It’s a long time since I posted my last blog, which reported the death of my dear Alex, at the beginning of January.
The day after Alex died I was talking to a close friend, who lost his wife five years ago. “Keep busy,” he said, “Whenever you are asked to do something the answer is yes.” I have been following his advice.
Since January I’ve had seven holidays, played tennis with Tim Henman, recorded Desert Island Discs, been a panellist on Any Questions, ridden on just about every roller coaster at Universal Studios (twice), spoken at 20 conferences – including one for prison dentists, visited 650 of our shops and written two books. I have certainly ‘kept busy’.
Unsurprisingly, I think all three trainers wondered whether I would continue with Alex’s string of horses. I might have wondered too, but if I had any doubts, they were dashed by Cobbler’s Son. The foal Alex bred from Cobbler’s Queen should see his first racecourse next season and I must make sure he is carrying Alex’s colours. There was another compelling reason to keep going: one of the books I was writing was about racing – the diary of a racehorse owner’s husband; research for the book had magnified my fascination for the sport.
It took a couple of months for the ownership to be transferred to my name. During the interim period racecards listed the owner as Executors of Mrs A W Timpson, but under all three owners Alex, the executors and eventually myself, the season continued to bring its unfair share of disappointments. At least we knew what to expect from Super Sam and Sixty Something, whose injuries ruled them both out for the whole season, but, with plenty of others fully fit, I was expecting a steady stream of prize money.
Royal Palladium, after a magnificent start to the season, with a lucrative second in The Badger Chase at Wincanton, never got back in the winner’s enclosure and finished his season in March being pulled up at Ludlow and headed via the vet to a field to get fit for racing next November. Un Prophete, a new prospect, looked a certain winner so we were disappointed with a second and two thirds, but trainers always sense an optimistic future, so off a mark of 105 the yard are confident that the first win won’t be far away.
We decided that Arctic Ben should change direction and enter Hunter Chases, but the move hasn’t been as successful as expected. The entry requirements are complicated enough to baffle most trainers: to qualify the horse has to go hunting but for some races the timing and nature of hunt is important. Hunter Chases don’t happen until after Christmas and when they do the prize money is pretty pathetic, but owners are hoping that they will do well enough to qualify for the big events at Cheltenham and Aintree. Henry Daly and I agreed that it was the right move, but we never consulted Arctic Ben who never found Hunter Chasing to his liking.
The Venerable Bede had a promising debut in a talented race at Sandown. I took three of my grandchildren to the meeting, Niamh, Patrick and, the horse’s namesake Bede. The Venerable’s second outing was disappointing but being a big horse I am assured he is ‘built for chasing’ and ‘will be an exciting prospect next season’, a phrase that may also apply to The Artful Cobbler whose win in February at Leicester on heavy ground was followed by two uncompleted races and a hike in handicap to 120, which is going to make it difficult for the forecast improvement in form to be good enough for him to win a race.
Better news of Upbeat Cobbler, the mare, who started the season with a win in the fog at Ludlow, before a couple of mediocre performances at Huntingdon. After an extended break she won again, this time at Huntingdon and took another 10 weeks off before returning to Huntingdon carrying an extra 11 pounds harshly awarded by the handicapper. I was golfing in Waterville in Ireland which, unbelievably doesn’t have a betting shop, but found a pub that subscribed to the racing channel. Despite the increase in handicap, Upbeat Cobbler recorded her third win of the season to the delight of the landlord who had placed a worthwhile bet on the nose. I got a free pint of Guinness.
Two mares, Pretty Mobile and Another Cobbler, were entered into the same low grade race at Bangor, in May, to see whether either were worth funding for another season’s training or if, as I suspected, the time had come for them to seek their happiness elsewhere. Up to that point they had both run in six races with the best performance being by Pretty Mobile when she finished fourth (there were only five runners and one didn’t finish). The test at Bangor ran true to form, Another Cobbler was pulled up and Pretty Mobile was last to finish. Back in the paddock Pretty Mobile’s jockey, Liam Treadwell put in a plea for another run, “Don’t write her off yet, felt there was more in the tank, try over a few more furlongs or go chasing”.
I was at the bar with Henry Daly when we got disturbing news of Another Cobbler who started limping on the way back to the stables. We met the vet in the paddock who showed us the X-ray – a broken bone in the foot; Another Cobbler never went home.
Twelve days later Pretty Mobile was back at Bangor to show what she could do in a two and a half mile chase. She had jumped well at home and Liam Treadwell was keen to show she had the stamina. He never got the chance, Pretty Mobile slipped taking the first fence causing horse and jockey to part company, then the horse ran the remaining two miles with enthusiasm. Judgement on Pretty Mobile’s future will now have to wait until next season.
During the summer I finished writing my book about racing. ‘The diary of a race horse owner’s husband’ charts Alex’s 13-year career as an owner. Originally my title for the book was ‘How to Lose Money’ which I changed to ‘How to Make a Small Fortune’ then, on the advice of a keen racegoer who was well aware of the relationship I had with Alex, the title was changed again to ‘Under Orders’. It takes you through the racing year from an owner’s standpoint, visiting courses, chatting to trainers, meeting jockeys and the very occasional trip to the winner’s enclosure. But it is also a bit of a love story, giving a flavour of how lucky I’ve been spending most of my life with Alex.
If you buy the book from the dedicated website http://UnderOrders.co.uk then I will donate £4 from each copy sold to the Injured Jockeys Fund, which is a cause Alex greatly believed in.