My first real memory of racing goes way back to the Dipper Novices Chase at Newcastle in January 2000 where I “backed” a horse called Donnybrook at 20/1. My judgement may not have been form based then as I would have been just 14 years old, but looking back he had run third behind Bellator and Cenkos the time before at Haydock and they were both useful sorts. All I really remember about the race was a field of seven runners in the mud gradually being narrowed down to just two (Donnybrook & Robbo). Coming down to the last it seemed like slow motion, the pair bobbing up and down rather than making any progress forward. At the last Robbo unseated Alan Dempsey which left Donnybrook the last one standing and he plodded over the line to eventually win uncontested. Dempsey remounted Robbo to finish second but at that point Donnybrook had won and I was counting my sweet shop money.
It didn’t always work out that way though and later that year I can recall my first memory of the Epsom Derby where I had “backed” Sakhee to win at 11/2. Sakhee, ridden by my favourite jockey at the time – Richard Hills, hit the front coming down the hill with three furlongs to go and he looked to be pulling away. That was until Johnny Murtagh reeled him back in on the John Oxx trained Sinndar, with just half a furlong to go, winning by a length. I remember feeling absolutely gutted!
It was my Granddad who first got me interested in racing and I spent many a Saturday around his house reading the paper and picking a few horses to watch that afternoon. My judgement to my recollection wasn’t based on form or any real study but more down to names, trainers and jockeys I liked. My approach since then has changed considerably and I have learnt plenty over the past 17 years.
Like any enthusiast though I have many horses who I have adored and the two that stick in my mind are Persian Punch on the flat and Best Mate over jumps.
Punch was a legend and never knew when he was beat. As the toughest of the tough career wise he was the winner of nine Group 3 races and four Group 2’s. He never managed to land that all elusive Group 1 win though. I’d have loved to have seen him win the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, a race in which he finished second twice. The closest of those was a head second to Royal Rebel in 2001 where the pair went head to head in a real ding-dong battle over the final two furlongs. I felt proud every time I watched him as it always felt like he just wanted to race!
Best Mate was my first Cheltenham Gold Cup Winner and I remember running home from school at 3pm to see him cross the line in front for his first of three Gold Cup wins. He absolutely cruised around Prestbury Park that day and although he looked in a little bit of trouble turning in, once the gap appeared he was gone! He had some really good horses behind him that day including See More Business, Marlborough, Florida Pearl and Looks Like Trouble. Although he didn’t see the racecourse too many times he was great to watch when he did make an appearance.
In terms of race courses I have visited a fair few but still have lots to tick off the list. Bath is my local course and it is great to finally see them upgrading the facilities and the quality of races they put on. I have been lucky enough to visit some other courses though including Ascot, Cheltenham, Chepstow, Chester, Epsom, Exeter, Goodwood, Leicester, Lingfield, Newbury, Salisbury, Sandown, Stratford and Wolverhampton. Ascot and Cheltenham are by far a different league in terms of quality of horse they attract but on a smaller scale both Salisbury and Chester are great courses for a day out and to date they are two of my favourites. I hope to visit more over the 2017/18 National Hunt Season….