Thursday, 20 July 2017

2017 Season: Week 12 - Corbiewood, Tir Prince & Wolsingham

I feel like this needs to be a bit short and sweet, what with the fact that I've been a bit post-happy this week (with two driver interviews posted - Sean Kane and John Henry Nicholson) and moving house and work etc.  I'm rushing around trying to get this posted before Corbiewood on Thursday, followed by Musselburgh on Friday and Saturday.  But remember, it's about quality not quantity (not something I have adhered to previously!).

Corbiewood last week saw the fourth of the six legs for the Oakwood Stud Mares Pacing Series and once again we had a different winner, this time in the form of last season's Scottish Horse of the Year, Starzapan.  You can read my report from the meeting on Harnesslink here.

As referenced in the report, there was a popular winner in the form of Littlemill Jo.  As a 2YO, she gave a credible performance in the SHRC Futurity at Corbiewood, and quite a few people have been watching her with interest this season (myself included).  'Jo' is 100% homebred, being by the Henderson family's own homebred stallion, Littlemill Rogue, himself the current 3YO track record holder at Corbiewood, and out of their homebred mare Hendos Star.  And she is a real family favourite, with video footage emerging on social media prior to her win of breeder/owner/trainer/driver Steven's two young children, Jamie (7) and Emma (5) jogging her at the family's stables.  One thing I truly love about harness racing, and particularly so at the moment, is the involvement of youngsters who are either too young to be involved in any official capacity, or who are just emerging onto the track having obtained their licences.  It truly is a family sport, with no barriers in terms of gender, length of involvement, or experience.  Anyone can give it a go.  And I'm glad to see that they are.

Track photographer Bill Cardno was absent so myself and Willie Paterson stepped in to *try* to take photos.  I'd managed to turn up without my spare battery and with limited juice left on the battery in my camera, plus I was working with my 70-300mm lens and nothing else.  Then it decided to rain as the qualifiers were being run, and for the remainder of the night it was fairly gloomy and not ideal conditions for a total amateur like me to take photos.  Nevertheless, I managed to get at least one half-decent photo of the race winners (excluding K And M Redpandana, who turned out rather blurry).  For anyone who cares, here's what I managed:

Littlemill Jo & Steven Henderson
Merrintonmoonlite & Gordon Gilvear
Porterstown Keith & Stephen Cairney
K And M Redpandana & Hugh Menzies
Starzapan & Stuart MacKenzie
Camden Massino & William Greenhorn

Total amateur!!

Again it was three countries in four days, so on Saturday we headed to Tir Prince, North Wales, for the VDM prep races and the first of the Crock of Gold heats.  It was probably the busiest it's been there all season, with plenty of buzz about for the juvenile races and in particular, the feature race.  Two of the three leading 2YO colts were non-runners for the colts/geldings division, with the third not entered, and three horses eventually faced the starter.  Georgie Camden, owned by Peter Davison and trained by Sally Teeboon, was driven to victory by Richard Haythornthwaite in the absence of stable driver, Patrick Kane Jnr, who was plying his trade on home soil in Ireland at the Barney Joyce Memorial Weekend.  Not to be outdone in his absence, Patrick went on to win the Irish prep race for colts/geldings the following day with his wife, Rachel Bousfield's, homebred Stakes On The Pan.  The fillies division went the way of the very impressive Ayr Empress, bred, owned, trained and driven by a variety of O'Neils.  As in, 'Boots' off of 'Big Burd and Boots', and his family.  Poor Hughie (aka Jnr Jnr, aka The Baby-Faced Assassin) was once again called into the stewards after the race, having been pulled in on Thursday night at Corbiewood for 'excessive shouting at his horse'.  I think sometimes rules get made up on the spot.  I also think that the rule could have, and perhaps should have, been applied previously to other drivers.  And indeed, members of the crowd (anyone else remember the 'f*** him up Dougie!' comment shouted at a driver to cut up another horse during a race?).  Anyway, that's by the by.  Clearly I need to work on Jnr Jnr's discipline.  Although he doesn't look to be as unruly on the track as the officials keep claiming him to be.  But contrary to some people's belief, I don't have eyes in the back of my head so I'm probably just not noticing his wanton disregard for the rules.

Anyway, it was good to see a Scottish horse travelling down to one of the bigger tracks and showing some real class and flair.  She looks a strong candidate for the big final in August.  In Ireland, Robyn Camden narrowly beat the debutante, Reclamation, to take the fillies division.  The Murphy's, who train the runner up, won the VDM Fillies final last year with IB Coyote so have solid form heading into the race this year.  They also enjoyed success with IB A Magician, Rebel Rouser and Tenor Meslois over the weekend - that'll make the epic journey from Cork to Dublin worthwhile!!

Back to Tir Prince and my favourite race of the night - the Crock of Gold heat.  Stoneriggs Mystery was drawn 1, and was a deserving betting favourite, but he was headed at the first bend by the heavily-backed reigning champion Porterstown Road, who in turn was cleared by Deans Alibi by the quarter, having shown a blistering turn of foot under a bold drive from Stevie Lees.  Heading down the back straight for the last time, I wasn't convinced Mystery was going to be able to clear the two in front of him, no matter how much I was willing him on, but as they turned for home and everyone started screaming he seemed to find another gear and cruised past them to a very popular (and slightly emotional) victory.  Form is temporary, class is permanent.

Before I move on to our visit to England, I also have to give a mention to Sulky Du Blequin in the George Dixon Memorial FFA Trot over 1.5 miles.  John Foy sent Sulky away positively at the start, and with each lap he went further and further clear of the field.  It seemed that the further he went, the better he went.  He will be a tough nut to crack in the FFA trots for the remainder of this season.  It was pretty impressive, I have to admit.

For the second weekend in a row, Smarty and I stayed away from home in order to avoid the mammoth drive back to Scotland, only to head back to the north east of England the following day.  We're learning all the time.  The following day we headed across the country to Wolsingham, one of the best grass tracks in the country although like Binchester, not as well supported by spectators as it probably should be.

I was due to interview John Henry Nicholson as part of the build up to Musselburgh this coming weekend, what with him winning the Hurricane Pace Final last year at the tender age of 16.  Incidentally, the interview, which was published yesterday (19th July) has been my highest viewed post of the year so far, and has also been shared by Musselburgh Racecourse's official Facebook page, which is followed by over 19,000 people.  That's the way to get the sport out there in the public eye - on the back of official and trusted organisations/bodies who have a wide client/fan base.  Strangely, although possibly connected, Newbury Racecourse's official Instagram account began following me tonight.

Anyway, the whole Nicholson family were great to work with once again and are a joy to be around at the races - although a warning to anyone who wants to preserve the full function of their eardrums: DO NOT stand next to Savannah when her father, mother or brother is in a race; if one of them wins, she will deafen you.  Unfortunately, Scott [Murray] and I found this out the hard way!  But way to go John Snr on your two wins!  What a time to get the stable back in form, with Musselburgh literally just around the corner!

My favourite winner of the day had to be Next Generation, part of owner/trainer/driver Kelly Peacock's extended family.  At the end of last summer, he won three races in two days; the Appleby Brough final on the Monday, followed by heat and final on a very different, but equally testing, track at Kilnsey.  At Wolsingham, with just over a lap to go he was sitting at the rear of the field and appeared to not respond to some gentle reminders from Kelly, however down the back straight he was airborne and he came home a clear winner to round off a day of competitive racing.

And that was that.  Three countries in four days.  Time spent with Scottish friends, Welsh friends, English friends and even Irish friends.  We even saw Acey Baby when she worked out at Wolsingham after the racing, although she seems as disinterested in me now as ever.  Clearly Andrew, Joanne, Geoffrey and the girls are spoiling her and I'm no longer her favourite!

Before I sign off, we must re-visit the 'MISSING' list.  Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned missing items have been found.  If anyone knows where they are, please do bring them to the attention of the public.  Alas, in the past week, further items have gone missing.  If anyone knows where these are, again, please bring them to everyone's attention.

MUSSELBURGH 3YO PACE - advertised, entries taken, not on the start sheet. Where is it?  How many horses entered?  I believe the entry form stated a minimum of 8 runners - does this mean that there weren't sufficient entries?

OFFICIAL NOTIFICATION OF NEW TROTTING RULE - on Saturday evening at Tir Prince, as the horses were parading for the heat of the 3YO Le Trot series, the commentator announced that there was a new rule in force which meant that any horse which broke stride for more than 15 strides would be disqualified.  Can you imagine being at Cheltenham or Aintree and hearing the commentator announce a new rule set by the BHA, without the BHA having first published that rule on their website?  I still don't think I've seen an official notice.  Also, what happens to the prize money if horses are disqualified?  Is it re-distributed to the finishers of the race?  In Ireland on Sunday, every horse bar one was disqualified for a similar rule.  Will the winner receive the full purse for the race (as would happen in the Thoroughbred world when only one finisher)?  Answers on a postcard.

CONSISTENCY - just in general.  When horses were made to requalify under rule N15 at Corbiewood last season, they were not permitted to race on the same day as they re-qualified as it was impossible for them to be cleared by the BHRC at this time, when they had essentially been suspended from racing until re-qualifying.  This was a rule which the stewards in Scotland stuck to religiously.  Unfortunately, it appears that the rule is applied differently in Wales & England.  If anyone finds consistency lurking anywhere, point it in the right direction.

I'm away to get ready for some crazy antics over three days of racing in bonny Scotland.  This is my home tie, I don't need to travel far for these!  Let the fun begin...

Over and out,

#1 Groom

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