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State of Play: a legend in our eyes

When I say ‘our’ I mean his connections and mine. Turning in at Aintree yesterday (and isn’t that just the longest, hardest to look at run-in in the world) he looked to be merely a finisher, well down the field. Then somehow and I don’t know how, because rightly the camera was focussing on the monumentally brave, from the front, run of the winner Ballabriggs, the little bay by Hernando managed to finish 4th.

So when State of Play’s trainer, Evan Williams, said he was a ‘legend’ for finishing in the top four in the race for the third year in a row, I made him right. I like Evan, I met him once at Cheltenham and we had a chat about an ex-flat racehorse that Williams had sent over hurdles and coaxed a win out of. I think the horse was called Spartacus, or I’m Spartacus, or something; not that it matters. Williams had said a few days before the race that he didn’t think his horse was quite up to winning the National in any case, a fact that had passed me by, which was just as well as I might have thought twice about my each way bet @ 28/1. Anyway it was good that Ballabriggs won for the McCain family in the trademark Red Rum noseband. It was less good that the winner had such a hard time he had to receive oxygen on the track and then there is the sad fact that the race claimed the lives of two horses: Dooney’s Gate and Ornais. In an earlier race on the card jockey Peter Toole took a nasty fall and is in a critical condition in hospital with a head injury; we can only wish him well.

It is a hard race the National, and it is a hard game, the jumps. The bad news sort of takes it out of you a bit, so I will leave today’s post with the words of Evan Williams on State of Play’s performance and why he sees him, rightly, as a legend.

To be associated with a horse that has done it and done this much for my career and our yard, I will never have another horse that has done what he has done for me.

He is a very, very sweet horse and will always have a very special place in my heart. It is a difficult task to be placed in one National but to have done it three years on the bounce is an incredible endorsement of how tough and genuine the horse is.

He had a great start and was first crossing the Melling Road and was shuffled back down the field but he had a storming finish as guts and sheer determination of that little horse kept him going.

*wipes away tear*

Him coming back next year is something I would have to to give plenty of thought to. It would be silly of me to say what I will do next year now.

Evan, please don’t bring the little horse back next year, he’s done enough. They’ve all done enough.

The Grand National: the Greatest Horse Race?

I don’t see the Grand National that way; in fact I usually don’t see it all, as it makes me so nervous. Nowadays I would prefer any number of flat races, but as a child I knew what the race was alright: a black and white horse racing bonanza that Red Rum nearly always won. As a child in the 1970s, I knew, because I saw them, that Red Rum was the greatest racehorse, Muhammed Ali was the greatest boxer and Nottingham Forest were the greatest football team. End of the matter. And even with various horses and boxers winning in glorious technicolour since, I have not changed my mind about the first two sporting legends.

Red Rum was the last horse to win back-to-back Nationals (his second in 1974) so with that being nearly 40 years ago you could say with statistics on your side that Don’t Push It has a mountain to climb in defence of his crown this afternoon. On the other hand you could say that the statistics could be offset by the power of the man in saddle: the McCoy factor.

I won’t be saying any of those things. I will be backing State of Play in the National for the third time in this race. This year he races off 10 stone 6 pounds (his lightest weight ever in the race) and he goes to Aintree with no prep run at all. In fact, if anything, his prep run was last year’s 3rd place in the Grand National. I don’t know if this will make any difference, but his trainer, Evan Williams, seems happy enough with the horse and he has a fair enough chance.

Fingers crossed for all the runners and riders at 4.15 this afternoon: they are all a lot braver than me.

From Ginger McCain’s My Colourful Life.

Around the time the time we acquired Red Rum, I was struck by the fact that world champion boxer Sugar Ray Robinson had taken his own hairdresser with him wherever he went. I thought, well, if Sugar Ray had a personal hairdresser, Red Rum can have his own blacksmith. So, when Red Rum went racing, Bob went with him…

…From the moment we first saw that Red Rum had his problems, Bob took care of him. No other person ever shod him. He wouldn’t let anyone else touch his feet. Neither would I.

Not enough hours in the day…

…that is what I blame my abject punting display yesterday on.

Once again the world turned and I was slightly behind it.  Leaving late on account of the 8 a.m. inspection, missing the first and not being able to get a copy of the Post until I was on course all meant I had no chance for some proper study.  This is what you need when entering the bear-pit and I had a)  forgotten b) little opportunity – which was my own fault.

Time was on a Saturday, when the girls were little and had naps in the day, that I would take the dog out early doors and buy the Post.  I also used to buy the ill-fated Sporting something or another in its brief life.  Then I would read the form and read the trainers’ comments which, as a novice, I set great store by.  Then I would take the dog out again via the bookies and place my bets.

The kids never sleep during the day now, not even when they are ill.  On weekends they like to do stuff.  Come on dog walks, hang out, watch films.  I knocked the sticking my head in a paper habit on a Saturday a long time ago because it was selfish and didn’t read well.  Consequently, I have come to terms with Saturday, the biggest punting day of the week, being my missed opportunity so to speak.  I’m ok with that in the comfort of my own home.  Doing a nearly 8 hour round trip with your dear mother counting her wonga in the dusk is a little harder to take!  I don’t begrudge anyone a winner though.

I was able to read the Racing Post last night at bedtime.  Therein were  some of the nuggets I could have done with on course.  In one small field hurdle race I had a nice theory about the well-bred Fiulin, trained by Evan Williams (in form) and was somewhat seduced by some fancy entries (Champion/World Hurdle).  This fella downed tools before the home turn on the hill and came home last.  As he dragged his sorry, and as it became evident fat, arse past the stands to explain himself to his connections I popped him in the mental notebook “will come on for the run”.  If I had acquainted myself with the trainer’s view I would have know this:

“Time has conspired against us. It’s now the end of January and we haven’t been able to run him, so instead of going for a Mickey Mouse race and learning nothing, we are going for a good race to hopefully find out where we are with him. He has done a lot of schooling (makemeadiva notes: the beast jumped nicely it must be said), but he is a big horse and will come on a bundle for whatever he does here.”

So basically, I paid money to find out what I had already paid money to find out when I bought the paper.  This, incidentally, is what trainer, Robin Dickin, said of the race winner Restless Harry who laid it down from the front and earned the only applause of the day from me.

“I have been riding horses for 40 years but the feel he gave me when I rode him on Tuesday was the best I’ve had. It was an extraordinary piece of work so I have to be expecting a good run. He is in better order than before (his last race) and was hardly trained or fed – this time he’s highly trained and well fed, so I hope I haven’t messed him up!”

Of course, not all trainers’ comments are equal.  Paul Nicholls did not fancy Taranis, who delivered at 20/1 (well done to one Ms AMB 🙂 )after 766 days off the track since breaking down in the 2007 King George, saying:

“…it’s been a hard road back and I have yet to see the old ability’s still there.”

Yep the ability’s still there Paul and Fiulin is porky sort who thinks he doesn’t fancy actually running fast after about 1m6f. 

It was all there, shame I didn’t read it first.

On the upside, I saw a Red Kite and Buzzard on the way out (these are impressive birds of prey and deserve to be proper nouns).  I met some old and new friends on course and saw a fantastic yellow moon on the way home. 

Oh, and mother bought the chips.

Mine was on the M40