The place where dreams come true.
I genuinely don't know where to begin with this. Over twos week has passed since the third of the four crown jewel grass handicap fixtures was staged and somehow I'm still riding a high (and, occasionally, suffering from crippling lows now that it's over). It has been a long time since I have been so deeply affected by a racing event. I suspect that I have finally succumbed to the 'Musselburgh effect'. I think that, for the first time since joining the sport nine years ago, I finally get it: what Musselburgh means to people.
Really, where do I start?!
Friday evening saw the staging of the Hurricane Pace, sponsored for the second year by The Friends of Red John, a group of individuals who have worked tirelessly to raise money for racing in memory of 'Red' John O'Donovan who sadly lost his life in 2015. And there were Scottish winners a-plenty, with the first race, a maiden event, going to Easy Company, owned by Scott 'The Fisherman' Mason (I've just made that up, but he's really into his fish) albeit trained by Alexis Laidler (not Scottish). I'm calling the horse Scottish nonetheless. I'd given this horse the quiet nod when speaking on the 'Punters Panel' with Bill Hutchison and Barry 'Pinno' Pinnington, hosted by Darren Owen live on Facebook before the racing. I'll not bang on too much about this but I absolutely loved it and took it really seriously (even though my tipping tailed off as the meeting went on).
|Easy Company wins the opener|
|Scott Mason (front, left), with his gang!|
|George, Val and driver Willie Drysdale|
|Water for the winner!|
|L-R: owner, trainer, driver|
In the final, it was the runner up from heat 2, the mare Rhyds Passion who stormed to an impressive victory under the control of Richard Haythornthwaite, himself a friend of Red John and clearly delighted to have won the final commemorating him. Valentine Camden finished second, which we were all over the moon with, and a big mention to the old boy Ladyford Lad (aka Gilbert) who finished fourth on his last ever run at the track.
|Connections of Rhyds Passion celebrating the victory|
|Trainer Sally Teeboon with driver, Richard Haythornthwaite|
Kudos to Patrick Kane Jnr for the drive on that one, and also for the drive on Miraculous in the FFA. I think a lot of spectators were quite disappointed with the FFA as it recorded one of, if not the, slowest times of the entire weekend. The following day, whilst preparing for the Saturday edition of 'the Punters Panel', Bill and Thomas [Bennett] asked why that was. It seemed obvious to me, having watched Miraculous with awe since he first stepped on the track as a two year old, that now in his prime, the only way the other drivers felt they could beat him was to turn the race into a sprint finish. Going too soon on a sapping track like Musselburgh would leave them exposed to his phenomenal engine in the final stages of the race. So they waited. And waited. And it was the track specialist, the super mare Shades Of Grey who just adores the racing conditions at Musselburgh who went first, and she put the race to Miraculous. Standing on the finish line watching the field come towards me it seemed for a split second as though she was going to hold the champion four year old off, but in the dying strides of the race he stuck his neck in front in that way that true champions do to land the spoils. Hats off to Shades Of Grey though, she truly is the best race mare in the UK and Ireland and she holds so much promise as a future broodmare.
|Miraculous & trainer Sally Teeboon|
This was the day of the big race. The C Class Drivers race.
I kid you not, I declared this race to be the feature race of the entire fixture (for me, anyway). Sometimes I get carried away with things and this was one such occasion. If you want to see something incredibly stupid (and embarassing, if I was the kind of person to get embarassed), watch my unofficial Paddock Cam in the build up to the race here.
To date, one of the daftest things I've done. But it was fun!
The reason why this particular race captured my imagination so much was because I am a big ambassador of involving young people in the sport, and also those I would class as amateurs. Harness racing in the UK and Ireland is a wonderfully inclusive sport and on a stage as big as Musselburgh, it was fantastic to see a group of drivers, many of whom had never driven at the track before, getting the chance to race against each other on a more level footing. I joked (heavily) that the eventual winner, Sean Duggan, was 'too old' to be in the race, but that was only because Sean and I go back a long time and we spend more time verbally abusing each other than actually being genuinely nice!! Rhyds Cobbler won earlier in the day for Sean's cousin, Simon, and Rhyds Boots went on to win for Sean. The two horses are out of the mare Brown Shoes, a mare who perhaps never produced the same quality of juvenile horses as some of the other mares owned by John and Grethe Wright; but Brown Shoes definitely produces solid staying horses, with Rhyds Rambler another impressive winner at the track a couple of years ago. I gave Patrick Carberry a lot of stick for not wearing his brown shoes on the Saturday in support of the horses he has been involved with over the years.
|(L-R): J Riley, R Park, A Wilson, S Flanagan, M McAleer, J Richards, S Duggan, J Campbell, T Allan|
|Heading into the first bend|
|The 'old man' wins!|
The Scottish winners kept coming on the Saturday, with the Gilvear family's Someones Fantasy winning his maiden on the second attempt over the two days. Camden Castellano was a popular 16-1 victor in a super competitive heat of The Famous Musselburgh Pace for Wilson Nichol, following up on his heat win at Carlisle the previous month. I guess we'd be pushing our luck a bit much if we asked for more winners than that!!
I was lucky enough to get access to the balcony overlooking the finish line as I snaffled some VIP tickets off Smarty and took my friends George, Michael & Kareen for a free lunch. Whilst up there I took the opportunity to get some photos from a different angle, including this one of eventual Famous Musselburgh Pace Final winner Evenwood Sonofagun (left), and runner up (and stablemate) Mikey Camden, going head to head at the start of their heat (where they also finished 1st and 2nd respectively).
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing John Barley (from the David Bevan stable) cruise to victory in his heat in one of the most effortless performances of the entire weekend, although he was unable to repeat in the final. The four year old mare, Triplicate (from the Dunne stables, Ireland) was also an impressive winner of her heat and went on to finish third in the final which personally I think is a really major achievement for a mare in this type of company.
Naturally Evenwood Sonofagun and Mikey Camden provided one of the best spectacles with their heat and final placings, with the former really asserting himself as a leading horse in the country. A winner on hard and grass, over various distances, as well as a World Record Holder in the saddle? It seems there is little this horse cannot do. And his pedigree dares a lot of people to think outside of the box. It's very easy to be blinded by freezebrands and records from across the pond. Fair play to anyone who looks a bit closer to home when considering buying a horse. Don't be put off; it seems we here in the UK can breed champions as well.
Over the course of the two days I witnessed nearly every single emotion on the emotional spectrum. Hell, I experienced most of them myself!! I thoroughly enjoyed both days; the quality racing, the excitement in the paddock, the way the crowd sprung into life as the horses reached the two furlong marker and roared the horses home. The work that Darren Owen put in in terms not only of his commentary but in making so much of the event available on social media via Facebook Live should be commended. Thomas Bennett, Bill Hutchison and Pinno also added something different. We joked that next year we would set up a live stream from the bench at the rear of the podium so that people could sit and chat to a 'presenter' of sorts. We shouldn't have joked, because I've basically made that my new year's resolution for 2018! And you're looking right at the person who thinks she's going to host such an informal but undoubtedly hilarious feature (just look how well unscripted Paddock Cam went...not!!).
Hats off to everyone involved in staging the event...and here's to the 2018 meeting!
Over and out,