Although it was barely above freezing as I made my way to the office on Monday morning just before half past five, I could barely be in better form recalling a week of excellent results which made a quiet January of preparations incredibly worthwhile.
We ended up with seven winners across the week which represented a tally we were all delighted with but to be honest I couldn’t just say there was one highlight for me. Occasionally in a season there is a week that will be remembered for all the right reasons and this, on and off the track, was one of them.
To the race track first I think and, although we didn’t start with our runners until Thursday, the trip to local favourite Wincanton was a good one with Unioniste recording a bloodless success in the hunter chase under an increasingly accomplished Lorcan Williams who deputised for Uni’s owner the legend that is Mr Maxwell. All at Ditcheat hope that you mend quickly David!
It was November when the quite lovely Captain Cattistock won last time out and I told the blog faithful how there is little doubt he makes my girlfriend Kate happier than I do so it is to my misfortune he has gone and done it again hasn’t he, producing a performance which once again both left me second in the pecking order and Kate proud as punch afterwards. In racing, the phrase “next season’s chaser” is thrown about way too frequently and is no doubt utilised to cover up plenty of unfortunately slow ones, but in Captain’s case it is the correct label as he is genuine, old fashioned proper horse who is growing all the time and will jump the larger obstacles with the minimum of fuss next term.
Scottish raiding party enjoys sweet success
The local successes were very sweet of course, but a good deal of the yard’s focus this week was on the raid up to Musselburgh which took plenty of time sorting and best of all yielded four winners. It would be an even longer and more boring blog should I begin to detail all of the planning that goes into these trips and, while not only do they have to overcome hours and hours on a lorry, there is the logistics of looking after that many horses away from home. That job falls to Andrew Doyle who headed up the trip, as he so often does when travelling north, a job he enjoys and rarely comes home empty handed.
From Coup De Pinceau’s tough front-running display to Bryony and Marracudja teaming up for a gutsy win, Wonderful Charm’s canter round or The Last But One gaining his first success it was an excellent weekend in Scotland so a huge well done to all our team headed up by Andrew who went up there to look after the horses, ride them out, lead them up and boost a local pub’s earnings for the night. It was superb to see and great work from the raiding party, in particular Channon Whitson who led up three of our four winners, awesome stuff.
It is a funny game this, as you may have seen from my quite ridiculous celebrations on ITV on Saturday. It was a brilliant day’s racing that left me completely gutted and later totally elated inside half an hour.
Cyrname ran his heart out in what I think was an excellent Scilly Isles Chase, a race which featured Terrefort and our lad pulling well clear of the field in a classic battle up the Sandown hill. Obviously the whole team around Cyrname was gutted, in particular Sean who had given his mount a quite brilliant ride and tried everything to get him past the grey, but he just couldn’t get there.
Ringing Scott, Cyrname’s rider, afterwards he could barely put a sentence together he was so proud and disappointed all at the same time. We have since spoken and came to the conclusion how could you be anything but proud of a horse which has put up a career best and run his heart out like that. However, I think Scott’s reaction to that race is a brilliant example of how much it means to everyone involved. These horses really do mean the world to our staff.
Talented Thomas raises Sandown spirits
Since Topofthegame has arrived in Ditcheat he has always stood out, not for his ability but because, he is bright orange and by some way the biggest horse in the yard. For all that he is big, Thomas is a gentle giant who is quiet in his box and a delight to have around.
He ran incredibly well in the Lanzarote just three weeks ago, but lack of big race experience told that day, no mistake this time however, as under a smooth ride from Sam he always looked the winner and stayed seriously well up the hill to win in ground softer than ideal.
Along with my Grandad, Mr Bennet and Paul, I drove Mr Barber up to Sandown on Saturday and could tell how much he enjoyed Topofthegame wining like that, in fact Topofthegame is really everything Mr Barber wants in a racehorse. He is over 17 hands high, very genuine, will jump fences in time and most importantly for Mr Barber he stays three miles and that more than anything is what he wants from his horses.
With a full car load the way back was a lively journey, with a fair share of heckling from Grandad and Mr Bennet at me the driver after what was I’m sure more than one whiskey for the pair of them.
I was happy that Topofthegame won for lots of reasons as I’ve said but not least because the Derham family had a small bit of making up to do with Mr Barber after my Dad’s performance on Thursday. Let me explain.
Farmer Geoff helps with spring ploughing
Most weeks Dad acts as the yard tour guide as groups of four enjoy a morning on the gallops, breakfast in the local and very often a trip to the races afterwards. Dad takes them around the yard, lets them meet all our equine friends, shows our visitors the gallops and everything else that goes into a morning here at Ditcheat. This like all the others was going smoothly until second lot viewing on the hill.
Now we have various spots on the hill to watch the strings canter by, one of which is ideal for summer, spring and for that matter autumn. However, it is not so good for the middle of winter when Mr Barber’s fields are saturated. The field by the hill gallop is unsurprisingly is on a hill so Dad drove down to the gate into the field and down to the gallop with the minimum of fuss, they stood there for around an hour watching the horses go by and chatting before the time came to leave, and of course head back up the field.
Now my Dad is not only one of my best mates, he is a wise man so to get the phone call to say he was stuck caused, as you can imagine, great hilarity. Being stuck is one thing, but trying to get out of the mire is another and while the field did look like a smart albeit wet pasture before there is now a section of it resembling a ploughed field. Funny just doesn’t cover it.
An expert piece of driving from Grandad was required to get the truck out and Dad was on the road again; the tense wait to see if Dad is still on the Christmas list with Mr Barber is now underway.
It is now 6:30am on Monday morning and the day proper for me is about to begin. Clifford has just got in from feeding the horses and is now making himself the first and potentially most important coffee of the day so relentlessly another week is underway.
It is a non-stop business this game of ours but after a week like that how could you not love it.