Although I work on the principle that the horses, on average, run six races a season, in practice most turn out less often, but this season felt full of runners during October and November.
With the retirement of Pretty Mobile I was down to nine horses in training, below the 12 that Alex regarded as ideal, but still enough to provide plenty of action.
When Alex died in January 2016, it was inevitable that I would continue racing, it was part of her legacy, but I have yet to buy a new horse to add to Alex’s stable. It will be at least another year before I decide whether to make another purchase, but in the meantime, I hope to see plenty of racing.
I blame arthritis for the fact that this is my first blog for nearly four months. When you get a bad back that rules out tennis, golf and real tennis then walking gets so difficult you need to walk with a stick, you spend quite a lot of time feeling sorry for yourself and nothing else seems to matter. It is a poor excuse for failing to keep Eclipse readers up to date, but I am still off games and seek all the sympathy I can get.
My back and knee were starting to give a lot of trouble in December, when I went to see Super Sam run at Haydock on Tommy Whittle day. I never saw him run, nor did the crowd, by the time our race was run Haydock was covered in mist, you could see across the paddock, but there was no sign of a racecourse. All we could do was listen to the commentary.
We set off as favourite so the commentator, who, we ultimately discovered, could see no more than anyone else, talked a lot about Super Sam. He mentioned me, Alex, Venetia Williams and even included my book ‘Under Orders‘ with Super Sam getting so much attention I anticipated another win. As they passed the winning post the commentator announced, “I can’t see a thing, it looks as if three horses are pretty close but any of them could have won.” I was still confident, as I limped with my bad back towards the winners’ enclosure, but Super Sam wasn’t there, outpaced in the fog we finished sixth.
That was my last race before heading off, just before Christmas, for a six week holiday on Mustique, but I left with both Racing UK and At the Races installed on my iPad ready to watch further success as I sat by the swimming pool. I didn’t have to wait long for the first race. On 21st December Un Prophete came second at Ludlow, not a bad start to the holiday.
I enjoyed Christmas opening presents by the pool and lunch on Lagoon Beach. With no horses good enough to run at Kempton on Boxing Day, I pretended that I owned Thistlecrack and proudly watched the race on my iPad as we won the King George VI Chase.
During the next four weeks I had eight runners and the best result was when Arctic Ben came third at Fakenham, but only five ran. Upbeat Cobbler was in a particularly annoying race just after Christmas. The commentator kept calling her ‘Upbeat Collier’ and she was so upset she finished last out of six runners. I spoke to Henry Daly who reminded me that this is a horse that “goes well fresh” and that we should hold her back for a big race at Haydock in April. Four months of training fees without a race to bring in any income.
On New Year’s Eve, The Artful Cobbler came an acceptable seventh but Royal Palladium was pulled up a long way from the finish – disappointing after his winning start to the season, which, by beating The Italian Yob owned by Mustique Managing Director, Roger Pritchard, won me an invitation to share a bottle of champagne at the Cotton House Beach Bar. Royal Palladium came a poor sixth three weeks later and caused Venetia Williams to suggest that, “He goes well fresh”.
The nearest I got to some prize money was when Un Prophete came fourth at Leicester, prompting Mustique home owner and racing guru, David Morgan, to suggest it was time for the horse to go over fences. Venetia had come to the same conclusion and within a fortnight Un Prophete went to tackle his first chase at Ludlow and won comfortably, repeating the performance under a 7lb penalty six days later at Southwell. Suddenly racing was a lot more fun.
Sixty Something (pictured top) ran for only the second time in nearly two years, in a modest race at Plumpton, but fell before being able to show whether he is really on the road to a full recovery from his fall when in the lead at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival. He produced conclusive proof of his fitness when he was pulled up just over three weeks later at Warwick. He has retired to a new home where hopefully he can enjoy some new skills. My string is now down to eight.
The Artful Cobbler gave a much better account of himself when coming fourth at Towcester on the day before I flew home and I had high hopes of further improvement when he was entered for a three mile hurdle at Exeter. I was at home all ready to watch the race on satellite television when storm Doris wiped out all our electricity. Unfazed, I took my iPad round to the local pub but discovered that they too had no power so I finished watching the face at the bookies in Tarporley. I was amazed to find that in the hour before the race The Artful Cobbler’s odds had moved from 12/1 to 6/1 and we were now favourite.
There were just two of us watching the race, me and the guy behind the counter, everyone else had been blown away by the storm. From the start it seemed clear that the punters’ enthusiasm was justified. The Artful Cobbler wasn’t just handy he looked the likely winner – until he tapped one of the hurdles and the jockey fell off. My companion put his arm round me in sympathy saying, “and I was just about to say you looked like a winner.” I went through the driving rain to my car and rang Henry Daly whose comment was simply a four letter word.
I was pinning hopes on Un Prophete, which weren’t dampened when he lost a competitive chase at Leicester by a head. My confidence was boosted when Venetia made some entries for the Cheltenham Festival, but I realised we needed at least one more good result to boost our rating and get in the draw. That made Un Prophete’s visit to Kelso pretty important. It’s a long way from Ross on Wye to Kelso so it might have been the journey that caused the problem, because for some reason our horse simply didn’t like Kelso and was pulled up half way round – goodbye Cheltenham.
Un Prophete was entered into a valuable race at Ascot at the beginning of April. I was staying on Anglesey but with no Wi-Fi at our holiday home I went to the White Eagle, the pub created by my late wife Alex. I was just struggling to remember the password when Venetia called me, “Good thing you didn’t travel down here the going is far too fast, I’ve withdrawn your horse, can you get to Ludlow tomorrow?” Luckily, I didn’t go to Ludlow, I saw Un Prophete on my iPad in the office fall five fences from home. I rang Venetia but didn’t wait for her to tell me the next plan, I told her we would now have to wait until next season. But I can’t complain as Un Prophete has run eight times, none of the others have reached my target of six. Trouble is if they only run well when fresh they need long gaps between every race.
But the average race per horse is brought right down by those horses that don’t run at all. The home bred Cobblers Son, although now a four-year-old, has still not raced and it may be some time before he does. “Not very bright,” Henry Daly told me when we met on Ladies’ Day at Aintree. ”Taking a long time for him to get the hang of it.” Instead of racing, The Venerable Bede has kept the vet busy with a wind test that revealed a weak larynx and required a Hobday operation which went well until he gave a couple of light coughs and a scope revealed a sore around the scar and some blood in his larynx, then a further scope showed a tiny wart which had to be removed with a laser. Needless to say all this veterinary activity has kept him away from the races, although the good news is that in the meantime my back pain has recovered enough to ensure that if The Venerable Bede does make it to a racecourse I will be fit enough to be there as well.
Oh and by the way, Super Sam after his great start followed up his disappointing result in Haydock’s fog with two more mediocre results so perhaps he is another one that goes well fresh, like Upbeat Cobbler who finally appeared, after a long gap, at Haydock in a valuable chase which had prizes down to eighth, which is where she finished and won £115.
On the same day Arctic Ben ran at Newton Abbot but was pulled up by Richard Johnson well from home and has run his last race. I now have seven horses.
His wife Alex is the owner of several racehorses and John writes about their experiences for Eclipse Magazine each month.
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