Coach, Planes & Ubermobiles! #BC19

I started this blog before a quick beach walk, which I often take before work when I’m on the back shift. Feeling tired and probably still a bit jet lagged, it was a good a time as any to start writing.

Having decided at Champions Day 2018 that our next racing trip would be the Breeders’ Cup, we finally got around to booking it in May. Everything was left to me to source & book…just as well. I recall HUN giving me a ring. “I’m currently sat with some lovely ladies who have given me a couple of prices for the full package. Shall I book it?”

I was convinced I could get a better deal with a bit of internet surfing, so suggested we keep the quotes and get back to them. It’s just as well we did. The lovely ladies in question were from the now defunct Thomas Cook.

Over the next few months our outbound flight was brought forward twice. Not helpful, but at least plenty of warning. I had originally planned to fly down to Heathrow from Newcastle, however with the flight now being earlier, it meant there was only one connecting flight that would get me there in plenty of time for check in; 6am from Newcastle. What if it was foggy, what if it was delayed or cancelled? As you know from the Dubai blog, I’m a nervous flyer. The panic was now setting it. I couldn’t take the risk. My next plan was the train…twice the price of a flight…thanks, but no thanks. Trains are not exactly reliable either. All it would take would be for the train driver to oversleep and boom! I could be sat on the freezing cold platform, hear the bing bong and the slow uninterested voice telling me that ‘John’ had decided an extra hour in bed was more important than my train & Jim (his replacement), was running late.

I had already decided I wasn’t driving and leaving the car at the airport so my last option was the bus. National Express to be precise. Crikey, I hadn’t used NE since I was a student in Cheltenham…way back in 1993. Didn’t exactly have good memories of coach journeys from back then either. Once left my coursework on a coach…was never handed in and spent 3 days and nights re-doing it from scratch, (I got a distinction but that’s not the point). I never left any coursework on a coach again. Lesson learned.

I booked my ticket. £13! And the best part about it was that it took me direct to Heathrow with only a couple of stops on the way. I have to say my experience was fine. It was warm, comfortable and cheap as chips. Departing at 23.45, it was a quiet coach journey. That was until Doncaster. A handful of people climbed aboard. Didn’t think anything if it. I was tired and wanted to try and grab a few hours of sleep, as I knew I’d probably get zero on the plane. I was dozing off and aware of two guys talking 3 seats in front of me. Quietly at first, but then as we cruised along the M1, the road noise increased and so did the Chuckle Brothers. I’ve no idea who Alan was but he sounded like a bundle of laughs, (at least to them anyway). By the time we reached Terminal 2 I felt like I knew Alan inside out, and he wasn’t even on the bloody coach! People watching is great, but believe me when I say that people listening is comical!

First leg out the way, I negotiated my way to Terminal 3. It was 5.30am. I must’ve looked terrible. I hadn’t slept. The bags under my eyes definitely weren’t Prada. I didn’t care. This was going to be another tick on our racing trip bucket list. I found a quiet (ish) spot and sat down, legs resting on my bright yellow case and closed my eyes. Again, I was only dozing, completely aware of what was going on around me. I was people listening again. A couple sat next to me. I assume married. He was getting grief for wearing the wrong shoes to travel in. Obviously, I was intrigued…what was he wearing? Platforms? Flip flops? Well I certainly didn’t have multicoloured cowboy boots on the shortlist. Maybe I was seeing things, I was tired after all. Nope! Definitely multicoloured cowboy boots.airport champers

HUN arrived….all the tiredness instantly subsided. We were both like kids at Christmas; only worse. Off to check in we went. 20 questions at the desk as to the purpose of our visit. “We’re going to the Breeders’ Cup!”, HUN said excitedly. The American Airlines employee clearly had no clue what that was. If ever there was a tumbleweed moment this was it.

Checked in, off to departures we went. Champagne breakfast on the cards which we’d promised ourselves at the end of our last trip. On route to breakfast I was instructed that I had to help HUN choose some perfume for his girlfriend. Apparently, it was my fault he was having to buy it. Said girlfriend wasn’t overly impressed he was off abroad with ‘another woman’. While I suppose it was sort of understandable, I found it ludicrous at the same time. Our relationship is like brother & sister. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s it. Besides, I was here first, right? 😆Getting back to it ‘being my fault’…. he’d obviously thought to put her mind at rest he’d show her a pic of me. Opens his phone on WA thinking he’d show her the lovely pic of me and the offspring…not realising I’d changed the pic about a week earlier to something less ‘motherly’. Not sure how long he got grief after that, but suffice to say he spent a lot on perfume. Hey girlfriend! You’re welcome! 😘

At the gate there was no plane in sight, except for one which looked like a bus ride away. I was right. We were corralled into two buses and driven across tarmac to the plane I’d spotted. To this point I hadn’t had much time to worry about the flight (being a nervous flyer). Right on cue the anxiety kicked in as we started climbing the steel stairs to the aluminium tube. Stood waiting halfway up the stairs I glanced down the outside of the fuselage scouting for damage…yes I know that’s stupid, BUT years ago while sat on a plane with my parents, I’d pointed out something on the wing to my dad. He was equally unsettled by it and to cut a long story short, we sat on the plane until the piece of metal was bent back in place and repaired. No word of a lie. There’s no way that would happen today of course, or at least I’d hope not.airplane

Once aboard, we settled into our seats. Front row of premium economy. Perfect for HUN with his long legs. Clearly I don’t have that problem being 5’2”. The lady who was sat next to HUN produced a pack of wipes from her handbag and began wiping her seat vigorously. Turning to a perplexed looking HUN she said “I know they don’t clean these planes properly in between turnarounds and I’m not catching anything”. Ok then! My immediate thought was that I was glad I was sat in the aisle seat and not next to her. At least if she got chatty she wouldn’t be chewing my ear off.

I have to say the flight from Heathrow to LAX was uneventful. I can’t use the words pleasant or good. I hate planes and will never enjoy a flight. It was comfortable and the food was good. I tried to get some sleep, but at best I just dozed on and off as I did on the coach. It’s worth paying the bit extra for the more roomy cabin in my opinion. Especially for long haul.

On arrival into LAX (early evening) we went through immigration ok, bar the jobsworth who gave HUN the 20 questions routine about how he was in the wrong queue (the queue he was instructed to stand in!).

We had already planned our next move which was to catch an Uber to the hotel. I’ve never used Uber so it would all be new to me, so I left it in the capable hands of HUN. He had the app & knew exactly what to do, or at least that’s what I was hoping. Standing outside in the hustle and bustle of the airport he scanned the app and had 4 prices. Great, I thought, let’s tap one and off we go. Hmmm, where from though? No great signage for folks who have never been here before. There were loads of green buses which had guys ushering passengers aboard; seemingly with no clue where they were heading. Next thing I know, my bag is aboard one of these buses and I’m legging it after the ‘bus-boy’ to give him a piece of my mind! It transpired we were aboard an Uber bus. Ok, this was fine if a little hurried and confusing! Along with hundreds of other new arrivals, we were dropped off in the Uber zones. We just had to figure out which one we were supposed to be picked up in. All highly confusing to me. I thought HUN was the expert? He was just as lost as me I think.

Eventually we found our driver, I forget him name, but I haven’t forgotten the journey. I have to say my first experience of Uber wasn’t going great, but I had to like it or lump it as this was going to be our way of getting around for the short time we were here. On a normal day our taxi ride would be 30 minutes or so. Not today. It was peak time on a Thursday evening, it was going to be a little longer. I just wanted to be at the hotel so I could chill out. I had developed cankles from the flight and needed to relax. The taxi driver decided he needed a toilet break…in the roughest fuel station you’ve ever seen. I turned to HUN and stated that although I had no clue as to how Uber worked, this driver was getting no tip under any circumstances (unless I was to be held at gun point, which at this point in time felt like a real possibility!). I’m not kidding. When you’re being driven through the back streets of LA and see signs for places that Dr Dre sings about, you wonder where the hell you are. This driver had no clue where he was going so was following the SatNav to the letter…on Halloween through (what I assumed to be) the roughest part of the city as the local radio station belted our Witchy Woman. If I had a broomstick, I would’ve flown myself and HUN to the hotel myself!

Checked in, we dumped our gear and headed out to find the closest fast food place. I was tired and arguably grumpy with cankles. I didn’t want to and couldn’t walk far. My pudding feet felt like they had those antique copper & brass diver’s boots on them. Pizza Hut to the rescue, we ate as we walked. Back in our respective rooms, we bedded down for the night. HUN, I suspect was chatting to the girlfriend, while I was getting acquainted with TVG. Perfect. Well almost perfect; feet elevated to get rid of my cankles by morning!

I didn’t get much sleep as my body clock hadn’t adjusted and I had no plans to rectify that. This was the Breeders’ Cup and if I wasn’t going to sleep for the whole time I was here, then so be it. I function on very little kip as it is, so this would be a breeze.

Face on, shoes on, but dress not quite on. I couldn’t get it fastened. If you’re a woman you’ll understand where I’m coming from. When you’re zipping up your dress it can become a tad difficult at a certain point with dresses made from certain stiff fabrics. For me it’s usually around the bottom of the shoulder blades where I find myself having to change arm position to finish the job off. If you’ve ever heard Michael McIntyre talking about women putting on tights; it’s pretty similar when I’m fastening a dress. In fact, it can look chaotic. This was no exception. I don’t do dresses much, so when I do I prefer them to be easy to wear. The zip was firmly stuck and wasn’t going anywhere slow let alone fast! I had to ring HUN. The zip was now wedged in a position that it meant it wouldn’t go up or down. Fan-bloody-tastic. HUN found it rather hilarious and tried his best to either get me dressed or get me out of it. I’m pretty sure he won’t have told this to his gf😂 He failed. Eventually I had to wriggle out of it (carefully) with the zip still not budging. I faffed about with it for another ten minutes and managed to move it an inch higher. I poured myself into it once again and thankfully HUN was able to coax the zip to the top.day1

Another Uber ordered, he seemed to be taking forever. Turns out the driver read the destination and pick up point back to front. My experience of Uber was still rubbish and once again this driver wouldn’t be getting a tip. At least he knew where he was going and he gave us a few restaurant suggestions to round off our day after the racing, although I didn’t hold out much hope of them being any good after the pick-up debacle.

As Uber drivers are not allowed to drop off inside the track, we were dropped just outside and walked. It was actually a good thing as we got to take in the magnificent backdrop of the San Gabriel mountains with the Santa Anita grandstand in the foreground. Wow. Some backdrop! I could only imagine that from inside the track it would be even more breath-taking. On entry to the track it became apparent we had entered through a side entrance; I’m guessing at the stable entrance. As we walked past a security gate not one person stopped us, or asked for tickets, or even a simple hello to acknowledge we were there. They didn’t seem bothered so we continued. It seemed like we went from back door entrance to the heart of the action without anyone noticing. Because we’d bypassed the main gate, we didn’t collect our lanyards for our passes or indeed the race programme. We went to the information desk where two very helpful ladies said they didn’t have any and didn’t know where they were available. Hmmmm, a key item which everyone (who had passes for The View), were supposed to have as stated in the ticket package. HUN went on a reccy to hunt them down. Ten minutes later he appeared with both lanyards and programmes. Then promptly lost his lanyard. Obviously, it was my fault (insert rolly eyed emoji here). Hilarious! He trekked back to get another. Problem sorted we headed to The View.santaanita1

View by name and view by nature. Wow! The backdrop for the track is probably the most picturesque I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. It really is breath-taking in my opinion. The San Gabriel mountains provide a simply stunning setting for this; the biggest meeting in US racing. Not only was the view of the surrounding scenery breath-taking, but our view of the track was too. Hence its name The View. The only way we would be any closer to the action was if we were ponying the runners to the start. This was a great choice of tickets for what we personally wanted as racegoers. Great view, great seats, excellent accessibility to what we required and as a bonus right next to the winning line and winners circle. We paid $675 apiece. Individual day tickets were available and disappointingly there was zero discount if you were attending both days (as we were). The Friday, billed as future champions day was $200 and the Saturday was $475. As a hardened and semi-regular racegoer I had no issues with the pricing. Yes, it’s fairly expensive, but it was a once in a lifetime ‘bucket list’ for us. All part of what me and HUN do. The Breeders’ Cup is an experience. It can be whatever you want it to be, and it can be done on a budget, if you plan and do it right. A budget hotel for $250 4 nights, a flight for around £350 from the UK and general admission to the infield for $15. Prices on course for drinks and food are higher than the norm but that’s only to be expected. That’s where the bulk of your dollars go, and naturally on any wagering you decide to do!

We found a nice spot on some comfy terrace sofas. This would be our base for the day. The seating in The View is on a first come first served basis. Getting there early was a good idea. We had our pick of seats. Plenty of sofas and along some of the rail there were tall tables and chairs. Less comfortable but so close to the action you’d probably be in danger of getting kickback in your cocktails😀sofas

The atmosphere was building and so relaxed. We were dressed pretty smart but the dress code was relaxed in the majority of areas on course. Indeed, one guy in a pink half-mast suit had the ‘no socks’ faux pas…He was obviously going to be British, wasn’t he? Yep, I was correct.

Before the racing began there was the very patriotic singing of the National Anthem, while the stars & stripes were rolled out across the dirt track in front of the stand by veterans & school children. The NA was sung by a 15yo girl. She was outstanding. The crowd erupted into applause as she finished. The excitement was about to gear up another level!

Let’s race!

HUN was his customary self; disappearing at the drop of a hat to ‘have a look around’. By that he meant he was off for a sneaky bet which he’d casually drop into conversation as the horses loaded for each race & make my jaw drop at the heaviness of the slips I was looking at! Hey, it’s all good: everything saved for, came with a budget & funds, and stuck to it…or at least I know I did…..😄

If you’ve ever experienced a day racing with him (and some of you have), you’ll know he’s the absolute best racing buddy there is. Hilariously funny, and boy does he know his racing. My ‘racing hubby’ so to speak.day1 3

The atmosphere was building even more as the runners for the first on the undercard paraded past. The wonderfully turned out ponies that accompanied each runner to the start stole my heart. Indeed a few of them had purple sparkles on their quarters with matching ribbons in their mane. Every rider smiling, saying hi & acknowledging folks along the rail. These guys do an amazing job. Such skilled horsemen & women. In a former life I probably would’ve loved a job doing this, but I was never such a talented rider.

As we sat on our comfy sofa, we were joined by two ladies, Debbie & Mandy. These two racing fans travelled the country to watch the racing. Not so much into wagering, but more for the days out, the horses and boy they knew their stuff. HUN was turning on the charm (as ever), he’s not so hot on the US racing but takes a keen interest in the run up to big meetings, whereas I could sit 24/7 and watch it.

It was all very relaxed and as the runners jumped from the gate for the first race on the undercard, the crowd inevitably cheered! I don’t think I’ve ever felt so chilled out for a day at the races…that would change dramatically come tomorrow!

The sun was beating down, and my feet began to hurt. There were 10 races to survive (both betting wise and physically!). This wasn’t a good sign going into the fifth race (& first of the BC races) 😄 I knew I’d be in agony come dusk. Hey ho, a few blisters and high heels were not going to stop me. Besides, HUN was doing a sterling job of fetching and carrying for this old mare.pano

Before the next race (and before the footwear became a bigger problem), I tootled off to one of the bars inside. As the private bar still wasn’t functioning in The View, we had no choice. Pretty disappointing to be honest. The biggest meeting of the year for the track and everything wasn’t as it should have been.

Despite having instructions for certain drinks, I ended up at one of the sponsors bars…if truth be told, it was the first I came to. Maker’s Mark was the sponsor so it would’ve been rude not to indulge. When in Rome….or Santa Anita and all that! Safe to say didn’t get much change from $25. Time to win some dollars!

The Juvenile Turf Sprint was the first BC race on the Friday. Naturally I was with one of the European runners. Alligator Alley certain looked like the climate agreed with him. The son of Kingman had the Californian sun bouncing off his coat as he paraded in front of us. Alas, it wasn’t to be his day. Although he made up some late headway on the rail, he was never nearer than 8th. The finish was fought out between Four Wheel Drive and Chimney Rock, with the former coming out on top by 3/4 length. I should’ve known to back the Wesley Ward horse over 5 furlongs! Stupidly in the next (the Juvenile Turf), I patriotically stuck with another European and sided with Arizona. I couldn’t not back him. Since I saw him win at The Curragh way back in May I’ve followed him. Now wasn’t the time to dessert him. I’m a terrible small stakes gambler. You can guarantee that I will (and frequently do) let my heart rule my head. I’m no tipster and I’ve worked for a bookie, so I can safely say there really is only one winner when it comes to gambling. Bigtime Charlies will try and tell you different. Gambling is an ‘add on’ for me when it comes to racing. I don’t always have a bet when racing. It’s not the be all and end all for me. In fact, for most of the BC meeting I’d placed my bets before I flew out, and only had a handful of on course bets while out in California. Anyway, that aside, Arizona was sent off the favourite but could manage only fifth behind the Chad Brown trained Structor, who fended off two 66/1 shots in Billy Batts & Gear Jockey.

Next up it was the turn of the fairer sex in the Juvenile Fillies. No European runner to cloud my judgement, I was on Lazy Daisy. Purely for the name of course! I had actually tried to buy a tiny share in her for HUN the week before we flew out. I took far too long thinking about it, and by the time I decided to do it, the last few shares had gone. She didn’t run great, and sod’s law the horse named British Idiom won! Why we didn’t back it God only knows!cocktails

Before we flew out I’d told HUN we had to have one of the official Breeders’ Cup cocktails. Two to choose from, but when your feet are almost bleeding and there’s a guy wandering around selling them, beggars can’t be choosers. We had the ‘Torrie Cup’ cocktail. Bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange juice and lemonade. Beautiful and refreshing. Served in a plastic BC cocktail shaker glass, at $16 a pop it was expensive but worth it. Naturally I kept my cocktail shaker! I’m a memorabilia lover!

Juvenile Fillies Turf up next and Albigna from the Jessica Harrington yard was once again my European pick. HUN quite fancied Daahyeh. The 16/1 shot Sharing trained by Graham Motion won decisively from the fast finishing Daahyeh who was never quite getting there. At least the cocktails weren’t letting us down😊 The penultimate race on the card was the last BC race of the day, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (dirt). The hot favourite and banker for many people on the day was Dennis’ Moment who fell out of the stalls and almost dislodged his jockey. There were gasps from the crowd. Surely now it would be an easy task for the Bob Baffert trained Eight Rings. A result that no one saw coming, 50/1 Storm The Court beat 28/1 Anneau D’Or with 40/1 Wrecking Crew back in third. Wow! Worth noting that back in fifth was Full Flat from Japan who recently went to the inaugural Saudi Cup meeting and won the Saudi Derby.

Racing over, we sat and finished our drinks, chatted with total strangers and then made our way out of the track. Quite gingerly in my case. I couldn’t walk anywhere fast. We had decided to take our taxi driver’s advice and head for the restaurant he had recommended. Although the track is virtually next door to a shopping mall, it might as well have been on the moon. My feet were probably bleeding by now, but I couldn’t look because if they were, the pain would’ve psychologically increased tenfold. Eventually we made it to the mall, (the long way around!) HUN suggested any footwear retailer to buy me some flatties. It was his best idea all day, or so it seemed as my feet throbbed and I cursed my stilts. First store we came to I grabbed the first pair of size 4 flatties I found. Not the most glamorous, but they were soooooooo comfortable. Such a relief to get my bleeding feet into them. As HUN searched for an ATM, (it hadn’t been great betting wise), I sat and chilled in the mall for ten minutes, and more importantly I was resting my feet.

We found the restaurant – Benihana. Ordered some drinks in their little bar until our table was ready, and chatted to some guys who had obviously been racing too. Turns out we would be also be sitting with these guys.

We ordered our food and our chef came out. He proceeded to casually and skilfully throw the various ingredients of our chosen menu around on the hotplate in front of us. Not to mention setting it alight and catching certain condiments in his chef’s hat. Quite a skill! As we made conversation around the table, it turned out we were sat with Chris Davis (trainer @CHDavisRacing) and some of his owners (Dare To Dream). Chris’ other half is none other than jockey Sophie Doyle, who would be riding Street Band in the BC Distaff on the Saturday. Not sure how we always end up with such interesting folk! During our meal Jaqueline Doyle (Sophie’s mum) arrived. Beautifully turned out. I bet she didn’t have to have flatties on under the table like little ole me 😊

After a delicious meal me and HUN headed back to the bar for a couple of cocktails while watching some basketball. A lovely chilled end to brilliant day. Uber ordered, we sat and discussed how great the day had been.

Once back at our hotel, I threw my stilts in the bin and fell into bed. Once again, I was wide awake within minutes. This time difference would play havoc next week, I thought to myself. Oh well, it was going to be well worth it!

ponies

Day 2. November 2nd 2019. Breeders’ Cup World Championships Day!

It was an early enough start. First race was due off at 10.07am. HUN had nipped downstairs and grabbed coffee and eats. Uber ordered (hopefully not the same guy as the day before!). Order of the day was sensible footwear. I’d decided that seeing as though there was no real dress code, I’d wear my white pumps with my funky red, white, yellow dress. Not forgetting my matching ‘Iridessa’ bow. Yes, Kaz had yet again picked another European for later in the day. To be honest, I’d been telling HUN to back her for the BC for months. Today was the day.

Once at the track, which didn’t seem any busier than the previous day, we got our race cards and headed to The View. The race cards were great. A4 in size, and although $6 I personally thought they were value. You’re always going to pay a bit more for things at big meetings. If you think that here in the UK, we pay up to £5 for a race card which is only A5 in size and full of ad’s, $6 wasn’t a big price tag. Yes, they had adverts in them but also plenty of information on the track, user guides, welfare, stats etc.

We found a sofa at the end of The View, next to the winner’s circle and situated right next to one of the bars – one which was open! At least the organisers had got it right for the big day.day2

Two guys were sat in a couple of chairs next to us. Appearance made it clear they spent a lot of time at the track. Listening to them was fascinating. They were into their handicapping and data. Making notes while discussing the form in depth over a bourbon or two. HUN was swift enough to make their acquaintance! Maybe we could actually learn a thing or two from them, or at least HUN could. I was soaking up the atmosphere. Sat quietly in my own thoughts I noticed a certain Nick Luck walking past us ready to do a link to NBC right in front of us. One of the guys offered to get a photo of us with him. I politely declined but they were so insistent that of his own accord, he asked the team with Nick if it was possible. No problem, came the reply. I didn’t want my photo taken, no disrespect to Nick, but I prefer taking them to being in them! Oh well, I had to go with the flow. HUN was more than happy to. Pretty sure HUN was meeting a racing idol of his. Nick Luck was really welcoming, and chatted for a few minutes with us. When asked why Fleeting (another European banker & in a double of HUN’s) was a late withdrawal, it was apparently due to the local vet team not being happy with the horse. Aidan however was, and we got the impression he wasn’t happy with the decision; rules are rules though. We thanked Nick for his time, had the obligatory photo and went back to our seats.

The first 3 races on the card were not BC races. Races 1 & 2 worth just a mere $100k and the 3rd race the grade 2 Qatar Twilight Derby a mere $200k. With HUN’s affection for grey horses we lumped on Just Grazed Me in the first. She romped home at 100/30 blitzing the 5 1/2f in 1m 2sec. We’d made a great start, as has our new found American buddies. Judging by the celebrations they had wagered slightly more than we had. It didn’t matter, we were all happy to celebrate a winner! The adrenalin was up, the dollars on the increase and the temperature dropping…hang on, this is California ffs?! Yep, a few droplets of rain. Bizarre to say the least. HUN trotted off to the bar, and while he was gone a lovely couple joined us. Doley & Mike. Doley had recently had an op on her shoulder which was in a sling. Straight away we hit it off. Conversation flowed, and it was just really nice. HUN arrived back from collecting the dollars and drinks, to see our group of new found friends had grown by two.

Second race up, just a four-horse race. I went for Roaster (a grey) who just got beat on the line a nose by the 6/5f Flagstaff. It was all good. Roaster trained by the legendary Bob Baffert, who was sat not too far away from us in the stand. The silver fox is highly recognisable from any distance. His hair and blue tinted glasses synonymous with him and US racing.chair guys

The next race The Twilight Derby was won by Mo Forza. An unfancied 20/1 shot. I say unfancied, but the Peter Miller trained colt was given to us by Kurt. Kurt was from Vermont (I think that’s what he said), he regularly went to the tracks, any track, watching horses work in the morning etc. A real die-hard US racing fan. He knew his stuff. He had solid reasons for backing all the horses he did. Not like me where if it’s got a cool name, or winks at me or takes a dump in the paddock I back it. Needless to say, we didn’t take his advice. He had marked notes next to every horse he fancied in each race. It was going to pay to listen to this guy. If only I’d remember to!

The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint was the fourth race. I hadn’t eaten by now, but that didn’t’ matter. Post time was still only 11.55am. It was amazing! Here I was racing, second day at the Santa Anita track and I was savouring every single minute of it.

A fierce pace was set by the outsider who 2 furlongs out was quickly swallowed up by the joint favourite Covfefe who battled to the line with Bellafina. The pair pulled clear by over 7 lengths. An exciting race to watch and got the heart pumping for the rest of the BC races!

While watching the next race (the BC Turf Sprint), I was handed a pair of binoculars from a guy who’d been sat behind a table next to the bar in seclusion. Turns out this guy was a commentator for radio. Horse Racing Radio (@HRRN) to be exact. I was able to watch my pick Stormy Liberal fall out the back of the bino’s as 16/1 shot Belvoir Bay gave trainer Peter Miller another winner on the board, and to make it an even better day for him, he also had the runner up Om, also a 16/1 shot. Still I was taking no notice of Kurt! He’d backed the first two in a combo bet. HUN was taking note even if I wasn’t!

So, the guy who was kindly loaning me his binoculars was Bobby Neuman. I’m not sure how he could concentrate when the crowd got excited and loud as the horses thundered down the stretch! He was clearly good at his job. In between races I was listening to him working. As if this was work?! I’d eat my own right arm to have a job on a racetrack! There’s a big call for radio commentaries in the US. He was saying that a large proportion of their listeners are folk who live with no or little access to internet etc, and many who rely on radio to keep track of the ‘outside world’ if you like. Bobby and his co-workers provide an important service for many people all across America. He lives and breathes racing, with a personality to match.

Next up the BC Dirt Mile. Ambassadorial was the sole UK runner. He looked incredible in the parade but was ultimately no match for the 3yo Spun To Run who made all and won convincingly at 8/1 from the favourite Omaha Beach. As Bobby did his post-race link to the listeners, HUN made the short walk to the bar and added to our tab. Chatting with our ‘group’ HUN was explaining how I’d been telling him to back Iridessa for months. Little did we know that this would end up being her last run. She was up next. So far as I was concerned this was her destiny. I’d be having a small flutter since betting had been introduced some months back in the UK. A risk at the time as there was no certainty that she would even run. When the odds were displayed HUN went for ‘another look around’. She was 18/1. My heart was already going that one beat faster. Virtually everyone in our group had threw a few dollars on Iridessa, purely because of the crazy British lass who was convinced she couldn’t get beat, I think! Before we had flown out, me and HUN had decided our banker bet was the forecast with Iridessa and Fleeting. Of course, that bet was now obsolete due to the late scratch of the latter. This meant only one thing. More dollars on Iridessa. Hopefully they wouldn’t weigh heavy on the filly like the ‘Kaz penalty’ did frequently back home on a weekend.

As they were ponied to the start, I was chatting to Bobby (in between live radio links), and explained about my love for racing, why I was here, and how Iridessa was obviously going to romp home. All in good spirit of course. Mind you, would I feel in such good spirits should the unthinkable happen and Iridessa not win? I was still only fuelled by Maker’s Mark, vodka, Pepsi and several small champagne. Food hadn’t passed my lips. If she got beat the plan was to go to the bar and add to the tab (again), and if she won; the same! Win, lose or dead heat; it wasn’t going to matter.

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Things started to get tense. I stood a small plinth next to HUN, took the binoculars (briefly) from Bobby then passed them back. I was shaking with excitement…or adrenalin…or alcohol…or maybe a concoction of all three. Whatever it was, I had it coursing through my veins. I felt like my chest was going to explode, not least due to the corset under my dress, plus I hadn’t been to the ladies all day either. I could only hope that my bladder would hold out until after this 7th race and through any post-race celebrations should Iridessa happen to read the script I’d written for her.

The last horse entered the gate. My heart rate increased again. “They’re off in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf”!

Wayne Lordan jumped out on Iridessa and had her perfectly positioned on the rail. Swinging away nice and handy as they came down past the stands for the first time, they sat 4-5 lengths behind the leader Mirth. The odds on favourite Sistercharlie was another 3-4 lengths behind on the inside of another European runner Fanny Logan. I was talking to myself at this point hoping Frankie (Fanny Logan) would stay on the favourites outside and keep her in for as long as possible, hoping that Iridessa would get first run. Late money for her meant she went off locally at 13/1. Surely she was THE best each way bet at this meeting?!

As they swung out into the back straight the leader had opened up a lead of around 6 lengths, a further 3 back to ‘us’ and then 3-4 to the rest of the field. This leader was starting to worry me, even at this early stage. On the turn for home Iridessa had dropped to fourth, Wayne started to get animated as did we. Sistercharlie loomed up on the outside. Still 4 lengths ahead, Mirth was tiring. Iridessa started to motor on the outside of Vasilika whose white blinkers annoyingly went with her. I could barely breath. Sistercharlie now found her gears and suddenly sprouted wings to take fourth. I momentarily felt sick. Mirth had run her race. Now it was in the hands of Wayne Lordan and I was going to make sure he knew it. I started shouting. The shouting turned into animated screaming. If Wayne couldn’t hear me, you could guarantee Bobby’s listeners sure could. A head bobber of a battle to the line. A sea of red & yellow. OMG where was the line?! WHERE WAS THE LINE??!!! She did it!!! Yeahhhhhhh!!!! The gutsy filly was never headed in the tussle to the line. What a performance. What a ride. Poetry in motion. A privilege to witness such a race. Joseph O’Brien had now trained a BC winner as well as having ridden one. Incredible achievement.the finish

The new iPhone was dropped, the screaming was so high-pitched that not only was I detectable on the NBC coverage, but blue whales probably beached off the coast of California, and our group went ballistic! Everyone jumping up and down. This is what the racing experience is about! People from all walks of life coming together to celebrate a moment in time that unites them. Drinks all round. Myself and Doley sat back down. My bladder had held up, and strangely I still didn’t feel the need to pee. Even after all that excitement!iridessa bow

As we moved onto the 8th race with a few dollars to play with, it was a forecast bet for us. Mitole & Shancelot. Kurt was on it, the guys were on it, so we were on it. The duo easily obliged with over 2 lengths to spare back to the third Whitmore. Funny how races pan out. The horse that brought up the rear was Matera Sky who in his next race was agonisingly beaten a head in the Saudi Sprint.

Breeders’ Cup Mile next. HUN couldn’t dessert Lord Glitters; his saviour on many occasions not least because of his colour. It wasn’t to be this time. Indeed, another winner on the board for Chad Brown with Uni beating our second choice Got Stormy, and ex-UK trained Without Parole in third.

No UK runners in the 10th, the BC Distaff. Blue Prize won from the odds-on favourite Midnight Bisou, (recently runner up in the Saudi Cup). The temperature had begun to drop slightly as the penultimate race approached. It was 4.40pm local time. This was the $4,000,000 BC Turf. We were all still buzzing from the mighty performance from Iridessa, so I fell back into the game of ‘support the Europeans!’mitole & shancelotmitole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Van Dyck was lumbered with the Kaz penalty. Although he ran a gallant race to be third after a stumble down the stretch, he couldn’t get on terms with the mighty Bricks And Mortar. Another for that man again – Chad Brown.

There was a full 65 minutes until the big one. $6,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The sun was beginning to set and highlighted the mountainous backdrop with its glow. This was it. This was the race we had come to see. Code Of Honor was the last horse into the gate. Moments later they sprung open and released the 11 runners and the jostling for position began. McKinzie went forward then Rosario took a pull with him and tracked the outsiders War Of Will ( The Preakness winner) and Mongolian Groom. Taking a wider track was Vino Rosso under Irad Ortiz.

The pace picked up as the began to leave the back straight. McKinzie made his move around the outsider of War Of Will with Mongolian Groom hanging onto his tail. 5 lengths further back was Vino Rosso trying to pick them up. Staying four horses wide, he easily picked off the fading War Of Will, went past Mongolian Groom and had McKinzie as his target. As they wound it up at the eighth pole, Mongolian Groom went wrong and dropped away as his jockey tried to pull him up. Up front Vino Rosso won the battle and sealed the victory with a 4 ¼ length over McKinzie and the same distance back to the third Higher Power. A great run from the winner considering he was wide for most of the way, but I feared this race wouldn’t just be remembered for the winner.

Looking back down the stretch was the stricken Mongolian Groom. It wasn’t immediately clear what injury he had sustained, but it wasn’t good. Within seconds of him coming to a standstill at the seventh pole there were four vets with him, two outriders closely followed by more track personnel and the horse ambulance. At the time we couldn’t see or determine the injury. Despite walking into the ambulance, it later emerged he had broken his near hind. There was nothing that could be done to save him and he was euthanized. It was the worst possible outcome for the track. Over the past two days we had witnessed all the care and attention to detail surrounding the welfare of the horses.

Many things can cause a horse to break down, and many firmly pointed the finger at the Santa Anita track surface for Mongolian Groom’s demise. Indeed, PETA attended the meeting in the hope of filming such a tragic event. They were no doubt glad in what they captured. These people have zero interest in racing, yet will pay to attend meetings to film. Pathetic really. If you hate racing then why ‘line the pockets’ of the racing industry, even by a few dollars? This is an ‘organisation’ which in one state alone (in 2018) took in 2512 animals of which 1798 were PTS (that’s 72%). This was the 37th fatality on the track. It was hard to think that the surface didn’t play a part in it. Fatalities happen in racing, and all too frequent at Santa Anita it would seem. While I accept that horses can and do break down on the track, I do not subscribe to the fact that it is solely down to the racing surface. That’s my opinion. Of all of the horses that broke down I wonder how many may have had underlying undiscovered conditions, or had received joint injections or any other forms of medication while in training. These are things you hear of but something which is rarely made public. A report into Mongolian Groom was published which found that he had indeed had a pre-existing condition of bilateral lameness, which was claimed was difficult to detect. While I do like my US racing, there’s no doubt it does have areas in which it needs to pull together and improve.

The evening was drawing in and the crowds slowly started to make their way home. We hung around chatting over another drink. Settled the bar bill (yikes!), and then headed for the nearest bar / grill for some much-needed food. I forget the name of the place now, but it was pretty awesome. Possibly The Wood Bar & Grill? I was rather tipsy, but at least my feet had survived the whole day without any aches or pains. Iridessa was simply incredible. She had us in tears and was the topic of conversation over dinner.

The jet lag was now creeping up on me. Back at our hotel I entered my room only to find that the maid had removed my stilts from the bin and placed them perfectly next to the wardrobe. They were not making the journey home, despite what the maid thought! Back in the bin they went. This time inside a carrier bag!

After only a few hours sleep (again), we wandered to find a place to have breakfast. HUN was relying on his phone for directions. Useless. We were lost. I was tired and angry. Food found and downed, we headed back and called another Uber for the airport run. A journey which only took 30 minutes this time. The jury was still out on Uber for me and the thought of going back to work the day after we got back was stomach churning. At least I would only have a short flight from Heathrow to Leeds Bradford and not another long coach journey.

Breeders’ Cup was ticked off our list. What next? Closer to home in 2020. Galway Festival here we come!sunset

Where There’s Muck…

A long overdue blog I know, I know….

There’s been plenty of action for me over the past few months since the last blog in April. Most of it not the kind of action I’d be looking for to be perfectly frank! 😊 So, way back at the start of the year, we kind of knew things weren’t great in the steel industry. Working as a contractor employed solely to do a job for and within BS had all our arses twitching, coz if it went under, we’d all be up the proverbial creek with no paddle and a canoe taking in water quicker than a park bench alchy downing a 2-litre bottle of cider.

The jungle drums had been beating for a while and the rumour-mill was in overdrive. Usually they’ve been fairly good at getting information out to workers, but this time we were to learn just as much from the media as we have from direct lines. The over use of ‘due diligence’ gets rather boring and stagnant after a while; and of course, predictable. Since the receivers took over we have been on a rolling 30-day consultation period, and while this is entirely normal practice for companies that could face major difficulties, it is still not great for those employees affected. I am at much risk as the next person. In fact, in my office alone I’ve the least to gain from any potential redundancy situation. My length of service is less than half that of some of my co-workers. Redundancy doesn’t care if you’re a single mum with bills to pay, because at the end of the day the only thing that sets you apart from everybody else is your length of service, with no golden handshakes. We are but a number! Of course, it’s not all doom & gloom, (or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves). With the potential buyers still in a period of ‘due diligence’ (there’s that phrase again), there is a flickering light at the end of the tunnel. Whether that burns brighter or is extinguished for good, we should know by the end of next month. It’s not been a great few months, morale at an all time low and the uncertainty is far from over. Even if a buyer comes in, it is anyone’s guess as to how contract negotiations will go. How much more blood can you get out of a stone? The steel industry isn’t glamorous (see photo), luckily I’m not always outside covered in mud. The weather hasn’t been kind to us lately with some of our lanes completely flooded, (we are talking up to 2 feet of water in places) but the show must go on….hopefully our jobs do too.

So besides having the threat of redundancy over my head, I’ve been doing a fair bit of other stuff in the little free time I have. A few things are work in progress like a website I’ve decided to do. This is based on racing (shock horror I hear you cry!). It will be light-hearted and being a small fry in a big chippy, I want it to give exposure to the smaller yards, owners, staff etc. It’s not that I won’t be publishing thoughts on the ‘big boys’ etc; but they get more than enough time in the spotlight. I must say a huge thank you to all those people who have been in touch already – I haven’t forgotten about you. Your thoughts and input are much needed to make it work, and most importantly to spread the word on the great people involved in racing and the fantastic work you all do!dhandful

Something else I’ve been working on for a while is a small part time business. I’ve been creating cushions in racing colours. This is just for starters, with lots of ideas in the pipeline including one rather big and time-consuming project! Every cushion is different to the next in some small detail. I have an Instagram account so please feel free to follow it @paddockposers, (also twitter at the same handle which isn’t that active atm). Juggling working full time with this leaves little time for a social life at the minute, so my impending trip to the Breeders’ Cup cannot come soon enough. Like I said it’s all very small and low key at the minute. I’ve a list of orders I’m getting through. The plan is to offer a cushion range of 3 types:

Group 3: A low cost range (think high class handicapper!)

Group 2: A mid cost range (think Listed class!)PPOSERS

Group 1: A high quality range (think Classic winner!)

This year myself and HUN’s racing trip is to #BC19 at Santa Anita. I’ve been sending him a daily countdown which I’m pretty sure is just as annoying as it is exciting; that’s probably why he’s letting me get away with it! 😊 He’s got his outfits sorted and his ESTA (which I had to keep reminding him to do). After incurring a fairly serious back injury a few months ago, he should be fighting fit for our short but exciting ‘bucket list’ trip. We fly out on the 31st.

So, whether the UK leaves the EU or not on that day – me and HUN most definitely are (albeit only for a few days!). Here’s to the next blog!

Going Loco For Poco

On a bright but brisk morning I headed off to visit a filly who goes by the name of Poco. I was lucky enough to be invited along by her owners NE1 Racing Club to see her current progress in pre training with former jockey and starter Chris Dennis. Chris has been teaching young horses their trade since the 1990’s. Working part time for the BHA around the country as an Inspector of Courses, Chris runs the yard alongside his wife Caroline in County Durham.

After initially missing the yard as I drove through Ingleton, I pulled down a quiet lane and had to call for directions. Even the Satnav was lost. Luckily, I wasn’t that far away, so a quick turnaround, and up a long and winding track, there stood a guy behind a white gate waving at me while simultaneously giving me directions down the phone. It was safe to hang up now😊

On arrival, I was greeted by Anthony; one of the racing managers than run NE1 Racing Club. NE1 are a brand-new racing club, and Anthony runs the club alongside his father Peter who has been owning racehorses for many years, with plenty of success. Having now branched out with their first horse, they are keen to develop the club and bring more likeminded racing fans together to share in some great days out at the races.

Having been in racing for a considerable amount of time before NE1’s inception, they are well aware of the challenges that every owner & trainer face When it comes to racehorses.

“From small acorns mighty oaks grow”

They are under no illusions and know how difficult the racing game is. Their aim is to make ownership affordable with no hidden costs, and more importantly fun! Starting small and concentrating on the one club horse initially, they hope to bring in other horses when the time is right. Through keeping focused, they will not lose track of the aim of NE1 Racing Club. I have seen other clubs / syndicates take a nosedive over the years, after they expand too early and spiral out of control. In Anthony, NE1 has a grounded racing manager but his infectious passion for the horses and the sport is plain to see. This is also thpoco27e case with his sister Emily who I also got to meet.

Now let’s talk about the horse! Poco Contante. Such a well named filly. Roughly translated from Italian it means ‘Little Cash’. And for the ‘little cash’ sum of £350 you can be involved with this beautiful 2yo filly. She is by the popular stallion Fast Company who himself has produced some top-class progeny such as Jet Setting (Irish 1,000 Guineas winner), and numerous other Group & Listed race winners around the globe. He is a proven stallion who sires winner after winner, and her dam (Littlemoor Lass) has recently produced her first winner, (which I believe was her first to race). All the signs look very promising for Poco, and after meeting her in the flesh I can certainly say she looks the part too.

When I first set eyes on her, she was in her box, standing with Caroline quiet as a church mouse. I commented as such, which was greeted with a couple of wry smiles; notably from Chris and Caroline. These guys know her better than anyone as they spend a lot of time with her every day, so they know her character inside and out. I got the impression Poco had some spirit about her and I couldn’t wait to see her out and being ridden!

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Chris puts Poco through her paces

As Chris was legged up, she pricked her ears and knew it was time for a bit of work. They headed out into the field. A little breezy which Poco seemed to enjoy slightly more than Chris, and showed her wellbeing on more than one occasion! I always think that with young horses its nice to see them learning their trade. Watching the pair of them together it was clear that Poco was listening intently to Chris and eager to please. This filly has a beautiful gait, and seeing her ears pricked and head tucked in, she was doing a rather fabulous impression of a seasoned dressage horse! Simply stunning!

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Anthony & Poco

It was plain to see that Poco loves her work, and in Chris and Caroline she couldn’t be in better hands. Not only that, but the guys at NE1 are in it for the long haul. They have her best interests at heart, and when she goes off into full training (which could be just a fortnight away) with David Thompson, that’s when things will start to get very exciting! As the saying goes – the possibilities are endless! I love the unraced and untried horses because they could be anything. Poco’s journey is only just beginning.

After a welcome cuppa and homemade biscuits from our lovely hosts, we headed across to David’s yard. Having had horses there myself before, I was impressed by the changes over the past couple of years. More boxes and more horses. Greeted by David, it was like I’d never been away. He’s good craic so a match made in heaven with the NE1 guys! As I said earlier, it’s about bringing like-minded people together to share in the highs (and lows) – horse racing is a wonderful, unpredictable sport and I always say the only thing you should expect with it is the unexpected. Anyone who tells you any different isn’t a full shilling in my opinion😊

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Emily & Poco

While we were here, we checked in on Rolo (aka Lukoutoldmakezebak). Owned by NE1 racing manager Peter, he’s a two-time winner and multiple placed horse. What we’d all give to have such an honest and genuine horse as Rolo. As we watched him have a roll, Emily was telling me all about him. She was there when he was born and assisted in his difficult delivery. It was obvious they have a close connection. She clearly adores Rolo, and vice versa.

My time spent with Anthony and Emily went so quick! Before I knew it, I was heading back home armed with plenty of photos. A great way to spend a sunny brisk Saturday morning.

If you want to find out a bit more about Poco and NE1 Racing Club, then do get in touch with Anthony & co. You are assured of a warm welcome and can find more details on the guys at www.ne1racingclub.com. Follow them on twitter @Ne1Racing. You may well end up going loco for Poco too!

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Emily & Rolo

 

‘The Girls’ Day Out

A couple of blogs ago I touched on our family history and genetic links between cancers. A few weeks after the last appointment, I received a letter from the local hospital confirming they had booked me in to have a mammogram. Being 46, this was an early call due to our family history of extensive breast cancer on both my paternal & maternal sides of the family. Based on this, I will now be called annually to be screened. When I arrived at the hospital for the appointment, although very apprehensive, I was kind of pleased to finally get the ball rolling.

My aunt (paternal side), had been waiting on test results regarding the BRCA genes. The good news was that she tested negative for any variants in the genes – which means there is no need to test me, as I won’t carry variants either, (already negative on maternal side). The down side of this is that wider genetic testing is not available (despite it originally being planned to come into force from October 1st). So, if neither side of my family carry mutations in the BRCA genes then there has to be something else linking us that makes some of us in the family develop cancer, (in my opinion). It cannot be pure coincidence that two of my aunts both developed cancers at age 57, and then both again at 67. Genetics is at work here and no one can make me think any different.

“Inheriting faulty versions or “variants” of these genes significantly raises your risk of developing cancer, because the altered genes cannot repair the damaged cells, which can build up and form a tumour. Researchers recently identified more than 100 new gene variants associated with an increased risk of breast, prostate and ovarian cancer. Individually, these new gene variants only slightly increase the risk of cancer, but a combination could mean a high risk overall” – NHS

I am certain that if myself and others in my family were genetically tested on a wider basis, we would see a definite link and possible mutations in other genes. I am desperate to push for this wider research, and although I realise it’s an expensive path to go down, it’s got to be better than what feels like waiting for the inevitable to happen. My family history has been extensively assessed as (and I quote): “significant of an inherited tendency and place you at a high risk of breast cancer”.

So finally sat in my appointment the first thing the nurse says to me is; ‘so you’ll know that our scanner is out of action and today we’ll just be doing a physical examination and family history’. Erm; no. No one had told me this was the case. Not sure if I was disappointed, frustrated or both at this point. I had kind of psyched myself up for it, only to be let down. Hey ho. As I laid there on the bed having a full-blown conversation with a total stranger examining ‘the girls’, all I could think about was whether it was window cleaning day at the hospital – the skylight way above me (and thankfully slightly to the right), looked like it needed a good wash. I just hoped the window cleaner was running late for his rounds…. wax on, wax off….

Surprisingly after only a 3 week wait (I was told up to 6-8), I was called for again for my mammogram. This time it was to be done at a hospital 30 odd miles from me. In the appointment letter they suggest that wearing deodorant can affect the images that are captured by the scanner, so recommend that you refrain from wearing it. Sod that. If I was going to be driving for 45 minutes in rush hour to a place I’d never been before, I was pretty certain I was going to have a bit of deodorant on to combat the sweaty betty look and Pepe Le Pew perfume. I would also take some with me for afterwards to top up before work.

On arrival at the hospital I managed to get the last parking spot. As I squeezed my way into it, I realised why it was the last space. Not only did it have a lamppost at the back of it, but a Chelsea tractor had also been parked as if it was on the school run – haphazardly and covering a corner of my space as well as its own. As my anxiety and sweat levels began to rise, I shoehorned the Batmobile into place. I can only liken it to pouring yourself into a size 8 dress when you’re a 12 – you can just about get in it, but one wrong manoeuvre and it’s a disaster! I was in, and that was that.

Sitting in the waiting room looking around, I had a suspicion that I wouldn’t be in on time. My slot was 9.30. It was currently 9.10 so I had at least 20 minutes to wait. I didn’t mind, well, except for the woman opposite me with her gammy toe waving about. I was glad I hadn’t eaten breakfast.

9.50 and I was called in. A shorter wait than expected. A quick run through the important basics – name, DOB etc. A brief but concise run through about the scanner and what I was about to be subjected to, then it was time to unleash ‘the girls’. Despite the room being warm, ‘the girls’ begged to differ. Standing to attention I faced up to what looked like the latest character from a Transformers movie – the scanner. It’s a pretty amazing piece of kit, and I dread to think how much it cost. Probably a reason why my local hospital’s scanner had been out of action for 4 years and not in working order!

Now unless you’ve had a mammogram, it’s hard to imagine what it’s really like. Now ‘the girls’ aren’t particularly shrinking violets, spaniel’s ears or indeed Lolo Ferrari but I imagine if they were smaller it would have been even more uncomfortable. That’s just my opinion, and I’ll tell you why. Imagine a vice. Now imagine that vice closing tight (and I mean REALLY tight) from either side of one of your hooters. Are you wincing yet? The images need to be as clear as possible and to make sure they get every bit of the breast tissue, you have to lean into and across the scanner. A bit like a Superman stance. The plates (or vice) have to be as close to the chest wall as possible. This can mean several adjustments with the assistance of the radiographer. As I stood there with it getting tighter and tighter, I began to wonder how close the vice would get to being shut. I can only imagine that if your baps are small, it must be more challenging to get into position. The pulling against your chest is quite something, and when you’re told to hold your breath for a split second; it’s not that difficult. The relief when the plates were released was most welcome.

One scan done, three to go. Top to bottom done, the right bap was now going to be done side to side. Once complete, it was all to be repeated for the left one. Now I knew what to expect, I was kind of intrigued to see how flattened the plates actually made me look. It’s not easy to look down because of the position you’re in. I tried to look but didn’t see much. I’m convinced they made it to around 2-3 cm and if they didn’t; it sure as hell felt like it. All done. An appointment which was literally 15 – 20 minutes of my day. Back in the hooter harness, me and ‘the girls’ headed to the Batmobile, deodorant applied and then the laborious drive to work.

A bit of a different blog this time around, but an important one, I think. I’m not here to preach on any subject – indeed I’m just an ordinary lass who shares some of her experiences in her own unique way with you; the reader.  Mammograms aren’t scary, and they don’t take up a huge amount of time. They are vital to help detect breast cancer. Cancer doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t ever take a break – nor should we. Check yourself and the first time you think something’s different – go get it checked out. It could save your life.

So, there you have it. I now have a 6-8 week wait for the results. Easiest way for me to remember is that if I’ve not heard by the day of the Grand National then they’ve forgotten about me. I always bring it back to racing somehow 😊 It’s crossed my mind that surely the radiographer knows what she’s looking at, and if she saw anything suspect then I would’ve heard something already. No news is good news as they say!

Ultimately screening saves lives.

The Chocolate Factory

I don’t know about you guys, but the only reason I go to work is to pay my bills. So, as I sit here stewing over the fact my pay slip is wrong yet again, it has only fanned the flames of my desire to start up a small business. It would be a dream to reduce my current hours to a part-time basis. That’s a long way off, but as they say – from small seeds grow mighty oaks. I’ve an idea and I’m going to run with it. If I fail – I fail. At least I will have given it a go and regret nothing. You never know, I might put into practice those qualifications I worked hard for back in my Uni days or better still – be a success at it!

As Eminem once sang – ‘snap back to reality’…Monday came around far too quickly, but that’s not to say the weekend flew by – we savoured every moment of it, and it was (for want of a better word) EPIC!

It was mine and HUN’s first race meeting together since our jaunt to Dubai back in March. Thankfully this time I didn’t have to board a plane, although I could’ve done with a private jet for the journey down to Lambourn on the Friday. Six hours in a car is enough for anyone’s ass, including my well padded one.

In the run up to Champions Day, HUN had been in Egypt topping up his tan, while using WhatsApp to keep in contact as to which horses would declare in what races (priorities) – oh and what he’d be wearing (of course). While out there and being a seasoned traveller, he visited one of the many temples and did ‘the tourist thing’. Their guide had told them that legend has it that if you walk around the temple three times, you’ll get good luck. HUN’s mate was less than impressed and in the heat of Egypt he wasn’t up for it. HUN however is always keen to take a punt no matter how bizarre it may be. After all, he could always cool off and rehydrate in the pool and bar once back to the hotel, right? And with Champions Day just around the corner it might help him back a few winners! Off he trotted….

Back in his hotel and Wi-Fi engaged, he had a WhatsApp from me. All it said was ‘are you sitting down?’ A man of few words and four hours later (typical bloke), he replied ‘yeah’. Now we had joked since Dubai that we would never top that experience. That was our trip of a lifetime. It was so, so good. I now couldn’t type quick enough in telling him – ‘you know we said we’d never top Dubai……well, how would you feel about being in the parade ring with a superstar filly and her owners on Champions Day?’ I can’t remember the actual reply but I’m pretty sure it involved the abbreviation OMFG, and you’re kidding?

Unbelievably we were offered O & T badges by Mr John Dance & his wife Jess; owners of the fantastic filly Laurens. Someone needed to pinch me hard…. say what??! This came totally out of the blue. John’s opening line of ‘so not surprisingly we’ve never been to Champions Day with a runner before…’ kind of sums up what sort of a guy he is. Great sense of humour and not in the slightest bit arrogant, or status driven.

HUN couldn’t quite believe it. He wasn’t the only one. All he could think of was that he was glad his tan would be topped up and his pedicure wasn’t a waste, while all I was thinking of was how the chuff I was going to cope in heels after the cracked toe incident 4 weeks before. I’d not attempted any sort of heel since my birthday so to think I was probably going to be staggering around Ascot as if plastered before the first; it was safe to say I was bricking it.

We had planned our Champions Day jaunt a year ago, and the plan had included one of my uncles (yes, a real uncle not another half uncle), coming with us. Sadly, real uncle Eric had to decline, so now we had a spare ticket. Who better to offer it to than the tack lady herself – Angela!! My racing partner in crime. A quick check with her other half about dog sitting the OAP Molly and she was planning her outfit! Awesome! Things were coming together nicely, but I was still worrying about my heel debacle.

While sorting out some clothes for the latest charity shop bag shoved through my door, I came across two boxes of shoes in the bottom of my wardrobe. I had no idea what was in one of the boxes, and the fact I also had no recollection of buying bright pink 3-inch sling-backs was a bit disturbing but also rather fortuitous. For a couple of hours, I teetered around the house in them to test the going. Whether the toe would see out the distance at Ascot would be an entirely different scenario, but for now it was swinging along in contention and not showing any signs of distress.

Race day arrived. I’d barely slept a wink. I woke up hungry too as I hadn’t eaten the night before. Best laid plans and all that. I still hadn’t really decided what I was wearing, so it was time to get my shit together. I’d brought with me 3 dresses and a jacket and of course the bright pink footwear. The more I looked at the shoes, the more all I began to see was a pair of stilts. I was going to be in agony by the end of the day; but by god it was going to be so worth it. driveshoes

Pink dress on, then off. Orange dress on, then off. Cream dress on, that’ll do. Stilts on, grimace. Stilts off, comfortable trusty Superdry pumps on – for driving. I had about a forty minutes’ drive in order to meet up with HUN at the hotel we’d be staying in for the night. Hang on, make that fifty minutes. I filled up with fuel and went the wrong way down the M4. By ‘the wrong way’ I obviously don’t mean against oncoming traffic – that would totally inept. Nope, I was just mildly inept – I just went West instead of East. Great…the smug Sat Nav woman now telling me every thirty seconds to make a U turn. On the M4? Crazy bitch! Another seven miles later and the nearest exit off the motorway, I turned the Batmobile around and she finally shut the hell up.

I arrived and met HUN. It was like we’d never been apart – Dubai memories came flooding back. He’s just the coolest guy to go racing with. Such a dude who does his best to look after me, although the reality is that he’s actually more of a bad influence than me.

We dumped our bags in the rooms, took a phone call from Angela to say she was filling her boots with a £5 full English in the stable lad’s canteen and then jumped in a taxi to the course to go meet her. An obligatory taxi selfie brought back more shades of Dubai. It was just a shame it wasn’t as warm although the Berkshire sunshine had graced us with its presence!

Walking towards the ticket office we heard her before we saw her; there she was! OMG! She looked amazing, smiling from ear to ear – Angela! Like long lost family we could’ve floated across the ground to each other with soppy tear-jerking music in the background. Naturally being two proper Northern lasses, we didn’t. It was more a case of screaming & giggling at each other and me trying not to hobble on the pink stilts…. play it cool Kaz, play it cool….taxi

We picked up our badges. I needed someone to pinch me again. How cool were they?! Personalised badges with Laurens silks printed on them and the race title. AMAZING! A fantastic memento for any fan of racing.

As we stood outside my worst nightmare was standing right in front of me. A dude with loafers, no socks and the tightest half-mast trousers that even Wacko Jacko would’ve been proud to moonwalk in. I turned to HUN and Angela and said four words as I stared in horror…. What. The. Actual. F***? This guy was about to be to punished for his crimes not just against the fashion police, but also the four-legged drugs police. Oh dear. He was clearly giving off a scent that drove the dog wild and it certainly wasn’t Old Spice. Despite denying carrying any sort of substance, (and as Angela pointed out – it must have been virtually impossible for him to be smuggling anything inside those trousers which looked like he’d been vacuum packed into them), the handler persisted with him and he admitted to having something. He was taken aside by a security / police officer and dealt with. Bravo, I thought; one less sockless cretin turned away.

Once inside HUN said we should get something to eat. Naturally now that Angela had a full stomach she was ready for a drink. We found a seat while HUN went off for bangers & bubbles. Sounds wrong, but that’s how we roll up in the North. Cracking personalities, talk to anyone and generally just enjoy ourselves – what you see is what you get. HUN came back with the biggest sausage I’d seen in a while, and told me I had to eat half. You can imagine the conversation around the table. I couldn’t eat for giggling and while wearing a cream dress, that wasn’t exactly great. Along came our other twitter pal Gemma. Having had what looked like a broken ankle for the previous week she was remarkably steady on her feet. She had sensible footwear – unlike me. Another reminder (for me) of the impending agony that was only a few short hours away. As we discussed bets and scrolled our betting accounts, Angela announced she had around 674 combinations bets on. All we needed was for Oisin Murphy to win on all his rides and she would be funding a trip to Dubai via private jet.

We’d sat next to a group of guys who we struck up friendly banter with. That’s the thing about Champions Day. Everyone is there to enjoy the horses, the racing, the atmosphere and everyone gets along. One of the best days racing you’ll ever experience and not simply for the racing. time

These guys were from Buckinghamshire. Dan, Oliver, Garry & Johnny to name but a few. After the introductions they couldn’t help but notice we all had differing accents so were intrigued to know how we all knew each other. Obviously, me and HUN are sort of related (but not), and the rest of us met via Twitter. The guys collectively picked their jaws up off the floor. “TWITTER?!” Yes, as weird as that always sounds we met through Twitter. Incredible really, that we’ve become such good friends just because we happen to use a certain social media platform which is massive in the world of racing. None of the guys used Twitter. I could forgive them this purely because they all were wearing socks.

First race approaching, I gave HUN a few quid to burden Thomas Hobson with. A nice each way at 14/1 would do me and hopefully set me up nicely for the rest of the day. As Frankie gave Stradivarius a masterful ride to close the door on Oisin and Thomas Hobson, I screamed home my outsider and tried to ride him myself up Frankie’s inner. The bubbles were in orbit and quite possibly on the table & people behind us, but no one seemed to mind. We were witnessing race-riding at its best on the biggest day. It was just a pity I was on the runner up. Hey ho; each way was landed! High fives all round – HUN disappeared to collect.

Returning grinning from ear to ear waving his wonga. Slightly smug I thought, but I was more than happy to allow it – especially as some of it was mine. Or was it? I asked how much I’d won…’you didn’t’ came the reply…Whoa, hang on a sec, can I get a re-wind??! Did HUN just say I didn’t back Thomas Hobson? Surely this was a wind up? I had backed him, I know I had; we all had. I had a fair few witnesses sat with me to confirm it. (Far too many “had’s” for any blog). I looked at HUN in disbelief as he cupped his mouth and his eyes got wider. He hadn’t put my bet on. I sucked hard on air – so much so I virtually drew HUN across the table in the whirlwind. Realising his error (and not wanting to face the wrath of Kaz I imagine), HUN graciously paid me out. Bless.

More bubbles, and the toe was starting ache somewhat. The next race saw HUN’s old favourite line up – Librisa Breeze. The ground had come good for him but he’d been out of form this season so I plumped for Tasleet and Harry Angel. I was convinced Tasleet was a cert for a place, and entering the final furlong he looked like he might just deliver on the far side. Sadly, he was too far off the pace and couldn’t pick up the leaders. Sands Of Mali ran out an impressive winner at huge odds from the game and back to form Harry Angel. The latter now retired to stud. laurenshoe

The Fillies & Mares race came next and I’d gone for an each way extra (my new favourite way to bet), on Kitesurf. She ran well in fourth but was no match for Magical. Next up was the QEII. Time to take a breath, take hold of HUN and try to walk gracefully to the parade ring. We didn’t make the pre-parade which I was gutted at. There was just no way I could stand for so long. As we made our way into the centre, my heels were crying out for a bit of firm in the going description. They were doing their best impression of a clerk’s going stick. Currently they were reading around 5.6 on the scale. Plenty of give underfoot. I took a moment to stand, holding onto HUN and turned around. This was the second time I’d been lucky enough to be in the parade ring at Ascot. The first time many years ago when interviewed by Rishi Persad during the Filly Factor competition back in 2012. I think I ended up interviewing him if I remember correctly! All great fun.

Today was a far cry from that day. Today was simply indescribable for me. Today was as good as it gets for any racing fan. Today I was Charlie, HUN was Grandad and John Dance was Willy Wonka.

As we stood in silence looking up at the packed stands awash with sunshine and every colour you could think of, we inhaled the Ascot air and spotted the lady herself walking into the paddock. People may well have come to see the Queen of England on this day, but we too had come to see a Queen; Laurens. The equine Queen of the season for me. This filly always looks incredibly well turned out, and today was no exception. To see her up close and personal is something I will never forget. Laurens

Her size, demeanour, and swag (for want of a better word), are just breath-taking. She covers so much ground with her stride, like it’s no effort at all. Our eyes followed her sleek, glowing coat as she passed us, and then we saw John Dance walking towards us. I felt like I could melt into a puddle of Kaz right there and then. I tried my best not to embarrass myself or do the dreaded ‘I carried a watermelon’ moment a la Dirty Dancing. Here we were standing with the connections of Laurens. Pinch me. A multiple Group 1 winner and they were letting us share in that moment.

John and Jess were absolutely lovely. Their love for Laurens is so infectious. When you see them celebrating after a win; its just fantastic to watch. We rarely get to witness such celebrations from connections. We are so used to the reserved congratulatory ‘pat on the backs’ or handshakes when a horse wins for one of the ‘big boys’. When a smaller owner scoops a bigger prize, it is not only a win for them, but also for racing. If you can take on the big boys and win, then anyone can dream of owning a champion, right? Owners like John are few and far between. He has steadily built up his string of horses over the past few years, which also means he has put an awful lot of capital into the game. Laurens has well and truly put him and Jess on the racing map. She is the horse of a lifetime, and they have enjoyed every step of her journey to Champions Day.

Win, lose or draw, Laurens had earned her place at Ascot. A champion among champions. It was a massive call from John to supplement her at a cost of £70k, but as he said to us she had paid the fee herself. Nonetheless it was a very sporting gesture and one that the racing public took to their hearts. A female Northern raider travelling South to take on the big guns. Sounds a bit familiar…. 😊

We stayed in the parade ring to watch the race with John who was understandably a tad nervous. The gates opened and she broke well. Travelling like a dream up with the pace, her jockey PJ asked for an effort. For a moment Laurens gave, but then faded as Roaring Lion loomed up large on her outside. Perhaps this was just one race too many for her? PJ sensibly looked after her and brought the’ best turned out’ home in 8th. This filly owes no one a thing.

Let’s take a minute to look at the Laurens facts. 11 races, 7 wins, 2 places. Those figures alone are a dream for any owner at any level, but when you throw into the mix that these figures include multiple Group wins (including 5 G1’s & a Classic) they are simply astounding. People will argue all day long about every winner and use terms like ‘what have they beat’. I’ve always found this argument rather tedious and ultimately pointless. It is a poor man’s argument that a winner isn’t as good as it should be, just because of the opposition. Perhaps the new trial from the BHA where trainers are able to view each other’s entries prior to declaration will help, and they can decide between themselves who should race who? Yes, I know, that’s how ridiculous it all is. You pay your money, you take your chance. It’s really that simple. If you want to run – then run. If you don’t – then don’t. It is nobody’s decision but your own. 3degrees

To set the record straight and to pacify some of the doubters, it’s worth noting that I Can Fly who ran great in defeat behind Roaring Lion in the QEII beaten only a neck, was 5 lengths behind Laurens in the Sun Chariot Stakes, and over 11 lengths behind her in the Guineas. It’s food for thought, and until horses can talk we can never know if they’ve cried enough for a season. Magical who won the previous race stepping up in distance, had also been beaten twice by Laurens. Magical would go on to run second behind the mighty Enable in the Breeder’s Cup Turf, the pair of them pulling 9 lengths clear of the third.

The Champions Day run says that it wasn’t the true running of Laurens. That’s racing. John and Jess were both philosophical in defeat. She had every right to be in that line up, and I applaud them for running. Horses like Laurens don’t come along that often and they should be celebrated and enjoyed for the time they are racing. As John said; she is just the most incredible horse, and if you could bottle that attitude……wow.  It will be a close call when it comes to the spoils for 3yo ‘filly of the season’. It’s difficult to split Laurens and Alpha Centauri in my opinion. Insiders for Alpha Centauri, outsiders for Laurens? No prizes for guessing which camp I’m in and there are certainly no splinters up my ass from sitting on the fence.

After the race we watched as PJ unsaddled Laurens, and he told exactly what we thought. As she headed off to the racecourse stables for a well-deserved wash down, we headed up to O & T’s. By this time my toe was crying out for a seat! No Prosecco served at the O &T’s bar, oh well, I suppose Champagne will have to suffice. Sat with all the connections, myself and HUN chatted away with John.

Up until this point I had no idea his company (Vertem) was the new sponsor of the last big 2yo Group 1 of the season at Doncaster. Since 1989 we had all become accustomed to the Racing Post Trophy, (and those of us who are old enough to remember it prior to that being called the Futurity Stakes). Now it would have its heritage restored and from 2018 would be run as the Vertem Futurity Trophy. I am big fan of keeping historic names to races. Sponsors most certainly have a right to have their name in the title of any race they are putting thousands of pounds into. What I don’t agree with is when they rename the race altogether purely to promote their brand. Remember the uproar when 32Red wanted to rename The Stewards Cup at Goodwood in 2014?
vertem

Bringing ‘Futurity’ back into the title brings back a sense of heritage to what has been an important race for future equine stars in years gone by. The likes of Derby winner Reference Point, Beldale Flutter (who beat Shergar in the 1980 race), and in more recent years horses like King’s Theatre, Celtic Swing, Camelot, High Chaparral & Saxion Warrior (beating the brilliant Roaring Lion in 2017). These races are just as important in name as they are in stature and the horses that win them.

As the conversation flowed and we put the racing world to rights, PJ McDonald came over and was discussing his recent injury with HUN (amongst other things). PJ is a nice guy, very down to earth with a great sense of humour. Was this another new best friend for HUN? 😊 We watched as Cracksman put in a breath-taking display of brilliance to win the Champion Stakes. He simply blew them away. Applause erupted around us.

As we were about to say goodbye, the phone started flashing. It was Gemma. I asked John if he could possibly come and meet her, otherwise she would never forgive me for not even asking the question…. Of course, he didn’t mind and we trotted off downstairs with me slightly lame. kazang2

We said our goodbyes and went to have another drink. Not another drink? (eyeroll inserted here). As the day came to a close, we apparently went into the gift shop. I didn’t realise this until the following day when I got back home. Clearing out my travel bag I discovered an Ascot bag with a mug inside it. £11 for a mug? I must have been pissed. More of a cup than a mug actually. Anyway, it’s nice and every time I drink out of it, I’m reminded of the fantastic day we all had. A day which was only made better by the generous offer from Mr & Mrs Dance.

I can’t profess to knowing these guys really well, but I can tell you that both myself and HUN were made to feel so welcome and at no point were made to feel like ‘hanger-on’s’, (if that makes sense!). A more than generous offer accompanied with generous hospitality…so huge heartfelt thanks to you – John & Jess.

For me to see the hugely imposing, beautiful girl Laurens up close was an absolute pleasure and a day which will live long in my memory. Definitely the equal to Dubai, if not better.

 

 

Ramblings From The Northern Lass

This weekend sees the 2018 season throw up a mouth-watering Champions Day. I’ve yet to sort out which bets I’ll be placing, (which I usually do before I go – can’t be arsed with the hustle and bustle of trying to get a bet placed on race day). The biggest decision I’ve yet to make is what I’m going to wear. Hopefully looking at the forecast it’ll be dry, but think I’ll still side with a warm coat or jacket. We’re a long way from Dubai, and even though it’ll be warmer than the Redcar Riviera I’m not going to be getting the flesh out; especially when it’s the shade of an uncooked chicken! They say ‘flaunt it if you’ve got it’ – well I’ve not got it, so I’ll not be flaunting it. You can pretty much guarantee that there will be some ladies and gentlemen who will be flaunting it, when clearly they shouldn’t be…and don’t get me started on the ‘no socks’ & drainpipes brigade! Do these people not possess a mirror? Maybe I’m just getting old, but how that is in any way fashion, I’ve clearly missed the memo on that one.

My last blog was well received. Thanks for all the comments. It was written to serve as more of a bit of therapy than anything else. I do miss my dad terribly some days. Those of you who have lost a parent will know how those days feel. It’s funny, coz one day you can be all teary-eyed and feel totally lost without them, and others you just remember the good times and smile quietly to yourself. As I mentioned in the last blog, cancer has affected my family greatly. I know I’m not alone in saying that. We’ve recently been told that there is a link between breast cancer and cholangiocarcinoma (what dad had). Having had genetic tests for mums’ side of the family to see if we carried the gene, we are now awaiting a call for dads’ side of the family. Whatever the outcome it’s all good research I guess and ultimately, I could be getting called annually for a mammogram and not waiting until I’m 50. Anything that can detect this horrible disease as early as possible is welcome in my book.

My very good friend John (@Hanleyontheball) is currently going through treatment for prostate cancer. Please do checkout his account and also his media account @SilverHiker1 (www.thesilverhiker.co.uk). This man is an inspiration because despite everything he is currently experiencing he has still made time to call his friends and run his accounts. He has had some devastating side effects to date, blue light dashes to hospital and unsurprisingly hair loss, but his resilience and sheer positivity is astounding! What is wonderful about John, is that he is the most genuine person I know. He never puts himself first which even now is still the case. This guy is even in the early stages of writing a book! Checkout his hashtag on twitter #ChemoCookery. It’s brilliant! John posts recipes which he does himself, they are easy and not time consuming and they are all done on a budget. John is sharing his thoughts and experiences along the way – every day. This book has the potential to be a bestseller. People who have looked after cancer patients know that quick fire, good food is one key ingredient for aiding recovery and well-being. He is not a doctor, nor a Michelin starred chef, but he is a patient going through chemo. This guy is living in real-time and sharing his journey. Whether it reaches out to one person or many more, John will (I know) be chuffed to bits with that. He’s not doing it for the adoration of millions. #ChemoCookery is not far off trending so the future looks bright for this brainchild of his. Bookmark it, follow it and share it.

A few weeks ago, I met up with Don Clark. I met Don through John actually; racemaking at Uttoxeter one year. Don is just as passionate about racing as John (and me I suppose!). He has his own small breeding operation, and has bred and raced a few winners over the years. Small scale, but successful. He loves the game, and like plenty of us small owners gets frustrated at the lack of opportunities and support for grassroots. I love to call him Donolphin.  His filly in training this year Cruel Clever Cat ran at Catterick – a perfect opportunity for us to get together and chat horses. The long trip up North wasn’t a fruitful one, but Donolphin isn’t in the game for the prize money – none of us in the relegation zone are. I hot-footed it from a long shift at work, and met him at The Beeswing in East Cowton (just a couple of miles from Catterick). What a lovely little pub. I highly recommend having a bite to eat here. Wonderful food, and the staff are very friendly and welcoming.

It was great to actually meet up with Donolphin. He has some cracking ideas about how racing could move forward in the grassroots dept. Last year he stood for the ROA board. I only took another year’s membership to back and vote for him. It’s a sorry state of affairs when the only reason you stay on is to support your friend because you don’t feel you get the full benefit of the membership. Even little things like the monthly magazine stay in their plastic cover now. Every month we see pages – and I mean pages, of glossy articles about expensive penthouses, watches and vehicles which obviously is tailored to all owners – not. Rarely do we see anything dedicated to the small fry. The ROA and BHA talk a good game about supporting grassroots but the reality is that they actually couldn’t give a rat’s ass about it. That’s the impression they are giving and if that isn’t their intention, then they really need to rethink their marketing strategy. No disrespect to Donolphin, but people with his knowledge and passion and openness will never be elected to the board. He would tell it like it is, and some of the hierarchy wouldn’t like that. They would no doubt have him removed under the small print. In racing, if you’ve not got the backing of a big supporter it will forever be about ‘who you know’ and not ‘what you know’. That’s a sorry state of affairs in my opinion. It will never change. I for one will always voice my opinion and keep it real. If your apple cart doesn’t like that; hey ho.

Life in the steel industry is still ticking over. It’s not my ideal job, and even though it’s not the racing job I’ve always wanted, it does pay the bills. Racing jobs are few and far between up North; although I’m willing to move for the right role. My riding days are most probably behind me, and to be fair no trainer would want my fat ass on their trusty steeds; not forgetting the risk of them putting their back out while legging me up! These days I’m much more suited to office, accounts, marketing, PR etc. I’m currently getting back into making racing silks and bespoke paddock sheets too. So any of you racing folks who think I could bring some great skills and a touch of Kaz to your business – get in touch!

Being a subcontractor can have its advantages at times, especially when British Steel recently announced another cull of a few hundred jobs. It looks like the majority will not be our site, and like I said being a subcontractor is not all bad – the chances are that we would be relocated by our employer to another role should this division of the business go kaboom. Personally, I think more cutbacks are inevitable. We have been crazily busy the past few months – you’d still think steel was a recent invention. I’m always tempted to stowaway in a container heading for Jebel Ali. After all it’s only fair we should visit these customers and give better customer service 😉

Right, that’s enough waffling for another day. I’ve an outfit to sort for Saturday while HUN is still sunning himself in Egypt! Hopefully the cracked toe holds up in heels. It’s been 4 weeks since the injury so I’m going to risk it. Next blog will be based on this coming weekend and if last year’s Champions Day blog is anything to go by, it’ll be another cracking day. It promises to be spectacular.

C Is For Cancer: Cholangiocarcinoma

IMG_1179It’s been a very busy few weeks since my last blog. Seemingly non-stop at work and Dubai seems like it was years ago now. It’s definitely time to start planning the next mini-break or holiday! This blog may not be for the fainthearted or those that get a bit weepy when the Nations favourite character leaves a soap opera.

If you follow me on twitter you will have no doubt (at some point) seen a retweet or a tweet of my own relating to cancer charities, those people fighting cancer, people raising money for said charities and people we’ve sadly lost through this terrible, vicious disease. Let me explain as to why I retweet and support such causes. It’s correct that I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, but If by penning the following paragraphs I can in some small way help the person who thinks “it’ll never happen to me so I’m not interested”, then so be it. It will also (selfishly) serve as therapy for me. God knows the ‘big C’ has torn through my family countless times and keeping everything bottled up because ‘you’re fine’ just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you let things get on top of you, then you may as well wait for the knock on the front door from the men in white coats. There’s only so much a person can take before they are consumed by situations, workloads, relationships, and over-thinking.

March 2012 while writing for the Love The Races website, I was lucky enough to go to the Lincoln at Doncaster. I took my dad and one of his bowling pals along for the day. We had a great day and dad backed the winner Brae Hill at big odds, then Ernie cleaned out the Tote. The last photo I took of dad before he fell ill was on this day, stood in the stand, smiling away. Little did I know that this photo would be used in his memory 3 years later.

Eight days after we were racing, I went to my parent’s house for lunch. Dad was in the lounge, watching tv. He hadn’t been feeling well for a few days. He looked to have a touch of jaundice. A couple of days later after Easter Monday, he went to his GP. Dad was referred straight to JCUH.

On examination they couldn’t find out what the exact problem was. They kept him in and did some scans. When the results returned, they said not to worry as (in their words) “it didn’t look anything sinister”, but they would refer him to the Freeman Hospital up in Newcastle. I took all this information in over the phone from mum while at work. When you hear ‘nothing sinister’ you feel a sense of relief, so I was pleased but still concerned. Why refer to a hospital over an hour away?

The referral was because there was clearly something going on around the liver; hence the jaundice. As more time passed I was likening dad to Homer Simpson, and because they weren’t 100% sure what was wrong; they couldn’t treat whatever it was that was affecting him. He was stuck in an open ward with drunks, drug users and some ‘men’ who didn’t deserve to be treated. They were abusive to staff and patients and one was even trying to drink the hand wash to get his alcohol fix. My dad was very ill, and he didn’t deserve to be in such an uncomfortable place. The sooner he was out of here the better.

The ‘nothing sinister’ couldn’t have been further from the reality of what was about to hit home. I remember every single detail of where I was and what I was doing when mum called me. Stood in the kitchen preparing dinner, my phone rang. I answered. Mum was very matter of fact, she asked where I was – I knew I was about to hear something bad so I ushered my daughter into the lounge and signalled to my partner at the time ‘it was mum’. Her voice trembled, but she stayed composed and seemed to ramble over old ground as if to build herself to tell her daughter that her dad had a tumour.

I felt my heart sink. I couldn’t speak or breathe. I walked out the back to the utility room and slumped over the counter while trying to ‘get it together’ to talk. ‘Are you still there Kaz?’ I made a noise to acknowledge mum. She obviously knew I was upset. Suddenly anger took over from the helplessness. How could the first hospital have got it so wrong. Nothing sinister? Exactly what did they miss on the scans? Why was it missed? And how did another hospital spot it straight away? It wasn’t fair. Why my dad? He was fit two weeks ago and now what?

The next day I went to work and explained what I could. Not that I knew much. The bare facts were that dad had gone from being a healthy guy in his 60’s to one who was now facing a massive fight against cancer; all within the space of 2 – 3 weeks.

Cholangiocarcinoma was something I couldn’t say or spell, never mind understand what the hell it was. In layman’s terms Cholangiocarcinoma is cancer of the bile duct. Dad was not only unlucky in having it, but he had it in the worst place possible. If you can imagine a ‘Y’ shape coming from your liver, you have left & right hepatic ducts which connect to the common bile duct. Dad’s tumour was close to the ‘V’ part (where all three ducts meet). This meant it was inoperable. Had it been further left or right, there was a good chance it could have been removed. As it was there would be no way this was possible.

Anger raised it head again. I couldn’t help but think of the footballers who were given liver transplants after drinking themselves into obliteration, and then did it again. Those people don’t deserve life if they want to waste it. Here was my dad with a serious liver condition through no fault of his own, and he couldn’t have such an operation to help him. Yet, we in the UK willingly dish out liver transplants to drunks, who in some instances see a new liver as a new lifeline to drink more alcohol! To say this still boils my piss to this day is an understatement. Life is simply not fair.

When the consultants pulled the curtain around the bed for ‘privacy’ (yeah right – coz they are soundproof too aren’t they) to tell us it was inoperable and there was nothing they could do was an absolute killer. Mum fell to pieces and broke down. I didn’t do crying so just looked at dad who (as ever), was so matter of fact. Well if there’s nothing that can be done, there’s nothing we can do about it. We all die. Some just sooner than others. I could tell he was upset because mum was upset. I remember saying to dad that mum cried at Coronation Street so it was to be expected. He smiled. He knew I was obviously gutted but ‘staying strong’ – whatever the hell that was.

So, with a diagnosis came a short-term plan of action. Dad’s body still needed to process by-products which his bile duct couldn’t do because of the tumour. He had stents put in to help with this and of course a catheter. He wasn’t eating properly and was given high protein calorie shakes to drink. Chemotherapy wasn’t an option until he was stronger, so palliative care was the next best thing.

Th daily drive from home was an added stress for all of us. I was working full time, with a young child and a partner who was on shift work. The term ‘frazzled’ was frequently used by mum and would become a source of light relief when times got dark. We lived an hour from Newcastle. At the time, mum had a Smart car so although it was economical it wasn’t the most comfortable of vehicles to travel in everyday on such a monotonous journey. Hospital parking was a nightmare and expensive. Trying to time it right so that you were there in plenty of time for visiting and got a space, was nigh on impossible. Families with seriously ill relatives don’t need the hassle or expense.

So, after work I would travel with mum up to the hospital. I couldn’t go every day; I wanted to but it just wasn’t feasible. Trying to explain to a young daughter why mummy wasn’t at home so often because grandad was poorly was difficult enough without discussing the details. Kids pick up on the smallest things, and J knew something was amiss. I could just tell she knew.

After a few days, dad didn’t seem to be getting any better, despite having the stents in. He still wasn’t eating. Mum was exhausted, and I suppose I finally noticed my parents were ‘old’. I was tired from all the travelling but you go on autopilot and do what you have to do. Mum was so strong. It turned out that dad had an infection. He needed treating and quickly. Another day went by.

I couldn’t concentrate at work; things were pretty bad there too. The site was closing and we were all on borrowed time. Job hunting was the last thing on my mind, as was the family holiday we had booked for the following February with mum & dad to Florida. Everything was up in the air. Cancer really does make time stand still for those affected, whether its directly or indirectly. The knock-on effect is inexplicable. If you’re reading this and have never been affected by cancer then you’re very fortunate. My work phone rang and I answered with my obligatory telephone voice. It was mum. Dad had been moved to the ICU. While on the phone I was closing down all my pc systems and was scrambling around my handbag for the car keys. I drove to mums and we headed up to Newcastle again. I wasn’t sure what the hell to expect.

When you move from an open ward to ICU the difference is immediately noticeable. Not least as there’s very little noise. All I could hear as we went through the large double doors was the various beeps from numerous monitors.  As the doors closed behind us, dad was lying on the first bed to the left. The patients in here were gravely ill and dad was one of them. How was my dad just a few short weeks on from the Lincoln at Doncaster, now fighting for his life against a nasty infection and of course the primary cause of it all – cancer (which still couldn’t be treated due to the deterioration in health). I had been crying quietly on an evening to myself away from my partner and daughter, and of course mum. I didn’t do crying. Life still had to carry as best it could, so I put on the brave face so many of us do and was ‘fine’. Seeing dad hooked up to all those monitors was an awful sight. When the nurse explains to you that they need to see one figure on one monitor be above a certain number, and another one lower than something else on another; you want to scream inside because you can see that the figures are way apart from where they should be. In fact, one figure was so dangerously low that it was touch and go. There was no sugar-coating it.

Dad stayed in ICU for 5/6 days, I can’t remember exactly how long it was. He stabilised and was moved back to the ward. I remember one day I’d gone to the hospital with my partner while mum tried to get some rest and one of the consultants took me to a ‘quiet room’ and explained they were making arrangements to get dad home. I felt so patronised by the ‘now you know why we’re doing this don’t you?’. ‘Your dad isn’t going to get any better’. I was approaching 40 FFS…. just because I look young doesn’t mean you talk to me like I’m 12. Whether or not it was intentional didn’t matter to me. I was offended and did everything I could not to be as offensive back. I know they do their best, but their best wasn’t good enough if my dad couldn’t be helped. You just don’t think rationally under such circumstances. I wanted someone to blame. I needed someone to blame. Dad was basically coming home to die.

While the hospital put a care package together for dad, mum and the family made changes at home and turned the front bedroom into what was essentially a private hospital room. A hospital bed arrived along with the huge number of drugs that we and the nurses would have to administer to dad.

The day dad arrived home my daughter was asking after her grandad. When could she go see him, she missed him and wanted to kiss him better. Oh God, if only if it was that simple……

Dad was (at best) almost sitting up in the bed. He was able to talk and hold conversations, but due to the medication cocktail he was on, he would hallucinate and see things. I spent every day sitting by his side, watching The Food Channel with him, or the racing. In fact, we watched some of Royal Ascot together. It was the year of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, so there was plenty going on for him to watch and pass his usual comments on. I’d sit with dad while mum tried to grab some sleep. She was frazzled. As dad wasn’t really eating and struggled to drink the protein shakes, if he fancied something (for instance a cream cake), mum would drive into town and get him whatever he wanted – only for dad to take one mouthful and be done. Frazzled.

Sometimes we’d be watching something together and he’d suddenly start talking to someone in the corner of the room. Of course, there was no one there. He was hallucinating again. His eyes would be glazed over and his pupils moving around the room following the things he was seeing. Sometimes we had to play along with him. This wasn’t disrespectful. Far from it. I’m sure it comforted dad as he would get visibly agitated by whatever he was seeing, so by telling him it was ok he seemed to accept that we were in control and everything would be fine.

Seeing someone you love who has looked after you all your life in the position dad was now in was heart breaking. The nurses would come in each morning, afternoon and evening and help with certain things, but for the most part mum was with dad 24/7 with the help of the rest of the family. Mum was amazing. A few days after coming home, dad made the decision to sign a DNR (do not resuscitate) form. I wrestled with this in my head for days wondering why. I didn’t want to have to think of him being in such a bad way that this would have to take effect. As dad started to feel more poorly, mainly from the way the drugs were making him react, he made the decision to stop taking some of them. I’m not religious at all, but every night I would lay still beside my other half and silently weep; hand over my mouth. I would lay awake deep into the small hours almost praying for a miracle. Autopilot was indeed in overdrive as I struggled to balance my own emotions and juggle family life with work.

 Unbelievably, within 72 hours he was almost back to being ‘my dad’. It was incredible. One explanation for it was that because he had taken so few prescribed drugs in his lifetime, his body had accepted the medication he was now on and let them do their job. Once the drugs had fought the infection, dads body was able to start functioning for itself again.

Fast forward to a few months later and dad bought himself a new car. He was now back driving and doing small things which had seemed impossible just a few short months earlier. I had my dad back, and my mum. That Christmas we had both of them over. The delight on dads face to see his granddaughter on Christmas day was unforgettable. Me and dad were never really into Christmas like mum. I definitely took after him in many ways!

February the following year myself, partner and J flew to Florida with my partners parents. Dad was obviously still living with cancer, but the medication he was on was working well to some extent, but there was no way he could travel abroad. He didn’t miss out completely as every day J would FaceTime him or send a video message from poolside or Disney World. While abroad I also got the call for a job interview. I’d applied for 75 jobs and this was my first interview. Things were definitely on the up.

Back in the UK and I headed for the interview. I was one of four to be interviewed…first in. Later I was told they had already decided to offer me the position before seeing the other candidates. Crikey! I guess I did well considering it was my first interview in over 10 years! Mum and dad were chuffed; at least I now had job security and could stop stressing about that side of life.

The months kept passing and dad kept having his check-ups and scans. He was doing ok. More time passed and we seemed to functioning as a normal family unit for the first time after many long months. Then dad was unwell and was re-admitted to hospital. I took the call from dad himself while at York racecourse with fellow volunteer Racemakers. His instructions were to back his horses which included Tiggy Wiggy; ‘oh and by the way I’m going back into hospital just now’.

The drugs increased, and the dad I knew was no longer staring back at me from the hospital bed in a quiet side ward. My heart was breaking all over again.

I’ve purposely skipped a chunk of this period in time.  While he was in his own room in JCUH, he would fight against us trying to keep him in the bed. He’d be trying to remove the tubes and wires from him. This wasn’t my dad. This was the drugs affecting his brain and body. Having to wrestle with my dad while desperately waiting on nurses to attend to help was bloody awful. They seemed to take an age to come and assist. I still wouldn’t apologise now for losing it with them at the time. I was in distress because my dad was in distress. Emotions were constantly running high, and I was at breaking point. Dad should never have been left alone due to the effect the medication was having. He needed 24/7 care. Professional care.

Once again, a care package had to be put in place in order for dad to come home. I’d been told before he was basically returning home to die. So, this time although it was inevitable, I desperately didn’t want to believe it. Dad was rapidly going downhill. A consultant estimated 1 – 2 days. That wasn’t to get him back home; that was to live. It’s at this point I’m starting to fight back the tears as I keep typing. Dad was incoherent, a shell of his former self and was pretty much out of it. You try and talk to them and try not to be patronising or condescending. Not that they would know about it. Dad was on the maximum amount of morphine (among other drugs) which was administered through a ‘driver’. It’s a small battery powered pump that gives medication at a constant rate through needles under the skin. Dad eventually (after much deliberation and pushing the doctors to make the decision) came home and was made comfortable in his own bed. Not a hospital bed. His own bed. His and mums bed. He was going to know he was home, in his own surroundings and with as little fuss as possible. The less ‘hospital like’ the better. The carers attended as before – morning, afternoon and overnight.

Dad received lots of visitors. He couldn’t talk. I would sit and hold his hand, talk to him and swab his lips with a damp bud to give him some moisture. Mum would brush his teeth as best she could and bathe him. We would change him and try and make him as comfortable as possible. Having to look after a parent in such difficult circumstances is hard to explain, and only those who have had to do it will understand. You are completely helpless and just holding out for the only possible ending.

The 1 – 2 days passed. Dad was fighting. He was so weak and painfully thin, but he was still fighting. The weekend came and went. His breathing was getting more laboured and the morphine was increased yet again. On the Monday evening my mum sat with one of dad’s sisters in the lounge while I sat alone with dad. The sun was beaming through the bedroom window from behind me. Dad was somewhat peaceful. I talked to him about racing. What else would me and dad be discussing if he was sat talking right now? I told him all about Tiggy Wiggy winning at York and setting a new track record. Whether he was listening I’ll never know. I’m sure part of him was. I remember pausing as my eyes welled up. We sat in silence for a moment. The only sound from the ‘driver’. I took tighter hold of his hand and squeezed it firmly with both hands. I played him a message that J had made for her grandad. In it she said how much she loved and missed seeing him and wanted him to get better. I fought back tears and said quietly to him – ‘dad, if its too much just close your eyes and fall asleep’. I felt his fingers move ever so slightly in my palms. I knew he had heard something.

6.40 am Tuesday 2nd Sept 2014. My phone rang. I answered and all I could hear was mum sobbing telling me to get there. Mum and dad lived a short drive of less than 5 mins. I barely got dressed, threw on any footwear I could and drove as fast as I dared. I swung the car onto the driveway and ran to the door. Mum opened it as I got to it. She was in bits…’has he gone?’ I said in a panicked voice. She just hugged me and broke down. Over her shoulder the carer came out from the bedroom and nodded. I went to the bedroom and stood and looked at dad laying there. Oh dad…… I’d missed him by the smallest of margins. Maybe he had heard my mum making the call to tell me to get there? Maybe he made the decision to go before I got there to spare me the pain of witnessing it all. To this day I still cannot forgive myself for not being there at the end. He was my dad and I wasn’t there. Of course, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Dad was dying, and now he had taken his last breath alone in the company of the woman he loved; mum.

The next few days were a blur. We went to see dad at the funeral home. He looked peaceful and no longer in pain. Mum was pleased that they had trimmed his untameable eyebrows. It didn’t seem appropriate to snigger in this room alongside dad. But we did. Dad would’ve told us off and said ‘gee-whizz’ – his catchphrase. He was wearing a white shirt with a pocket. We slipped in a photo of his granddaughter, close to his heart. I couldn’t stop looking at the small plate on the coffin – ‘entered into rest 2nd Sept 2014, aged 67 yrs.’

Dad was cremated on the 9th Sept. He was given a guard of honour by the fire brigade. I read a poem for him called ‘I Know This Man’. It’s beautifully moving. How I had the strength to read I’ll never know. Looking up halfway through the reading, the crematorium was packed. Standing room only. I dug my nails into the palms of my hands just to focus. It was no surprise dad was so popular and so well liked.

As we left the service, mum had chosen ‘What A Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong. It’s not quite so wonderful anymore without dad.

Cancer is a horrible, vicious disease that can strike at anytime and attack anyone. It has no point. These people who say it’s a test from God, are full of shit. Come tell that to me and my family. Several, different cancers have taken my loved ones, and some are currently fighting again. My wonderful loving aunt was cruelly taken last year having beaten breast cancer, only for 2 cancers to take her from her husband, 4 children and grandchildren.  I’ve close friends who have beaten it, and some who now are battling it head on. Don’t tell me it’s a test from God. Would these same people say the same if they were affected? Most probably not.

Through all the heartache and difficult times, Macmillan Cancer Support were always there. So, if you see tweets from me, or retweets about cancer; you now know why it’s so important to me. I would love to be able to ride in a charity race for Macmillan. Dad would’ve been proud I’m sure. Having not sat on a horse for many years I doubt this will ever become a reality. I’d have to put in the hard work and retraining required to do it. At 45 I’m no spring chicken, and any yard would have their work cut out training and coaching me; that’s for sure!

As terrible as it was to watch people I love die, at least I had time to say goodbye. Some people don’t have that. Some people go to work after breakfast with the family, and never return. Make sure the last thing you tell someone you love is exactly that. Don’t leave the house after an argument. You may never get the chance to apologise and make up. Do your best to never regret anything in life.

Small Track Rocked by Big Country

For once I wasn’t working a Bank Holiday, so the steel industry could do without me (although the double time & day in lieu is always a bonus when I do work them). Having said that, a day at my local track is always nice come rain or shine – or as in the 28th May’s case – mist! HUN (half uncle Norm) had travelled North, and after us both getting a grilling off the family over the weekend (re Dubai), it was our first race meeting together since the DWC. I had my daughter J in tow, along with HUN’s brother Alan and my uncle Eric.

I always harp on about how much I love Redcar racecourse, the people and what it may or may not have to offer, and I will always stand by what I say. It’s a great little track with a brilliant hard-working team. People will moan and say it requires updating and the quality of racing is poor. People are entitled to their opinions, and in some respects, I would partly agree. You only have to read the press over the past few days re the facilities at Worcester to realise certain areas at courses are not at the forefront of the hierarchy’s mind. Let’s get the paying folk in and worry about the owners & trainers later… (that’s if we have any left by the time we get around to it!). I have to say I have always enjoyed my visits to Redcar whether as an owner or not. If you’ve read my first blog you would understand why. Still the best day’s racing I’ve ever had in my life and we gone done on the line by a short head!

By far the highlight was the feature race of the day – The Zetland Gold Cup. Since I’d seen the entries I was all over Big Country. Declaration day; I was beside myself and told HUN to lump on. I was convinced he’d put in one of the best performances seen in the race’s history. He didn’t disappoint. As the son of High Chaparral made his way into the paddock I couldn’t help but smile. This was the first time I’d managed to see him in the flesh, despite following him closely for the past 18 months. What a gorgeous beast he is. Big, well-made, and most of all he had that ‘look’. The look that told you he meant business and wasn’t here for a stroll along the seafront or one of the locally famed lemon-tops. Silvestre De Sousa was given the leg up by trainer Mick Appleby – I was even more convinced that BC couldn’t be beat. It was a busy Bank Holiday and Appleby only had the one runner anywhere in the country. He was suited and booted and the connections were in attendance too. Crikey, I was going to have to have another wager!

SDS bounced the big lad out in front under his welter-weight of 10st. Happily swinging along on the front end; almost too happy I thought. I held my breath. When you’re at Redcar and you watch a race on the round course, they seem to almost fly around the bend out of the back straight because of the way it’s banked. It looked like SDS was still holding onto Big Country…surely not? It was a competitive race, seemingly going half a stride too quick. By this point I was nudging my head back and forth in time with the horse’s stride. You’ve all done that at some point right?! C’mon SDS, C’mon Big Country! HUN was telling me the favourite was travelling well. I ignored him – all of me was now swaying back and forth with the horse’s stride…in fact, I was riding Big Country too. There was absolutely no doubting that inside the final two furlongs, he was also carrying the local lass whose style was more akin to that which belonged on one of our long-eared friends on the beach half a mile away. I reached for my right arm (my phone), I was going to record this piece of history. As the challengers lined up, BC fought them off, knuckling down with his usual grit and determination to win by ½ length. It was an unbelievable ride by SDS and a brilliant run by Big Country under top weight – fat lass and all! I’ve been to countless Zetland Gold Cups since the eighties. This was right up there for me. Incredible performance.

bc1
Big Country returns to the winner’s enclosure

Racing has been part of Redcar’s local history since the early 18th century. We might be a ‘two-bit’ track to a lot of people including some of the toffs at the high end of the racing fraternity, (who in their ignorance have never even visited the place or indeed could probably never show you on a map where it is) but I guarantee Redcar is a friendly, more pleasant place to race than some of those other tracks granted ‘grade 1’ status. You show me a lower grade track that doesn’t require some improvements and I’ll show you a size 8 catsuit that I wore last week – we all know that didn’t happen right?! (Well not since pre-child and in back in 2005 anyway!). My point is that (for want of a better phrase), the more prestigious tracks have much larger budgets, coupled with large sponsorship investments from global companies who in some cases race for their own money. You know the sort of companies I’m talking about. You can’t blame any track for biting off the hand of a rich middle-eastern multi-millionaire (for example).

 Even with smaller scale investment from local companies; how can our bread and butter tracks compete with such multi million tycoons who in essence appear to run the sport in some respects? In my opinion these rich folks are monopolising the ‘sport of kings’ and fast returning it to that label.  Imagine any small track getting the phone call to say that a multi-millionaire is ploughing in millions to redevelop and increase prize money at their course, (and more importantly they are in it for the long haul). Wouldn’t it be lovely to see one of the ‘big boys’ approach a smaller track with such ambition? Year after year they plough their coin into the likes of Ascot, Newmarket, Goodwood, et al. This is obviously welcomed by the BHA and said tracks; rightly so. At least the sport is ‘flourishing’ in some parts of the country. What about the rest?

At one point in time there was talk of Redcar re-siting just outside the town; a turf & all-weather track. The plans were great and listening to the passion that Lord Zetland showed for the redevelopment was inspiring – me being a local lass who loved the track and wanted it to thrive. I may even have ended up getting the dream job in racing I craved! Then politics got in the way. I believe some of the land that was the potential siting of the project is still for sale for around ½ million pound. Years later Newcastle was the recipient of the first all-weather track in the North. We needed such a track. I was initially opposed to the idea of ripping up such a track and replacing part of it with beach. I’m a total convert now and it appears to attract lots of runners with competitive fields. Catterick lost out. Another track which in my opinion would have benefited greatly from reinvestment and the installation of an all-weather track. 

This week it was announced that Newcastle is going to be covered one evening by ITV Racing, which is another fantastic step forward in bringing racing to those at home who cannot go racing and only have access to the bog standard TV channels. Good for racing in general; pats on the back all round.

Are there any owners / companies / millionaires out there that would have the vision to see a small track thrive instead of just survive? If so I would love for one of them to stand up, push for change and show what can be done at grass roots level. Obviously, this is only a pipe dream that people like me can only ever wish for. I have no doubt that if you did a job swap tv programme with some of the key people between a top tier track and a lower tier track, it would make for interesting viewing. I’ve always said I’d love to see a top trainer with 200 well bred horses in his care swap roles for a month with a smaller trainer with only a handful of class 4 – 6 horses. Would we see what makes a good trainer? Is it the trainer that makes the difference or the animal? Ultimately you can only work with what you have – I believe this is a key factor why many smaller trainers struggle to fill their yards. It doesn’t matter how charming you can be towards owners (I’ve been spoon-fed the patter a couple of times), or how nice the place looks – if you’re not firing in winners or you’re not ‘fashionable’, you’re not going to be sent the well-bred, good calibre horses, especially by the real wealthy owners who probably rarely visit their horses anyway.

This year’s Epsom Oaks consisted of 9 runners – 5 of them from the one yard /owner. Yes, it’s their right to pay their money and take their chance but is this good for the wider sport? There are no rules which prevents them from fielding a football team of runners let alone just the five. We all dream of owning a top-class horse but imagine having 60% of a Classic field. Is it team tactics at its best or worst? Or almost a case of win the big ones at all costs? Let’s face it – it’s cost them a few shiny pennies to enter them all, declare at the various stages and eventually run. The winner was also purchased by them (not a homebred) for 900k. Fair play to ‘the lads’ for what they have achieved in racing (and will continue to do so). It’s a long established well-oiled operation they run, and I’m sure there are a fair few trainers out there who wouldn’t want the pressure that AOB must constantly be under to produce the goods. Racing and breeding would be a poorer place if it wasn’t for these guys and the likes of Godolphin, but as I’ve previously said it cannot be good for the sport to be monopolised by those at the top end. This is certainly not for the good of racing. The problem racing faces is how to change it.

I’m of the opinion that the decision makers sat at the top of the BHA tree along with the bean counters at the ‘status’ tracks will never question their investors while the money keeps coming. Why would they? A blinkered approach in my opinion. Plenty of us were applauding the Al Shaqab operation who were throwing money at British racing, until it came to light these multi-millionaires were not paying their training fees, and in some cases owed months of fees to trainers. Trainers who were caring for their animals and unbelievably still running them. Some trainers must be crazy; why would anyone run a horse if you’re not getting paid for the basics? Are they afraid of speaking up because of who it is? What’s the worst that could happen? Oh yeah – the horses get taken away from the yard. Not such a loss if you’re not getting paid for them anyway, right? With this mind; It’s probably never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket! Let them remove the horses – all this does is take the problem from one yard to another. At least the trainer is no longer funding the seemingly cash strapped millionaires! How ridiculous does that even sound?!  It doesn’t appear that there was any trainer willing to go down the ‘forfeit list’ route re Al Shaqab. Probably because of the long-winded process that it is. Would the BHA have even allowed it if a trainer had? Surely there wouldn’t be one rule for a large owner compared to one for a one-horse owner would there? Hmmmm…. call me cynical. There are plenty of ‘owners’ dodging the system. Ann Duffield wrote a great piece on it not so long ago. The paying of bills should be centralised, but however the BHA accomplish this it needs total transparency and it needs to work. A basic fee taken each month & extra’s done via each yard perhaps? There are lots of avenues to explore and it most certainly needs ‘humans’ doing it.  I struggle with the Racing Admin site from day to day – basic stuff that works on a mobile, doesn’t work via a desktop and vice versa, and in most cases it’s rarely mobile friendly. Not great for trainers out on the gallops who need to declare a runner before 10am; and that’s if they can get internet connection. Have you ever been to Lambourn and had a good signal (if at all)?! If these ‘easy to use’ websites don’t work well enough, how the hell will anything else? It’s one major headache.

So, what did we think of the Derby? I enjoyed it, not least because I somehow managed to back the first three! Shame I was on three lots of tablets for my back, otherwise I would have been having a few glasses of bubbles to celebrate. Buick rode a brilliant race on the winner Masar, hailed a hero by some in fact. Yet 24hrs earlier he was caught (to all intents and purposes) trying to cheat the scales. The Stipendiary Steward witnessed a ½ lead weight fall out of his breeches on weighing out. The jockey explained he did not intend to carry the weight but was going to replace it with a drink of water. He was then re-weighed prior to the race and drew the correct weight on weighing back in. I didn’t even know that you were allowed to weigh out again if you had already done so. A slap on the wrist and £650 lighter for the offence. Wow. A basic form of cheating, trying his luck or both? He’s the one that got caught and it wouldn’t come as a shock to any of us if this sort of thing was a daily occurrence up and down the country. Fair play to the Steward for reporting it. It may well have only been ½ lb but deception is still deception no matter how you dress it up; big or small. Caught, wrist slapped and incident forgotten about.

So that concludes the latest Kaz ramblings. I’ve plenty more. Well I am a gobby Northerner! I say what I think, I keep it real and honest and most importantly I try and have a laugh with it. If you have a giggle, even better. Life really is too short to be grumpy all the time. Get on the Big Country train….you’ll soon cheer up!

The DWC: A Trip Of A Lifetime From The Bucket List

For those of you who follow me via Twitter, you will have no doubt seen my ‘Dubai countdown’ over the past few months. Well it finally came around, and boy it did not disappoint. From a “yeah lets do the Dubai World Cup next!” tipsy conversations on Champions Day to “OMG, we are actually doing this!”. This was one on my ‘bucket-list’ that I didn’t think I’d be able to tick off for a good few years; not least due to the fact I gave birth on DWC day on 2006. But this year with the DWC falling the week after my daughter’s birthday, I had an opportunity I just couldn’t miss if the family didn’t mind!

So as you’re all well aware by now, my racing buddy is HUN (half uncle Norm). There was obviously no one else that was going to accompany me to the best meeting in the world was there? Not this year anyway. On the morning of 27th March I boarded my first flight of the day from Newcastle to Heathrow, where I was to meet up with HUN. Now I’m a nervous flyer at the best of times, so catching a flight alone is a big deal to me, but as the saying goes – its a means to an end. I checked the plane had two wings, an intact tail and a happy looking pilot. Obviously these are the most important checks for anyone boarding a plane right? What’s mechanics or technology got to do with it? Statistically flying is one of the safest forms of transport…try telling me that at 36,000ft when the aluminium tube I’m sat in is rattling about in turbulence & you’re likely to spend the rest of your flight sleeping.

We landed on time, so the next thing to do was kiss the pilot and be thankful I made it in one piece, collect my bag and hop on a bus to terminal 4. Thankfully the free transfer between terminals was pretty painless, and to be fair even though the driver fancied himself as a bit of an F1 wannabe (it only took 10 mins as apposed to the 20 mins advertised), it was all one step closer to Dubai. I headed towards departures to get my bearings and await HUN’s arrival. He was travelling via train and Tube. I didn’t have to wait for long. A vision in his own version of Godolphin blue (a pac-a-mac), it was great to see him. ‘You won’t be needing that where we’re heading!’, I told him as we giggled like cheeky school kids and suddenly realised that this shit just got real! He suggested a late Prosecco lunch. Who was I to object? We made a beeline for the Oriel Grande Brasserie and ate delicious steak baguette’s with all the trimmings, and of course the perfect accompaniment of Prosecco. We were in holiday mode; or as I kept correcting HUN – ‘it’s not a holiday; its a mini break!’. We were in mini break mode. Bearing in mind I had no breakfast due to being so anxious pre flights, I had 2 mini Grey Goose on the first flight and now I was drinking Prosecco; I felt myself feeling rather mellow and chilled with a long (teetotal) flight pending. If there was no alcohol allowed on the flight then I was going to make sure I had a grip on my anxiety by having a few sips beforehandIMG_2633.

Lunch done, we checked in our baggage at the Royal Brunei desk. This really was happening. The night before I’d checked online to see if I could get us an upgrade. I couldn’t. Although there was only 79 confirmed bookings for the flight so there was a slim chance we could get one, but we forgot to ask at the desk due to being in mini break mode.

Have to say I’m not a fan of the self-scanning (supposedly fast track) lanes at passport security. Mainly because my (newish) passport didn’t scan, so I spent time in this area waiting for it to be rejected 3 times, before then having to wait in a queue for a desk jockey to lecture me on how to make sure it scans. In other words, he didn’t want to do his job and he expected me to do it for him. Sorry mate, you’re employed to do it and I’m on a mini break, so crack on luv…

After having my second full body scan – (you know the ones where you stand with your arms above your head, and u suck in your gut in the hope that no one sees your muffin top spilling over the top of your jeans as the scanner circles your mass), I was still setting off all the alarms so had my second full body frisk.

Once all that malarkey was out of the way we headed to the shops. HUN needed some flip flops and toyed with the idea of buying yet another shirt. I swear he was a woman in a previous life. The conversations pre mini break about fashion were all started by him. Anyway, we found some nice flip flops for him. At just under £30 I should think we did! I wouldn’t pay that for something I wear once possibly twice a year for a holiday; and bearing in mind this was a mini break after all and most certainly not a holiday!

It wasn’t long before our gate number was on the board so we made our way at a leisurely pace towards it. With the gate in sight and us both feeling chilled and ready for the flight, an announcement was made. As HUN walked ahead of me, he turned around and glared at me as we heard his name then my name over the tannoy – one of those final call for passengers announcement. I could’ve died on the spot. Surely we weren’t late for the flight? It had only just appeared on the board; we weren’t late…were we? I felt sick in my mouth and for a minute all my anxiety returned tenfold. With an already increased heartrate, I hastily shuffled quickly behind HUN up to the desk at the gate. We were told quite firmly ‘can I see your boarding passes please?’….oh god, the tiny bit of sick in my mouth was  ready to burst out like a projectile over the woman stood in her beige uniform…I mean beige is enough to make anyone throw up, so at this very moment in time it was all I could do to hold it back. ‘We’ve had to change your boarding pass’. Ok, I thought, well this isn’t getting thrown off the flight…yet. I’d checked us in online and pre printed our boarding passes so wasn’t prepared for any of this commotion. As the woman handed us our new passes I neglected to notice her tapping profusely to the corner of them….I was still concentrating on not redesigning her beige-ness! The airline had upgraded us to business class. OMG. I swallowed for the first time in what seemed like forever, tiny vomit et al. We scurried away from the desk and did the done thing these days – sent a pic to my mum, the lads at work and of course posted it on snapchat & twitter. I’d joked all week about trying to get an upgrade and by sheer luck it just happened. This trip was already one of the best. We giggled like kids and then the next minute we were ‘priority boarding’. The grins got larger. I was going to enjoy this flight despite hating planes, if it killed me – but not literally of course which is what I fear most!

Now I’m not the sort of person who gets to fly in style; I’m usually in the cheap seats which is fine. But this was going to be epic. Apologies if you fly business class all the time, but for me it’s not the norm. To upgrade this flight it was anywhere between £600 – £1000 to guarantee your seat. As it was we paid £471 which for Dubai was more than reasonable. Before my ass even hit my seat I was given a menu and told I could order anything from it at any time during the flight; just had to make sure I gave them up to half an hours notice to prepare it. Wow. You don’t get that in the cheap seats. HUN had the window seat. Then I remembered – I’d chosen seats of an even number. I couldn’t fly being sat in an odd numbered seat, so when I picked our seats I made sure they were even. I have to have my car radio on an even number so my seat had to be even too. Shit, it was odd. My mind instantly filled with irrational thoughts. OMFG. I’m going to die. Something’s bound to happen on my trip of a lifetime, I’ve been upgraded, and now because of my odd numbered seat something bad will happen! Sod’s law I thought. HUN reassured me and then one of the lovely stewards came and offered us the days papers and a drink. Now, you may not know this, but Royal Brunei are a dry airline. There’s no alcohol served on their flights. At this point this was a major draw back for me trying to get my touch of OCD re seat numbers out of my head; alcohol would’ve helped immensely! I settled for a coke. I don’t like coke, I only drink Pepsi Max at home, but coke would have to do. Liquid chloroform would’ve sufficed to be fair just to knock me out for the duration. At least it was served in a real glass.

HUN was messing about with his seat which after much fiddling about with he discovered it went horizontal. You don’t get that in the cheap seats either. So many buttons to press with no instructions. A bit like getting to know your new partner I suppose – you know they have buttons that work its just knowing which order to push them in to get the result you’re after.

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This’ll do

 

On take off I sat and sipped on my coke (in a real glass remember), and stared in horror at the screen in front of me. The airline were saying a prayer. Man alive, what are we praying for? that we get there in one piece? that both wings stay attached? What? I quickly learned that it was to bless the flight and journey. So pretty much what I said. Crikey, for a nervous flyer this wasn’t exactly great viewing. Once the seatbelt sign vanished I pressed a button to relax a bit more. Next thing, I’ve another lovely steward calling me by my name asking if I’d like another hot towel. We’re still gaining altitude and I’m on my second hot towel. How the other half live said HUN. After a lovely dinner which included a starter of French onion soup IN A REAL BOWL, we got horizontal to watch a couple of movies, (Darkest Hour was my favourite). As HUN settled himself down with a blanket, the steward came over and said ‘no sir, let me bring you a better blanket’. I joked and said to expect a duvet. It was no joke, he returned with a full duvet for HUN, and a big feather pillow. This flight was awesome. The staff were incredibly helpful and I was most thankful for the lady pilot telling us we had arrived in Dubai, local time 03.15.

At the time we landed there was about another 3 or 4 flights that landed within the same time scale as us, but nothing could prepare us for the 3 hour wait in the immigration queue. Standing in a queue for just over 3 hours at stupid o’clock in the morning is not my idea of fun. I’m pretty sure the other 1500 passengers stood around us felt exactly the same way. A mass of people snaking back and forth watching a large advertising screen while between 2-3 people sat leisurely behind their desks playing on their smart phones is not a great first impression of the UAE if you’ve never been before. We even had one lady faint in the queue. To be quite frank this was terrible. Made worse by the fact that there was a large digital screen saying ‘wait time 30 mins’…this screen was misleading – jumping from 30 mins, to 56 mins, then 20 mins. All complete rubbish. Once at the desk there was no apologies for the extremely long wait; just staff getting up and walking off as if it was a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll playing on their smart phones again!

So as the clock moved forward we eventually walked along to baggage reclaim. Great; the carousel for our flight had stopped and no bags left on it. Why would there be – 3 hours after landing? Were we about to discover that our bags had stayed on the plane for their own holiday to Brunei? I f****** hoped not…Thankfully, a very nice airport employee (one who actually was doing his job very well), showed us to where we could find all remaining bags from the flights. Yes, our bags had made it to Dubai too.

Local time was now just after 6.30am. That’s 3.30am back home in the UK. I didn’t sleep on the plane despite numerous attempts. HUN though seemed as fresh as a daisy, and to be fair considering I’d been travelling since 10am the previous day I was pretty fresh too. It’s amazing what another hot towel (yes a third one), can do to boost some life into you. We decided to find a place in the airport to give us a caffeine hit and regroup on our next move. With the unplanned delay in immigration we decided that instead of heading straight to our hotel for an early check in, we would jump in a taxi and go straight to Meydan racecourse to collect our tickets for Breakfast With The Stars & the DWC itself. The ticket office was due to open at 8am, so a couple of hours sipping coffee and the obligatory people watching wasn’t going to pose any problem to either of us. The endless stream of seeing people with shrink wrapped suitcases still baffles me. I can understand shrink wrapping boxes or fragile goods for travel, but not suitcases. I just don’t get it. Suitcases are designed for a purpose. Buy a decent one and you’ll have no requirement to pay some bloke to stick it on a giant turntable and wrap it to within an inch of its life. I can think of nothing worse than fighting with, what is in effect, thick cling film after a long flight.

Coffee downed, HUN decided he had forgotten his toothbrush and razor blades…trusty old Boots in the arrivals hall would sort him out no problem. Time to get a taxi. A great piece of advice from a seasoned Dubai traveller was to not get into a black cab. With this in my mind it was obvious that at the waiting taxi rank, we were going to be targeted. Before we could say ‘how much’, HUN’s case was already on its way into the boot of a black one….not if Kaz had anything to do with it. We had already done our homework on approximate charges for taxi’s so I was confident we were going to get the rate expected and not the ‘targeted tourist’ rate. I grabbed HUN’s case from the black cab driver – suited and booted with shades – who I think probably starred alongside Will Smith at some point in a previous life. ‘Sorry luv, you’re charges are way too much’, I said. ‘We’re getting in this one for half the price’. I wheeled my case to the taxi beside the solid gold, diamond encrusted black cab. (I assume the diamonds were inside and the seats made of gold for the price he was charging). So remember, if you’re a first timer in Dubai; avoid black cabs unless its an absolute necessity, and always ask for an approximate price. You can’t go wrong then. A great piece of advice, well worth remembering.

The journey to the course took around 20 minutes. Dubai is constantly developing and construction is never far from wherever you look.  That’s not to say it’s unsightly. If anything it’s quite intriguing to know what will appear next. The architecture is something else. As we drove down the main highway I looked to my left and in the distance I could the unmistakable outline of the Meydan grandstand appearing through the early morning haze. Wow! I pinched HUN’s arm to check this wasn’t a dream. I hadn’t slept since Monday night so there was a fair chance that it was!

We were first in as the doors opened at the ticket office. Probably because we were the only ones there and the only ones crazy enough to land at DXB 03.15 and then with baggage and all go straight there. That’s true racing fans for you. As we waited for the staff to bring out our tickets we could see behind them in a large room, rows upon rows of  tickets / bags awaiting collection. A room solely full of tickets / bags.  This place was epic, I was in awe of the attention to detail and scale of things already, and this was only the ticket office!IMG_2653 - Copy (2)

As we caught another taxi to head to our hotel, the tiredness was creeping in. I felt sure I would catch a few zed’s once checked in. On arrival at the hotel we were allowed to check in both rooms a few hours early at no extra cost, which was nice. All I wanted at this point was to be horizontal awaiting the sandman.

Up to our rooms, we decided to have a couple of hours to ourselves and then meet up later for drinks before heading to McGettigans DWTC (Dubai World Trade Centre) for a DWC preview night that HUN wanted to attend. Try as I might I didn’t get a wink of sleep. So it was now early evening and we decided to give one of the hotel bars a try called Players. Half expected to find the walls adorned with pictures of a few ex’s with a name like that! But what a lovely bar, and more so as the drinks were BOGOF. Alcohol is fairly expensive in Dubai, so if you stumble across offers; do take advantage of them. While we were out there we paid anywhere between around £6 – £10 a pint, and £5 – £9 for a glass of wine. We knew this before going so it was of no surprise to us. After a couple of drinks we caught a taxi to McGettigans. A lovely Irish bar recommended to us by a friend. From the minute we walked in we loved it. We hadn’t eaten since the plane so we were pretty hungry by now and the food didn’t disappoint. On the face of it, it looks like we went all the way to Dubai for fish & chips, but that’s not important right now. They were delicious and more to the point I needed something to soak up the alcohol which was already making me feel tipsy.

The preview got underway with host Gary O’Brien (ATR) and a panel which included jockey Pat Cosgrave and presenters Rishi Persad and Laura King. I’ve made no secret of how I’m not a lover of preview nights, but let me tell you I had a great night. Maybe it was because I was on a mini break, or maybe it was the fact I’d still had no sleep since the Monday and the alcohol and great atmosphere were keeping my interest and adrenaline levels high! After the preview finished we ordered more drinks and as our table was a fair size just for me and HUN we didn’t mind others joining us when asked. As the drinks flowed so did the conversation. Totally by chance we welcomed Angus McNae (RUK) and friends. HUN was in awe. What lovely people and the unforgettable Johnny; who had us in stitches all night. All this joviality and we never thought to look at the time. Tomorrow we had to be up early for Breakfast With The Stars at Meydan. It started at 6am so bearing in mind we hadn’t slept, we’d landed in DXB at 0.315, we were currently still in a bar and the time was fast approaching midnight. So what? I thought. I’m on my mini break of a lifetime, I’m damn well going to enjoy myself. HUN didn’t take much persuading to be fair. He ordered more drinks. Another round. Then another round. Johnny all the while the sarcastic voice of reason – ‘you guys have to be up 5 in the morning!’. Did we care? I didn’t give a shit, and by the look of HUN he didn’t either while he tried to coax a tip out of Gary O’Brien for the Irish National!

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HUN, Kaz & Angus McNae (RUK)

 

We got back to our hotel at 1.30am. Oh God. We had to be up in three and a half hours. WTF were we thinking? As we stood outside our hotel room doors we giggled (quietly) and made sure we’d set our alarms correctly. Now I was bound to get some much needed sleep!

No sooner had my head hit the pillow in my rather oversized bed, the alarm went off. I was f*****. I’d finally got some shut eye, but nowhere near enough. Up and dressed within minutes, I texted HUN to say I was alive….just. And the bags under my eyes were Tesco, not Prada.

It was 5.40am and we were on our way to Meydan racecourse. I barely spoke a word. HUN said I was grumpy, but if I never spoke a word and wasn’t asked a question how could I be? Typical bloke thinking he knows how to read a woman…lol

We were among a few bleary-eyed folk to turn up early. We wanted to be early in order to see some of the horses exercising on the track. We were greeted by impeccably dressed sponsors girls – HUN couldn’t decide which to give the ‘best turned out’ award to. At least he kept his tongue in mouth. With a complimentary baseball cap we were cajoled into having our photo taken with a fake DWC…come on, do you know who I am? I didn’t tell them that 13 years before I’d strayed past the sacred velvet rope and stood right next to the DWC in a private viewing in the Godolphin museum; way before Meydan’s time. Needless to say we didn’t purchase the cheesy photos.IMG_2730

Down on the apron there were tables under shade as far as the eyes could see. Again there was attention to detail in everything. From the tickets presentation folder and bag to just everything. The heat was an acceptable 24 degrees. Mind you it was still only just past 6am. We wandered around the tables and surveyed all the different foods and beverages on display which we could help ourselves to throughout the morning. It was simply fantastic. We chose a table and enjoyed some breakfast tea and apple juice. I needed it. A quick selfie in our baseball caps before we strolled over to one of the stalls to choose some breakfast.  Simply delicious. Definitely on a par with the fish & chips from the night before. As we took in some stunning views while our food settled, we took a leisurely walk rail-side and watched as some of this years DWC participants plied their trade past us. I’ve been to many gallops, many mornings in the UK but this truly was on another level. Some people will laugh at me for saying it, but for me this was almost as good as it could get. The climate, the horses, the atmosphere, the occasion, the people. Only thing missing (you could say), was having a significant other to share it all with. Although in HUN, I guess I did. We are both racing mad. Could I have shared this with another significant half? I very much doubt it. Not unless they were racing orientated too. Unless you have a keen interest in racing I wouldn’t have thought this morning could appeal to anyone else. It is what it is; everything racing.  This was more than fine by me and HUN. To set the record straight: we aren’t a couple, despite what some of our family keep suggesting. As we kept telling them all back home – what happens in Dubai, stays in Dubai! That should’ve kept winding them up if nothing else.

So after we’d viewed Aidan O’Brien’s string exercising and plenty of others including our favourite Sheikhzayedroad, we meandered around the stands, took photos and enjoyed live music and up close and personal interviews with trainers and jockeys. Just a brilliant morning and it was still only 11.30am. Time to head back to the hotel for a session by the pool. The temperature was now a rather warm 31 degrees with a light breeze which was delightful and most welcome.IMG_2700

Sunbathing done by the rooftop pool, we showered and changed for dinner. A couple of drinks in Players (still no sign of the ex’s), we gave one of the hotels  restaurants a try. Ureshi’s was a small but very welcoming Indian restaurant, and the food did not disappoint. Everything so far on our mini break (not a holiday remember), was faultless – if you forget the blip in immigration of course!

Friday was upon us. Not much sleep again. I’d been struggling a fair bit back home and it seemed the insomnia had come with me. We chilled by the pool all morning and then HUN went for a massage…his rundown of it afterwards was hilarious. Suffice to say he had to do a Homer Simpson from that famous episode where he imagines Barney in a bikini…”think unsexy thoughts, think unsexy thoughts”. Not least when the attractive young lady straddled him and asked if there was anything else he’d like…..I’m still chuckling away to myself as I type this. Remember…what happens in Dubai, stays in Dubai…

I had booked myself into the hotel salon to have a haircut and a few highlights, so HUN decided to take his newly chilled & massaged self to McGettigans to watch the all-weather championships in the bar. Sat with a head full of foils my phone beeped. A WA from HUN…’look who I bumped into’….there was nothing with the text. I put the phone down. It beeped. I picked it back up. Unbelievable. There he was grinning away and mid handshake with trainer Dean Ivory wearing a Librisa Breeze cap . Up until Champions Day HUN had no idea who he was until I pointed him out as he almost knocked him over. Here he was bold as brass showing off ‘his new best friend’ to me knowing I’d be gutted I missed out. Librisa Breeze was one of the reasons we ended up in Dubai. He backed it on Champions Day. The phone beeped again. ‘Look what else I got!’…I replied…’if you’re gonna tell me he gave you his hat you’re paying for dinner’….Another photo came through; of the hat – that Dean had signed for him. There was only one possible reply…’I hate you’. HUN was paying for dinner and then some. He sat through a few races with him and chatted, watched his runners back in the UK and gave him some medical advice for his wife who wasn’t feeling too well. He apparently kept telling him that I would be gutted I missed out and had the cheek to show him my text replies to him. Well I suppose you do that with your new best friend don’t you?! Joking aside I was genuinely chuffed for HUN. He had been sat in a bar watching and chatting with the trainer of one of his favourite horses all afternoon. He was made up. A chance meeting out of the blue. A memory that he will never forget. Wonderful stuff!

All evening HUN picked up the tab. He was making amends somewhat and I was milking it and he knew it. We were having a fabulous time. It was Friday evening and it seemed like we’d been there a week or so as we’d crammed in so much already. The highlight was yet to come. The main event. The Dubai World Cup. Better than Christmas.

The 31st March 2018. It was finally here. We’d planned this from October and it felt amazing to think that we were about to be a tiny part of one of the biggest days in the global racing calendar. Things like this don’t happen to me; a steel worker from Teesside. I was going to soak up every ounce of atmosphere and create more memories to cherish just in case I never got the opportunity to experience it again. Life is about seizing the moment. Taking your chances when you can, and going for something that you really want. Dad always said if you have the means to do something and you want it bad enough; just do it because life really is too short. Wise words I’ve never failed to forget. He was so right.

Once I’d donned the Godolphin blue dress (a mere bargain at £49) and HUN fixed his bowtie we had arranged to do brunch at our local. Yes, McGettigans again. We had the carvery and could not fault the food. My only concern was making sure I didn’t drop anything on the dress. Luckily we both managed to eat like adults. No room for dessert, so after a couple of glasses of wine it was time to get a taxi to the course for the main event.

As the taxi drew closer to the course the traffic was building up, but there were no major delays. Everything is so well orchestrated. The roads surrounding Meydan are seemingly all geared around access and egress to the venue. Yet another reference to attention to detail. If this had been Ascot the chaos on the roads would already be making me stressed. This was just a world apart. Literally.

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Kaz & HUN on route in taxi

 

Luckily we chose a small queue to get into the course. Security, although thorough was not overboard. Even around the place you could spot members of the security team dotted about. All had a presence about them. You felt very safe. Another selfie once we got through security, and snapped away for a few photos. We had toyed with the idea of upgrading our tickets (Apron Views) to the Sky Bubble. Everyone we spoke to said not to bother as for the extra few hundred pounds each we probably wouldn’t get much more out of it. We made the right choice. At the entrance we were given a race card. It was exactly how a race card should be. Not padded out with sponsors, or rubbish adverts – it was purely the races. That’s all. What else do you need? I spotted some rather inviting white lawn furniture in shade and decided that was where we would take up our position. Even better that it had a bar and waiter service. You don’t get this at Ascot for this money. The Meydan grandstand is epic. No other words for it. It’s EPIC. Yes we were effectively in the cheap seats, but I tell you what; it made a classic meeting back home look second rate. Johnny and his girlfriend came over for drinks and a catch up which was lovely. He still couldn’t believe we actually made it to BWTS after so little sleep.

As the racing got underway we had Heavy Metal in the first race. I’d also had a cheeky each way on Muntazah which was given to us on the night of the preview at huge odds. Naturally his odds tumbled but I also chucked him into a reverse forecast with HM. A pretty good start! The atmosphere was incredible. Everyone enjoying themselves and then our trusty old favourite Sheikhzayedroad was running. We screamed him home as we watched him start his run from the turn. What a boy! A massive run at big odds to finish second to the triple champion Vazirabad.

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I’ve arrived!

 

Race of the night for both me and HUN was the Golden Shaheen. An unbelievable performance from the American horse Mind Your Biscuits. As the field passed us he was stone last. There was no way he could possibly win, and watching it back now I still don’t think he’s going to get there. We watched the end of the race on the big screen and the rush I felt when I saw his shadow creep into the frame was fraught with ‘OMG, no way?!’ He was making a wide sweeping run and incredibly he had his nose in front on the line to deny XY Jet where it mattered. Wow. An amazing race to witness.

We had a few more drinks and talked racing with some great guys from the North West. Boy did they have a great racing story to tell! HUN had his new best friend and these lads were virtually besties with Bob Baffert! I shit you not! They even had the photos to prove it. These young guys had gone to the Breeders Cup when Arrogate won, and (to cut a long story short) somehow ended up eating, drinking and taking selfies with the Arrogate crew! Amazing stuff!

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Kaz, Rob, Peter, Phil & HUN. “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave!”

 

The big race was soon upon us. The American horses were absolute beasts. Stunning. But it wasn’t to be there night in the big one. My pick North America missed the break and the frantic pace expected wasn’t there. Thunder Snow took it up and was never headed. The boys in blue had had a great night with 4 winners. The girl in blue (me), had also had a great night too. The best. The results were irrelevant to us all; we were having the best time in the company of strangers who were for that one night in the most amazing place on earth partying with the performers as the fireworks and show kicked in. It would be a shame when it all ended.

Back at the hotel we had one last drink in Players and retired for the night. My feet were most grateful. Once again I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t care tonight. My mind was replaying every single second of the evening. I went to bed smiling and woke up the same way.

We had a late check out time on one of our rooms so we decided to go the Dubai Mall for breakfast and visit the aquarium. Again everything was faultless.

Our flight home wasn’t until 01.50 so we had time to kill and where better to kill time than at our local? One last visit and an evening chilling in McGettigans watching the football and rugby as we ate some more wonderful food. As we sat and watch the matches the place started to fill up with people and we got talking to a lovely man called Brian. We got chatting and he told us about his grandson who was currently playing for Wales. It was obvious he was very proud of him; and rightly so. We talked horses and he  told me to google ‘Brian Davies Royal Seal’. Go on, google it yourself. Turns out he was a very successful driver in harness racing! Brian was the kind of person I could listen to for hours. He said he had a runner at Chepstow on Monday (which due to the weather was unfortunately called off). His daughter was the trainer. I mentioned a horse to him which I thought had ended up with her after it survived a terrible fall at Fontwell (when trained by my trainer) a couple of years ago, and was nursed back to health. Alla Svelta. Brian knew straight away which horse I was on about. Isn’t it amazing you can fly half way around the world and talk racing with a complete stranger just like that! He introduced us to another trainer Bernard LLewellyn & his son John, and Tim. We chatted away and the time just flew. Lovely people.

Not long before we left there was a slight altercation between a jockey and someone else. Something and nothing in all honesty. A case of little man with big chip on his shoulder if you ask me. He even decided to follow HUN into the little boys room and tried to engage in conversation over the whole episode. HUN was having none of it. Best just not to get involved at all. Although I could’ve written a great front page for the RP if he had!

Finally it was time to head to the airport, and after more lazy airport employees tried their best to not assist me and my un-scannable passport we were waiting at our gate for departure. Despite vigorous security checks we had one final one at the gate – terrifying. Swabbed with something on head, down my arms, my legs, my middle and my feet. The swab was then put in a machine and scanned for drugs. Even if you are the Virgin Mary you are at this point shitting your pants as you wait to see the green light. Then you’re told ‘you’re free to go’….sorry? at which point was I detained and not free?? Choice of words not really appropriate.

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Waiting in Heathrow for Flight North

 

So that was it. A totally fantastic, memorable mini break. Absolutely out of this world. Great company in HUN, and just had the most incredible time and shared some wonderful conversations with some wonderful people. If you’ve never done the DWC, I can certainly recommend it. Racing in the UK will never be the same, ever. It is, as I said before, on a completely different level. Everything is geared towards the experience. Its not solely about getting people through the gate, its what those people take away from it.

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Back on UK Soil

 

The UK has is all wrong; get people on course, charge a fortune, cram them in like sardines, let them get hammered and fill the cash registers. And if I’ve got that wrong then UK racing isn’t doing a great job of marketing itself is it? At no point were we cast aside or made to feel inferior even though we had the lower end tickets out there. The same cannot be said when you go racing in the UK. Posh people & rich folk think racing is all about them. Let them continue to think that as they look down their noses at us. I’ll happily sit in the cheap seats and wave at them. I go racing for the enjoyment and not for the status I want to portray to other people like so many others do. I’m working class and proud. If posh people & rich folk don’t care for me I don’t think I’ll lose any of that minimal sleep I had while partying away in the heat of Dubai do you? Nope, not one bit.

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Kaz meets Electrocutionist – the winner of DWC 2006 (the day she gave birth)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frazzled But Fortunate

My first post in 2018. Yep, I’ve had plenty on – work being the main instigator. Plenty on in the ‘personal stakes’ too. Without going into detail, mum had a major op back in November, which we’d planned towards for a couple of months prior. It meant she was off her feet for weeks & months, unable to do much. With the help of good neighbours and family, we looked after mum trying our best not to make her feel useless or reliant upon us. She’s not the sort of person who takes kindly to being doted on; so was happy to keep ‘supervising’ us (me especially!). I can safely say I was frazzled at times, but would do it all again in a heartbeat. This past couple of weeks has been quite momentous as mum has started driving again, and even managed the school run too. Physiotherapy over and hydrotherapy coming to an end, it looks like everything is settling down. Mum has just reached the big 7-0 but she’s showing no signs of slowing down; 10 years into her retirement. My boss has been good to me during this period. Not many places would let you work around school runs etc. Yes, I worked without lunches some days in order to collect my daughter or started early / finished late to cover time, but I’m grateful for the understanding from him and the lads; despite the recent drama unfolding around us all in the workplace.  I’m not so grateful that my skin decided to audition for a Heads & Shoulders ad, and became so dry and flaky that I literally wanted to scratch my face off! For a lass who is far from girly, I’ve done nothing but moisturise, moisturise, moisturise! Urgh!

Towards the back end of last month, I finally had some free time to myself so I went to Lambourn. First time in months. Even if its chilly down there, it’s still nothing compared to a 5.00am start back home up North. There was a fair few new horses at Frenchmans Lodge Stables, and new staff too. A pleasure to meet them all, although I wasn’t expecting to see ex jockey Mark Pitman riding out. It’s not every day a girl can claim to be in the presence of two yesteryear heroes at once – one a Gold Cup winner and the other a Grand National winner. Masters in the saddle but not so good at making tea! You’d think Brendan would remember how I take it after all this time. I managed to swallow it anyway. Where I come from; if it’s put in front of you, you finish it – even when you don’t take two sugars. I’m guessing that’s for another owner who isn’t as sweet as me 😊 

Pitman & Powell
Pitman & Powell

 

All the horses looked so well in their coats and thankfully the sun made an appearance mid-morning which enabled me to get some nice photographs. I’m no pro but I think do ok, and I enjoy it which is always a bonus when you’ve been in need of some much needed down time.

Talking of down time, it’s 2 weeks until I head out to Dubai with HUN for the Dubai World Cup. For those reading my blogs for the first time HUN is ‘half uncle Norm’, not ‘hot uncle Norm’ as someone thought! See the Champions Day blog for a better explanation…Anyway, we’ve had it booked since our jaunt to Champions Day. I’ve yet to tell HUN that I’m a terrible flyer – in fact I’ve already been hyperventilating just at the thought of it. He’s been sorting his wardrobe for weeks already, whereas I’ve still yet to give it a second thought. I’ve had plenty of photo msgs from him of prospective outfits. I can safely say I’ve had more interesting photo msgs from people 😉

That’s pretty much it for this blog – or rather I’m trying to catch up with the first day of the Cheltenham Festival so I’m signing off! Just the one winner today for #kazpicks. As a side interest to the meeting I’ve had a little one on one competition with a buddy – at the end of day 1 I trail 46 points to 100. I’m clearly taking on the role of the tortoise and not the hare! He’s top on day 1, but I’ll be on top tomorrow. Watch this space for a post Cheltenham write up.

Morning Gallop - GR & PD
Morning Gallop – GR and PD