In any racing yard there are people that stand out, that might be for good reason or bad, their character, their humour or work rate, it takes all types to make up a collection of people that work in the yard and just every now and again you come across a real gem.
When Alex Thorne joined us back in the middle of July, moving from Scotland to try to spread his wings in the south, little did Ditcheat know it was about to gain one of the hardest working young men I have seen in a long time.
Alex, a talented sportsmen and academic in school didn’t get into the saddle until 18 when he put his semi-professional athletic career on hold to chase a dream that so many young men possess; to be a jockey. Currently there is nothing extraordinary about his achievements so far in the saddle, however anyone who is close to Alex knows very well how far he has come already to get where he is now. Of course, the reason I am talking about him is last week at Kempton on Monday aboard the little legend that is Volpone Jelois, Alex recorded his first success for us, an achievement which brought a smile to everyone’s face.
Of course this was only a small jumper’s bumpers card at Kempton and, as Alex hilariously put it afterwards: “You would hardly need security for crowd control today,” but the where and when did not really matter for this win. Alex’s victory meant an awful lot to me because he is one of the hardest working young people I have ever come across so it was fantastic to see that labour rewarded.
Just to give you a few examples of his quest for rides and work ethic, it was about 8.15pm one Saturday evening when he rang me up to explain that his riding out plans for his Sunday off had fallen through at the last minute so did I know anywhere for him to go?
We sorted something last minute and once again he ensured any minute outside of his working hours here was not wasted. Another small example of his commitment to his job was Christmas Day of all days as I walked the dogs after morning stables, there was Alex sporting full running kit doing what we would call a fairly rapid half speed through the village.
Aside from his work ethic and increasing level of riding skill, Alex is a genuine pleasure to have around in the yard and his positive outlook on life is a lesson to many, good for you Al, keep up the sterling work, it sure is paying off.
Cheltenham weather threatening to douse our chances
Elsewhere last week was pretty quiet on the racing front, but flat out on the home front with final preparations being made for the coming week, a week that racing fans up and down the country simply cannot wait for and, while I am the same, I wish it would stop raining in Cheltenham.
Over the last couple of weeks it has basically been all anyone has been talking about which has given me a fun opportunity to listen to a wide variety of people on what kind of shape their week will take; hotels, or rented houses, a gorgeous pub we have been to every year or the traditional 8.30am cooked breakfast before being driven to the course all answers I heard.
As good as all of that sounds, my week just like so many others working this week, is a long one. Taunton (Monday) followed by the annual Cheltenham quiz hosted by the only person stupid enough to take on the task a day before Cheltenham, me.
After those four days of the greatest show on (soggy) turf, I should imagine Kempton awaits on Saturday before I do my best to spring out of bed for morning stables on Sunday.
Festival buzz continues to thrill
But I will not moan as this really is the biggest four days of our calendar and, as a fan of racing, I am lucky to be able to go there and be a part of a Festival that makes the racing world congregate at one place for the week. The feeling before the first race on the Tuesday for me is one of the best you can experience, the buzz and atmosphere of the track is like magic and I am looking forward to being there once more.
As I alluded to earlier it is a shame for us that the ground has gone so soft as our horses are without doubt considerably more effective on a sounder surface, but we cannot change the weather so it seems there is no point worrying about it.
As a team this week is massive, and whether we win or not I am incredibly proud to walk into Cheltenham representing Team Ditcheat.
From Ibis Du Rheu to Black Corton to Politologue to Topofthegame, Act Of Valour, Frodon, Modus, Dolos and Virak we have plenty of runners who will go there with competitive chances and while I hope they all run their races, the reality of this Festival I believe is that a horse could run a personal best and not even make the frame, it will happen countless times this week and for me it is well worth remembering that not just the winner has given his all.
Of course I am not stupid enough to think Cheltenham is not all about a getting that winner, but as a person who is in this sport for the love of the horse I go there appreciating all of their incredible efforts, knowing he or she could run the race of their life to finish fifth and for a horse to try his heart out like that for you deserves credit wherever they finish.
It would keep you awake at night thinking about Cheltenham if you let it, with hopes and dreams a plenty, everyone wishing for a slightly different outcome, but my hope like all in Team Ditcheat is that our horses run their hearts out, but without any shadow of doubt most importantly they come home safe.
However you watch this year’s Festival I very much hope you enjoy it.