Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Happy times and one sad note

Once again there's been a woeful blogging absence with plenty of scribbling elsewhere to keep me busy.

I'm going to have to restrict  my Royal Ascot round-up to a list of horses that stirred me the most: Time Test, Trip To Paris, Suits You (a wonderful first stakes winner for Youmzain on the biggest stage) and good old Medicean Man, so valiant in defeat. And thanks for a wonderful week of fabulous racing and downright good fun must go to Jenny, Liam and Conor Norris, Chris Hannaford, William Huntingdon, Susie Rowe, Richard Tucker, Rachael Andre, Will Lambe and the one and only Harvey Smith.

They say you should never meet your heroes but in the past few weeks I've been fortunate enough to meet three of mine: the aforementioned childhood show jumping hero who, disappointingly, refrained from any two-fingered salutes in the Royal Enclosure; Roger Charlton, with whom I spent a fascinating morning on the Beckhampton gallops for a forthcoming TDN feature; and Peter Willett, who is an inspiration to every would-be writer on the planet in publising his latest book at the age of 95.

Cottesloe with his very happy winning connections
On the home front, Roy Rocket continues to shine at his beloved Brighton, a track as quirky as he is himself.  Cottesloe has been a truly welcome addition to the stable, winning on his first start for John and owner Stewart Brown on Saturday after a 162-day lay-off. Many thanks to John Hoy of Hoycubed Photography for the accompanying picture from Lingfield. Roy heads back to Brighton this afternoon so we're hoping he can justify favouritism and add to the Newmarket mayor's great strike-rate this season.

Among all the fun, one piece of truly sad news was the death of Joe Janiak's terrific old warhorse, Takeover Target. We enjoyed a string of summers with him here in Newmarket and though I tend to favour stayers, he was a sprinter who got well and truly under my skin. The piece below was written for an Australian website after he retired in 2009. I can't really add to it, except to say rest peacefully, old boy, you were truly remarkable and much loved.


We’ve come to know it as Takeover Target’s box. It’s the end one in a row of six at Newmarket’s Abington Place Stables, an overflow from the main yard occupied by Aussie ex-pat Jane Chapple-Hyam.

Takeover Target's final exercise gallop on the Al Bahathri
For four consecutive annual visits, the great sprinter spent his days there, contentedly picking grass in the quiet paddock after exercise and heading off for evening walks with Joe Janiak once the morning hullabaloo of Newmarket Heath, just beyond his gate, had abated. 

Among more than 2,000 equine bluebloods in British horseracing’s HQ it would have been easy to overlook Takeover Target. With his funny shuffling stride and almost common head, his conformation gave no hint at the true champion contained within. Looks, though, are irrelevant. Racehorses are often, wrongly, compared to sports cars with high-performance engines but their ability to perform is much more organic than mechanical. On the racecourse Takeover Target’s chipped knees and strange gait didn’t matter: he was quite simply all heart. The good ones always are.

Leaving the gallops one morning last year after watching a string work, I spied through the trees the telltale saddle-cloth with the target logo. Returning to the viewing platform, I was fortunate enough to watch Takeover Target and Jay Ford complete a final exercise gallop before the July Cup. None of us knew then that it would be the last gallop of his career, barring the race in which he was injured seriously enough to bring the curtain down without that longed-for Hollywood ending. 

Disappointing though it was for those of us who had grown to love him during his English summers, it was only right that he should have had his last winning hurrah in his homeland, to stands packed with adoring fans at Morphettville. He was Australia’s horse, a sprinter to make the nation proud, his rags-to-riches tale an inspiration to every would-be racehorse owner in the land.

So now, in his place at the end of the stable row, we have Gold Trail, perhaps prophetically named if he’s anywhere near as good as his compatriots who have arrived for England’s flagship meeting before him. Next to him, where Scenic Blast stood last year, is the mare Alverta, while Nicconi is in the next-door yard, the four-year-old colt stabled separately to keep his mind on the game and off Alverta.

The champ, in his Newmarket box, with trainer Joe Janiak
The 2,500-acre training grounds on Newmarket Heath will be a bewildering environment for them, the masses of green space and gallops of differing camber and length a stark contrast to the familiarity of the training track. 

Choisir taught English racegoers to have the utmost respect for Australian sprinters, a message reinforced by those who followed in his wake. Their now annual presence at Royal Ascot is a highlight of the summer, as is their time spent in Newmarket in preparation. Gold Trail, Alverta and Nicconi are welcome here. But it will always be Takeover Target’s box.

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