Saturday saw members of the Geegeez Racing Club and their guests convene for a day of horse-related interest in Newmarket, the headquarters of flat racing in the UK.
It actually all started on Friday night, when around sixteen of us met for a glass (or two) at the Rutland Hotel in Newmarket town. Stories and jokes were traded at breakneck pace, and many of us - particularly me, I have to concede - had subsequent trouble with the early morning rise on Saturday. The lock in at the Reindeer where we were staying didn't help... 😉
So to Saturday and after the aforementioned struggles with surfacing and donning finery, we gathered at the National Stud under a breezy but sunny sky. There were 35 of us in total, hosted by Julia herself and, as we boarded the bus to head for Hamilton Hill gallops, Julia gave us some tour notes about the local trainers and celebs on the Hamilton Road. One of those residents - known for being a wily old fox and bookies' scourge - was to have a minor bearing on my evening much later, but more of that in due course.
Once we'd arrived at the viewing space on Hamilton Hill gallops, we were treated to what can best be described as a 'fly past' of some of the Feilden stable's string, including Bavarica and Khajaaly, who were both having their final 'breezes' prior to runs this afternoon. Generous Genella also whizzed by prior to her Monday entry but she was balloted out unfortunately so will have to await another day.
[Khajaaly was in the middle of three in the second group.]
After the 'fly past', the horses stopped by us on the way back for further photos, and our chap, Khajaaly was an absolute gentleman, handling the 'media attention' of his fans and owners in his substantial stride. He has a pretty good temperament and looked extremely well in himself.
He's really bulked up since we first got him, when he had quite a big frame but not a lot of meat on him. Now he looks much stronger in the shoulder and has filled out a fair bit of that frame, so much so that we're toying with trying a sprint trip with him at some point. But not today, when he will contest the 4.40 at Wolverhampton. Again, more on that below.
We reboarded the bus with our next destination being Harraton Stables, in Exning. It's a beautiful corner of England, and a real shrine to 'doing things the right way'. There are no gambling owners (well, maybe one ;-)), no mass production line of animals all fed pellets and left to fend for themselves.
Harraton Stables is a boarding house for equines of the highest order. Something of a boutique affair, if you will. All of the residents are treated with the best care, and have a diet that is probably unsurpassed by four-legged creatures across the town (with the possible exception of the Newmarket butcher's dog!)
We got to see and befriend recent winners, Sail Home (owned in majority by Geegeez Racing Club members) and Sancho Panza; as well as two year old winner, Red Hearts, and high class filly, Emma's Gift.
We also waved to Night Orbit ('Olly') who was away in a field after his fine run at York last week, when he was sixth of seventeen over an unsuitably short trip of 2m2f (!)
And we met 'the beast', an unraced 2yo called Acer Diamonds. He's a remarkably physically precocious sort, and looks like a 4yo sprinter already! He's also a feisty customer, as one of our number can especially testify: she was the recipient of a fairly toothy 'love bite' from Acer. (Katherine, I hope you're fine after that :-).
John, Julia's husband, gave us the feed talk before we headed off. I've seen and heard this presentation about half a dozen times now, and I never tire of it. It is impressive and satisfying to understand the level of care our horses have there, and this is exemplified by the stuff they scoff at their (five!) meal times each day.
Only the best, including specially prepared dishes each day, and twice a week a special 'broth' that John cooks - literally - and a liberal dollop of God's linctus, manuka honey.
We bade farewell to the nags there and clambered back onto our bus for the much-awaited (especially by those, like me, who'd had no breakfast) trip to The Wheatsheaf, Exning's trainer-run pub, in the capable hands of handler Ken Clutterbuck and Julia's sister, Poppy.
The bacon and sausage sandwiches were heaven sent for strugglers like myself, as was the decent coffee being dispensed. I almost felt human again after that... almost!
By now, the unfamiliarity of so many disparate part-owners brought together through a website had dissolved and the banter was flowing as quickly as I was knocking back caffeine infusions. A number of us were to return to The Wheatsheaf that evening for a 'debrief' and a further glass or two.
Butties polished, the bus awaited us once more for the final leg of our driver's trip, back to the National Stud. Once there, we were joined on our own bus by Malcolm, an articulate, entertaining and somewhat 'cheeky chappy' guide, who gave us a fantastic hour of insights around the National Stud.
On our way round, we were able to say hello to many of the stallions there, including Cockney Rebel who has his first juvenile crop running this season and has already thrown dual winner, Cockney Fire from a handful of starters to date; and Myboycharlie, another having his first crop out this year.
The covering barn was next and, with the lights romantically dimmed (ahem), we were treated to a spiel on how the job gets done. We were also shown some interesting toys and accessories, about which I'll say no more and leave your minds to wander. Some will clearly wander further than others! 😉
Before our stud tour concluded, we were lucky enough to meet the newest arrival on the farm, a three DAY old foal and his mum. This tottering little creature was a sight to behold, and the comparisons with Bambi were perfectly fair. He was a curious little fellow and, tentatively, made his way towards the part of the fence where we'd congregated.
His mum, shrewder and obviously more worldly than junior, allowed him to approach only so far before gently herding him back with a subtle brush of her head against his. But our lad wasn't that easily deterred and headed still closer before flashing the gummiest of smiles - think Albert Steptoe and you'll be in the right ballpark!
It was now a shade after 1pm, four and a bit hours had whizzed by, and we had an engagement at the track for afternoon racing. The quality, for Newmarket, was moderate it should be said and, whilst those around me all managed to find winners so far as I could tell, I got what I deserved: no research is not a strong foundation for fairly heavy wagering, and I was cheerfully 'uncashed' by the bookies. Just desserts for pathetic indiscipline. 🙁
Gavin and Gary both hit big-priced winners, so well done to them (except that they didn't share their fortune with me!)
No matter, for even such irritations could not deter my enjoyment of the company of friends and fellow club members. After racing, and a brief hiatus for a snooze, the quintet of us in the Reindeer (myself and Mrs Matt, Carole; David and Melanie; and, Neil) taxied over to The Wheatsheaf to meet with other thirsty members of the group: Jim, Charlie, Karen, James, Dave, Freddie and Thelma, and of course John and Julia.
Food and wine flowed, as did tales of past glories and disasters, as the night descended towards a watery closing time. At around 11.30, it was time to draw stumps and grab a taxi. Successfully ordered ('ten to fifteen minutes, mate'), I returned to the bar to finish the last of my Guinness and await the car's arrival along with my fellow Reindeer residents.
Half an hour passed and no taxi, so I called the firm and enquired about its whereabouts. "Oh", said the controller, "that taxi was taken - was it not by you? The driver did call in and say he'd been rerouted to the Hamilton Road. I'll send another one".
I went inside, suitably miffed, and explained to Ken, the landlord what had happened. "Ah yes", he said, "that was Michael Wigham, Newmarket's shrewdest - he's always doing that".
I'd been Wigham'ed and vowed that I'd follow his next punt to get my own back!
In seriousness, it was a short wait until the new cab arrived and we made good time back to the Reindeer. Such good time, in fact, that there was sufficient remaining on the clock for a last nightcap before bed.
A truly excellent day for yours truly, which I hope was enjoyed at least half as much by the other attendees (actually, I know it was, because many of them have already been in touch to say as much!)
Thank you to all for your company, and I'll look forward to doing something similar in October in the new Geegeez Racing Club year.
Here's the video I took last year with the National Stud and the stables on it.
Finally, as I mentioned Khajaaly runs this afternoon in the 4.40 race and it's a pretty decent contest for the grade / day. Our boy is in great form, and we're very hopeful, but there's a few tough nuts to be cracked if we're to reach the winners' enclosure for a third time.
Khajaaly is a general 5/1 chance and the race should be run to suit, with lots of pace off which Jimmy can try to make a sustained late run. The pace will also suit likely favourite and big recent improver, Polemica, and he's probably the main danger.
I've had a good bet, each way, and am hopeful rather than confident.