Inspiration is a precious powder served best sprinkled liberally upon life’s rich casserole.
Mixed with a generous selection of people and friends, this concoction spurs me onward in a world of bereavement, knowing full well it was what my late wife Caroline wanted in her final days.
Yet you don’t need to dwell amid darker thoughts basking in the splendour of racing stables, castles and abbeys of North Yorkshire, and last week’s trip quite literally lifted me up on high.
Thirsk’s final fixture until April and Pontefract, where Caroline and I had spent my 40th birthday, provided the perfect dash of racing action tinged with precious memories, while a visit to Micky Hammond’s Oakwood Stables and the chance to have lunch at the Richard III hotel in Middleham with amateur jockey Becky Smith topped the lot. Becky ate 12 pieces of scampi and I sipped a glass of lemonade, but that still counts as lunch!
Fate, as always, had played a hand. Forty-four days earlier I had basked in the summer sunshine at the Bar B Q of one of my best friends in East Hunsbury when I struck up a chance conversation with a lady named Jean Bartlett, and her daughter Helen.
Racing is never far from my thoughts and they were quick to tell me of cousins in Yorkshire immersed in the sport. Namely, Becky Smith and her elder sister Gemma Hogg, the recipient of February’s Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Employee Of The Year in London.
Middleham was already an escape plan hatching in my over-worked brain, inspired by BBC Radio Northampton’s Jules Osmany whose enthusiasm and passion for horse-racing had been rekindled after many years by a visit to the Richard III Hotel. Run by Ken and Sharon, it is the ultimate racing watering hole serving excellent food and with the advantage of having stables belonging to trainers such as Mark Johnston, Ben Haslam, Jason Ward and of course Hammond, all a stone’s throw away.
I defy you to step from the front door on a misty morning and fail to be moved as a string of majestic animals come trotting past on their way to the gallops.
The Hammond connection was appropriate in other ways. He took charge of Cumberland Blues, my first ever interest as a racing syndicate member in a Huntingdon bumper in 1993. The prospect of ownership continues to excite and I hope Stuart Edmunds’ Cloonacool repeats last year’s Market Rasen success this Saturday. Significantly to me, Hammond trains a horse named Caraline which won her first four starts over fences last season, including an 8/1 handicap chase at Newcastle when I was briefly unconscious, during and after a knee operation. Still looking after me then...
Something magical is going on. I know this because the Bar B Q was on Harry Potter’s birthday and Gaelic Wizard won the 6f handicap at Thirsk last Tuesday when Great Expectations refused to enter the stalls. Also because Mysterial was sired by Invincible Spirit and held on in a photo to beat Play Nicely at Pontefract. Maybe, just maybe, I will one day finish Caroline’s book, The Two Worlds Of Mystery Brown. But if recent evidence is anything to go by, don’t hold your breath.
Becky Smith is 29 and sure to add to her career tally of 10 career winners, plus three in point to points.
The highlight of her career since spending five years working in Ireland came when winning a $38,500 Arab bred race in Texas last year on board Sand On Fire for trainer Scott Powell before finishing second in the world series final in Abu Dhabi.
She has ridden winners on the Flat and over jumps, scoring for the first time over hurdles for Richard Guest on Catawollow in 2013. In July she rode Debt To Society to victory for Richard Ford in a 14-runner handicap hurdle, her first win against professional jockeys.
Trainer Marjorie Fife who has enjoyed notable success this summer with Classic Seniority has used her successfully on horses such as Perfect Words and Courier, while dubbing her ‘The Koala!’
Smith embraces the Micky Hammond training ethos and says: “Micky is like a father or a god father to us. He is very laid back but at the same time you know who is boss. He is open to ideas and has had great
results from horses which have surprised you a little such as Roxyfet which won three times in February and March.”
I will be proud to add Becky Smith and the Hammond team to my list of jockeys and trainers to follow this winter...