Blue Monday

            For a brief time it stopped raining – at least around these parts, and a couple of drying days meant that the ground in Huntingdon dried back to Good, Good to Soft in Places, and from having very little chance of running when we looked at the going there on Good Friday when it was still soft – Blue Bikini would finally get the ground she needed, and would take her chance in the staying hurdle.

Another one that would get to go to the races would be Cloud Dancer, who had been declared in Chepstow. A couple of horses declared in the race that, ‘on paper’, looked hard to beat, but Gary and Josh both felt it was worth taking them on, on a track that was likely to suit CD more than them (possibly), so he would line up under David Noonan.

First things first, Monday morning saw Reflexion Faite declared in Kempton on Wednesday evening. A drop back to six furlongs from seven, and the application of a tongue tie would hopefully see her in a better light than on her seasonal debut in Newcastle where she was very disappointing.

Another update was from Alan King who popped Rockola over a few flights of hurdles on Monday morning – she schooled great and would get an entry later in the week and Fergal entered Mamoon Star in Exeter on Sunday, their ground was still soft, with further rain forecast – the chances of him running were slim – but a couple of dry days can make a big difference at this time of year – so we left him in. You never know!

So, after tracking decs, updating Refelxion Faite’s owners, and starting the process of organising badges I headed over to Huntingdon. If their ground had eased at all, and Blue Bikini was not going to run, I would have headed to Chepstow, but if I am honest a trip down the highways and byways of England (and a tiny bit of Wales) on an Easter Bank Holiday Monday did somewhat fill me with dread – I was glad that the ground remained OK for Blue Bikini and she could take her chance.

It was a glorious afternoon – one tip – if you ever go racing in Huntingdon on Easter Monday ( the same used to apply for Boxing Day, but that meeting has now gone to Aintree) either get there very early- and I mean early, or after the first, as the queues to get in are often very long and it can take an age to do the final mile of your trip! I chose the latter, arriving just as the second race was being run. On a bright and breezy afternoon, it was great to catch up with lots of syndicate members, and we were all looking forward to seeing Blue Bikini back on a surface that she would appreciate. She looked fantastic in the paddock, and on good terms with herself, and went to post nicely. Liam Harrison rode, and when they jumped off, he got her in a great rhythm, and she was jumping and travelling very nicely.  We were all very pleased with how things were going, and it looked very much as though a big run was on the cards, that is until disaster struck. A mistake at the first flight in the home straight, and she did something she had never done before, she fell. Instantly it was clear that it was a bad fall, and I have to admit I feared the worst straight away. I had been watching the race with Julie and Geoff Dereham, Harry Dereham’s parents, and when she fell there was a sudden intake of breath among our group, we all knew it was a bad one, Julies hand on my shoulder told me she also feared the worst. I immediately made my way on to the course with Fergal and we headed off down the track. The screens were up, and it did not look good, I rang her owner/breeder, Louise, who I knew would be watching to update date her as much as I could and as I was on the phone to her the sad news came through that Blue Bikini had fractured her shoulder in the fall and had had to be put down. When we reached her, surrounded by those green screens, she was already out of pain, I gave her a pat, thanked her for everything, and thanked the vets and racecourse staff for all that they had done. It was a very quiet walk back to the enclosures. I messaged all of her owners as I walked back to let them know what had happened and was greeted by lots of shocked and saddened faces as I came back into the enclosures. It is always a very hard thing to come to terms with, thankfully it is very rare – we have been through it before, but not for many years – it doesn’t get any easier. Many of her syndicate members left the track straight away, and I don’t blame them – I too just wanted to get in the car and go, but as a syndicate manager you can’t just abandon syndicate members, many of whom would have never experienced such a shocking blow during their times as owners and members – I am lucky enough to be able to celebrate the good days, but on the flip side, I must take care of everyone on the dark days. I saw many of them as soon as we got back to the enclosures but had to excuse myself and head to the on-track betting shop a few minutes later to watch Cloud Dancer run. A little time to myself – still very much in shock – I stood and watched CD in a bit of a daze – more on his run later. Afterwards, it was a case of catching up with all the Blue Bikini team that I had not seen, and who were still on the track. So many kind words from people on the day – jockeys, trainers and members of the public – it is a sport that supports its own – and is full of proper people. Those that passed on their thoughts and best wishes are far too many to mention, but they know who they are and their kindness was appreciated and will not be forgotten.

Blue Bikini and her devoted lass Tia!

The next generation of racegoers meet Sean Bowen - just one of the many to offer their thoughts and condolences on the day! 

Blue Bikini was a character, she was leased from her owner breeder, Louise Kemble, and started her career with Stuart Edmunds, for whom she was placed in a bumper. She always suffered very badly with ulcers and changed stables in the summer down to Fergal O’Brien. On arrival she was immediately put on a regime that she would stick with for the rest of her life, and the effect of that treatment had a hugely beneficial effect on the mare. She could always pull a bit of a face and was never overly cheerful – that was just her disposition, but after her treatment commenced, she went from a mare that would chase the farrier out of the stable – he had to leave through a window once – to a mare that anyone could do anything with. Her form picked up too, after her seasonal/hurdles debut she won next time out in Plumpton, despite the track and trip not suiting her, and really showed her battling qualities- she hated to be beaten. She was showing enough at home for Fergal to try her in a Listed Race in Taunton over Christmas, but the ground was against her there. After Taunton she contracted a nasty respiratory infection that kept her off the track until May when we headed to Newton Abbot to just get a little more experience into her before a summers break. When she came back in, she immediately went on the same regime for her ulcers, and after missing her initial race where the ground was deemed to be too quick and rough in Hereford, she headed to Taunton in early 2023 for her seasonal bow. 20/1 that day – she once again showed how tough she was and battled all the way to the line for a cosy success. The spring of 2023 was very productive for her, winning 3 of her 4 starts, her only defeat coming when she went to Plumpton slightly too quickly after a nasty cut had kept her off games for a while. She had won four races, and not even tackled what would be her optimum distance yet – a superb effort by the team to get that much success and stay ahead of the handicapper. We started the 2023/24 season with high hopes. Her season started in Chepstow, where heavy overnight rain, meant that the ground was way worse than the official description, and she didn’t handle it at all. She put that right back on better ground in Catterick where she bolted up. Her form always looked a bit hit and miss, but the truth is she just didn’t handle testing conditions, and when she got her going, she was a tough nut to crack.

Blue Bikini was a great mare to have been involved with, and huge thanks go to Louise Kemble for giving us the chance to race such a tough mare. She was a character, but we will all miss her. Huge thanks to Ferg, Sally and all the team at Ravenswell who took care of her and gave her the very best chance of fulfilling her ability. Our thoughts especially go to Sam and Tia who looked after her during her time there, particularly Tia who absolutely adored Blue Bikini, and had a very special bond with her. Blue Bikini made us some very special memories, and it will be a long time before we forget her!

Blue Bikini at home with Sam

Winning in Warwick

Back to Cloud Dancer – who’s race, I confess I watched in a bit of a daze. He travelled and jumped well, and when the long odds-on favourite unseated at the first in the back straight, we all thought he had a great chance of winning. David Noonan felt he would come with one long run and try to grab the leader, but CD just couldn’t pick up in the soft ground and he could never quite get back on terms, in the end settling for second place a long way out. David reported that he felt that the track suited CD, but the ground did not. He would be better on a slightly sounder surface and would be seen in a better light when the rains stopped and the ground dried up a bit. He came out of the race fine, and will be out again later this month, when he will still have the option of a run in novice company.

Cloud Dancer pre race

Cloud Dancer after finishing second 

            Tuesday was admin day – office bound. A pleasure to deal with Kempton Park once again – they are great at looking after their owners – Beverly and her team simply superb! Jason Maguire sent a video update of ‘Barry’ our homebred three year old who arrived back at Ivy Lodge Farm the previous weekend. He has settled in well and had been ridden again for the first time. He really does have a lovely nature and takes everything in his stride. Having spent six weeks at Ivy Lodge last summer, Jason got to know him and rode him a lot himself – he is a horse he holds in very high regard, and he believes that he is a very exciting prospect for the future.

            Wednesday morning and plenty of ‘horsebox’ work to do – it has been a very busy 2024, with plenty of trainers, studs and transporters updating their horsebox fleets. After a busy morning, we headed out for a bit of ‘culture’ – lunch in Milton Keynes – lunch not that cultured – a Five Guys burger. Apart from the exorbitant price – there really is nothing to dislike about a Five Guys Burger! Then to the theatre – yes, the theatre for a matinee! We had heard good things about a play that was on, and so we went to see it. The Woman In Black – a ghost story, described by several as gripping and scary. We must be hard to frighten – it didn’t grip or scare. It was well acted, by a very small cast, like all ghost stories, it followed the same hackneyed path – House on moor, a man (usually a solicitor) having to make a trip to said house to finalise the estate of an elderly (often unpopular) old lady. Bumps in the night, graveyards, and of course the appearance of a ghost, that in the end was never there! There you go, no need to see it now! Saved you money – you can now get a Five Guys!

We came out of the theatre and headed to Kempton. Google maps sending us across country through Buckinghamshire – nice to revisit some old haunts! Despite me putting in the wrong post code – one digit can make a lot of difference – we arrived in Kempton in good spirits and in good time to see Reflexion Faite. A good group of her owners out to see her – we had no great expectations, other than we hoped she would run a better race than on debut, and at least hit the line this time, rather than struggle in the final furlong. The drop back in trip, although going against what she had shown at home, should see that happen. Rowan Scott booked to ride, and she would be coming out of stall 1. The hope was to get a good jump, and a nice handy position, ride a race from there, and finish where she could. She slightly missed the break and was taken back slightly, but in fairness to her, she was always absolutely flat out, and could not have improved her position had Rowan wanted her to. She battled all the way to the line, which was an improvement on the last day, but there was never a chance of her troubling the judge. She looks like a filly that has not trained on, which was the fear at the end of last year, but the majority of her syndicate wanted to try her as a three year old, and so we have given it a go – at this stage it looks as though we may be fighting a losing battle, but we will give her one more try over 7 furlongs back on turf towards the end of April and see where we are after that.

Big Kempton crowd!

Reflexion Faite pre race

Post Race

Wednesday also saw a couple of entries for next week. Ridin Solo got an entry in Hexham on Tuesday and Rockola having pleased Alan King with her schooling on Monday got an entry in Hereford on the same day.

            Thursday – Rockola worked up the hill gallop, did it nicely, which meant that Hereford was definitely an option next week.

More rain – when will it ever stop.

            Friday – with the continued wet weather, Exeter did not dry back – so Mamoon Star was not declared. We are not falling into the trap of running him on soft ground, he has been trained with a summer campaign in mind, and we will stick to better ground when it comes! Friday evening, we headed over to Huntingdon Rugby Club for their annual Sportmans Dinner, always a great night. This year former Ireland International and British Lion, Rob Henderson the guest speaker. Another superb night, Henderson a superb speaker, who really engaged with everyone – turns out he is a massive fan of jump racing and along with a few mates has owned some nice horses in the past – he is keen to visit a few yards!

One of these gentleman was a finely tuned athlete!!  The other two are either side of him! 

            Saturday another ‘named storm’ arrived – Kathleen – strong winds, but thankfully dry for the final league fixture at Huntingdon. I headed back over to meet up with a few friends I’d not seem for a while, and to get an update on a few hangovers from the previous night – there were a few sore heads! Huntingdon taking on local rivals St Ives, and coming out winners on the day, after a very decent and hard fought match! There was a massive turn out for the fixture, with a host of Junior games early, and a colts and second XV match also taking place. The car parks were rammed, and a sunny but breezy afternoon meant that there was a real sense of community at the club and it was a really good afternoon out! Huntingdon have the base for a very good side next season, when hopefully they can push for promotion. It is a pleasure to support the club in our own small way – and we wish them every success for the future!

Colts winning

Second XV warming up

First winning in front of a great crowd!

            Sunday morning – Alan King on to say that he was keen to declare Rockola in Hereford on Tuesday. Very soft ground is certainly not ideal, but there are very few National Hunt Junior Hurdles left in the calendar, and he felt that it was better to get another run into her in a race that suited her - for experience – even if it was on ground that may not suit. She will head off on a summers break after this run.

            Around the remainder – Maria’s Flame is on box rest with Connor Brace. She is on great terms with herself and judging from her antics is certainly not feeling the effects of the pelvic issue she suffered a few weeks ago!

Maria's Flame is feeling well! 

 At Warren Chase, Olly Murphy reports Auditoria to be in rude health, and very well – she will be ready to run around the end of April and I am planning to get in and see her this coming week. Itchy Feet is being roughed off before being turned out for a summer at grass to recover from some tired legs. Up at Bankhouse – Old Blue Eyes is back at the main yard after an illness forced him away into isolation. Donald says that he is better, but he is still going to take his time with him. He is a young horse that we like a lot, and he will not be rushed! Ridin Solo is in great form – but his intended run in Hexham on Tuesday will not happen as that meeting has just been abandoned – he is ready to go, and he will have entries going forward. At Ivy Lodge Farm, Dino Bellagio is coming to the end of his next phase of rehab and will be ridden again next week – Ryan is looking forward to that! He will be ridden away for a few weeks before a summer break. Tintagel Queen suffered a nasty leg fracture, and her period of walker exercise is a long one – she too will be back next season and will fit right back into the mare’s novice programme and hopefully follow the path that we had mapped out for her this season. At Ravenswell. Fortune Forever came out of her Taunton run really well, and will have entries later this month, Greyval is working great, she just needs to get a break with the weather and some nice spring ground and Intrepide Sud, who also came out of Taunton fine is also in good form and will be out again in the next few weeks.

            It was a trying week – losing Blue Bikini was a big blow – we all become attached to the horses, they are why we love this sport, and sometimes it is difficult to rationalize the loss of a mare like her, but it is sadly part of the sport, and a risk that we all take. One thing is for sure she will not be forgotten!!

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