Friday, 7 July 2017

2017 Season: Week 10 - ABER

Not just Aber, as the title suggests.  Because I can't abide the thought of neglecting to mention good ol' Corbiewood on Thursday night!

I'll genuinely keep it brief, mainly because I've already gone to the effort of a report for Harnesslink, which you can read here.

The Oakwood Stud Mares Pacing Series second leg was won by my good friend George Carson's GDs Baby, a popular victory amongst the support squad consisting of myself, Hugh O'Neil, Michael O'Neil, Kareen New, Kelly O'Neil and Alice O'Neil.  That's a lot of O'Neils.  Oh and a guy called Jim.  We inappropriately raided the track and headed to the winner's circle en masse for our photo, only this time I wasn't in it because I organised the series; I was in it and I organised the series!

GDs Baby & William Drysdale leading from pillar to post (Bill Cardno photo)

I did put the GoPro on Stuart MacKenzie who drove Starzapan to finish third, however the camera I received back after the race was not the camera I sent out onto the was caked in red ash and I'll be lucky if we got half the race!  Next time it's a wet night I'll be looking to stick the camera on a horse guaranteed to be a front runner for at least the first half of the race!!

In other news this week, it has been announced that Sweet Lou semen will be available from Oakwood Stud in 2018.  This is exciting stuff.  I'm sure there will be more news to follow over the coming weeks and months but this is a story I'll be keeping a close eye on.


Now we can talk about Aberystwyth.

It was hot and sunny, there was an abundance of alcohol and some racing.

Over and out,

#1 Groom


Well, I'm not kidding.  It really was hot and sunny (for the most part), and there was an abundance of alcohol, and there was some racing.  Rather a lot of racing, actually.  Fifteen races on the Saturday and thirteen on the Sunday.

The weekend, in terms of the major handicap finals, belonged to the Laidler team.  Jack Swagger took the Saturday final from Billy Wilk, winner of the Carlisle final only a couple of weeks ago, with World Record saddle pacer Evenwood Sonofagun blowing the competition away on Sunday when beating super Irish mare Kickass Katie by 7 lengths in the Park Lodge Classic Final.

Kayleigh Evans summed up the weekend pretty succinctly in her report for Harnesslink, which you can read here.

I'd still like to expand on a couple of performances myself which I enjoyed though, for various reasons.

The Wakefield family, and indeed the Dyer family by relation, must have the highest ratio of children making it onto the racetrack than any other family in the country.  Gary Wakefield and wife, Debbie (nee Dyer), had already produced multiple race winner Kelly (28), with younger daughter Chloe (17) winning a qualifier at Cilmery only a week prior to this meeting and due to begin driving in betting races imminently once her test is passed in the coming weeks.  Not to be outdone by his sisters, 15-year-old Lee harnessed up for his first ever competitive race at none other than one of the crown jewel meetings of the calendar, Aberystwyth.  He certainly did not let the occasion get to him as he gave an exceptionally cool drive on Forest Drifter to win the meeting opener.

There is an abundance of young drivers in the sport at present, with those in the 20-24 category seeming positively ancient now with all these teenagers getting involved.  Lee and Chloe Wakefield, Joel Richards, Jess Dyer…then there’s multiple race winner Mac McMeekin and Hurricane Pace Final winner at Musselburgh last year, John Henry Nicholson, both of whom are only 17.  Chloe [Wakefield] tells me that once her test is passed she'll be heading to the Young Drivers Series which is being staged on the Welsh circuit and the battle will be on as she lines up against her younger brother.

The next performance I want to highlight is that of Ring Of Fire, trained and driven by Bobby Richards.  In my write up from the previous weekend (read here) I mentioned some eye-catchers at Cilmery, one of which was Ring Of Fire.  I was confident that he would win imminently and win he did, with ease.  He was the only tip I gave out to people and  they didn’t back him – disappointed!  I don’t travel up and down this country every weekend with my eyes shut!

Cilmery proved to be a fair form guide for Aber as Buckland Fox Trot, fresh from his heat and final win at Cilmery, just got up in the shadow of the line from Merrington Checkm8 in the third of the five heats to guarantee a spot in the final.  This was the second qualifier my former boss, Colin Bevan, drove on the day, having finished second in an earlier heat on board Masquerade Avenue.  For One Night Only, or Jimmy as I know him, finished third and appears to be improving with each start (having been thrown in at the deep end somewhat since coming over from WBCRA).

Photos I was able to take from the back of the start car - thanks Wes!

In terms of the Scottish performances, Billy Wilk scored a win in his heat on Saturday and finished second in the final for the Corbiewood-based Cattigan stables and partnered by William Greenhorn, and Bob Craw & Hamish Muirhead’s Let’s Party kicked Sunday’s racing off with a win in the maiden with Grant Cullen on board.   Perhaps not the haul we’ve had in previous years but Scotland remains firmly well-represented on the national level.

Half-brothers Matticulous and Miraculous also notched up wins on the Sunday.  Matticulous, who finished second to Rhyds Star Quality at Tir Prince, took the 2YO colts & geldings race convincingly for Andrew & Joanne Cairns with his main rival absent.

Matticulous wins the 2YO colts & geldings
Trainer Joanne Cairns with head groom, Abbie Cairns, celebrating victory
His older brother faced a much tougher challenge at the top in the FFA however.  Old-timer but fan favourite Stoneriggs Mystery showed he can still pace with the best of them as he led out, clearing Porterstown Chris in the one-hole with ease.  Richard Haythornthwaite on board Fool Around provided Miraculous and Patrick Kane Jnr with cover for much of the race as the field sat two-by-two (like going into Noah’s Ark, as commentator Darren Owen highlighted at the bell).  Down the stretch it was difficult to call a winner as Miraculous had to work hard to pass Mystery; Porterstown Chris and Coalford Tetrick were both in the shake up but it was the young pretender, the 4YO son of Arts Conquest, who got up by a neck from two-time Crock of Gold winner and back-to-back Battle of the Big Guns champion, Stoneriggs Mystery.  He in turn stayed on by a neck from Porterstown Chris.

Stoneriggs Mystery & Mick Lord
Mystery leads the field with Miraculous taking cover second over

Miraculous lines up on the gate
Miraculous heading to the winner's circle

World Record saddle pacer Evenwood Sonofagun was as easy a winner as you’d have liked when winning heat and final on the Sunday.  If anyone hadn’t rated The Firepan as a stallion before (and they should have, as he was a formidable racehorse himself and has produced winners of all ages on both hard and grass tracks previously), they will now.  This four-year-old gelding has notched up 8 straight wins, as well as a 1.57.5 clock at York under saddle and must surely now be tendered as a future Free For All horse.  With plenty of major handicap finals still up for grabs and a handicap system which no longer harshly penalises big prize money winners, we may have to wait until 2018 to see him join the ranks of Miraculous, Mystery, Chris et al.

Evenwood Sonofagun winning by seven clear lengths in the final
'Gunner' and trainer (& jockey) Alexis Laidler
I also have to give a mention to Kickass Katie who was second in both the heat and final to the eventual winner.  Last season she was placed in the heat and final of the Strata Florida at Tregaron and went on to win the BHRC Sire Stakes 4YO Fillies at Tir Prince in 1.59.6.  Smarty and I often speculate about how good a filly has to be to warrant being exported to North America and that performance was sufficient, had she have been ours, for the flights to have been booked!

Because I’ve rambled on a bit, I’ll keep my ‘eye-catchers’ short and sweet.  From Corbiewood it was Littlemill Jo.  She raced against Ace in the 2YO Futurity at Corbiewood last year and was only headed on the run-in last week by the novice, Royal Mint Howard.  I feel as though she’ll pick up a win or two this season.  At Aberystwyth it was Sper Buggy, runner up in the 3YO colts & geldings behind multiple winner this season, Springhill Glory.  He came with a very late and very strong challenge to only be beaten by a nose.  He’ll go close again.  Also Sealofapproval from the Dyer stables, who ran with credit to finish second in the 2YO colts, to the clear delight of driver Angela Dyer who crossed the line cheering at her horse.  Finally, and this may be more personal bias than objective analysis, but my parents’ filly, Rhyds Sapphire, put up one helluva fight in the 2YO fillies race to be beaten by Robyn Camden.  Despite being drawn 4, Saffie was sent out of the gate by David Bevan with extreme confidence in her ability to manage the first bend without faltering – and this confidence was not misplaced.  She held off the eventual winner around the final two turns before being passed on the run-in and finished a convincing second.  She won’t always face Robyn Camden this season, so I’m keeping everything crossed for a big performance again, only next time I’m  hoping she goes one better!

Rhyds Sapphire (Saffie) leads the field in the 2YO fillies before finishing second

For anybody who couldn’t be at Aberystwyth, for one reason or another, I hope my brief write up illustrates how good an event it was.  For those who were there, I know you enjoyed it as much as I did (apart from some of the bookmakers).  Let’s all remember that but for the efforts of a small committee, and in particular of one very determined and organised individual, we wouldn’t be enjoying such a fantastic fixture.  Stand up Heulwen Bulman and let us applaud you.  The Special Contribution award bestowed upon you by the BHRC for your endeavours not only in 2016 for the bonanza 20th anniversary meeting at Aber, but in the 19 years which came before it, was thoroughly deserved.  You are a credit to our sport; to your local area; to the great country of Wales.

Celebrating the end of the first day with Rachel [Sydenham] & Heulwen Bulman

Thank you Heulwen.

And before I sign off, thank you to the following people who also contributed to a brilliant weekend in Wales:

My parents
My fellow #powerofthree squad
My life coach
My non-dancing dance partner
'Wahey' Gerry
Bohammed aka Rag‘n’Bone Man
Hodor ‘hold the door’ aka Mark the bouncer
Everyone who went into wild appreciation of the best 50p I’ve ever spent on a pub jukebox – “in all the years I’ve been coming to Aber, this place has never gone crazy for Oasis like this before!”
The bra ninja
My stepson
El Presidente and his band of merry men
The back stretch party excluding the pork pie fiend
Smartypants (especially for the McDonalds breakfast on Saturday after a 4am finish)
Wull ‘I think everything you do for harness racing is great’ Greenhorn

Over and out,

#1 Groom
Aka Sarah ‘Wull, if Jack Swagger wins can I come into the photo?’ Thomas

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