When, in Spring 2014, we agreed to concentrate on Saturday horses, with the hope of running in big races for top prize money, we knew it would take time for our new policy to produce a string of winners.
But we did expect that, during January and February, we would be drawing up careful plans to prepare most of our horses for their appearance at Cheltenham.
As it happened, we had other things on our minds. Alex spent the second week of January in hospital for three precautionary procedures to help prevent infection from the side effects of her cancer and chemotherapy. It was going to be a close call for Alex to be fit enough to travel to Mustique on 23rd January for a fortnight’s holiday.
I broke off from a trip round some of our shops in North Wales to be at Banger to watch Upbeat Cobbler run in a modest Novice Handicap Chase. I was hopeful after Simon who saddled her up said: “She’s been in great form at home, I’ve never seen any better jumping from a novice.” She misjudged two of the first four obstacles and unseated her jockey at the last fence of the first circuit.
Later in the week I slipped out of the office to Ladbrokes where I watched Pretty Mobile finish way down a mediocre field at Ludlow.
Our Saturday racing policy showed some sign of success on the day before Alex went back into hospital. Sixty Something was in the Classic Chase at Warwick – the big race of the day. We watched the build-up on Channel 4’s Morning Line but although our horse got a mention no one tipped it to win.
We had two runners that Saturday. Arctic Ben was at Wetherby, ridden by AP McCoy (only his second ride in our colours having fallen on Sixty Something a year earlier). Henry Daly had given AP strict instructions to go off at a good gallop, and that’s what he did. His lead stretched to over 30 lengths before the field started closing the gap but they were never going to catch us. Arctic Ben won by 6 lengths and AP McCoy was so pleased that he’d achieved his ultimate aim, a win for Alex Timpson, he announced his retirement.
In the Classic Chase at Warwick Sixty Something was in contention until the last bend before the leaders showed too much pace and we finished fourth (but won over £3,000 – much more than the £121 we could have won for coming fourth at most meetings on a Monday.
While Alex was in hospital I was in William Hill watching Royal Palladium at Ludlow trying to make it four wins out of four. He never looked fluent and fell with a few fences left to jump.
I gave Ladbrokes the pleasure of my company when I watched another hugely disappointing attempt from Six One Away. He was pulled up at Plumpton after sharing the lead for a circuit and, like a 1,500m pacemaker, quickly dropped back through the field. Paul Webber is so perplexed and so certain the horse has ability, he is keeping Six One Away for free until he shows some proper form at the beginning of next season.
Alex was determined to get to Mustique and was back home from hospital with five days to go, just in time to watch Super Sam come a disappointing third out of nine runners in a Class 3 Handicap Hurdle at Taunton where the second place was taken by the cleverly named ‘Italian Yob’ owned by Mustique managing director, Roger Pritchard and House Owner David Morgan. They are certain to mention the race when we arrive on the island.
Although we could have called at Warwick to see Safran de Cotte’s race on our way down to Gatwick we watched it in a bookies outside Bicester. He came a poor third.
While we were away Upbeat Cobbler was pulled up in a Novice Handicap Chase at Taunton. Just after our return from holiday our two Cheltenham entries both had a last chance to secure qualification. Royal Palladium came fourth out of five in a hot race on a cold Monday at Leicester and Sixty Something came third out of seven over four gruelling miles at Catterick when a win would have put Cheltenham beyond doubt.
While we were waiting for the Cheltenham declaration dates we had three more disappointing performances. Arctic Ben could not repeat the win at Beverley. With a young apprentice on board instead of AP McCoy Arctic Ben was not given the enormous lead he needs and finished fifth out of eight.
Safran de Cotte came in for some stick from the Racing UK commentator who simply couldn’t believe how our horse had become the bookies’ favourite. He was right although Safran was in contention for the first mile and a half he then faded and pulled up well before the finish.
Five days later Upbeat Cobbler did exactly the same thing and we began to wonder whether Henry Daly’s horses are suffering from a virus in the yard.
Despite our business plan no new Cheltenham hopefuls have emerged during the season. Another Cobbler, after a poor bumper at Bangor before Christmas is still waiting for better ground before making another appearance. We are told The Artful Cobbler looks promising at home but this potential is yet to be tested on a racecourse.
The Venerable Bede who “looks every bit a racehorse” was two weeks away from his debut when he threw a splint and sent me searching through Wikipedia for an explanation which made me none the wiser. All I know is that the horse won’t be going racing this season and I’m facing a few more vet’s bills.
None of this bad news matched the disappointment concerning Rubber Sole who, after 18 months of careful preparation has spine problems and will ‘never be right’. Like Manchester City, there might have to be a major change to our team during the close season.
John Timpson CBE is the Chairman of Timpson Ltd, his family business and one of the most well-known names on the high street. Originally a chain of shoe shops, the business, under the management of John, now specialises in shoe repairs and key cutting.
His wife Alex is the owner of several racehorses and John writes about their experiences for Eclipse Magazine each month.