Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ignore the Harbinger at your peril

I'm a great one for superstitious betting. Passing a horsebox en route to the races, first trainer you see, etc. This probably says much about my pathetic and occasional gambling habit.

Having felt pretty smug on Tuesday for sticking to my rule of backing jumpers in the Ascot Stakes, I subsequently felt pretty stupid that I did not apply this rule to the Gold Cup and Queen Alexandra. I felt even more stupid (but also pleased) to see Harbinger continue his unbeaten run this season.

One Sunday morning last summer, John and I were enjoying a quiet exercise on Panto and Dizzy on the deserted Heath (or so we thought). Having had a gentle hack along the Town Canter we turned off the end and set off along the walking grounds for home when suddenly, from nowhere, appeared this giant, roaring, riderless colt.

Dizzy has grown quite a bit this year but was fairly small by thoroughbred standards as a two-year-old. A sleek, near-black filly, she has, however, always been very eye-catching. The interloper clearly thought she was worth a second look as, having lobbed past, he turned on his heels and came snorting back to us, clearly intent on making Dizzy's acquaintance. Loose horses on the Heath can be pretty alarming anyway but when it's a big colt and you're on a small filly, it's the absolute last thing you need. I tried to block his passage to Dizzy by putting Panto, a boring old gelding, in his path but this was no deterrent for the mystery colt, whose rider was still nowhere to be seen.

John and I dismounted in a flash and he threw Dizzy's reins at me. For at least the hundredth time I thanked God that Panto was such a sensible hack (dotted throughout this entry you will see Panto being ridden by my stepson Anthony, godson Ben and nephew Cameron - he's truly one of the all-time greats) and that sweet little Dizzy was taking this rather intimidating scene in her stride. She's been brought up in the hills of Northumberland and wasn't going to let some great southern softie spoil her morning.

The trainer caught the errant colt and started leading him back up the Heath whence he came. When he was almost at the back gate of Sir Michael Stoute's second yard, Beech Hurst, a rider came running to him, no doubt relieved to see his former mount in one piece. His parting shot to John was: "You should have kept him, he's a good one. He's Harbinger."

Surely this close encounter was enough to spur me into future huge wagers on said beast? Not a bit of it, unfortunately. I won't forget him easily though. He's a truly magnificent horse, but in future I'd rather see him with a paddock rail between us instead of him breathing down the neck of my brave and beloved hack.

STOP PRESS: Great to hear news this morning of the latest addition to the Winter clan. Welcome to the world Willow Orangeblossom Winter and congratulations to Angie and Johnny (who is celebrating a very memorable first father's day).

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