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..

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I have a snowplough…

… its been on order from our local farm machinery dealer for the last month, they hope it might be with me by Friday, oh well, it just keeps snowing and we now have  a good 18 inches, all 16 horses in full work trotted half a mile in the deep snow and then cantered steadily for a mile a a half, not perfect but it made them sweat.. I was having fun with the camera..

greylag geese…

some hungry roe deer (magnifying glass required..

a brown hare with Isla Patriot..

Daasij, a new recruit….

the snow has invaded the bedding store….

heading home after 3rd lot, still snowing!

oh, and don’t forget the Buffalo….


Monday, 29 November 2010

"oh gallop, where art thou?"

 Some pictures taken here at mid-day on 29th November 2010.... further comment would be superfluous!

Sunday, 28 November 2010


Driving home late last night I realised conditions were pretty severe but I was still surprised this morning, there was a good 8 inches of snow and it seemed to have blown into every corner of the yard, Seeking Power had about 3 inches in his feed trough, there must have been a blizzard more severe than anything we saw last winter which is saying something.  I console myself with the thought that at least Carlisle was off because there is no way we would have been able to get there anyway!

No plans to ride anything today so they all have an hour on the walker, looking ahead at the forecast for the week I am concerned and I find myself cutting the feeds back a little, not ideal but pouring in the rocket fuel when we might not be able to gallop them hard can have disastrous consequences.  I am heartened by the work ethic of the team who always make the effort to turn up despite conditions that would have most of the country staying at home, its probably the thought of the consequences of leaving me in charge that spurs them on!  Nevertheless conditions are so bad that I told the Sunday squad not to come back this afternoon and they have passed the baton to Mrs A & the "C" team..... silly old me will sneak round with a special treat - I've been sent a bale of sun-dried lucerne from the USA, its smells wonderful - a little taste of the American summer for the horses on a dark cold day.

Pictured below is Buffalo Ballet, this imposing 4yo son of Kayf Tara is a very exciting prospect to have in the yard, we bred him as we did his Flemensfirth brother who the champion trainer bought for Sir Alex Ferguson for a lot of money and "Buffalo" is twice the horse his brother was, he has a pedigree of the highest class and is a big strong powerful chasing type, he is also quite quirky and will need handled carefully, we have just started to let the handbrake off ocassionally and he doesn't disappoint, he is incredibly light on his feet for such a big horse.  I have held on to him in the hope that he can do something for the yard, I will need to find an owner for him at some stage or we will need to sell him, let's hope we can keep him here - in the mean time he is one of the many reasons that make slithering around in the snowy dark mornings worthwhile. Oh, and his name, where does it come from? the answer is here....enjoy....
and in the summer..

Saturday, 27 November 2010

been here before

the "warmest" temperature today was minus 2, not unprecedented for the time of year, I actually took this photograph on the same weekend two years ago.  Blizzards forecast for tomorrow, I'll be hoping it rains!  Managed to work all the horses this morning on the all-weather today which was fine, they will have a quiet Sunday with an hour on the horse-walker and some will probably go out in the fields again as they did today unless conditions are completely horrific, last winter I stopped turning them out and I don't think that did their lung health much good so we will persevere. 
A wonderful renewal of the Hennessy, won in taking fashion by an improving young horse and a magnificent performance in defeat by Denman, it's what the sport is all about, Silver by Nature needs softer ground to be seen at his best but I am sure Peter looked after him when his chance had gone and he will be a very interesting prospect for the Welsh National. 
This weather looks set in for the whole of next week, we will just concentrate on keeping the horses fit, healthy and fresh... just not too fresh!

Friday, 26 November 2010


Well, Newcastle off, Carlisle no chance of being on and I'm in danger of becoming grumpy, we couldn't go to Lucinda's this morning because of frost, am hoping to go there tomorrow but snow forecast for tonight, at least our gallop is holding up well and 12 horses worked on it today, the other four - who had all had more intensive physio yesterday - just a a long (and cold!) walk out.  It's a lovely sunny afternoon though so plenty of them are turned out in the fields for extra rations of fresh air.

So we won't be racing this weekend, our next engagements are at Ayr and Catterick on Wednesday - Native Coll might go down there as it looks the only place likely to be on for the next week or so, we will then have entries at Kelso on Sunday 5th.  With last weekend's runners both going so well and 7 of our 9 runners this season having made the frame I am understandably keen to get on, never mind at least there is the Hennesy to watch tomorrow with the mighty Denman on display, it would be wonderful for the area if Lucinda's Silver by Nature could run a big race and I will be urging Peter on but it's a bit of a shame for him that the race appears the most competitive its been for some time - if the same Denman turns up that won the race last year then I can't really see him being beaten.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Deja Vu

the first snowfall of the winter and it's back onto the tractor first thing to rotovate the school and gallop bringing back not very welcome memories of the slog of battling with the weather last season, stream of texts from the racecourses updating re conditions doesn't help either and an optimistic update to the owners of Northern Flame turns out to be a little premature as Newcastle announce that they have had 5 inches of snow overnight leading to a bleak prognosis for the weekend.  A fair amount of satisfaction though gained by the gallop coming up in perfect condition and all 16 horses in full work did a couple of steady canters which was just what I wanted, hoping to take Isla Pearl Fisher, Isla Patriot and Skipping Chapel to Lucinda's tomorrow if the weather allows so am happy to see her lorry in here today - using her gallop as much this season has been a big help and it makes me feel better about it if she is using ours too.
Grania our visiting physio came in at 9.30 and is still out there now at 3.30 with our in-house physio Gillian, they are going over all the horses and really take their time to go into detail, its hugely appreciated by me as they must be absolutely freezing by now, I am amazed by how often they find a little niggle that I suspected but said nothing about - I am sure that good quality pro-active physio must be hugely beneficial in enabling these horses to cope with their work, oh dear, another text just through, Newcastle abandoned.... drat!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


We schooled Seeking Power in a visor (blinkers with a slit at the back to let in light) this morning and it certainly stirred him up a bit, I think he will run wearing this on Saturday and it should just help him travel and maintain his focus throughout the race. Also schooling well over fences were Native Coll and Skipping Chapel.  The rest of the horses took the chance to do plenty of steady cantering on grass as the forecast indicates that we will be restricted to the artificial surfaces for at least the next week.

This afternoon involved a trip to East Lothian to watch U13 rugby, very exciting but also absolutely freezing, the Belhaven rugby pitch is in a slightly elevated position right next to the North Sea which in todays north-easterly snow-laden breeze made it one of the coldest places on the planet, Aberdeenshire is now snowbound which comes as no surprise, lets hope it stays up there.  Saw a few old friends though which was fun....


Becoming very chilly here, like everywhere else I think, don't think we will be going to Carlisle on Sunday, metcheck says -13 for Sat night down there, ouch, hopefully Newcastle might squeeze through though, they are already deploying frost covers as it is their big "Fighting Fifth" meeting, we took our 3 intended runners to Lucinda's yesterday - Northern Flame, Seeking Power and Native Coll, they all worked well.  Working here on the grass were Isla Patriot, Buffalo Ballet and Skipping Chapel all well apart from BB who was more buffalo than racehorse...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A dark day

Yesterday the Scottish racing world woke to the shocking and tragic news that Peter Monteith appears to have taken his own life on Sunday evening.  Those of us that saw and spoke to him earlier that day at Kelso find this very hard to take in and our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences go to all of those nearest to him.  Over the years I bought horses from Peter, sold horses to him and had a horse trained by him, he was always very easy to deal with and a pleasure to meet on the racecourse, he will be sorely missed by everyone in racing, particularly on the Northern circuit.

Monday, 22 November 2010


A good run from Four Fiddlers finishing 4th of 15, rain-softened ground just took the edge off his speed but travelled very nicely into the race turning for home.  Delighted with both the weekend runners coming 4th at 50-1, just a shame 4 Fidds wasn't 3rd!  Seem OK this morning though and both horses to look forward to.  Very cold & wet at Kelso and much of the day spent enjoying the warmth and hospitality of Rosie's Bistro, plenty of time in the car over the weekend, yesterday's journey made very entertaining by Alice Cooper on Desert Island Discs otherwise much discussion over 3 horses we have in training that are un-named - good for passing a journey - watch this space!  No racing this week until next weekend, entries close this morning, don't like the forecast though...

Sunday, 21 November 2010


Highly satisfactory run from Forcefield yesterday to finish 4th in good company at Haydock, raises the expectations somewhat for Four Fiddlers at Kelso today, long drive home last night but much easier when the hrose has run well.  Quiet day here, horses all on the walker and in the fields, my time spent rotovating the gallop to help it dry ahead of forecast frost later this week, Forcefield tired and a bit wound up after his 9 hour lorry ride yesterday not to mention his race, ate most of his feed though and legs feel good.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Back in action

Well, a short break for all from my ramblings but here we go again I am afraid; no runners last weekend and we by-passed engagements at Hexham and Market Rasen over the last couple of days however we hope to be busy this weekend and we go to Haydock on Saturday to run Forcefield for the Earley-Macdonald partnership in the bumper at 3.55.  Lucy takes the ride and the ground is likely to be on the easy side of good.  Forcefield finished 2nd (below left) on his last start in the spring but with this being one of Haydock’s big days and decent prize money on offer I suspect this will end up a very competitive affair, hopefully he will run well though.


Four Fiddlers (below) then runs in the 3.40 at Kelso on Sunday for the same partnership, again Lucy rides.  I told everyone in the spring how much I liked this horse and was slightly taken aback when he tired in the gluey ground and finished last.  He has strengthened up nicely over the summer, has continued to impress and should have conditions much more in his favour – I hope he will run well.  He is in the ballot and if it looks like he won’t get a run we will swap these two if we are nimble enough on the computer!FOURFIDDSAYR

Having been searching for an excuse for Northern Flame’s poor hurdling debut I uncovered this picture of a jockey bailing out as he went in to his first hurdle, he is second from left, it is not impossible that these strange goings-on spooked him for the rest of the race as we haven’t practiced this at home…


Last but not least, a fine picture of our last runner, Isla Pearl Fisher, in the winners enclosure at Kelso, he is fit and well but having a slightly easier time until we identify his next targetDOK220

Monday, 8 November 2010


Well, that was some weekend for lovers of the turf; at Doncaster on Saturday we had the emotional crowning of Paul Hanagan as only the second Northern based champion flat jockey in the last century, earlier the brilliant Kauto Star put up the bravest of performances to see off two rising stars at Down Royal however his jockey, the peerless Ruby Walsh ended up spending the night in a Belfast hospital with a double break to his leg facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines, then over to Kentucky where the dazzling French mare Goldikova wrote her name into the history books with a record third Breeders Cup win shortly before Zenyatta failed by the narrowest of margins to grab the Breeders Cup Classic and a perfect twenty from twenty racing career leaving her jockey to break down in tears at the press conference.

Friday at Hexham was gritty stuff; strong winds, driving rain and heavy ground – proper conditions for National Hunt racing and a large crowd of die-hards to take in the action.  Papamoa put up a most encouraging effort to finish 3rd on his hurdling debut despite some sketchy jumping, he was a professional throughout and should improve in every way.  Seeking Power had a real tussle all the way up the home straight but ended up going down by a head in a stirring finish; to be beaten by about 9 inches at the end of 3 miles is pretty tough and he seemed to be in front 50 yards out only to think he had done his job.  At least he is fit and well though and we might try some headgear next time. 

On to Kelso on Saturday, very different conditions with bright sunshine, perfect ground and a huge crowd.  Northern Flame ran a disappointing race in the opener, he jumped deliberately and never seemed to travel – he is much better than this, I think I probably just went to war with him a few weeks too soon.  Confidence was therefore at rock bottom when Isla Pearl Fisher came into the paddock, luckily nobody had told him, or the crowd that backed him in from 5-1 to a warm 7-2 favourite.  He walked round the paddock as if he owned the place and then he duly obliged by winning in the gutsiest of fashions on ground that was probably a bit on the easy side.  There is nowhere that I prefer training winners to Kelso, the chase track is a particularly fair test and the welcome that you receive from the enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd is second to none and makes you feel on top of the world, all the work I do with the horses from their youngest days has this underlying goal – can we win a chase at Kelso? So, as you can imagine I am prone to becoming rather over-excited whenever we eventually pull it off, so much so this time that I nearly had Paddy Aspell arrested by passing him my mobile when he dismounted so that he could speak to Mrs G in Australia where she had been listening to the race online – shouldn’t be a crime really but such are the bizarre priorities of the racing authorities….  


Sunday was on to Limerick where Lucy had her first ride in Ireland finishing a good fourth, I listened whilst watching Johnny playing in the Ardvreck Sevens tournament – I’m never quite sure what people think on these occasions when they see me jumping up and down on the spot with my mobile stuck to my ear, I’d rather not think about it but must try to stand still.

A quieter week ahead, entries at Newcastle on Friday and Wetherby on Saturday though and cold dark mornings have led to a return to the porridge for breakfast routine under the ever-watchful eye of the golden syrup police….

Friday, 5 November 2010


Hexham has passed its morning inspection and the horses are well on their way, we will hopefully have two runners at Kelso tomorrow; Northern Flame (below) makes his hurdling debut for teh Peglegs partnership in the 12.30 under Paddy Aspell, 16 will run and the ground should be good.  He is a tremendous long term chasing prospect but tomorrow will all be about experience


Mrs Gammell’s Isla Pearl Fisher (below) runs in the 1.00, also under Paddy Aspell, there will be about 10 runners and conditions should suit, it’s a step up in class from his Carlisle victory but all has gone well since his last run and he should go well with luck in running..


Thursday, 4 November 2010


We have two runners at Hexham tomorrow; Papamoa (below) makes his hurdling debut in the 3.10 for the Papamoan partnership, Paddy Aspell rides, 12 run and the ground will be heavy.  This is his first run of the season and his first over hurdles, he seems fit and well but the main aim tomorrow will be to ensure he enjoys this important next stage in his career


We run our giant Seeking Power (below) in the 3.40, Lucy rides and 5 run; he has to shoulder top weight in deep ground over 3 miles for this seasonal debut and it might all be a bit much first time out but the opposition look pretty exposed and I am hopeful that this horse can improve this season so fingers crossed…


Monday, 1 November 2010


The stable's unbeaten run for the season came to an early end yesterday when Native Coll was beaten at Carlisle.  I was convinced he would win and remained of that opinion as they turned towards the home straight but it quickly became apparent that 3 miles on tacky ground first time out for the season was too far and he finished a weary 6th.  The listed bookmakers won't need to advise analysts that an upward revision to their estimates is necessary but it was painful nevertheless.

Lucy finished about 9th of 17 at Wetherby on Saturday, good experience though to be riding at a big meeting in a highly competitive handicap hurdle against lots of the top pro's, her journey to stay overnight with her grandparents wasn't much fun, the A1 Northbound was closed & traffic crawling, steam started billowing out of the bonnet, her long range mechanic father issuing instructions from his phone on the way out to dinner said "just keep driving" - shortly afterwards a helpful motorist seeing that this was more than a little steam & that she didn't know what to do forced her over onto the hard shoulder & stopped her, the AA was joined then summoned and for reasons best known to themselves 4 different vehicles were involved in ferrying the car to the grandparents about 70 miles away where she eventually arrived at 2.30am - just what they needed I am sure.  Lucy seems to have inherited her father's aptitude for engines, one of the earlier mechanics had told her that it was probably the cylinder "head gasket" that had gone, by the time she passed this on to a later engineer she was trying to explain to him that there was a problem with the "egg casket" - oh dear.


Native Coll has come out of his race well and will now drop back in trip, this week we have entries at Hexham on Friday and Kelso on Saturday - as ever it will be the elements that determine where we go...

Friday, 29 October 2010

the times they are a changin…

We run Native Coll in the 1.30 at Carlisle on Sunday, 13 run, Lucy rides and the ground will be soft.  He is running back over hurdles for his seasonal debut and is stepping up to 3 miles for the first time, I think the handicapper has been quite generous in allotting him a mark 13lb below his chase mark and if he stays the trip (which I believe he will) then he should go well, there are a couple of unexposed sorts in the race though and he is a big tank of a horse who takes a while to get fit but I am obviously encouraged by Isla Pearl Fisher's effort confirming we are ahead of where we usually are at this time of year, no doubt we will be brought back down to earth on Sunday though...


Lucy is also on Knock Three Times for Wilf Storey in the 5.10 at Wetherby tomorrow, it put up an improved effort to finish 5th at long odds at Kelso last time but this is Wetherby's big day of the year and it looks predictably competitive.  On another note, after careful consideration Lucy has started the process of withdrawing from her course at Edinburgh University; she is absolutely determined to give riding as a jockey a proper go, she is under no illusion about how tough it will be but she wants to give it her best shot and the plan is that she will ride out here 3-4 days per week and make herself available to ride out for other yards in Scotland and the North of England on the other days.  Essentially she is too impatient to put her career on hold to spend four years at University to come out with a fairly ubiquitous degree, no money and probably facing a higher tax rate; it's difficult to argue with that and having thought about it carefully and seen how focussed and hard working she is, Mrs A and I will give her our full support (although she will only ride for the yard when I consider it appropriate).

I feel a little wistful about this as I had such a good time at University for four years and would have happily stayed there for forty, times have moved on though and I think that the dilemma faced by Lucy will become increasingly commonplace, it seems crazy now that I enjoyed a tax payer funded four years of hedonism in the early 80's.  I am sure I could have learnt what I did in a much shorter timescale (four months perhaps?), it was very interesting though but the only useful thing that I got out of it was a jolly good wife (I wonder if that feeling is reciprocated?) and I suppose I had the chance to experiment with a few recreational substances without having to worry about getting up in the morning....

One other item of news is that we have parted company with Dougie who had been driving the lorry and done a wonderful job here over the summer as facilities manager.  Fortunately Jim Barclay, who worked here for many years and has just given up training in his own right, has volunteered his services and he will help out with driving the lorry and looking after the facilities for a couple of hours each day - I hope he can put up with my fastidious approach...

Sorry for rambling on, the weather here has been pretty rough this week but if it hadn't been I would be moaning about the ground being too firm, everyone's been working very hard, so have the horses and they seem in good order, roll on Sunday (and we even get an extra hour in bed - what could be better than that...)

Friday, 22 October 2010


It isn't only the horses that can become a little uptight prior to their first run after a break, trainer can be prone to a little tetchiness as well and I went through the race a hundred times in the early hours of yesterday morning, thinking how I would like Isla Pearl Fisher ridden and how I hoped the race would pan out; it rarely goes to plan but yesterday "Surf" appeared to have read the script as I had the joy of watching the race pan out in front of my eyes exactly as I had hoped.  As agreed Paddy Aspell dropped him out stone last for the first circuit then gradually crept into contention on the second before winning shaken up and going away providing a wonderful day for all connections, most particularly his owner Philippa Gammell who has had the patience and vision to give the team here the time to let the horse come to himself . 


He was a picture of calmness and to my great relief the changes that I have witnessed recently held good on the day, the handicapper will now have his say and although we won't risk undoing everything by being greedy and going back too quickly I believe he can prove progressive now that everything has clicked.


All in all a fantastic start to the season, it's good to know that some of the changes we have made at least haven't done any damage and hopefully we can build on this, we didn't declare for Aintree on Sunday, ground wouldn't have been soft enough and no point getting carried away!


Pictured here are Mrs Gammell, Isla Pearl Fisher, Amy McGregor and Paddy Aspell just some of the team responsible, special mention though should go to James Barclay who has been riding the horse most of the time at home and has played a big part in helping him to relax and Lucy A who has been schooling the horse over fences.  There is a big story about the breeding, upbringing and naming of this horse - suffice it to say that it was distinctly auspicious that Classic FM chose to play Bizet's duet after which he is named to Mrs G on her journey from Glen Isla to Carlisle... happy days..


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

the waiting is over….


It seemed appropriate on a cold frosty morning with the first proper snow dusting the hills of Northern Perthshire that I made our first declaration for the winter 2010/11 National Hunt season.  We run Mrs Gammell’s Isla Pearl Fisher in the 5.00pm at Carlisle tomorrow, 9 run, Paddy Aspell rides and the ground will be on the quick side of good.

It took "Surf" a while to settle in last season and we didn't really train him very hard to begin with, then the big freeze came along and his preparation was far from perfect.  We concentrated on trying to understand one of the best looking but enigmatic and puzzling horses that we have had here, he was quite tricky to train last winter, he has inherited a lot of Strong Gale "quirkiness" through his dam and was highly strung both out at exercise and in his stable.  For the last couple of months however he has been much more straightforward and we have been able to train him properly, he is a much better horse now in every way and he is on very good terms with himself.  Whether this translates into an improved performance on the track depends entirely on how he reacts to being back at the races, he is trying three miles for the first time and if he gets buzzed up and races freely he won't stay the trip, being his first run for six months this scenario is quite likely but I have every confidence that in time he will learn to settle in his races in the way that he has at home and when that happens he might just appear quite well handicapped....

Fingers Crossed!



Saturday, 2 October 2010

Nearly there…..

A magnificent sporting weekend and whilst the main focus will be on France and Wales the Northern jumps season is gradually wakening up with Hexham’s season starting yesterday and Kelso’s tomorrow.  Although we are still a couple of weeks of having any runners Lucy has a ride in the 2.25 on Knock Three Times for Wilf Storey and we are busy here preparing the horses.  
This includes trips around the Lomond Hills to use Lucinda’s first class woodchip gallop and today it was the turn of Native Coll (Kit), Northern Flame (Lucy) and Seeking Power (James).  Earlier in the week Isla Pearl Fisher, Papamoa and Forcefield were there and hopefully next week those six will go again as will Isla Patriot and Four Fiddlers.  Taking the horses away and giving them a strong piece of work on another gallop has a number of different benefits and this season I aim to give all of them 5 or 6 away days before they actually line up to race.  The whole routine at the moment is working very well and although I’ve been training horses for a year or two I am amazed how exhilarated I feel watching them progress each morning. 
Of course it's not all a bed of roses, I have gone to particular effort this autumn to have our own feed mixed and have sourced ingredients from the far reaches of the British Isles, the first (large) batch arrived 10 days ago and I have been gradually introducing it; most of the horses love it and tuck in with their usual zest however there are one or two fusspots who seem to have decided that I should never have been allowed in the kitchen and simply stare at me balefully.  I ignore them and creep back in a little later to check and, woe betide, the feed is still lying untouched on the floor.  At that stage my resolve cracks and I give them a bowl of their old nuts and worry my way back to the office.  Another vexing issue is a new habit of the yearlings up the hill, that of chasing me on the quad bike, luckily they are a bit faster than the quad but
this is no consolation when  they are hurtling around in the wet, heels flying and me cowering and shouting.  Additional stress is introduced when I have been too lazy to climb off the quad and close the gate.... hmm.. mustn't forget to mention the weather of course which has already given us a few extra challenges - there is no doubt that I am guilty of a little schadenfreude when observing the problems faced at Celtic Manor, particularly by the USA team waterproofs. Chuckle.
Whatever the weather throws at us they are exciting days, we just need to do our best to ensure they remain healthy and sound…

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Harvest Home

Harvest in the 21st century lasts all of two days at Kinneston and today it is the turn of the oats, 60 acres of which will disappear in a few hours. The horses are all progressing steadily and we are on target to have our first runners in the middle of next month.  
P1020813 Meanwhile our neighbours the Grahams have put about 1500 lambs onto the grass; either homebred on the Lomond Hills or bought in from the Highlands they will be finished here, this has a number of ancilliary benefits for the ground - as the autumn rains arrive the sheep level the areas where we gallop without compacting the ground in the way that a roller would; they also add vital nutrients to the soil and create a lovely even sward,  additionally you should never have ragwort where you have had sheep. By late October most will have moved on, just at the same time as the rains have softened up the ground to make it perfect for galloping…
I took these photographs whilst waiting for 3rd lot to come home, also surveying the scene was the Kinneston “matriarch” Harrietfield; she has produced 9 good foals and Mrs A advises that she has been retired, she's done them all very well and I mustn't be greedy...
Third lot today were Mrs Gammell's lively pair, Isla Pearl Fisher and Isla Patriot.  They are both prone to becoming a little excitable when out with a bigger bunch of horses so they came down together for about 3 miles of steady cantering on the stubbles.  At the same time another pair of siblings, Skipping Chapel and "Tara", both due to go point-to-pointing and at an earlier stage of their training, went for a long walk on the hilly side of the road. 

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

September Storm

Well, the Indian Summer dramatically gave way to an autumnal storm and last week's blissful conditions were a distant memory.  This large beech tree snapped 10ft from the school whilst the horses were cooling off after 2nd lot; it provided an interesting example of the horses' natural instincts as none of the riders could work out why they all started panicking and a couple of seconds later - crash! 
The sun is shining again now though and there are few things better than early mornings out with a bunch of National Hunt horses as they are prepared for their winter campaign, watching them progress week by week is exciting and rewarding.  Without wishing to tempt fate we have had a smooth start to the season and I couldn't be happier about where we are with the horses.  We will have 12 to run under rules, 3 handicap chasers in the form of Native Coll, Seeking Power and Isla Pearl Fisher and 9 youngsters - none of whom have jumped an obstacle in public, some have had a run or two in bumpers, they are all very unexposed and hopefully progressive.  All of these horses are now half fit and the stronger ones are just starting serious work with a view to them being ready to run in mid October, I know that I have never had such a nice bunch of horses so the pressure will be on me to translate this into success on the course.  I'm fine with that, I just don't want any excuses in the form of weather etc.  We also have six point-to-pointers who have just come in and are starting on the horsewalker, plenty of success required there as well.
So, we've assembled an exciting bunch of horses, we have an excellent team of staff and really good support from outside - what's the target - 70 runners - 20% first two (10 winners please!) and 50% first four.........
 And by the way, would the Chinese people who leave such interesting comments on this blog please introduce themselves as I'm quite mystified!