro cameras - mine, which spent the entire time on the starting gate, and Lauren's, which took turns on different drivers.  The end result being that the 'Driver-Cam' lost its maiden tag when winning on board Indie Hanover (with Richard Haythornthwaite wearing it) and then went on to set a new track record over 1.5 miles when attached to Patrick Kane Jnr and Miraculous.  The camera isn't jinxed!

All of the footage is sitting in a vault waiting for me to put it together, hopefully with the drone footage and official race videos, as soon as it's all received.  I can't work to a deadline if I don't have the stuff!

As for the starting gate footage, the operator (not me) forgot to turn it on for the 10 horse Le Trot race at the start of the night, and somehow managed to set it to multi-shots (every 0.5 seconds) for the FFA.  Imagine my surprise when instead of trying to download 6 videos, I was downloading 4 videos and nearly 1500 photos, most of which were empty track!  Still, there must be something in there to work with.

As for the night's racing, I felt a little lacklustre about it before arriving and a little more so upon leaving.  This was the fifth meeting of the 2017 season across the country and the fourth to struggle for entries.  I'm not knocking the promoter here, if anything they did all they could to get a card together and should be commended for it, but one wondered during the course of the evening if it wouldn't have been better called off.  The highlight of the night certainly was the FFA over the extended distance and this was assisted by the build up, with talk of a potential new track record.  The race didn't disappoint, as the two young guns Miraculous and Coalford Tetrick went head-to-head in a thrilling finish, and the new track record was duly set.  But one swallow does not a summer make.

The long drive home gave time for much reflection, particularly once Smarty announced that he couldn't drive any further and then immediately fell asleep in the passenger seat once I took over the driving.  I am constantly wary of what I say in light of the new BHRC media policy, which essentially curtails my ability to speak honestly about the sport.  So with that in mind, all I can say is that during that drive home whilst at the wheel, I found myself fighting with my conscience about trying to promote a sport which was allowing certain things to take place both on and off the track which are not conducive to good racing.  How can I continue to create promotional material in order to attract new people through the gates of tracks when I know that they will be cheated in some way once they've parted with their money?  It does not sit well with me.  But it is a personal dilemma which I will have to come to terms with, until or unless things change.

Miraculous storming to victory
Week Five - Appleby Sping Festival

The first of the four 'crown jewel' meetings of the season; the two-day festival of racing at Holme Farm, Appleby kicked off on Sunday 28th May in glorious sunshine.  So glorious that by the end of the day I was as sunburnt as I may ever have been, having enjoyed good company, good racing and good gin without thinking about my poor shoulders slowly cooking in the sun!

Amongst all the fantastic racing were two performances which really stood out for me: Stoneriggs Mystery in the Battle of the Big Guns and Greentree Serenity in the final.

Mystery is the two-time Crock of Gold winner and two-time Big Guns champion and at 11, some perhaps thought his best racing days were behind him.  He is a horse who owes nobody anything, having had such a glittering career and fended off so many challengers for his crown as top FFA horse in the UK for the past few years.

Watch this video and tell me if you think his best racing days are behind him.  Because I think not.

There are few things in harness racing that bring me to the verge of tears like he can.  I simply LOVE to watch him in action.

As for Greentree Serenity, well after her impressive win at York a couple of weeks before, I fancied her in her heat.  So much so, when asked what my nap of the meeting was by a fellow bookmaker's partner ('and don't say Jack Swagger like everyone else') I said 'I really fancy Greentree Serenity'.  In form, with a win over the course 12 months previous...she let me down in her heat, finishing second but qualifying for the final.

Jack Swagger went into the final the favourite, with Rhyds Rockstar who had won his heat impressively off the back of two victories at York a comfortable second favourite.  Greentree Serenity went off a 12-1 shot.

Only she didn't know that.

I was trying to take photos of the prominant horses in the earlier stages of the race in the hope that one of them would be the winner and I'd have a good photo for any articles or blog posts.  Then from nowhere the group next to me started screaming like banshees and I had to stop taking photos to watch the race.  The screaming banshees were the connections of Greentree Serenity, who was storming home up the stretch.

Now I love it when mares win against colts and geldings.  It's a real 'girlpower' thing.  And I'm all about that!  And I also love it when people who have bred the winning horse are still the owner.  There's a lot of long days and dark nights when you've bred a horse and you're trying to get it to the track.  It takes unbelieveable perseverance and belief in that horse, from the moment it enters the world all spindly legs and no coordination.  To commit yourself to rearing it, breaking it in, training  and racing's not something everyone chooses to do.  Hats off to those who do it, such as John Clark of Greentree Standardbreds!

Monday brought less sun, and slightly more stress for me personally.  I was able to be at the racing due to a flexible job whereby I didn't need to do my office work in the office...but I still needed to do it!  Which meant I was running between my horses and my laptop constantly until all my work was complete.  Bank Holidays don't exist for a company which operates 24/7/365!

As for the horses, they didn't help matters unfortunately.  Ace finished fourth of four in the 3YO fillies race, running rather flat behind a most impressive Rhyds Mystique and Greenhilldebateable.  By the end of the day she was loaded onto the Cairns wagon and heading back to the north east to be trained.  Our other horse, Frisco Jenna, slipped on a bend and fell, narrowly avoiding a major pile up which would have been really handy for our driver, The Jockey, who was back driving for the first time since an accident which resulted in the loss of a finger 12 months ago.  I don't think we've put him off yet...thankfully horse and driver were alright, as were the others caught up in the melee.

In terms of the rest of the racing, the day belonged to Team Laidler.  With 16 runners across the 2 days, they notched up 10 wins - 7 of them coming from the 13 race card on the Monday.  I spent some time hanging around their lorries (being a pest and trying to fit my GoPro to Alexis for the saddle race) and I can tell you this: it takes some amount of organisation to get so many horses out onto the track at the right time; especially when you have 3 runners in the final!  There is a wider team than just trainer and driver Alexis and Rocker, and everyone plays their part exceptionally well!  No wonder though, as Alexis runs a very tight ship.  That woman must have eyes in the back of her head to know what's been done with which horse and by whom.

My highlight of the day was the saddle race, mainly because I'm involved (in a small way) with RUS-UK (Racing Under Saddle - UK).  My GoPro didn't collect any useable footage from Alexis' winning ride on Evenwood Sonofagun due to me fitting it at completely the wrong angle, but Lauren Moran DID get footage from on-board Rhyds Design which we will hopefully use in a promo video with other saddle race footage during the course of the summer.  In the absence of video footage, here's a photo of the winning duo, Alexis & 'Gunner':

And also of Lauren and 'Dessie':

And before I sign off on the fifth week of racing, I just want to share this photo - a sprinkle of glitter on the Team Laidler horses, I quite like it!

What girl doesn't like a bit of sparkle?!

Week 6

And now we're finally getting up to present day recollections!

Sunday at the New Fair meeting at Appleby, in my opinion, belonged to the Scottish.  Evenwood Ruthless, Master Plan and Ayr Majesty gave standout performances, winning two of the five heats and finishing first, second and fourth in the final.

I took the opportunity to relax a little and found myself in good company not too far from the bar for most of the afternoon.  I hadn't intended for that to be the case, but as I walked towards the bar to get myself a drink I was asked to buy a round (a joke, I'm sure).  This is a modern world we live in and I'm happy to get the drinks in despite being a woman, so that's how it all came about!

In between enjoying the company, the racing and the drinks, I was taking entries for the Oakwood Stud Mares Pacing Series which is due to be staged at Corbiewood this year.  It's an idea I came up with during a long journey from Scotland to Wales last autumn, and having started from nothing it is on the verge of going ahead and potentially becoming something really great not only for the track, but for mares in Scotland and the north of England.  For anyone who is reading this and is interested in entering, nominations close on Friday 9th June (this Friday).

Back to the racing, I managed to get a few photos during the course of the day and then as the final loomed closer, I thought about putting the GoPro on one of the drivers.  I'd managed to whittle it down to the two horses I thought had the best chance of winning - Master Plan and Evenwood Ruthless.  The decision to ask Gordon Gilvear to wear it on Master Plan was due to him trailing 50 yards in the final and for the purposes of exciting footage, I thought we'd see more from one of the back markers.  I got it right.  Well, almost.  The finish came down to Evenwood Ruthless and Master Plan fighting it out down the stretch and here is the resulting footage.

I was delighted to see Team Kennedy in the winner's circle with Evenwood Ruthless (aka 'Rufus') as they have trained a couple of horses for us in the early part of the season for the last couple of years and aside from that, we just get along.  Karen Kennedy (KK) is the driving force behind the racing at Corbiewood and her hard work often goes unnoticed, so this was a great moment for her to enjoy the spotlight.  She's also a mean drinker of a Portbomb on a night out.  I'm not even kidding.  She's like the shots Queen!

Heading home unchallenged in the fastest heat of the day
Evenwood Ruthless holds off the challenge from Master Plan in the final
KK and big Rufus heading to the winner's circle
And that really, was that.  Once again it has been a case of the grass meetings reigniting my enthusiasm for the sport.  I don't know if it is due to there being more horses, in which case the premier hard track fixtures will also elicit the same feeling later in the season.  Still figuring it out myself.  What I do know is that all of the general public who attended the three days at Appleby over the past two weekends were treated to some fantastic racing.  And that was despite some of the questionable race framing ;)

Onwards to Corbiewood on Friday 9th June and Pikehall on Sunday 11th June.

Over and out,
#1 Groom

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