Monday, 28 December 2015

Merrington Missile - an update on the grumpy moose

As those of you who read my blog religiously will know (and I cling on to the hope that somebody out there somewhere reads every post with interest, even when I'm rambling or talking about not-so-interesting topics), I sold Merrington Missile back in September into a ridden home.  This was his second (and hopefully final) bite at the cherry that is a 'forever home', the type of home that plenty of people proclaim to be able to offer but that very few can actually deliver on.  After the first time where, through no fault of his own, he found his way back to me,  I was obviously wary of this second attempt.  From the moment the hammer fell at Builth in October 2013, Missile became my responsibility and although I am aware that once sold he becomes somebody else's, a part of me feels as though it was still my responsibility to place him in the best possible home with as secure a future as anyone can give an animal.

Due to the slightly uncomfortable moving in period where Missile went temporarily lame (thanks to some over-zealous hoof trimming and him being an absolute drama queen) during which time rumours were spread that I had sold a horse unfit for purpose (which reached the new owner), I was mildly concerned not to have heard from his new owner since October, when I'd last heard that he was sound, happy and bonding with his new human.  I was even more nervous at the prospect of contacting the new owner to enquire about him, in case something had gone wrong or they had changed their minds about him and sold him on without letting me know.  They say no news is good news, and plenty of people more sensible than I would have let sleeping dogs lie, hoped for the best and concentrated on the horses still in their care.

I am not sensible.

Yesterday I built up the courage to contact the new owners, because my well-documented overactive imagination had all sorts of scenarios playing out in my head, none of which resembled the true situation.  Within minutes I had the reply I had hoped for - that he was as happy as a grumpy old sod like him could be.  His new owner, Sahrina, is hacking him out on a near-daily basis, and on days when she can't take him out, she spends time with him in his stable.  He has re-started his jumping, which sounds as though it is going well, and together they are looking forward to the summer when they can enjoy the good weather and continue his re-education under saddle.  It sounds as though he is a firm favourite with the family, and indeed at the livery yard, with his characteristics and personality.

You can't begin to imagine the sense of relief I felt when I received that reply.  Even better were the photos that accompanied, and the promise to keep in touch.  I am not an interfering ex-owner - I simply like to keep track of my ex-charge's progress, especially when it has the potential to feature in my favourite part of the STAGBI newsletter (the bit about retired Standardbreds, which I know isn't everyone's cup of tea but is my way of trying to find secondary careers for the breed).

I worried that Missile would be a misunderstood soul, that the characteristics and traits that I found so amusing and endearing would be seen as hostile and undesirable by everyone else.  He was serving a purpose to me as a racehorse and as long as his behaviour towards me didn't hinder that purpose, I was able to tolerate, and eventually appreciate, them.  Once that purpose changed to essentially being a pet, I feared that they would have such an impact that he would be deemed not suitable for someone who wanted to fuss over him.  Which was frustrating, because as a riding horse he was, and is, a delight.  I miss him terribly, because as much as I didn't want to admit it, he was in some ways a better riding horse than Star.  His natural head carriage, his swagger, his sensible head even when 100% race fit...he was a much more willing horse to ride than my own stubborn, spooky, unpredictable-at-times mare that I am keeping.  I feel guilty for saying that because I don't like finding fault in her after how far she has brought me since I started riding her, but to acknowledge Missile's strengths requires me to acknowledge Star's weaknesses.

Fortunately, and this is where I will wrap this up, we found him someone who loves him just the way he is.  Someone who looked at him and saw the beautiful face, the athletic build and the blank canvas that is a newly-retired racehorse.  Someone who accepts the groaning, the ears back, the tail swishing when the girth is done up.  Someone who has managed to do something that I could never do - get him to like her!

So I wish them well, and I hope to visit when I'm next in the area.  Here are some photos of Missile in his new home (courtesy of Dawn & Sahrina), where he goes by the name 'Sgt Bash' (and no, I haven't asked where he got that name from, because I simply don't need to know!):




Over and out,

#1 Proud Groom

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

An interview with...William Greenhorn

Right folks, this is the last one for 2015 as I'm taking a short break from writing to concentrate on eating my entire body weight in Christmas food!  So to round off the first part of the series of interviews with some of Scotland's biggest driving characters, I now present to you one of the country's greatest role models to young drivers - William 'Super Sub' Greenhorn.  Don't be fooled by his nickname, this driver has an impact no matter where he competes or what he drives.  He has an uncanny knack of picking up catch drives in major handicap finals and winning with them, and he performs to the highest standard whether it's at Musselburgh or Corbiewood, and across the United Kingdom and Ireland as well.  To top it all off, he's an all-round top guy, never too busy for a chat or to offer advice to some of the up and coming drivers on the Scottish circuit.  Here he tells me a bit more about the man behind the golden hands...

For anybody who doesn't know you, how long have you been involved in the sport and where did it all start?
I have been involved in the sport for over 30 years now, my dad initially owned horses back in the 70s for a few years.  He fell back into it in the 80s which is when I got involved.

Which is the best horse you've ever driven?
I have numerous that could fall into that category but I would have to opt for Today I Say as she treated me to my first sub-two minute mile back in 2005.  More recent would be our own Jack Swagger, he has a mass of potential.

Which horse, past or present that you haven't driven, would you like to drive and why?
Stoneriggs Mystery, as he's just been such a superstar from the first day he stepped onto the track.  Track or distance it just doesn't matter, he is the best.

Who did, or do, you admire as a driver?
Mick Lord.

Which is your favourite track in the UK and Ireland?
Tir Prince, I would love for something similar to be in Scotland.

Have you driven outside the Uk and Ireland?  If not, where in the world would you choose to have one drive?
No.  Mohawk or The Meadowlands.

Have you ever considered moving abroad to become a professional driver?
Yes, Canada, but not necessarily to drive just to be involved at a good level.  Never say never.

If you could change one thing about the sport in the UK, what would it be?
Removal of the doubters and people trying to hold the sport back.

Which si your favourite meeting in the UK racing calendar?
Musselburgh.

How much do you consider information from a trainer when you drive?
Highly, no one knows a horse better than the person working with it daily.

Out of all the races you have won, which has been the most memorable?  Which race would you like to win that you haven't already?
It has to be the Famous Musselburgh Pace final (on Mahogany Jasper), one big final a season makes it the one!  The Tregaron Welsh Classic of the Crock of Gold are missing from the CV so any one would be nice.

How would you describe your racing style?
Tactical.

Where do you see yourself in the sport 10 years from now?
I would love to say Canada but that might be a thought too far.  Hopefully still healthy and doing what I do now would be nice.

What is your opinion on a Drivers Championship Day to select a UK representative for the World Driving Championships?  The format would be based on the top 10 drivers according to number of wins in the previous season, competing across a certain number of races on one day, driving horses that they have not previously driven (in order to replicate the actual event)?
Sounds like a great idea, this would then put everyone on a level playing field on the day of the event.

Do you have any children?  Would you encourage them to get involved in harness racing in the future?
I have two boys who love going racing but not sure if they will keep the family tradition going into the future.  I certainly wouldn't stop them if they chose to.

What are your hobbies/interests outside of racing?
My boys take up most of my spare time with their football and golf commitments.  When I can, I enjoy playing football and spending time with my family.

If you could visit one place in the world, where would it be and why?
New York, it looks amazing.  It's on my 'to do' list.

You're stranded on a desert island - what five things can't you live without?
My phone, chocolate, sun glasses, sun cream and my wife...to apply the sun cream.

You're holding a dinner party for five famous guests (alive or dead) - who would they be and why?
AP McCoy, David Beckham (both absolute legends in my eyes), Keith Lemon (crude humour), The Proclaimers (musical talent, they will need to share a chair however), & Michelle Keegan (eye candy).

If you were invisible for a day, what would it be?
Follow my brother (Alan Greenhorn) around I think, I always wonder what he gets up to on a daily basis.

If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would spend your winnings on?
This is easy as I have this conversation almost monthly with a racing friend.  A new racetrack in Scotland, 5/8 in size with all the facilities for it to be a training centre also.

What would you name your autobiography?
'The Nugget', for some reason some of my racing friends gave me this name a number of years back.

Which actor would play you in a film about your life?
Matt Damon (it has been full of adventure).

When was the last time you got into trouble?
Almost daily for not putting my clothes away!

Describe yourself in three words.
Easy going, caring and thorough (Yet ANOTHER Scottish driver who doesn't know the difference between 3 and 4...all is forgiven as I'm full of the Christmas spirit(s) and the rest of the interview was exceptional!).
William & Ayrosmith at Tregaron, 2015 (photo courtesy of Irfon Bennett)
Fighting out a finish against brother-in-law Gordon Gilvear and young gun Tony Allan at Corbiewood
There are no words...
William & Kestrels Rogue winning the Appleby Spring Final in 2012
Thank you to 'The Nugget' for his answers, a most enjoyable read.

Fear not dear readers, I am already sourcing the next batch of drivers to continue part two of the series in the new year.  This will include the legendary Willie Drysdale (IF I can track him down), a notoriously difficult man to keep still for any length of time and also one of the few people in UK and Irish harness racing who doesn't have Facebook!  But I am an eternal optimist and after over 12 months of not speaking to each other (mutual fear of one another), we broke through the barrier to become unlikely friends after sharing a dancefloor in Aberystwyth.  Watch this space.

Merry Christmas everyone, have a blast!

Over and out,

#1 Festive Groom

Friday, 11 December 2015

An interview with...Gregor Paterson

We're keeping them coming folks...and to think I still have a list as long as my arm of regular drivers at Corbiewood to interview (once I find the time to actually contact them).  This week I'm talking to Gregor Paterson, a young driver who represented the UK in Canada a few years ago in the Colville Cup.  One of my overwhelming memories of this guy racing is seeing him involved in the only (*touch wood*) accident I've witnessed at Corbiewood since my time in Scotland.  I'm sure he won't mind me mentioning it, seeing as he managed to make a miraculous recovery from having a horse lying on top of him on the Thursday night to drinking until the early hours of the Sunday morning in Aberystwyth some two days later.  I'm sure it was for medicinal purposes...

Anyway, here's the interview with the driver who probably believes he should be on every page of an SHRC Drivers Calendar...

For anybody who doesn’t know you, how long have you been involved in the sport and where did it all start?
I've been going to the racing with my papa (Jimmy Moncrieff) all my life, then my dad got involved in the year 2000 and built stables and a track for me and my brother James and that's when we got our first horse, Red Red Robin.

Which is the best horse you’ve driven in your career? 
That would have to be Country Commander.  He was one tough horse.  I was never let down by any of his runs.  Also Merrington Bad Boy - he taught me a lot in the few years I had him.
  
Which horse, past or present that you haven’t driven, would you like to drive and why?
I'd love to drive Rewrite History (2015 BHRC 3YO Colt of the Year), his speed and stamina combined are different class.

Who did, or do, you admire as a driver? 
There are a lot of good drivers in the UK (I agree Gregor) but Rocker Laidler, Wull Greenhorn and Gordon Gilvear are my top three and will always give advice and help in every way.

Which is your favourite track in the UK and Ireland?
Has to be Corbiewood.  Racing every week and great banter with everyone and the atmosphere there is the best.

Have you driven outside of the UK and Ireland?
Yeah I was lucky enough to be chosen to represent the UK in Canada at Rideau Carleton Raceway in 2012.  It was an experience of a lifetime getting two thirds and second in 1.55, it was a great buzz and I would love to go back .

Have you ever considered moving abroad to become a professional driver?
I think that's every driver's dream it's just not as easy as that, but who knows what the future holds!

If you could change one thing about the sport in the UK, what would it be?
Would have to be the handicap system, I would like to bring the maiden/novice/improver/intermediate system back in to give younger horses more experience in races before getting to Grade 1 and running in heats and finals.

Which is your favourite meeting in the UK racing calendar?
Aberystwyth has to be the best, the racing and the night out in the Pier as you will know yourself is superb! (I don't know what you're talking about Gregor, I've never heard of this 'Pier' you mention...)

How much do you consider information from a trainer when you drive?
You have to listen to the trainer as they know the horse better than you and will tell you how the horse should be driven but as a race strategy it can change and that's up to the driver to get that horse into a position to win the race.


Out of all the races you have won, which has been the most memorable? Which race would you like to win that you haven’t already?
Winning a heat at Musselburgh with Country Commander who only cost my dad £300 was a great achievement for the stable. The race I'd like to win would be the Sunday Aberystwyth final.

How would you describe your driving style? i.e. pace setter, strong closer, rail hugger?
I prefer the rail it's the shorstest way round!  It depends really what kind of horse you're on, all horses are different.  Sometimes I have put other drivers on my horses as they need that type of driving.

Where do you see yourself in the sport 10 years from now?
Hopefully a successful trainer, I can only keep trying!

What are your hobbies/interests outside of racing?
I like playing football and going out with the lads.

If you could visit one place in the world, where would it be and why?
I'd like to visit Las Vegas to drink shots and throw all my money on the roulette tables...bad idea! (LAD)

You’re stranded on a desert island – what five things can’t you live without?
All I need is my phone then I would call mountain rescue to come and get me - problem solved! (Not playing the game Paterson!)

You’re holding a dinner party for five famous guests (alive or dead) – who would they be and why?
Cheryl Cole, Rita Ora, Michelle Keegan, Megan Fox and Jennifer Aniston...now that's a party! (LAD)

If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
I'll keep this one to myself...(Why?  Because you think there's a chance you could one day be invisible and you don't want to give the game away?!  Or does this tie in nicely with your answer to the question above...?!)

If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would spend your winnings on?
I would move to Canada and open up a training centre and live the dream.

What would you name your autobiography?
'God's Gift' (LAD)

Which actor would play you in a film about your life?
Adam Sandler since he's my favourite.

When was the last time you got into trouble?
I'd rather keep that private! (LAD)

Describe yourself in three words.
Honest . Hardworking. Good laugh. (That's four words Paterson...but I've given up now as an alarming number of Scottish drivers don't know the difference between three and four...although that may explain alot of the shenanigans at the start of races between horses drawn 3 and 4 on the gate...)

Gregor & Country Commander, Corbiewood 2012
Gregor starting his driving career at a young age!
Hard at work early in the morning
Thank you to Gregor for taking the time to answer my questions with such humour.  I apologise if my editorial notes appear to give off the wrong impression, which I sincerely believe they don't!  All the best for 2016 with your stable full of new charges and remember - you don't keep a dog and bark yourself so make sure you get all those helpers to actually help!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Friday, 4 December 2015

An interview with...Hugh O'Neil Jr Jr

This week we're venturing away from the racing hub of Stirling to speak to a young driver hailing from Ayr, Hugh O'Neil Jr Jr (that is not a typo, he is the third of his name currently in the sport).  Hugh, or 'Junior Junior', is the stable driver for the O'Neil family and enjoyed success this summer with Caraghs Hall at Appleby Brough in August.  Hugh is probably most associated with Ayr Escape, a horse with all the looks and none of the luck, having fallen foul of a flawed handicap system which saw him move through grades 2 to 4 without winning a race in the past couple of seasons.  Hugh is the eldest son of Hugh (Jr), one third of one of the country's top studs, Ayr Standardbreds, and Elizabeth, top videographer at Corbiewood, as well as numerous other tracks where she can be seen trying to avoid anybody offering an additional commentary service (James Allan & Caroline Kennedy, please move away from the camera!).

Here, Hughie tells me a little bit more about the driver who could probably also be described as having 'all the looks and none of the luck'...

For anybody who doesn’t know you, how long have you been involved in the sport and where did it all start?
My family has been into racing their whole lives.  My grandparents on both sides (O'Neils & Kennedys) bred and raced horses, as did my mum and dad so I got the bug at a young age. 

Which is the best horse you’ve driven in your career?
I've had the pleasure of sitting behind some good horses in Canada , just working out though. Over here I'd have to say Caraghs Hall; Ayr Escape when he was at his best was definitely the best I'd sat behind at the time. 

Which horse, past or present that you haven’t driven, would you like to drive and why?
Somebeachsomewhere without a doubt. 

Who did, or do, you admire as a driver?
In the UK it has to be Gordon Gilvear and Wull Greenhorn; in the world it's Tim Tetrick and John Campbell. 

Which is your favourite track in the UK and Ireland?
Tir Prince under the lights, there's nothing better. 

Have you driven outside of the UK and Ireland? If not, where in the world would you choose to have one drive?
As I said, I've worked out horses in Canada, but I'd love to drive on the Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky.  

Have you ever considered moving abroad to become more involved in the sport?
I hope to move to Canada to work with horses, it's hard to make the grade as a driver over there but I'd hope I could be working with horses in Canada someday.

If you could change one thing about the sport in the UK, what would it be?
I'd change the stewards' consistency (or lack of).

Which is your favourite meeting in the UK racing calendar?
Probably have to be Musselburgh. 

Out of all the races you have won, which has been the most memorable? Which race would you like to win that you haven’t already?
Most memorable would have to be winning with Caraghs Hall at Appleby.  I'd love to win Musselburgh. 

How would you describe your driving style? i.e. pace setter, strong closer, rail hugger?
I don't really know if I've developed one style yet, I'd say maybe a patient driver.  The horse I drive weekly I try to trip him out on the rail most weeks and leave some for coming home. 

Where do you see yourself in the sport 10 years from now?
Hopefully winning a lot more races! 

What are your hobbies/interests outside of racing?
There's not really a lot of time for much else apart from working and horses but I try to get to the gym as much as I can. 

If you could visit one place in the world, where would it be and why?
Australia and NZ just to see and experience their type of racing (that's technically two places, but I'll let you off).

You’re stranded on a desert island – what five things can’t you live without?
Chocolate, chicken fajitas, Nandos cheesecake, iPad, maybe Kareen (Hughie's girlfriend and number one supporter...or maybe number two, after his mum)....probably just more chocolate though! (Well Kareen definitely isn’t your number one supporter after that comment!)

You’re holding a dinner party for five famous guests (alive or dead) – who would they be and why?
Taylor Swift, James Corden, Luke Bryan, Jonah Hill, Stanley Dancer

If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
Just annoy George (Carson - Hughie's best friend and biggest rival in all things from driving to gym workouts) all day without him knowing it was me!

If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would spend your winnings on?
I would move to Canada, buy a farm and some horse. 

Which actor would play you in a film about your life?
My lookalike Terry Crews (for anybody who doesn't know who Terry Crews is, like me, follow this link for a photo - Terry Crews - I think you'll agree they are like twins!)

When was the last time you got into trouble?
Hard to keep track, it happens a lot! 

Describe yourself in three words.
Witty, determined, focused.

Thanks Hugh for answering the questions, some of which with a real sense of humour! I would say that people should give this guy a chance as a driver next season as under the new handicap system he will carry at least one grade of an allowance for any horse he drives (until he reaches 7 wins).  However, that would seem a little hypocritical of me seeing as I let him drive my horse this year in a C Class race, and then ditched him the second time for George Carson, his biggest rival (who incidentally, won, in tremendous fashion, and showcased the best celebration ever to grace the tight mile at Corbiewood).  That said, he did post the unofficial fastest first quarter in the track's 49 year history whilst driving my horse, so credit where it's due...I'd probably give him another chance!

Hugh & brother Michael working out on the beach

Hugh & Ayr Escape at Corbiewood

Hugh & Caraghs Hall winning at Appleby Brough, August 2015

Over and out (and thanks for being a good sport Jr Jr),

#1 Groom