It was early autumn in 2013 when a then 19 year old conditional walked through Highbridge, or bottom yard, down to his row of horses ready to muck out to start his mornings proceedings.
My memory doesn’t serve me to tell you about the weather but being just after six it would be a fair guess to assume only the light of the stables stretched out in front of me was all that pierced the morning darkness. Where I used to muck out was at the bottom of what we call ‘new row’ a block of ten unsurprisingly relatively new stables and at the very bottom of them stood a horse who had just arrived last evening by the name of Irving. I went in to our new inmate gave him a pat on the head, remarked at what a mess he’d made of his bed and mucked him out, untied him and carried on with my day.
That was the first time I’d met Irv and while not the most inspiring of starts for whatever reason while he has been in Ditcheat I have always been immensely fond of him. You may have read last week that Irving, now into double figures has run his last race, retired from active duty with a quieter, less strenuous life ahead of him.
In the cold light of day statistically Irving retires from the game a damn good horse, with 8 wins to his name, two grade ones and two grade twos amongst them compiling in the end a prize money total over hurdles of £310,497. For me though with Irving his figures only tell part of the tale of a little horse I will remember for a long time.
As with any big yard there are all sorts of characters in equine form, from the good to the bad to the downright annoying but Irving managed to encapsulate all those traits and blend them into one glorious bundle joy. Difficult to ride in his early years Irv would often be the catalyst to a string being set off or a jockey falling off his back, I remember in particular how much he used to love dropping his shoulder in an attempt to ditch his jockeys on the way to schooling with a surprising success rate, amongst various other tricks he had up his sleeve. Aside from his hilarious character first and foremost Irving was a fantastically talented horse, who I believe when on song was as good a two mile hurdler we’ve had, sadly with him is and had always been a case of Ferrari engine in a quite terrible chassis. Whether or not from his early days racing on the flat or he was just born with dodgy pins, Irving’s body never really allowed him to achieve what he could have done and for that looking back at his career I really do believe it was a case of what might of been.
It is my belief and possibly others although I’ve not really consulted anyone on this that Irving’s second Fighting Fifth victory holding off Apples Jade was one of my masters finest training performances in the time I have been here. Not once did Irving gallop fast in preparation for that race, instead being trained doing repetition after repetition up our hill gallop, slow work followed by more slow work followed by you guessed it more slow work. Irving was one of those horses who didn’t need maximum attention every now and again, he needed care and time devoted to him every day to ensure all his slightly unaligned wheels were still on, and with that in mind it is a huge testament to the team around him for giving him that care, from David Rochester to Clifford and many others.
But all the human work and toil and care aside, when the tapes went up and the heat was turned up to grade one temperature it was the quite wonderful little Irving that had to roll up his sleeves, grit his teeth and run through his problems, with bravery, class and a fantastic will to win. He won’t go down in history books as a hurdling great by any means but here in Ditcheat to put it bluntly we couldn’t care less, Irving was a special little horse who we are incredibly fortunate to have cared for, so thanks Irv, for your character, your talent and your bravery, you’re a little legend.
I’m just going to finish with a little round up of my week because although we haven’t had many runners I’ve had a good one. Leicester was my destination on Tuesday to watch Antartica de Thaix go down fighting to Oliver Sherwood’s Got Away in receipt of a handy 9lb pull, weight that untimely proved the anchor to Annie’s chances.
We then had to wait to until Saturday for our next runners but if you’re a fan of ours you know it was well worth waiting for, a superb run in the Skybet chase from Warriors Tale under Sean Bowen who were cruelly denied in the shadow of the winning line was bettered only by Bryony and Frodon who were simply brilliant in their Cheltenham romp, taking apart what looked a decent field on paper.
Frodon has been written about in my blogs loads of times before so I needn’t tell you all again about what fantastic little horse he is, but to do that to his rivals with that weight on his back and dance up the hill like he did was a joy to watch, Frodie is like a smile machine in Ditcheat, and I can assure you there won’t be a horse in the yard more pleased to be doing his work again this week. It’s a certainty that after giving him a few quiet days he will need to do more work as he’ll again be trying to cause mayhem. I wrote in my blog a few weeks back tongue in cheek that Frodon runs away with his regular pilot everyday Holley Evans, but on a serious note Holl’s does an excellent job keeping a lid on him all the time.
Loads has already been said on Bryony so I’ll only say the one thing that I took away from the weekend, aside from her funny over excitable interviews and big smiley head after the race don’t be fooled that this is a girl as she says ‘just lucky to be riding good horses’ there is exceptional skill there and her move to slip up the inside round the last bend wasn’t that of a young lady jockey, that was one of a cool headed rider at the top of their game, and good for her.
And that really brings me a happy point to end on my blog, an excellent young rider, talking of them in the pointing field again this weekend Lorcan Williams and Harriet Tucker were in the winners with the latter now three from three this season, something that makes me immensely proud. In the riding department headed up by the brilliance of Sam we really do have an exceptionally skilled bunch of young riders and in the next few weeks I think they have a lot of very nice horses to ride.