Altered Method runs tonight in the 7.15 ...

Happy Birthday to the Guv'nor

Friday, 07 April 2017

"It's your birthday to-day, so why are we waiting?
Without further delay, Let's start celebrating."
Norman Wesley Brooks, 1967

Stellekaya and Astrojewel

It’s another perfect morning with no wind, bright sunshine and the temperature rising fast. With quite a lot of staff in we are getting on very well with the horses and they have all had a very good cantering exercise on varying parts of the racecourse side all-weather canters. We have no runners this weekend so it will be Grand National watching for me and with the ground being perfect, it should be a good safe race with plenty of finishers.

Koin and Astroblaze

Our Aintree tipping didn’t go brilliantly yesterday, but I nudged in front courtesy of two odds on shots, which were not too hard to pick. Our competition continues today with the selections and standings below. We will add to the site tomorrow, by 9.30, our selections for the Grand National, but my three against the field at present are Perfect Candidate, Black Lion and Vieux Lion Rouge. As I said with the ground drying out all the time, it will make it a much more level playing field for everybody and the horses won’t get quite so tired.


1.45  Ice Cold Soul    2.20  Mount Mews    2.50  Whisper    3.25  Sub Lieutenant    4.05  Third Intention    4.40  Constantine Bay    5.15  Run To Milan


1.45  Sky Khan    2.20  River Wylde    2.50  Might Bite    3.25  Gods Own    4.05  Seefood    4.40  Testify    5.15  If The Cap Fits

Totals so far

MHT minus £41.93

Richard minus £70.00

Rebecca’s Tip of the Day

4.05 Straidnahanna £5 each way

Walking back to the yard with Sandwood Bay

My computer expert, Mark Madgwick, dropped me in a newspaper article this week. It was from The Times in 1991 and it was all about the Levy Board putting up for sale three racecourses, Epsom, Sandown and Kempton Park. Evidently the Levy Board had bought the courses in 1969, Epsom and Sandown for £1.5 million and Kempton for £800,000. They were hoping to get £30 million for them although I don’t know what they actually did get off the Jockey Club. The article makes for even more interesting reading when the Levy Board talks about cuts, both in fixtures and prize money. The board at the time were anxious to protect minimum race values. On the flat it was then £3,150, so you can see we haven’t moved on much in the last 20 years, in fact, taking everything into consideration, we have gone drastically backwards. I suppose the reason for it must be that Sir John Sparrow, Chairman of the Levy Board, said that he was almost embarrassed by the praise from the bookmakers since he has taken over as chairman. When have you ever known a bookie praise anybody other than if they were on their side?

Bob is making sure that no rats get in

Phil on Friday

It all started with Lottery in 1839 - he was the first official winner of the Grand National and the excitement and anticipation then was at least as intense as it will be tomorrow – perhaps more so. Lottery was ridden by Jem Mason who helpfully told the world his horse could “jump from ‘ell to ‘ackney.”

The race created an unbelievable amount of interest. Hotels and boarding houses were heavily overbooked and some racegoers had to sleep four to a bed. Among the formidable fences was ‘Brook No. 1’, and it was here that Captain Becher, riding the well-fancied Conrad, took his famous tumble. With 16 other horses thundering towards him the gallant captain crawled into the deepest part of the brook for safety and, along with the fence itself, entered racing history. He commented afterwards: “How dreadful water tastes without the benefit of whisky added to it”.

Apart from Becher’s, some of the fence names just by themselves evoke a good deal of emotion, and there is no shortage of that surrounding the great race. ‘The Foinavon’ of course commemorates one of the luckiest winners – he was the only runner to negotiate the mayhem caused by loose horses at the 23rd in 1967 when he was virtually tailed off.

Then there is ‘Valentine’s Brook’. In 1840 Irish amateur rider Alan Power bet heavily that he would be leading at a certain stage of the race and he had his mount Valentine almost a furlong clear at one point. Then the horse suddenly began to pull himself up and veered off course. In the nick of time he got back on track and cleared the next fence in a bizarre, corkscrew-like fashion.  Some observers said, somewhat implausibly, that he jumped the obstacle hind legs first! Whatever, the fence thereafter has always been known as ‘Valentine’s’.

‘The Chair’ is the biggest fence on the course. It is so-called because a seat was positioned alongside it to be used by one of the race judges whose job it was to assess the distance between the various finishers.

So many stories, some fanciful, some real, surround the National and between them have filled many a book. One of my personal favourites concerns Caughoo, a 100-1 no-hoper sent over from Ireland in 1947. Fog had descended upon Aintree that day – perfect conditions for what was about to happen, at least according to the rider of the eventual second. He claimed until the day he died that Caughoo went round only once. He dropped out at the first Canal Turn, the disappointed jockey said, hid in the fog until the field came round again, then jumped in as a relatively fresh horse before going on to win easily. In a perverse sort of way I really hope this could be true, even if subsequent evidence suggested there was no foul play. Can we ever be completely certain though?

Tomorrow will bring its own controversy and tales of good and ill fortune but nothing, perhaps, to match the well-documented but still incredible affair of the Queen Mother’s Devon Loch who, with the 1956 race at his mercy, appeared to jump a phantom fence and fell 50 yards from the line. Afterwards the Queen Mother, desperately disappointed but as dignified as ever, asked Dave Dick, who won the race on ESB, how he felt when Devon Loch collapsed. “I was delighted, Ma’am” was the blunt but truthful reply.

Personal footnote: Good luck to Jimmy Moffatt and his team with Highland Lodge tomorrow. Many years ago I acted as jockey’s agent for Jimmy and found him a few winners – and losers! More to the point I came to like him and his family, albeit at a distance. He rode the winner of the County Hurdle at Cheltenham for his father, and later trained Festival winner Chief Dan George as well as Highland Lodge himself to win the Becher Chase at Aintree, almost repeating the feat a year later. Jimmy knows the time of day – by half past five tomorrow I’ll know the fate of my few quid each way on Highland Lodge!