Watching horses work at home can get you into all sorts of trouble.
There is not a season goes by where horses don’t turn up and blaze down the gallops resembling some sort of jet-propelled rocket only to get onto the racecourse with the assistant trainer’s hard-earned fiver temporarily in the bookmaker’s care and run like my Grandad, before his hip operation. It is a slow but painful lesson one comes to terms with over passing seasons and I’ve learned that the more workmanlike they are at home generally the better they are on track, step forward Overland Flyer.
Bear, as he is affectionately known, came to us at the start of this year with a handy looking CV. Two wins at arguably the best pointing track in the country, Larkhill, combined with a nice reference from Will Biddick, his pilot in his two victories, suggested he could be useful. Months went by with Overland Flyer progressing with his training in the most unassuming fashion before he turned up at Taunton last Wednesday to make all the running and slam his rivals by 22 lengths.
Now I’m well aware that it wasn’t the strongest novice hurdle run this season, but I loved the way in which Bear did it and how he was as strong at the line as he was when the tapes went back. As I said last week Bear won’t reach his full potential until he approaches a steeplechase fence, but on that evidence there are races to be won before that day comes.
Meek and mild Modus means business
Satisfaction in this job arrives in all kinds of ways, a horse working well, completing a labour intensive task or sneaking in on third lot before the rain comes, however satisfaction on Saturday very simply came in the shape of Modus. There is something about his character which I love, he’s not bold or bullish at home, in fact quite the opposite, he is kind, responds well to a gentle hand and likes his own space in the peaceful sanctuary that is his stable.
Since his early days he has been a nervy and head-strong horse, but saddling him at the most talked about racecourse in the world on Saturday afternoon Carol Vincent, Modus’ mother and I remarked at how sure of himself he was, he was at the races and glad to be there. Saddle safely on, he strutted into the paddock and looked a million dollars, a bolder and braver Modus than ever before.
Barry wandered into the paddock remarked at how well he looked, declared he was going to keep things simple towards the outside of the field and win his race in the straight, “no point in complicating things” he remarked confidently and off they went. From a long way out I thought it was all over and I was absolutely thrilled to see Modus do what we all believed he could.
Fantastic five enjoying life
With the lack of racing for us these last seven days, the week just past has provided an excellent platform on which to get plenty done. In the afternoons the team I try to head up, looks a little like this; Rob Lee our gallop supremo, Andrew Doyle, a man who can often be found saddling winners anywhere further north than Birmingham, Matt Hampton, amateur jockey, story teller and all-round terrible dancer, and Sean Bowen, a future Bryn Terfel.
There aren’t many jobs the lads get up to in the afternoons that are particularly desirable, but hard work is something they are accustomed to, with the laughs that inevitably ensue making things enjoyable. While the majority of the stories Matt tells us couldn’t be bought to the attention of a public audience, the more I read and watch about the world we live in I often think some laughter is just about the most healthy thing we have in our lives.
Between the five of us there isn’t an “A” Level in sight, in fact most days we ask Sean to spell his name just so he doesn’t forget it. Rob doesn’t leave Somerset for the fear he may get a nosebleed, the BHA website still baffles me, while Andrew still insists food that isn’t meat or potatoes is the devil. Matt meanwhile has a resting heart rate of around four beats per minute and the only thing that gets him excited is the idea of shovelling sand for a couple of hours, I’m sure his fiancé Felicity would disagree, but this is day time reading so we won’t go into that.
My point is this though, we are a team who, through a shared love of horse racing and a loyalty to our boss (the now well-tanned Mr Nicholls) get things done. We work together, pool our thoughts and ideas, laugh when Sean forgets his wellies and as a unit I am proud to be part of it.
Memories money can’t buy
Some moments through a season are huge and carry great weight, others only a handful of people know about them but for that handful they’ll be times they all remember, and this was one of them.
Picture the scene. It is quarter past five on Friday evening, it’s cold, really cold, it’s bloody dark but in our world, on the outskirts of Ditcheat dressed in wellies, heavy coats and dirty gloves, everything is good. We have a huge fire lit, Radio One playing from Big Red, a truck that when Ford made it they covered it with a layer of magic that made her indestructible and Sean is singing the latest Ed Sheeran track. At times like that, very simple things make our lives as sweet as any and genuine happiness is a belting good thing to feel. This world I am growing up in seems to be a scarier and greedier place as each day goes by, but for those moments down by our fire we needed nothing other than a story from Matt, Sean’s hilarious laugh and Rob’s classic one liners, nothing could buy that.
Not even £100 million quid.