Picture me, staring at my wardrobe at 9am on Saturday morning, trying to make the final decision on which coat I was going to wear to Cheltenham later that day.
Eventually, I selected a warm and waterproof Musto Snug with the name of Morson (our sponsor) branded on the front and back and a jacket sure to keep out the elements for the day.
The two-hour drive to Cheltenham then ensued and on arrival I can report it took all of about five seconds on leaving the car to realise I had made a horrible error. Instead of selecting one coat from the wardrobe I should have taken all of them, my goodness, cold simply does not cover it. More than anything it was the wind that whipped across the course with a Baltic and merciless chill which made it so brutal.
I can cope with rain as, working outdoors in Britain, you get enough experience coping with the rain, but the wind on Saturday was ferocious. As I cowered for shelter deep inside the stand and watched the first couple of races unfold it occurred to me that the day was not only going to be about very good horses it was also going to be about the brave ones.
The horses that are mentally stronger than their competitors and able to do battle in the toughest of conditions would be well suited to the challenges the day presented. I smiled to myself knowing the chap we had representing us in the Caspian Caviar Cup later that day was just about as battle hardened as they come.
Fabulous Frodon fearless in victory
As I made my way from weighing room to the saddling boxes in the driving rain carrying the huge saddle and weight cloth Frodon was set to carry, I almost felt bad for him, there he was a smallish horse shouldered with top weight once again in these truly hideous conditions, poor Frodie was not going to enjoy this. How wrong was I?
I turned the corner into the saddling boxes and pre-parade ring area and there he was head down charging around the pre-parade as per usual, battle face firmly on and ready to go. Kate Nutt and I saddled him as normal, rugged him up and sent him on his way. I am lucky enough to spend a lot of time up close to Frodon in the last moments before his race as he can generally be a massive handful when Bryony hops on, giving me the unenviable job of trying to lead him to the racecourse in some manner of control.
When Joshua is poised for the first bell to go, Woods stands on the first tee or Phelps is poised on the starting blocks, a focus comes over them, everything else fades into the background and they are ready for action, nothing else matters and I honestly think the same happens to Frodon.
You might think I am talking rubbish, but stood next to him in those last few minutes before he goes out to race he is like no other racehorse I have watched. When Bryony gets on he is off, there is no stopping him, no slowing him down just head down, charge forward at a power walk to the racecourse. He is a genuinely a competitor the like of which I have not seen before. Frodon knows what he has to go out there and do, he gains the belief from having Bryony on top and exits the parade ring ready to give everything.
The thing I find most incredible about Frodon is the way in which he goes about the job in hand. He attacks his races, taking it to his rivals right from the start leading them down a path many do not fancy and, in the driving rain and howling wind, Frodon was just about as heroic as I’ve ever seen from the equine breed. Giving all of his rivals at least a stone, he out-jumped, out-galloped and out-battled his rivals to win his second Caspian Caviar Gold Cup – completing a magic day for him Bryony, Michelle, who looks after him, Holley who rides him brilliantly every day and most importantly Mr and Mrs Vogt.
Mr and Mrs Vogt are some of our biggest supporters and it is always terrific to train winners for them. Enthusiastic, passionate and fun, they have had lots of luck with us and I very much hope that luck continues. Mr Vogt, who I believe has other hobbies bar taking the mick out of me, always keeps me on my toes and I am sure he will have enjoyed Saturday more than anyone.
Donny double delights Ditcheat
Frodon topped off what was a great day really with a further two winners at Doncaster courtesy of a smart display from Amour De Nuit before Quel Destin once again proved just how tough he is by winning the Grade Two Summit Hurdle. There are not many older horses with an attitude like Quel’s so the fact he is three makes it even more impressive how he battles at the end of his races. Hopefully he will keep up his excellent run of form as the season goes on.
Away from the racecourse, I enjoyed another fine week with four consecutive days at home riding out and helping out at evening stables, something that in mid season I do not get much of a chance to do. Shavings day on Monday was a good laugh with Clifford and Rob welcoming me back reminding me I had not been there for shavings day for quite some time and in truth that theme ran until I went racing again on Friday.
Lines like “Harry have you not got a race meeting to be at” and “watch those office hands don’t get dirty”, two of Rob’s regular lines I enjoyed.
One highlight I enjoyed above everything else that happened last week was our first schooling session on the grass. This for Rob and I was a big day as we had worked hard to get the schooling ground as perfect as we could and only needed rain for it to be ready so we were delighted when it eventually arrived and we could utilise the facilities. The schooling went well and all the jocks were happy with the lay out and how it rode. Paul was also happy with the schooling so all in all it was a successful day.
Ditcheat Derby ends in chaos
Now, there has been an infamous tradition in team Ditcheat for years now. I first came across it when I was 13 or so back on my Christmas holidays. You see our indoor school or arena, requires a good amount of work throughout the season.
By work, I mean power-harrowing the surface, forking misplaced sand, cleaning jumps and ensuring all the rails are where they should be. It is labour intensive work but important all the same. The tradition is that at the end of a certain evening stables down at Highbridge, once this work has taken place, the lads will take part in the Ditcheat Derby. Three laps at the end of evening stables under the lights of the new Holland tractor, the only rules being there aren’t really any rules.
The runners were an interesting bunch;
Bryan the Irish raider and new to the Derby; Lorcan the free-going lunatic with jumping frailties; Alex the Scottish interloper who ran in a t-shirt and lycra shorts; Joe the nicest guy you could ever wish to meet, but would make a giraffe look like a small fella; Scott who told us he was only going for a run round and finally me.
We lined up, big Dave said go and off we went – if you thought the National was dramatic you should have seen this year’s edition of the Derby. I think Lorcan must have fallen eight times in a race that only had six jumps, big Joe pulled up, while Alex looked a certainty before seeing a long stride at the last that sadly was not there. He is still rolling while I do not think poor Bryan is finished even now. Never has so much out-of-breath laughter rung around Highbridge. A happy work force on a winter’s night enjoying each other’s company, work does not get better than that.
Having thought about this for the day I have concluded I will not do a blog for a couple of weeks now and my reason is a simple one so I hope you will forgive me. Late on a Sunday night is normally a time reserved for me to pen the blog, however this time next week our annual Christmas party will be in full swing and in the spirit of Christmas I intend to put my festive jumper on, lace up my dancing shoes and have a fun evening.
So I’ll be gone for two weeks and hopefully when I come back I will have plenty to talk about, Christmas with the family, some big days racing and maybe even some gossip from the Christmas party. Until then however, I wish you all the merriest of Christmases and a happy New Year.
Go well. Harry.