As I arrived at a wet, windy and quite frankly miserable Wincanton on Wednesday my hopes for inspiration or wisdom weren’t particularly high.
Orbasa sadly got stuck in the mud and my day wasn’t exactly packed to the rafters with excitement, I did my assistant trainer bit and thought I’d say cheerio to my Dad before I left.
Much to my amusement Dad has found himself on the board of directors at Wincanton thus qualifying himself for a badge from the Jockey Club and a very comfortable room at Wincanton packed to the gunnels with cucumber sandwiches and “scrumptious” cake – at least that’s how “one” describes it. I wandered into the room daunted, but not put totally off by the quite terrifying lady on the door, a lady who’d be better suited at guarding the Crown Jewels than she would be a director’s room. A particular favourite of mine from her narrative of charm being: “Who are you then? You are often hanging around here for no reason”. A warm welcome knows no limits here it seems.
Once into the room having been offered champagne and nibbles (I declined) I spied my father who to my surprise was talking to Harry Redknapp in the corner. I smiled knowing this would have really made my dad’s day, I mean a football fan at the races, literally nothing could make him happier so I wandered over there to say bye. Thirty minutes later I was still chatting to Harry Redknapp, after being introduced by Dad I asked him for his opinion and guidance on some basic leadership strategies he has used over the years. He could not have been kinder with his time and explained to me that nurturing young talent, whether they a footballer or a jockey is a simple, but time consuming business. He was a total gentleman. He explained that in his mind nothing could beat human contact and investing in people’s lives and their stories, not general chit chat, but really getting to know people and learning to connect. He asked me of my ambitions and what I had achieved so far and, after what was as an enjoyable a half-an-hour as I’ve ever enjoyed, we shook hands and he wished me luck.
A sporting leader of his calibre doesn’t walk into your life on a daily basis and it’ll be a chat that remains with me for a long time.
Ditcheat focussed and ready
The week just past has seen the yard a happy but focussed place, the presence of Sam Twiston-Davies for two days always brightens things up and with plenty of Cheltenham schooling taking place there was plenty for us to sink our teeth into.
Over the course of three days we put all of our Cheltenham hopefuls through their paces round our school giving Paul a chance to study closely how they are moving and in what kind of shape they are, and as a group, I believe the man holding the wheel is pretty happy. I know from riding out that the horses are feeling great and they are fit and fresh, a combination tricky to master. I genuinely love my time spent in the saddle at home as it gives me time to look at our strings and pay attention to rider and horse combinations that are going well or maybe need some work. I endeavour for my gaze to be focused and not let a lot pass where I haven’t tried to pick up on something, but a gaze that is transfixed this past week has been Paul’s.
The pressure is now very much on for Cheltenham and, while the horses are put through their daily exercise, the eagle-eyed Paul is zoned in more than ever. It’s amazing how nothing gets past him and how every tiny detail is there in the forefront of his mind in order for him to guide his team through one more week of preparation. It is great to observe and even better to learn from.
Weekend quartet ensures yard remains buoyant
We went into the weekend with 126 winners on the scoreboard and, courtesy of some fine efforts on track both equine and human, we came out of the weekend on 130. Just A Par was given a patient and intelligent ride by Master Cobden, Sean got Warriors Tail jumping like a stag on Red Bull, while Nick was at his stalk and strike best on the durable and classy San Benedeto.
For me though Antartica De Thaix was the satisfying one of the weekend. From the moment she has set foot into our yard she has promised to be a classy performer, but for all her potential at the start of this year she was in danger of becoming frustrating. This tale however has a happy conclusion though with fences and some excellent work from Matt Hampton working the oracle on her. She’s not the most straightforward in her training, often straining for her reins eager to go faster, but Matt has taken time to understand her, as a result she is a mare firmly on the up.
Looking forward to this week my schedule includes three preview evenings and further quiz preparation for Monday night, a pre-festival ritual that is in my care for the first time.
There are many things that Tom handed over to me when I took the reins as assistant trainer and, while there is plenty more important than the quiz, this is a night I’m keen to make a success. Happily I know a guy called Rhys Williams. Rhys is what I’d like to call a human version of Wikipedia for horse racing, but way, way more accurate. Over the last 12 months he’s fast become a close friend of mine and with a shared love for horse racing and Ed Sheeran music we have gelled extremely well. We’ve put lots of hours into the quiz and I’m hoping it’s going to be a night of fun for the whole team, a night before a huge week, our biggest week in fact.
As you can see then I’ve had a really cool week, lots has been achieved, crucially winners have been trained and the wonderful show that I am part of continues to roll on.
Nevermind the Festival, a bacon sandwich has me dreaming
Although still a week away my first day at the festival has already gained a huge victory for me personally and, before I leave you to it for the week, I’ll explain why. Just yesterday (Monday) Mr Barber wandered up to me and asked me for a favour.
“Anything Mr Barber,” I replied and he didn’t disappoint.
“I’d like you to drive me to Cheltenham on Tuesday please.” Result I thought.
“No problem at all Mr B, I’ll be with you at quarter past nine”
What’s so good about that you must think? Does he have a rocket ship car or Ed Sheeran on repeat? Neither actually, but as I get into the driver’s seat of his car before I embark on my journey alongside a bottle of water there will be some mouth watering bacon sandwiches crafted in a special part of heaven called Mrs Barber’s kitchen. They’re a week away but I can taste them now.
Now that my friends is how to start a week.