This is my first blog since April. I know it’s a long gap but there are several reasons why.
Not much happens during the summer. We haven’t had any horses at a racecourse and we didn’t go to the Doncaster sales, but Venetia Williams successfully tempted me to buy a new horse when she told me that its name Un Prophete, when put into a search engine is translated as ‘in profit’. I am hopeful that this will be the first of Alex’s horses that will make me money.
We certainly haven’t made anything out of Rubber Sole, a horse we bought two years ago. Paul Webber has had the difficult job of keeping us up to date with a catalogue of injuries that started with “He seems to have tweaked a muscle so it will be another three weeks before we can make an entry”. After the three weeks became three months Paul said “We will have to wait until next season, hopefully a restful summer is just what he needs”. But another visit to the vet revealed a severe back problem that ruled him out of racing for ever. Rubber Sole now lives in the fields behind our house, having never appeared on a racetrack.
It was May last year when Alex first became ill and since then she has spent a lot of time in hospital, both as an outpatient for chemotherapy and several spells as an in-patient following some nasty infections caused by the tumour. Consequently I’ve spent more time at home (perhaps I am finally getting near retirement) and amongst the cooking and caring I have written a book about being a racehorse owner, or to be accurate, it is a book about being a racehorse owner’s husband.
The book which will probably have the title ‘How to Make a Small Fortune’ was originally going to be a revamp of the blogs I have had published on this website, but I was swept along by a wave of ridiculous enthusiasm and wrote much more, including a beginner’s guide to ownership that attempts to introduce newcomers into the words, traditions, strange sayings and raceday experience that encourages established owners to continue to enjoy a very expensive hobby.
As well as writing my fly-on-the-wall account of our triumphs and many failures I have also compiled the statistics that tell the true story of our racing career. I was hoping that the figures would provide a few bits of encouragement, but even our best horses eat up the cash. Perhaps Un Prophete will break the sequence and become our first horse to make a profit.
When the book is published, next spring, another season will be nearly over and we will know whether this is the year when we get our winner at the Cheltenham Festival. But at the moment we have more a modest ambition. It would be great to beat our best ever eight wins in a season and we just hope we don’t suffer the traumas of the 2013/2014 season when we only had two winners out of 43 attempts.
Our chances of success in this new campaign were dented before the season even started when Venetia Willliams reported that Super Sam has a nasty tendon problem and will be taking a year off. Our first runner was Six One Away, who, despite a reduction in handicap from 106 to 82 has failed to win a race (his second at Fakenham last season was in a five-horse race and only three finished). This was his last chance and he fluffed it, coming fifth out of eight runners in a poor race at Sedgefield. He has followed Rubber Sole in the horsebox to the fields behind our house.
Pretty Mobile, another horse that has a lot to prove, having failed to get in the first three in four outings, did herself no favours when we watched her on television being pulled up at Worcester. Both jockey and trainer took a positive view of the performance which was hampered by breathing problems. She is having a wind operation before getting back into training. I can’t see any of the wins we need coming from Pretty Mobile, but will be happy if the experts prove me wrong.
Our season has started with one retirement, a wind operation, a tendon that needs to take a year out, a modest novice finishing 12th, plenty of training fees and no prize money. I wasn’t optimistic when our next runner Upbeat Cobbler ran at Ludlow, after failing to finish her last three races last season. Alex was hoping to go to the meeting but I’m pleased she decided to stay at home. I was in Newbury visiting some of our shops where I watch the race in Corals. It was so foggy at Ludlow it was difficult to make out the horses on the in-store screen. But I saw a lot more than the spectators who could only see the horses jump two fences. I couldn’t see many more. When the field disappeared on the second circuit Upbeat Cobbler was lying fifth, when we saw them again she was in the lead. We recorded our first win of the season.
Another Cobbler who has had a restful summer following two mediocre bumper performances last season came up to expectations when finishing his first hurdle race 12th in a field of 16. But, I’m told, “you never know with a young horse”, “they all have to start somewhere” “he’s still got a lot of growing to do”, “he’ll come on leaps and bounds for the experience” and “pity that such a green horse found himself in a hot race”.
Another Cobbler is one of many novice hurdlers that are really running to get a handicap – that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying, we would love to win, but the rules require three qualifying races before the handicapper can match you on equal terms with the other runners. Novice horses face the same challenge as new golfers, who have to mark three cards before the committee will allocate a handicap. But, although competitors with a generous handicap can win the occasional competition, poorer players will never win the club championship. Owners like their horses to win but we all want to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Venetia Williams knows we are keen to run in big Saturday races and she followed our wishes when she entered Royal Palladium into a Listed Race at Wincanton with a first prize of over £34,000. We didn’t even get a mention on Channel 4’s Morning Line and started at 20/1. But we were in the lead over the last fence and heading for Alex’s biggest ever win when Royal Palladium was caught with less than a furlong to go and lost by half a length.
But it wasn’t a bad week. I did the sums and with winnings of over £16,000 I’m pretty sure we made a profit.