Thursday, 30 December 2010

Surf by name...

With conditions here continuing to preclude stronger work we took three horses to the West Sands at St Andrews this morning, they may run at Ayr's New Year meeting but the forecast makes it look a little unlikely, an away day will have done them the world of good and the plan is for another three to go tomorrow, happy New Year and thank you for reading....

Forcefield and Isla Pearl Fisher

Isla Pearl Fisher

Northern Flame

Heading back with the Angus hills in the distance

Northern Flame makes a splash

Heading away from the town with the R&A and Scores in the background

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

More yuck

The "thaw" is proving agonisingly slow and cold damp fog does little to move things forward or raise the spirits; the entire farm (including most of the all weather gallop) seems to have turned into a giant frozen slab coated with a thin film of slippery sludge, we managed to make a little headway in the round school and the horses walked, trotted and cantered there and remarkably they did a reasonable amount of exercise, not good conditions though and it would be very helpful if temperatures would rise enough to let the current frost come out of the ground before the next one arrives otherwise we will end up with a sort of frost sandwich which will be very odd.  I think we have until Friday night before things turn a little colder again..
Having been on a few other farms in the last couple of days we can take some pride in our yard being comparitively frost and ice free relative to the quite extraordinary conditions elsewhere and although the plumber is in most days to fix little niggles we have avoided serious flooding.  One benefit of the collapse of the postal & courier systems last week leading to the non-delivery of my Xmas shopping is that there is ongoing excitement whenever a courier's van comes up the drive, they still seem well behind and I am now wondering whether the smoked lobster delivered today having left North Uist on the 20th will be edible, can't really bear the thought of binning it..............

Monday, 27 December 2010

Church on time...

Well, I trust that everyone that bothers to read this has had a happy and peaceful Christmas and that if they chose to attend a Church service that they didn't suffer the fate of family Alexander who tipped up for the 11am  service on Christmas Day to discover the congregation milling around outside having enjoyed the lessons, prayers and carols for the 10am service; of course Mrs A thought they were all about to go in so compounded the embarrasment by making me park and all of us troop over to the church to feel a proper bunch of clots, we could at least have just driven on incognito, at least for once it wasn't my fault...  such was the family appetite for religion that we drove round looking for an alternative and ended up in a Roman Catholic "gig" in Leslie, I don't think any danger of any of us heading for a Blair style conversion ..
Anyway horses here all well and same exercise Boxing Day and today, big warm up in the school and a couple of gentle spins up the all weather, conditions truly awful though - another 3 inches of wet snow together with a painfully gradual thaw has produced a revolting and treachourous mixture of ice, slush and mud, however the main thing is it's definitely a THAW after the best part of a six week freeze up, so I am hopeful that in another week we might be able to go racing, I have therefore made entries at Musselburgh (going to stuggle I think) on Saturday for Native Coll and Isla Patriot, Ayr on Sunday (must be a chance) for Seeking Power, Forcefield and Northern Flame and Ayr on Monday (surely a good chance!) for Isla Pearl Fisher and Native Coll.  None of them have had a proper piece of work for six weeks but they were fit before and we've kept them going, it will be fascinating to see if they have retained their fitness - let's hope we have the chance to find out.
Season's Greetings

Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

We had the all-weather gallop back in action this morning and all the horses had a 30 minute warm up in the school, then cantered three and a half times up the gallop and warmed down back in the school for 15 minutes, surface not perfect but good enough and they all had a decent workout.  Christmas Day means that they all have a quiet one tomorrow with an hour on the walker, full exercise will resume on Sunday when I will be hoping to make some entries for Musselburgh and Ayr over New Year.... Happy Christmas!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

at last

Christmas tree executed at 08.05 am this morning, heaved onto roof of Toyota and Mrs A valiantly stood on the footrails and somehow clung on to the tree and the car whilst I whisked it back down to ensure we were on time for first lot.  Pressure off.  All horses then had a long trot in the school prior to a trot up the side of the gallop and then four steady canters, pretty treacherous conditions but plenty of exercise, I think we will have a go on the gallop itself tomorrow. After that with trains mostly cancelled/suspended/withdrawn (they all mean the same thing - just Network Rail's varying ways of informing you that the train isn't running!) a first time experience on the park & ride to Open Platform Xmas lunch ( at Oloroso ( - transport all worked perfectly and a splendid lunch where I certainly held my own against stiff competition in the consumption stakes and back home in time to pick up the tail end of evening stables (hic).
Greatly struck by what a wonderful cosmopolitan feel Edinburgh has these days, unrecognisable from 20 years ago, not sure if devolution has helped this or it is just the passage of time, the quid pro quo seems to be a commensurate increase in the numbers of homeless and beggars, very poignant at this time of year, the divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots" appears to grow all the time giving an almost Dickensian air, surely society can do better..

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Under pressure...

Back to work in the snow today and all the horses were out for well over an hour covering a lot of ground walking, trotting and cantering steadily.  Underfoot conditions weren't great but by cutting back to two lots it means they can have a really good long exercise, they seem well and are certainly fresh but would greatly benefit from some faster work which looks unlikely at least until early next week.  The artificial surfaces seem in good shape under the snow but as soon as we work on them we will let the frost in so I think we think we will try to muddle along in the snow for another couple of days as temperatures are so low that the water buckets start to freeze over within 20 minutes of being filled....
Failed on the Christmas tree front, couldn't prise my wallet open and didn't fancy driving down the motorway with it strapped to the roof, will have to venture out here sometime very soon, pressure is mounting....

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


And so, a few days away catching up and celebrating with family in Northumberland and here in Scotland, interspersed with a couple of hours back here on Sunday afternoon to put the new snowplough into action and a sad and poignant farewell to Alan Normile at the service of Thanksgiving for his life in Perth yesterday. 
The gallop here was operational on Saturday & then all surfaces were put back level prior to the arrival of the snow on Sunday, given the absence of imminent racing I decided to repeat the routine of last week and give the horses 3 days on the walker.  The plan is to start riding them all again tomorrow and with plenty of good riders about for Xmas we will get them all out in two longish lots; the way I see it there won't be any racing in the North until the New Year so we will now focus on having them fit and ready in 10 days time, not sure whether we will manage to get any faster work into them but we will do as much as we can.
Great news that "AP" won the Sports Personality of the Year award, a thoroughly worthy winner and also good news that the BHA have finally published the race programme for Q1 2011, although I've loved my few day away I am very happy to be back on the job and part of that will be making plenty of plans for the horses for what I am sure will be a mild and open January!  Let's hope so, the long range forecast suggests there might be an improvement by this time next week; like most places it is extremely cold & we have had an unprecedented range of problems caused by freezing water pipes etc, even the cat's water bowl in my office has frozen, by the time the thaw arrives (when? ed) we will have had a whole month with temperatures only making it above freezing on two days, I'm going to go and buy a Christmas Tree now, first time in my life but the alternative prospect of harvesting my own this year is not very enticing...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

All weather alright!

I didn't think I would ever feel excited to be able to rotovate our all-weather gallop but today an overnight thaw allowed us back on to it for the first time since 27th November, I now of course have to restrain myself from doing too much with them too quickly, however all the horses exercised on it today and did plenty of work, hopefully they will be back on it tomorrow.  We also were able to open up the sand school again so all artificial surfaces are back in action... for the moment.

So the Chief Executive of the BHA, Nic Coward is leaving, thank goodness for that, I am yet to meet anyone in the industry who thinks he has done a worthwhile job, it seems rather apt that his final task at the BHA is to conduct a review to decide whether or not it is worth replacing him...

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


All 16 horses in work had plenty of exercise in the school today, 15 minutes walk, 20 minutes trotting and 5 minutes cantering then 15 minutes to cool down.  Surface was a mixture of snow, slush and cushiontrack - fine really - and its back level tonight in preparation for whatever the weather is going to throw at us next.  Papamoa and new arrival Twelve Paces were on the horsewalker.

We have plenty of entries over the next week at Newcastle, Carlisle, Sedgefield and Musselburgh but it's to turn very cold again so I suspect more patience will be required, I couldn't be happier with the horses and all they would need would be a couple of decent pieces of work to have them spot on again but I don't want to do that if there isn't going to be any racing.... back to the forecast!


Walker yesterday, riding again today, slight frost and still a lot of snow lying around, will start in school & see where we can go from there.

Alan Normile's funeral is in Perth on Monday at noon, he died at a tragically young age (36) on Saturday night.  Alan was diagnosed with cancer in the early spring and he fought the disease with characteristic courage and optimism, he was always the first to help in any situation and the last thing he wanted to do was burden others with the worries that he must have had as his ilness failed to respond to treatment, publicly at least he remained on resolutely good form and he managed to keep his horses in great form throughout his illness, testament also to the wonderful team of staff, horses and owners he had put together at Duncrievie.  Always the first to text me when I had a winner he loved everything about this sport and the horses around which it revolves.  The sport as a whole will miss him hugely, as of course will his team at Duncrievie but most of all our hearts go out to Lucy and the children and the rest of his family.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


With ice everywhere and little prospect of racing in the imminent future I took the pragmatist's route yesterday and the horses all went on the walker for an hour in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon, they will do the same today and having had three "days off" will be ridden again tomorrow. I say "days off" but in an hour on the walker they actually cover over 10km so it should certainly keep them ticking over.

So much for the "consensus," all five forecasts indicated temperatures of between -1 and -5 first thing this morning, I therefore whoop with joy when I see +4.3 at 6.30am on the guage, having missed the Monday evening weigh-in ceremony last night I am also very pleased with what I see on the board, many of them have continued to lose weight demonstrating the effectiveness of the deep snow cantering..

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A night out with the Toon Army

"Daddy," said young Johnny, "you are what Mummy would describe as a hooligan" - this was in the car 5 minutes from home on our way to the football match, at least it was referring to my driving rather than my behaviour at the match.  Earlier in the day I had walked down the drive to collect the newpapers from the delivery man who had become stuck on the black ice, his boss telephoned Mrs A to tell her that the papers had been handed to "one of her workers" - couldn't agree more!    A thoroughly entertaining trip down to Newcastle to watch them beat Liverpool 3-1 in a thrilling match with an awesome atmosphere, stirring stuff but not enough to stop the fans venting their fury at the owner before, during, and after the game.  Having observed the disdain with which Ashley treated the stockmarket I wonder whether he actually enjoys having up to 40,000 fans of his football club continually chanting "you fat, balding,b*****d" for over two hours - all hooligans have to join in of course!
We have five declared for Ayr tomorrow but it looks like being called off and though we have plenty of entries for next weekend at Newcastle and Carlisle the long term forecast does not look good. 
I study five weather forecasts at least twice a day, it only takes a minute and none of them are particularly good (a bit like economic forecasters really) but I feel that when they show strong consensus I have something that I can rely on (unlike economists, here I usually view consensus as a useful contrary indicator!).  Based on the NWA consensus forecast there will be no racing in the North this side of Xmas, I usually try to give the horses a brief break for 3-4 days at this time of year, worm them etc - let's us all draw breath - they all cantered yesterday in conditions that were not at all satisfactory so I might decide that it would be timely to have the little break now, about 10 days earlier than normal and then concentrate on preparing them for the post Xmas/New Year racing..
.....STOP PRESS.... AYR ABANDONED....11.54am

Friday, 10 December 2010

Great Excitement

Great excitement today, the top of the schooling hurdles emerged from the snow and I can just about see where the all weather gallop used to be (well, still is I hope), no sign of the snowplough yet, hopefully not far away, must be waiting till the snow's gone.
Conditions for exercising today much the worse we have had to deal with so far, about a foot of slush on top of deep ground, sheets of ice on the roads to the cantering fields, it's melting very fast which is good news, the Ayr horses all had an easy day walking after their exertions yesterday, the others trotted and had a light canter for about three furlongs.
Will hope to do a bit more with them again tomorrow, heartened to see Lucinda's Safari Adventures run a great race at Cheltenham this afternoon, I assume he will have had very similar exercise to ours over the last two weeks, after work tomorrow I will jump on a train to St James's Park to watch Newcastle take on Liverpool, should be very entertaining to watch the fans give Ashley a piece of their minds after his extraordinary behaviour this week, then it will be back late tomorrow night for an early start studying weather forecasts on Sunday, decisions will need to be made......

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Let the melt begin...

At last, temperatures above freezing and a slow thaw has started, in the vague hope that Ayr might defrost in time for Monday we worked the potential runners a bit harder in the snow today - Isla Pearl Fisher, Isla Patriot, Northern Flame, Forcefield and Four Fiddlers all had a surpisingly decent blow-out, the two "Islas" were then clipped and are now wearing three rugs.  The rest of the horses had a quieter day and went for a long hack with a bit of a trot, Northern Flame and Daasij also were treated by the in-house physio Gillian.

So, the BHA have decided that to help fill the gap left by reduced Levy Board funding they are going to up their charges to Owners by £100 per horse per year - great - I think they are barking mad, their charges to Owners are already absurdly high (why should one have to pay £35 to re-register one's colours each year for instance?) and increasing them is only going to put people off at a time when what the industry needs is more people to come in.  Everything that the BHA does seems so detached from the realities of trying to run a successful business that I know of nobody in the industry that has any confidence in them whatsoever, they appear to everyone as the ultimate quango - unanswerable, unaccountable and certainly unelectable and now the former Chairman (Martin Broughton who presided over much of the creation of the current debacle) is going to try to buy the Tote, hmm, not sure how I feel about that, you would think he would be better to spend his time concentrating on one of his many other jobs - being Chairman of British Airways, another huge success he is to be being paid a fortune to preside over as it slowly disintegrates, oh well, at least he owned and raced the best horse my Father ever bred, can't remember what it was called, Hen Knight trained it and it was out of Cramond Brig - one that got away!

Sorry about the politics, glad to have that off my chest, Mrs A meanwhile has decided that her chickens are feeling the cold and lovingly prepares them a big bowl of steaming peas every lunchtime, I think I might see if she would like to start feeding the horses, the care and attention to detail puts me to shame.  I was very pleased that Susan our book-keeper made it in today after a couple of weeks stuck in the snow, conditions where she is near Auchterarder are so bad that she has had to move out completely and rent a holiday cottage, we are meant to be be having a famuily golf game at a little hotel near there in 10 days time as part of Mrs D's birthday celebrations - I doubt it somehow...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


Well, the long-awaited snowplough is now manufactured, despatched and sitting on a lorry on its way to us -but the lorry can't get here because the M8 remains closed due to lack of snowploughs on Monday morning, should be here in time for the thaw...

Conditions here much the same, ventured to a bigger field this morning and again all the horses had a long, strenuous canter, some of them are becoming quite fresh which I am happy about, we might try going a little faster tomorrow.  Prospects for Ayr look reasonable but the chances of taking the horses anywhere for a strong piece of work before then are remote, creates a bit of a dilemma... hmm 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


An astonishingly beautiful day, crisp, clear minus 10 and more snow than I've ever seen.  Lots more slow steady cantering in the deep stuff, not ideal and I hope they can remember how to gallop but it's hard work and the horses seem well.  Trip to the beach in doubt due to absence of anywhere to park the lorry, things might change later in the week.  Farrier and postman arrived for first time for 10 days and entries made for Ayr on Monday - Forcefield, Four Fiddlers, Isla Pearl Fisher, Isla Patriot, Seeking Power and Northern Flame, be good to run a few.... 

Monday, 6 December 2010

all dressed up..

...with nowhere to go was the story here today after another six inches of snow fell between 6am and mid-day.  We failed to get the children to school until this afternoon and I failed to attend Peter Monteith's funeral which was at 10am on the south side of Edinburgh, I tried, leaving here at 8.15 I eventually arrived back at 10.45 - the road system had seized up, not surprising, in two and a half hours of driving on some of Scotland's main arterial routes at a busy time on a snowy Monday morning I saw just one snowplough/gritting machine, it's no wonder the country can't get to work.....
Not here though, another sterling effort by the staff that managed in saw four lots out cantering in the deep snow, they rode solidly from 8 until 1 and all 16 horses had plenty of work.  Monday evening is weighing night and it was a crucial one this week, we weren't able to weigh last week and I was interested to see the effects of two weeks of freeze-up - I was delighted with the results, the fittening horses are continuing to shed kilos and the fit horses' weights are constant - big relief, we seem to have the balance right.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

quiet day

A quiet Sunday on the yard, 16 horses had an hour on the horsewalker & a couple were turned out, temperatures have plummeted and are going to stay that way until late in the week, hopefully we will be able to continue with our work in the deep snow, we have to use fresh ground every day but we've only been in one field so far and there are at least 3 more big flat fields suitable for this type of exercise.

Looking at the long range forecast I am optimistic that Ayr will go ahead on Monday 13th; I would feel happier if the potential runners had a faster piece of work between now and then, no chance of doing that locally so I suspect it will be a trip to the beach at St Andrews on Wednesday or Thursday.

Managed to go to Harry Potter last night and watched football this afternoon so have successfully unscrambled my brain after rather an intense week, very disappointed by the Magpies this afternoon though.

Saturday, 4 December 2010


a sigh of relief at Saturday lunchtime, only one horse (Commercial Express) left out for an impromptu 4th lot and that will be the horses' exercise for the week complete.  Lots more cantering again today in snow that was slightly heavier due to the very slight thaw that has arrived.  Only one drama when James's stirrup leather broke whislt cantering and he came off leaving Amulree to gallop fast and free across the tundra, no harm to either but it meant she had to go out again 3rd lot, all in all a satisfactory week in the circumstances, the horses that have had a run will all have maintained their fitness - those that haven't won't have made any real progress but none of them are expected to run until well into January so it shouldn't make  much difference provided we aren't held up for long.
One benefit that I have noticed from the new (hopefully temporary) regime is how some of our most headstrong horses are learning to settle, having to work in the deep snow seems to have changed them and the additional effort from having to lug themselves through the snow has stopped them simply wanting to go as fast as possible all the time, I think this will have a lasting benefit to their attitude to their work. 
Sunday tomorrow so hopefully a chance to catch up with some paperwork in the office....

Friday, 3 December 2010

"oh, Rose, where art thou?"

Not only did the snow-plough driver fail to notice the mounting-block when he was pushing up the snow, he also failed to see Mrs A carefully dressing it with Maldon sea salt, after hours of searching for "the missing one" a vital clue emerged in the form of her wellingtons sticking out of the snow, a couple of hours of digging soon had her freed up and she quickly defrosted and dried out prior to resuming normal service...
... to be perfectly honest there is only one word that sums up this week, it has four letters and starts with c and ends with p, I don't think I've ever had a week when I've been so busy achieving absolutely nothing only to end up completely knackered with prospects only of more of the same.

Oh well, as the weather has set in I have noticed a gradual decline in hits to the blog, presumably because people already know the tiresome whining that it will contain, therefore, new resolution, this blog will hereforth stop whittering on about the weather - problem is there's nothing else to say really unless you want to hear my views on the stockmarket, FIFA, and/or the Equality Act, all of which are probably even more dull than the weather so......... the horses - what has given some satisfaction is that we have had the horses out every day and they have done masses of slow steady cantering in deep snow, some love it, others hate it but they are all fit, well and thriving.  The other source of pride for me is the massive effort all of the team here have made so ensure they have warm dry beds and plenty to eat and drink - all the water drinkers have been frozen up for a day or two now and even the buckets are freezing over within an hour or so, there is a lot of work and plenty of extra cost but the job is being done well which is all we can do.  I think the earliest possible resumption of racing will be on Monday 13th at Ayr, can't wait, I think I'll go and start digging the lorry out.... 

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Panic buying...

Another 6 inches of snow overnight and I think we now have about two feet, I have never seen as much here and this morning only those in the immediate vicinity were able to be picked up, 9 horses went out and trotted for 40 minutes the rest went on the walker, all will canter again tomorrow (I hope).  Trip to Sainsburys with Mrs A this afternoon - not one potato, carrot, cabbage, turnip or parsnip and the only bread available was that baked in store which involved a 10 minute queue.  We had two ton bags of salt delivered (£250!) and a contract snowplough came in for a couple of hours work, below is the "salt-wagon" just after it unloaded outside the back door..