August 2019

I have just returned from a wonderful holiday in Wyoming which was an emotional trip as this was where my late mother grew up and it was the first time that I had been back since her death earlier in the year. The place never fails to grip the senses whether it’s the amazing animals that you might see from bear, elk, mountain lion and moose or the ever changing light on the mountains. And then there are the dazzling lightening storms which put any firework display to shame!

We had a wonderful dinner out on the lawn in front of the house with family and friends to remember my mother which Clodagh cooked and table scaped. As you can…

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We had a wonderful dinner out on the lawn in front of the house with family and friends to remember my mother which Clodagh cooked and table scaped.

Dinner out on the lawn in front of the house

As you can imagine, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! I even got back in the saddle for the first time in fifty years as our friends and neighbours, Skee and Gill Johnston offered a horse that they said literally was bomb proof being a twenty five year old ex polo pony. So with my cowboy hat and boots on it was off and away up the mountain! 

I fully admit to being mighty sore the next day but I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

Clodagh and I also visited my Uncle Irv Alderson in Montana along with my cousins Mary and Jeanie. Irv was a Champion roper in the States and is one of those amazing people that you meet very rarely. He is a brilliant story teller and recites verse after verse of cowboy poems.

Uncle Irv Alderson from Montana

Then the guitar comes out and you are transported to a different era of campfires and roundups! He once came to London and was due to meet my father at Whites Club in St James’s. He arrived early and was of course highly uncomfortable wearing a suit versus jeans and a cowboy hat. An old Whites member came up to him and said “Eton?” “No” replied my uncle “but I’m fixing to with Porchy my brother in law”!

My mother always said that when my father was alive and was on holiday there that he would listen to the races under an old Native American burial tree and that winner after winner would flow. I have done the same over the years and have also heard all sorts of winners including Harbinger’s Gordon Stakes victory at Glorious Goodwood- not to mention Conquest’s Stewards Cup win at 50/1!! And so with mobile phone in hand I sat under the same tree and sure enough the winners flowed forth with Soloist, Thunderous, Audio, Culture and Ascension all storming to victory! We also so nearly had a Glorious Goodwood winner as Durston ran a marvellous race to be denied in the shadow of the post.

First yearling bought!

 Talking of the two year olds there is some really encouraging chat on a number of the others who are about to be unleashed so here’s hoping for an Indian summer of winners for everyone.

John, Jake and I were up at the Doncaster sales this week and we bought a cracking colt by first season sire Mehmas for 52,000 guineas. Next stop is Goffs in Ireland followed by two weeks at Tattersalls for Book 1 and Book 2. The market at the moment appears as strong as ever but lovely horses always fall through the cracks so by mid October we will be ready to show off the new stars at the Parades.

Harry Herbert, Chairman

On The Track

A busy month saw several winners, none more impressive than Thunderous who continues on a very steep upward curve having won the Denford Stakes (Listed) at Newbury.

This exciting son on Night of Thunder came into the race two for two and once again impressed with the way he took the race by the scruff of the…

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This exciting son on Night of Thunder came into the race two for two and once again impressed with the way he took the race by the scruff of the neck when despatching his four opponents in really good style. He was well on top at the finish suggesting he maybe ready for a step up in trip next time and The Royal Lodge at Newmarket at the end of September may well be his next target.

Another exciting two year old burst onto the scene in the form of Ascension. This Dark Angel colt had been impressing Roger Varian in his home work, but was way to free on his debut at Newbury, fading inside the final furlong. Disappointment  turned  into elation at Salisbury for his owners next time, when Ascension was a highly impressive winner, showing a really good turn of foot to put the race to bed. 

Ascension is eased down to win by 3.5 lengths

He has come on a great deal for that run and will have his third run very soon. Other two year olds in the form of Audio and Sermon have been providing their respective owners with plenty of action and in Audio’s case a long overdue victory at Bath. Sermon has gone very close on a number of occasions having run on five occasions (Audio eight) and ran very respectably in the Goffs sales race at York to come 7th and win his owners £7,380 once again showing that he should be more than capable of getting his head in front very soon.

Durston continues to fly the flag for the three year olds. He narrowly failed (by a neck) to get up in a very valuable handicap at Glorious Goodwood, before finishing third in the Geoffrey Freer (Group 3) at Newbury. Durston continues to improve and may well have a big race in him before the end of the season.

Durston just denied Glorious Goodwood win

Soloist was on her way to Keith Dalgleish having departed William Haggas’s yard when her former trainer declared her for a race at Newcastle. She duly arrived at her new yard a winner!!

Culture finally showed the ability that George Baker has always believed he possessed when winning in very good style at one of the last Windsor evening meetings (always a sign that the flat season is well and truly into the back stretch). He started at 14-1 a price which many of the owners present took advantage!!

Culture wins in great style at Windsor

Nicklaus is one of the most consistent performers Highclere has managed for some time, having finished in the frame on eight out of sixteen occasions, the latest a very good second at Chelmsford. Pesto bounced back to form after a couple of indifferent runs when flying down the straight at Kempton to finish second.

Rolf's Ramblings

Don’t get left out in the cold at Sales, Donald

Donald Trump’s failed bid for Greenland leaves him with money burning a hole in his pocket: someone should whisper in the world leader’s ear that it’s racehorse Sales time.

Perhaps Mrs Trump had been shopping at Iceland and the President said: “What the heck, let’s have the whole country. Greenland and Iceland separate countries, eh? Let’s deal, two for…

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Perhaps Mrs Trump had been shopping at Iceland and the President said: “What the heck, let’s have the whole country. Greenland and Iceland separate countries, eh? Let’s deal, two for the price of one."

Tattersalls don’t operate such concessions Mr President and you’ll need to unlock Fort Knox to afford ‘shopping’ at their Newmarket premises the next couple of months. Not that money could buy the three top-rated racehorses in the world, all of whom were on show at last week’s York Ebor meeting.

I stood in the same place, on the rails, on the Knavesmire, for the 30th Juddmonte International as I had in 1972 for the race’s incarnation as the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup. On that occasion Brigadier Gerard surrendered his invincibility; this time it was Crystal Ocean rated best of the best beforehand (though he is no ‘Brigadier’) who finished second. Crystal Ocean lost his top spot to Enable promoted for her Yorkshire Oaks victory. The appreciative York crowd celebrated unconditionally with Frankie Dettori and Enable but there were those reflecting that the race lacked the late-lamented Sea Of Class, last year’s winner and Enable’s closest pursuer in the 2018 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. And that Roaring Lion, winner of last year’s Juddmonte, had been euthanized as declarations were made for this year’s renewal.

Battaash in the Nunthorpe would be more highly regarded still had Blue Point not been retired but ensured his place in history by breaking Dayjur’s ‘unbreakable’ twenty-nine-year five-furlong track record. Ebor week had something for everyone: as important as any eventuality was the victory, for the disdained Classic generation, of Investec Derby third Japan over Crystal Ocean in the Juddmonte. It would take an iceberg of the size that sank the Titanic to buy Japan.

There’s an American expression that the ‘laundry’ (the shirts) is all sports fans have to support nowadays when their heroes and rejects alike are traded as objects. Racing is certainly not exempt from the jibe and some colours (shirts) are predominant. But for racing’s ageing band of faithful followers it’s the horses that keep the gerontocracies of York, and Goodwood last week, going.

In Frankie Dettori, young at heart, on magnetic Enable and indomitable Stradivarius, we have an icon. And yet Lester Piggott was, of his time, the icon of the whole of sport, his exploits transcending mere results. In that first Benson and Hedges Piggott deserted his Derby winner Roberto for Rheingold. Roberto made all the running, Rheingold got left behind (though he was to become Piggott’s first Prix de l’Arc winner). The immense crowd’s collective bewilderment at the defeat of Brigadier Gerrard was not mirrored in Piggott’s impassive features – that corrugated face captured for posterity in the statue unveiled on the Knavesmire last week.  Statues of the famous are vulnerable to vandals: that won’t happen to this one.

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily remembrance of things as they were”. We will not see Enable again before a British crowd on a British racecourse but, if the EU don’t raise the drawbridge there will be an otherwise unstoppable cross-Channel invasion of Brits on October 6th to see her off at ParisLongchamp, where she will attempt the first three-in-a-row in Europe’s middle distance championship.   

Highclere owners who visited Mark Johnston’s Kingsley Park redoubt in York week had their eyes opened. As deadline declaration time approaches, Mark Johnston’s domain is in lockdown. Sharp minds are aligned round the table in the ‘War Room’, laptops primed, fingers on buttons; one couldn’t help a flashback - to the marvellous satirical film Dr Strangelove. Subtitled ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Came to Love the Bomb’ it was made bang in the middle of the Cold War 1960s, set largely in the US Military Operations War Room. It’s characters, several played by Peter Sellers, can no more call back their B-52 bomber from the undeclared nuclear strike on the USSR than runners can be declared after Weatherbys’ apocalyptic hour of 10am. Eerily there are seventeen (the reason I won’t hide for long) facts about the film on its website. One plane, declared a ‘definite runner’ by its maverick pilot, unloads on target…and thus the world ends to Vera Lynn’s refrain of We’ll Meet Again.

In their well-practiced operation, the Johnston ‘cabinet’ tracks declarations, targeting races on Weatherbys’ site – before pressing the button. Tension subsides and though none of the ‘decs’ are heading for Russia if that’s what it takes to land the next winner one of seven Johnston horseboxes is on standby.

On this particular day seventeen runners (yes that figure) ‘got through’ the Johnston process. The declarations were for the Saturday’s six meetings which could have been the stables’ seventh in succession without a winner - but normal service was resumed with three winners. Sir Ron Priestley, narrow conqueror of Durston at Glorious Goodwood, returned there to succeed for the fifth time this season (only defeat on soft ground at Ascot) in the Group Three March Stakes.

Banging one’s head

One important piece of advice: as secure as you are in the Johnston bunker, on the gallops take a hard hat as helmet to mitigate the risk of banging one’s head climbing the viewing eyrie. Banging one’s head against authority – or alternatively call it another dog’s breakfast -we had the Mums Tipple stewards’ saga at York.

The previous day I was in the doghouse, so was the dog; neither of us should have been there. I was due to take her down to the vets; I forgot, fed her breakfast and the operation had to be aborted.  So I took myself off to York for an Ebor meeting that may, in time, be best remembered for Mums Tipple’s Frankel-like victory in the Goffs Sales’ race.

Sprints are simply not won by eleven lengths but that’s the official margin the Richard Hannon-trained, Ryan Moore-ridden, blew home in a field of twenty-one for £147,500 first prize. Moore’s reward (plus his percentage) was a two-day suspension! Stewards sullied the big day of a proud lady owner with a horse bought for her by her son. Moore’s ‘crime’? “Hitting when clearly winning” – well yes, this ghastly-named but beautifully put-together colt was clearly winning - to riders in the stand (and those in the jockey’s wake). But Moore’s job is to get to the post first, not to blow kisses to the crowd – he’s not that kind of jockey.

‘Welfare’ is the red flag being waved in our faces by those ignorant of racing horses, so here are a few ‘alternative’ suggestions: speed traps in the straight for horses motoring above a 30 mph limit: jockeys to carry horns instead of whips, beeping to urge slowcoaches out the way: two ‘winning posts’ – the first to alert Ryan Moore it’s time he started pulling up, the second to help the judge correct their mistaken identity of the winner – mistakes all too frequent. And postilions on carriages must wear conductors in case they are struck by lightning.

I have a more practical solution to the problem which has the game running scared. Let the TV stations film the protagonists as they return to the weigh-in. That will confirm horses, such as Mums Tipple, aren’t marked or otherwise injured, for if Moore wasn’t harder on Japan (there was no official retribution) to get the better of Crystal Ocean than he was with the taps he gave Mums Tipple, I’ve been watching a different sport since 1972.

Taittinger Moment

This months Taittinger moment goes to John and Ann Riches who drove all the way up to York races only to find out, as they pulled into the owners and trainers car park, that their horse had been withdrawn!

A more successful visit to York took place last week, however, where we enjoyed a terrific week at the Ebor meeting.

Goodwood Festival 2019

A wonderful days racing was kicked off with Highclere's renown picnic at the Goodwood Festival.  

Ebor Festival 2019

Our owners enjoying the Ebor Chalet and the Ebor Box at York.

Out and About with the Highclere Camera August 2019

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