By Eclipse Award-Winning Writer Sean Clancy, St Publishing
Well, Valdez is no longer undefeated. Riverdee’s British runner finished fourth in the Doncaster Sales Bumper on Saturday at Newbury. My in-running comment would read: Pulled hard, never settled, saved ground, lacked room, slow to respond when called upon, switched lanes several times in stretch, stayed on well to just miss third.
Choc Thornton returned, looked down at a slightly disappointed owner and offered a good pep talk: “Don’t be disappointed, he’s run a hell of a race, they’ve gone no gallop and he’s pulled my arms out the whole way. He’s a lovely horse.”
Funny old game. You get your hopes up, only to see them dashed. You know it’s more than likely they will be dashed, but still, you get your hopes up, you volunteer for the pain again. Guess, that’s why we like it. If you’re not drawn to the ride – the highs and lows – then you would be doing something else.
At the least, I got to enjoy a weekend of British racing, spending a morning at Mick Channon’s flat yard near Lambourn, another morning at Alan King’s steeplechase yard at Barbury Castle, two days of jump racing at Newbury and a night of Doncaster Sales.
Channon drove his Land Rover – horse shoes and tractor parts on the floor and packed full of assistants and guests – to the top of the gallops to see second lot train Friday morning. The fog hung so thick, you could hear them coming before you could see them coming.
Channon’s gallops are numbered, he barked out instructions, “You four go up the 5, stay together, no winners, don’t ask for anything . . . Sam, you lead Maggot . . . one behind each other . . . it’s early, they’re young, no winners . . . ”
All was going relatively smoothly – from what we couldn’t see – until we heard thundering hooves behind us. A set streaked up the wrong gallop. Channon roared like Tommy Lasorda at a daft umpire. The rest is unprintable. When it was over, he belly laughed at the lunacy of it all.
It was slightly less frantic at Barbury Castle Saturday morning. Twenty-three jumpers made up first lot. It would take me six months to see that many nice jumpers in America. King’s Cheltenham hopefuls bowled up the long uphill gallop. Walkon, Medermit, Grumeti, Invictus, Vendor, Montbazon, Hold On Julio, Smad Place . . . I’ll take Vendor, Grumeti and Montbazon.
Saturday afternoon, we watched seven live races at Newbury while ducking inside to watch action from Doncaster and Kelso. My old favorite Junior prepped for the Grand National, just missing in a photo finish while Jane Buchanan’s Tap Night won a Grade II hurdle at Kelso. Slightly bittersweet as I tried to buy Junior and Tap Night before they went on to sweet success. Buchanan deserves credit, she bought Tap Night for $26,000 at Keeneland November, 2010 (I stood outside a hunt tea in Middleburg, phone to ear, just to find out I didn’t have enough ammo). Nice horse, sweet for Jane and her brother Peter, riding the high, knowing the fleetingness of it all.
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