A quick multimedia post today, in case you were missing me (!) and wondering what I'd been up to.
As you may or may not know, I've been away for a fortnight recently. The first week was in Newmarket at the absolutely brilliant Racing Industry Course, run by the BHA and hosted by the British Racing School. And then the second week was skiing in Bulgaria.
And, in amongst all that lot, I've been putting some final preparations together for something extremely exciting, which is happening next week. Of course, you'll be the first to hear about that. Suffice it to say that I've never done anything as comprehensive and exciting before online. 🙂
OK, so here are a few highlights from my two weeks away in pics and videos...
It started with some chats with trainer fellows. Here's Roger Varian...
Interestingly, when I asked Roger about his aspirations for this season, he said he'd rather not go public on such things, but he'd be disappointed if he didn't beat last season's tally.
Given that last season's tally was 53 winners at a near 20% strike rate and a profit at SP of some 57 points, that's quite pleasing news for us punters!
Roger was modest about his achievements to date, and doffed his metaphorical cap to his former guv'nor, Michael Jarvis.
It was clear that the new head of Kremlin Stables is a hard man, despite his unassuming manner. He worked his way up, and he seemed intolerant of others who didn't have the stomach for the job.
He remains a man on my 'to follow' list, and I'll be hoping he cracks the Group race barrier this season. Despite five Listed pots last term, Mr V is yet to add a Group prize to his fledgling CV.
With horses like Nahrain and Dark Promise in the yard, it is surely a matter of time...
Next up and it was a trip to the stable of Ed Dunlop, as well as some time on Newmarket Heath as the babies took their first canter on a grass gallop.
(All images will be displayed full size when clicked on. Use your browser's 'back' button to return to the post.)
Here is Ed Dunlop's class of 2012 strutting their immature, recalcitrant stuff for the first time on the grass (we liked the 'naughty Notnowcato' at the back, shares in which are available from Mr Dunlop)...
Onwards, and on a freezing but beautiful winter morning, I - along with about eight others - was lucky enough to enjoy the company of Frank Conlon, former head lad to both Sir Michael Stoute and Sir Henry Cecil.
This is a bloke who used to ride work with the likes of Pat Eddery on Derby winners! He was knowledgeable, gracious, and extremely good company. For someone like me, who grew up revering Sir Henry, this trip down memory lane was a real treat.
Frank was recalling how he would have piled into Commander In Chief, who was bullying Tenby on the gallops.
But Pat Eddery was having none of it, telling Frank that Tenby was lazy at home but came alive on the track. Sure enough, Tenby was sent off the 4/5 favourite for the 1993 Derby. He trailed home tenth, behind... Commander In Chief!
I backed CiC after his debut that year (he didn't run as a two year old), and it is one of those rare occasions when I've landed an ante post bet on a flat race. I very rarely make such wagers these days..!
It was a truly beautiful morning, as this rare half-decent image from my camera testifies. (Even I couldn't make this look anything less than glorious).
During the course of the week, we were introduced to racing's newest double act, Hills and Gibson, as Michael and Dale walked us through the role of the Professional Jockeys' Association, and the whip rules and their implications for riders.
A fascinating and insightful (and candid) discussion was illuminated by some interesting demonstrations of whip use by Hills, M., who has always favoured the backhand apparently. Who knew?!
In fact, pretty much all of racing's rulers and pretenders - and sometimes it was more than a little tricky to establish which were which - represented themselves during a fascinating week.
The thing that was most clear was what a daunting task Paul Bittar, the incumbent chief executive of the BHA, has ahead as he tries to unify (if not homogenize) the various factions scrapping for elbow room at racing's top table.
I will talk more on this another day, when I have time to do the whole unwieldy morass of an issue something akin to justice. But today's piece has more of a jovial theme...
In a week which was packed to the gunwales, there were also trips to the Jockey Club Rooms, where we were indulged in classic Antiques Roadshow scenes, as David Oldrey, former Jockey Club Steward and racing painting expert, regaled us with tales of the inner sanctum of the governing body from times past.
Without whittering for (much) longer than I already have, we were also treated to insight from Adrian McGlynn, Weatherby's 'thesp' of a company secretary; Oliver Tait, COO at Darley and a man on the Breeders Cup committee; Michael O'Hagan of the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing board; Lynne Hillyer, the BHA's veterinary adviser (and a woman who, in my opinion, has one of the toughest jobs in the sport); Stephen Wallis from Jockey Club Racecourses (who own Cheltenham, Sandown, Ascot, etc); Rod Street from Racing for Change; TV presenter Nick Luck; head of integrity at the BHA, Jennifer Hughes; bloodstock agent David Redvers (who is also the Qatari's racing manager, see image left, with Melbourne Cup!); Caroline Turnbull from the Thoroughbred Breeders Association; Sam Bullard, director of Stallions at Darley Stud; the brilliant Ian Balding, former trainer of the incomparable Mill Reef; Paul Bittar, new chief executive of the BHA; Douglas Erskine-Crum, chief executive of the Levy Board (and a man with whom I actually found a degree of empathy having expected to want to savage him!); Alan Morecombe, chief executive of the Horsemen's Group; and, Sam Sheppard, CEO of the European Breeders Fund... Phew!
It really was - as I think you can imagine - an absolutely jam-packed week of racing industry insight, exposing every facet of the sport, from execution to governance, and playing the various issues off against each in uncompromising fashion.
I went in as someone who thought he knew a fair amount, and came out with a task to re-piece together racing's complex jigsaw of interests in light of much more awareness.
In truth, I'm still trying to do that and, when the dust of the next couple of weeks has settled (more on that in a moment), I'll offer my thoughts on the tangled web which has been weaved and whether or not any of those actors are practising to deceive (with obvious apologies to Sir Walter Scott).
I was also lucky enough (my thanks to the lovely people at BHA/BRS who I suspect had something to do with it) to sit next to Ed Dunlop at dinner on the Thursday, and discuss - of all things - how we've won three races with Khajaaly since buying him from Ed's yard (!) and, more pertinently, the use of social media as part of a trainer's marketing arsenal. Top man, and extremely gracious.
And then it was Friday night, and barely time to head home, wash two loads, pack a suitcase, and fly off to Sofia, en route to Borovets for a week's skiing.
Nothing much to report here, except some more atrocious amateur footage of me 'skiing' (I use the term loosely) down a red run. (Incidentally, that's my mate Stumpy, looking... well, mustard... in the still image below!
And then it was this week! Actually, there is much more to relate, mainly on the personal front, but that must also await another day.
What I can tell you is that during that time - and before, and since - I have been working on a monster project.
It is, without doubt, the biggest I've worked on to date in the online space, and it will be exploding onto the scene from Tuesday next week. I'm fair bursting with excitement about it, and I'd love to tell you more... but I can't!
Sorry for all the secret squirrel references, but trust me, you'll be hearing about it. 😉
Enough for today. I hope you enjoyed at least some of the images / videos above, and if you have an interest in attending the Racing Industry Course, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is not only for people inside the industry - I was one of a number with an 'external' interest - and it is extremely keenly priced. (We were also accommodated and very well fed and watered).
Details are here: http://www.brs.org.uk/Courses/TRIC_-_THE_Racing_Industry_Course/