It must have been twenty-plus years since I last went to Huntingdon horse races.
My cousin, Danny, suggested we go, as it’s closer than our normal ventures to Great Yarmouth. Considering the Flat turf season finished in early November we have to look for other options and Huntingdon, being less than an hours journey, seemed a good reason for a day out. Anyway, that was the plan for the three of us until Dan The Man called off the evening before with a cold and ‘aching all over’ put pay to that.
Probably half an hour before, I had been online and purchased a couple of tickets for my brother and I which seemed pretty reasonable totalling £24. The tickets alone at Yarmouth are that apiece so we felt like winners.
I literally have no idea about National Hunt racing in any shape or form whether Chase, Hurdle or Flat race. However, sometimes it’s good to have a change of scene and this was it.
We got the 10:32 train from March to Peterborough. Had to wait 30-minutes, so we headed to Paltform 3 waiting for the train to Horsham (that’s West Sussex, past Gatwick Airport). Thankfully, we exited at the first stop: Huntingdon.
We arrived at 11:37.
Just as well we had our tickets, as they have barriers at the train station and I didn’t fancy explaining to the lady saying ‘Thank you’ to everyone who successfully passed through why I hadn’t got one. (Sometimes, I chance my luck.)
We walked outside and got a taxi from the rank. The driver a quiet but pleasant man. The taxi dropped us off at the taxi point at the course. It cost £11.
It had been a long time since I had visited the course. In fact, that must have been when I worked for my Uncle and a small workforce (probably four or five of us) were given a free ticket as some kind of Christmas bonus. The only other National Hunt course I have visited is Fakenham, an attractive course although it was a freezing cold day.
Anyway, my brother and I were getting our bearings. I could just about remember the location but ahead saw the Annual Members entrance. We had a couple of bog-standard tickets so we sidled up and asked a couple of gentlemen trying to look busy for directions. We were met by two blokes who checked our tickets on my phone. A beep or two later, we were walking in the right direction. I noticed a pile of race cards and asked if we could have one as I though they were free with the ticket.
I was informed: ‘They cost £3 each’.
I put my hand in my pocket to get some change to hear ‘We don’t take cash’.
Tell me about it, I thought. Anyway, I was smiling as the gentleman said ‘share this one’ and gave us a freebie.
For a moment I enjoyed that extra £3 in my pocket. I’ll have to try that every time I go to Huntingdon!
We must have got to the course about 12, if not a fraction earlier. We were part of a crowd of punters, racing enthusiasts, owners and trainers. People dress differently for winter racing, a far stretch from Ladies Day at Great Yarmouth at their Eastern Festival in September. I didn’t see any pink hats anywhere. In fact, the crowd looked pretty drab in their attire, hats mostly bobble or beanie. Every shade of clothing from grey to green. If people had tans they had vanished, replaced by an ill-looking shade of white. I’m sure people from tropical climes look much healthier. I noticed a few die-hard souls still wearing summer shorts. Luckily for them it wasn’t the coldest of days although half spitting with rain.
As we walked to one of many bars, I saw the horses in the paddock for the 12:20 The Racing TV Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 5) for horses aged threes years and older. The race was over 2 miles 4 furlongs and 145 yards.
Nine runners getting ready for action.
We went into the Gurney’s Bar. Two pints of Aspall cider costing £13. Once upon a time drinking alcohol was cheap but at least we could see the horses walking around the Parade Ring from the window.
Next we were walking about the course, plastic pint beaker in hand and taking in the occasion. The atmosphere was relaxed, people seemed friendly enough and probably more knowledgable than the Flat racing audience at Yarmouth who are basically holidaymakers enjoying a day out.
My knowledge about National Hunt racing is similar to a young child looking at a horse for the first time.
We had a walk to the on-course bookmakers. I notice a few from great Yarmouth including Big Jim who seems to specialise in giving an extra place (4 places) but the odds are greatly reduced (as they would be). Big Jim was wearing a red and white striped jacket, and a bright yellow knitted wool hat. I also noticed A J Speechley had a couple of pitches. I think they come from Yaxley. It made me wonder why they would have two pitches. I imagine needs must. There were about 10 bookmakers sitting yards from the winning post, opposite the stands. A fair crowd of people. I’m not good with numbers but perhaps a couple of thousand.
The horses were gathering at the start, some way in the distance to the left-hand side of the course. I could see them on the big screen but wasn’t quite sure where they were hiding. I noticed them hidden by a few bushes waiting for the flag to fall.
We didn’t have a bet in the ‘lucky first’.
It was probably a good idea as Apologise won at odds of 9/1 for trainer Oliver Greenall & Josh Guerriero, ridden by Toby Wynne. It was an exciting finish as he beat a fast-finishing State Legend (12/1) by a head while Celtic Fortune wasn’t far away just a half a length behind in third. I got the feeling the early leaders went a stride too fast. But what do I know!
If I had bet on one race it would have been Goose Man in the 12:55, who cruised home unchallenged by eleven lengths at odds of 5/1, drifting from 7/2. I noticed this strong-looking gelding as he is owned by Mrs Firti Hay. The horses hadn’t run for 972 days which is one hell of a long time. I was thinking I know Mrs Firti Hay isn’t short of cash but paying for a horse to be in training for almost three years is keeping the faith. Considering the gelding is eleven years old and racing in a Selling Hurdle was probably as good a tip as anyone will ever see. They must have spent £50,000 paying for its stable fees and the win price money was just £5,809,10. It was a great training performance from Jamie Snowden and jockey Gavin Sheenan had an armchair ride. By all accounts the winner is a classy horse that lost its way, perhaps through injury, but come back in style. Goose Man was bought back in for £11,500. Quite clearly, he’s worth a lot more and connections must have been happy no one pushed the bidding to a higher plateau. I imagine they have to give 10% of the sale to the course, which could have eroded any prize money (not that would have been a problem for these billionaire owners).
Mrs Fitri Hay wasn’t there.
There were seven races on the card.
There will always be winners, losers and heartache at racecourses, especially the National Hunt, and that was true in the next race the 1:30 Racing TV Veterans’ Handicap Chase over two miles seven and a half furlongs. This race was for older horses aged from ten to fourteen years. So a race with a lot of warriors and very special loved horses. The race was won by Crosspark at odds of 15/2. Sadly, Stylish Moment trained by Lucinda Russell, ridden by Patrick Wadge and in the ownership of The Crick Girls (previously, Mrs Christina Hughs & Patrick G Friel) was fatally injured three out. I saw him on the big screen veer to his left and could see he had broken his right hind leg. It happened on the flat and wasn’t caused by a fall at a jump. There was an audible sigh, and I said: ‘Oh, no!’. I couldn’t help but think how all who loved Stylish Moment felt at his loss. To have been living the life of a racehorse to be injured and lost after so many years of racing left me with many emotions. I don’t mind saying my tinted-lensed sunglasses hid a tear. I said to myself: ‘God bless you, little one.’
What can you say?
If I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop.
In a career of 41 races, Stylish Moment won 3 races under rules and almost £50,000 in prize money.
You rarely hear stories in the press about the feelings, thoughts, emotions of connections and jockeys when a horse is fatally injured. But I can only imagine the journey home with one less horse in the box and the tears which go along with such loss.
While Crosspark was cheered home I looked into the distance and could see the ambulance and cars stopped trying to help, vet doing his best to save the life of Stylish Moment and sure others consoling Patrick Wadge who had ridden this gelding in five of his last six races.
Once before I went to Huntingdon and remember seeing a jockey walk back carrying his saddle and a comforting arm on his shoulder.
It makes me think.
The other races came and went and wanting to get home at a sensible time we arrange to get the taxi back to the station to catch the 3:50. As we walked to the exit, the horses for the 3:15 were heading along the chute to the start. Salsada, trained by Brian Ellison, was bucking and kicking and got her leg caught in the fencing and a few strides later was holding her left hind hoof off the ground and lame. She was walked back to the stables. Another incident that caused concern. The trials of being involved with the National Hunt must be many.
Hopefully all was well.
Within five minutes we were back in the taxi and ten minutes later at the station.
The 3:20 train was running late so we got that one which saved a good half an hour on the journey. A quick change at Peterborough and by 4:15 we arrived at March.
It was an eventful day.
I needed a cup of tea.