Sunday, August 25, 2013

It started with a kiss

Jason proposes to Lauren
There are daily reminders of how hard it is to compete in horse racing, even in the lower echelons. It’s not just Group races that are dominated by horses running for sheikhs and princes, but maidens and handicaps, too. We keep trying, however, and results such as the 80-1 winner for Ilka Gansera-Leveque’s small stable on Friday at Newmarket – beating the favourite, a Godolphin colt by Raven’s Pass out of Classic winner Zanzibar, by a nose – prove that it's all worthwhile.
The next day at Newmarket it was the turn of our small stable to enjoy another memorable day at our local track on one of our favourite days of the year – Town Plate day. The race probably passes many people by but it is the oldest in the calendar, albeit not run under the rules of racing.  The Newmarket Town Plate was established in 1666 by Charles II, a winner of the race himself who decreed that it should be run forever. Yesterday’s renewal was the 344th running, so a few must have been missed since the inaugural year, presumably during war time. The original October slot has since been moved to late August but it is to the credit of Newmarket Racecourses (and sponsors Powters and Goldings) that it has upheld the tradition of this famous and historic race for amateur riders who race not for money but for glory, honour and, er, sausages.

It's not exaggerating to say that it was the happiest day of my life when Kadouchski, owned, trained and ridden by John, was the 25-length winner of the race two years ago and while that wonderful afternoon is unlikely ever to be bettered, the events of yesterday came close to matching it.

She said yes
A few months ago, John received an email from Jason Carver, an amateur rider who had ridden in the Kiplingcotes Derby and who was keen to follow that up with a spin in the Town Plate on a thoroughbred filly he had owned since she was a yearling. John offered Jason a little advice and the two kept in touch. More recently we heard from Jason again with the sad news that his Kyllachy filly had been seriously injured and that he was off to Doncaster’s August Sale with the hope of finding himself a replacement mount.

Jason spent around 70 hours studying the catalogue and it was time well spent as, just 18 days before the race, he came away from Doncaster with a beautiful nine-year-old gelding by the name of Start Me Up, who had won five races for Charlie Swan in Ireland, having raced for Timmy Hyde then Gigginstown House Stud.

Going to post
Jason decided to send Start Me Up to John to train for the fortnight leading up to the Town Plate. The horse came here in great shape and Jason’s commitment was clear – every day he made the two-hour journey from his home to Newmarket to ride his new horse. Start Me Up quickly slotted into our routine and took to his new training regime on Newmarket Heath like an old pro.

Come race day it was hard to tell who was more nervous, Jason or John. Jason admitted in the horsebox on the way to the racecourse that he felt it was the biggest day of his life but even then I’m not sure he realised how prophetic that statement would turn out to be.

As the Town Plate jockeys filed into the parade ring, Jason went over to his friend Chris and took something from his pocket. In a flash, he was down on one knee and proposing to his girlfriend Lauren Bentley, who had dressed in Jason’s blue and yellow racing colours for the day. She didn't really have time for the proposal to sink in before her new fiancé was legged aboard Start Me Up to make his way to post for the marathon three and three-quarter mile race.

Start Me Up and Jason Carver win the 344th Town Plate
For someone having his first ride on a racecourse, Jason could not have been more professional in his deployment of race tactics. He had Start Me Up switched off in the middle of the pack as the runners galloped through the National Stud and by the time the field reappeared at the top of the July Course he was in an attacking position, shadowing the leaders. Making a positive move with more than a mile still to run, Jason nudged Start Me Up into the lead and from then on he was never headed.  The dear old horse kept finding more down the long, undulating straight and, challenged close home, he dug deeper still to go clear again and win by a comfortable couple of lengths.

As ever with racing, a happy tale comes on the back of a sad one and, just a week before the race, Jason lost his Kyllachy filly after she failed to respond to treatment for her tendon injury. It hit him hard and of course we all wanted Start Me Up to run well for Jason but I’m not sure any of us had let ourselves hope that he might win. The determination, judgement and commitment shown by Jason in choosing this lovely horse and sticking to his game plan even in adversity is an example to us all. His great victory a just reward for pursuing his dream.

A very happy team (photo by Michael Smithson)
I’m also really proud of the team here for the part they played in Jason’s big day – John, Hugh, Terri and Iva all contributed to helping to build Jason’s confidence in his new partnership with Start Me Up and looked after the horse so well for him. Suzy Quirke, our new friend from Dublin who was taking a break from riding out for John Oxx to spend two weeks with us, walked the course with Jason the day before the race and was a brilliant help to us and to Jason.

All that remains is for us to wish Jason and Lauren a very happy life together and to look forward to the return of Start Me Up at Christmas after a well-earned holiday. Next stop Cheltenham and the St Patrick’s Day Derby!

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

Having inadvertently stumbled on your blog as opposed to jb s musings (stubby fingers small iPad) he is slightly unfair in his assertion your blogs are less interesting but more importantly it is pleasure to see a blog without a picture through horses ears!!