Monday, May 02, 2011

A moment in history

It’s hard to remember a nicer spring and the last few weeks have been particularly special.

Until Saturday, the race that sticks in my mind the most as an ‘I was there’ moment was Dubai Millennium’s romp in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, when he was applauded from two furlongs out, such was his dominance.

The memory is somewhat bittersweet now. I watched the race from the top of the old stands at Ascot, reached by the lifts next to the funny old ladies’ loos with the big old-fashioned wooden seats. Those loos were particularly great during the Royal Meeting as there was always a team of lovely elderly ladies armed with hatpins, hairspray, plasters, spare tights, just about anything one might need in a fashion emergency during the glitziest of racing occasions.

Some of those ladies might still be employed at Ascot but I woudn't know where to find them any more. The men in the moss green velvet jackets are there still. They never looked out of place next to the elaborate gates to the old winner’s enclosure but they look a little at sea at the new Ascot. That’s how I feel, too. Having grown up near the course, Ascot and Windsor were the two tracks I attended most in my youth. But the old Ascot only exists now in memory, along with the image of Doyen being saddled before the King George in the old pre-parade ring at the top end of the course, looking the most beautiful of any horse I’d ever seen.

Of course the view from the top of the stands at Ascot hasn’t changed, just the viewing platform. It’s not exaggerating to say that its demolition has left me with a terrible twinge of sadness every time I walk through the gates of the new Ascot. I’ll feel the same way when the autumn comes and there is no Champions’ Day at Newmarket, my adopted home course. All changed, changed utterly.

And so to the brave new world of Flat racing in Britain. As much as I am a doubter when it comes to what can only be described as the desecration of the time-honoured Pattern to facilitate the British Champions’ Series (and why couldn’t anyone involved with this project grasp the need for an apostrophe? Perhaps it's a bit 'last century' to be concerned with punctuation?), it could not have had a better start than the extraordinary tour de force by Frankel (pictured a few weeks ago on Warren Hill) in the 2,000 Guineas on Saturday.

It's great news for the extremely generous sponsor, QIPCO, a Qatari-based group which includes a now significant owner/breeder Sheikh Fahad Al Thani. Let's hope that he, like another major new investor and owner of Guineas runner-up Dubawi Gold, Andrew Tinkler, are rewarded for their enthusiasm and generosity with much success on the racecourse in years to come.

Greg Wood, however, hit the nail on the head in the Guardian on Saturday morning when he said: “Flat racing has spent years agonising over its "narrative" and whether the structure of its season can be understood by the wider sporting public. But if the story is good enough, it tells itself, and Frankel's in particular could be a page-turner.”

Who knows which path he’ll follow through the Champions’ Series, or even, as it once was known, the season, but there is no doubt that Saturday was really only about one horse and one race. It was Frankel, it was the 2,000 Guineas, it was a moment in racing history which will have been wasted on the beer-tent brigade but will be appreciated by racing fans down the ages (though some of those lifelong racing fans will now struggle to recognise the names of the races they have loved over the years, such as the Jockey Club Cup, now lost, sacrificed on the altar of change for change's sake) .

Day-to-day living in a small stable has taught me that it is unwise to plan too far ahead for any horse. God willing, Frankel will blast through to the end of 2011 as the champion none of us could have hoped to see so soon after Sea The Stars, but for now I'll just enjoy replaying in my head the most unbelievable horse race I’ll probably ever witness.

We’ll almost certainly never have a Frankel in this stable but things have been ticking along pretty nicely in a small, quiet way of late. The horses that were on the go through the winter did us proud and most of them are off on a well-deserved break at the moment.

After a scare with Ex Con in early February it’s a huge relief to see him back in good health and looking so fantastic. The two-year-old fillies, soon to be joined by a daughter of Cadeaux Genereux, are a really nice bunch and I can’t wait to see how they get on once their work increases.

Batgirl’s winning resumption was a great pleasure and, as John has said on his blog, having Frankie on board made it that bit extra special. I’m pretty sure that the next flying dismount he performed after the one from Batgirl was made from Blue Bunting following her win in the 1,000 Guineas on Sunday.

A resumption of far less interest has been made by me, albeit very tentatively. I’m now back in the saddle after a 15-month enforced absence and dear old Panto has been very kind in looking after me.

Kadouchski has another flat outing set for Thursday, this time at Goodwood with our stable apprentice Hannah Nunn on board. I’ve never seen Kadou look better than he does right now and he’s been in great form this year so let’s hope he can get a turf win under his belt and break Hannah’s duck.

News has reached us that his two half-sisters, She Is A Cracker and Douchkette, are doing well in ‘retirement’. She Is A Cracker won a point-to-point at Parham on Saturday and Douchkette recently won her first dressage competition. Meanwhile, little brother Douchkirk ('Frankie') edges closer to his bumper debut for this stable and another half-brother, Baby Mix, is apparently looking like a promising young hurdler in France for Guy Cherel.

The enjoyment of stable life has recently been greatly enhanced by the arrival of a Dalmatian puppy called Gus, who is asleep on my feet under my desk as I type.

The greyhounds tolerate him and keep him in line and the cats merely pretend that he doesn’t exist in a typically disdainful feline manner.

He proved very popular with the 14 children who were here for an Easter egg hunt on Good Friday and I think it's safe to say that the trainer is very pleased with his spotty birthday present, even if it came a month or so early.

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