March 2019

I was up in Yorkshire the week before last to see our northern horses with Richard Fahey, Mark Johnston and Kevin Ryan. Blessed with fabulous weather it was such a joy to see the horses looking so well in surroundings which are truly stunning. Frances and Jason accompanied me and our visit started by staying with Mark and Deidre in their guest cottage at the stables in Middleham. Dinner at the Wensleydale Heifer with them and their son Charlie, was not only delicious but also full of banter helped of course by the Chateau Batailley! “What was the year?” asked Alex on my return to the office. “Umm not sure but it tasted delicious” I replied. Al raised his eyes to heaven and went back to his computer!

The next morning we saw the unbeaten Showroom do two canters and this lovely son of Motivator moved like a dream, please click here to watch him in slow-motion! He might…

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The next morning we saw the unbeaten Showroom do two canters and this lovely son of Motivator moved like a dream, please click here to watch him in slow-motion! He might start his 4yo campaign on Good Friday at Newcastle in a valuable mile and a half handicap. If he remains sound he could easily develop into a black type performer this season over middle distances or further. Our two year old with Mark, Thunderous, also breezed through moving well. This lovely well balanced son of first season sire Night of Thunder is giving all of the right signals and could be something special to look forward to.

It was then on to Richard Fahey to see Camber and Precocity. Again, both looked in terrific nick for the time of year and are likely to be early starters. Precocity will hopefully live up to her name and become a Royal Ascot candidate if good enough. Certainly the trainer loves what he sees so far! Camber might just be very well handicapped off his mark of 69 having strengthened up considerably over the winter.

Knighted - The Nick Skelton Syndicate

Then it was on to Kevin Ryan to see Knighted, winner of four races as a 3yo last year and now being prepared for some of the top mile handicaps this spring and summer. The Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot could be one of these targets!

This was a really uplifting visit and made me realise yet again what fun there is to be had owning shares in horses trained by these three masters of their profession.

As you can imagine there is currently much chat in the office about Cheltenham and we honestly have to pinch ourselves to believe that we might have as many as six runners there if all stay in one piece and that the ground doesn’t get too firm. We only have thirteen jumpers in training so to have six worthy of an entry is mighty exciting.

I am off to Newmarket this week to have a proper catch up there so updates will be coming in thick and fast as we edge ever closer to the start of the flat season. You can probably tell that spring fever is most definitely in the air here at Highclere HQ!

Harry Herbert, Chairman

On The Track

While our excellent run of form during  the current National Hunt season continues, the winners have been harder to come by with a run of seconditis meaning five of the last…

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While our excellent run of form during  the current National Hunt season continues, the winners have been harder to come by with a run of seconditis meaning five of the last seven runners in Highclere colours finished as runner up! However this by no means reflects the level of performance of the four horses, all of them running with huge credit. Danse Idol put in another good performance in a Grade 2 mares hurdle at Doncaster last weekend, possibly finding three miles a touch too far. She will have a well deserved break now and we will wait to see where she will go next although ultimately she is built for the larger obstacles, an exciting prospect next year! 

If You Say Run continued her remarkable level of consistency when finishing second in a Listed Mares Hurdle at Haydock when she looked all over the winner until being overhauled in the last fifty yards. Ballywood also put up a fine effort when finishing second to the hotly fancied Dynamite Dollars (Paul Nicholls) and Alan King is keeping a keen eye on the ground at Cheltenham as this horse acts so well on good ground. Style de Garde ran a very solid race to finish second at Ludlow and once again showing that he is very much back on track for the Martin Pipe on the Friday of the festival.

Our Cheltenham runners are taking shape and aside Posh Trish who is well fancied for the Trull House Stud Mares Novice Hurdle, Style de Garde is likely to line up for the Martin Pipe on Gold Cup day, Whatswrongwithyou booked his place in the Grand Annual when winning impressively at Fontwell, Ballywood has an entry in the Arkle and If You Say Run has entries in the Coral Cup and The Martin Pipe. With ground conditions looking (at the moment) as if they will be on the faster side, Crievehill may not take up his entry in the Kim Muir Chase, but it is very exciting to see so may Highclere horses with possible entries at Cheltenham.

Rolf's Ramblings Part 1

I should have gone to Gillingham, or Spec Savers; instead I went to Southampton. On the first Saturday in February I missed watching my team, Barnsley, thrash Gillingham, the only…

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I should have gone to Gillingham, or Spec Savers; instead I went to Southampton. On the first Saturday in February I missed watching my team, Barnsley, thrash Gillingham, the only Football League side in Kent, 4-1. And I missed seeing the crucial injury-time goals at St Mary’s Stadium having left a match, Saints v Cardiff, which had gone on too long – but since wrestling was dropped from Saturday afternoon TV what is there to do when racing’s off? Some punters made sentimental returns to their betting shops to wave farewell to their favourite FOBT (soon to be R I P) – and to their money.

The equine (all ten of them) flu outbreak which stopped racing for the best part of a week sparked a vets’ Gold Rush: two economists will produce three opinions; two veterinarians will produce eye-watering bills. Did they save the day, or were the authorities running scared? Enough of sterile debates; in ‘real’ ones, in Grand Hotels, country pubs and village halls either side of the Irish Sea, expert Cheltenham Festival Panels chewed the fat and inspired a real epidemic - of tips!

I sat on a Panel once, next to the jockey of the contender who would be crowned Champion Hurdler. Understandably he was adamant that he was on the winner. I demurred. I wasn’t asked back. This year anyone sat between Jack Kennedy, Apple’s Jade’s jockey, and Nico De Boinville, Buveur d’Air, will be advised to hedge their Unibet Champion Hurdle bets: Apple’s Jade, Gordon Elliott’s great mare, gets 7lb from Nicky Henderson’s dual Champion Hurdler.

Cheltenham is jumping’s Olympics not Oscars – you perform on the day, nothing is handed on a plate. For Cheltenham you need the right badge and you can’t budge but you’ll likely bump into fellow ‘Highclereans’ throughout the four days (kick off March 12) because six of our jumping string have justified attendance, not least by their latest efforts, all wins or places: Posh Trish, Style de Garde, Crievehill, Whatswrongwithyou, If You Say Run, Ballywood - not a ‘vanity’ runner among them.

Posh Trish will have her own sex running scared in the’ Trull House Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Thursday). She’s an Amazon. Handsome Style de Garde reverts to hurdles, probably the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap (Friday) which, like his Fred Winter second last year, is on the final day.  He was rated 137 then, 140 now. If You Say Run has options including the Coral Cup Hurdle (Wednesday) and the Martin Pipe. She stays all day but she’s no slouch either. The handicapper has indulged the work in progress that is Crievehill giving him a fighting chance in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateurs’ Handicap Chase (Thursday), a race his local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has captured in the past.

Ballywood lost his unbeaten chase record at Doncaster to Paul Nicholls’ Dynamite Dollars who was then all the rage for the Arkle. But Nicholls’ star novice suffered a reaction in resisting our fellow hence his absence from Cheltenham. Ballywood’s options are the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase and the Racing Post Arkle (both Tuesday) or the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual, opener on the last day, in which he could accompany our Hertford Street Club ‘cousin’ Whatswrongwithyou. The latter is not alone in needing ‘climate change’ – rain.

The historic Gold Cup years of Arkle, Kauto Star, Desert Orchid can never be counterfeited, nor the ‘83 renewal when the first five were saddled by Michael Dickinson. Three years later the mare Dawn Run became, and remains, the only horse to have won both the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle. Only one winner has started 100-1. That was Norton’s Coin and if his wasn’t a “vintage year” in no way did it dilute the unique allure of steeplechasing’s Blue Riband. In 1990 Welsh farmer Sirrell Griffiths milked his cows, mucked out his horses (two), drove Norton’s Coin to Cheltenham and returned to Wales a folk hero.

Nico De Boinville’s recently retired 2015 Gold Cup winning partner Coneygree also defied the behemoths. Nicky Henderson’s Altior will surely take de Boinville to a centrefold Festival success in the Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday). The only jumper rated higher than Altior, Paul Nicholls’ Cyrname, is scheduled to take his right hand bias to Punchestown. Then again they said the same about Desert Orchid…

Longtime favourite for this Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, Presenting Percy, has been locked a long time in his Irish stable and like Brexit (nothing like Brexit actually) the Festival is upon us. Paul Nicholls’ Clan Des Obeaux, his King George Chase victory followed by a breeze at Ascot, has the aura of a horse whose time has come: he’d be a worthy Gold Cup winner.  

The Festival decibel buster would be Paisley Park (by Oscar) if he takes the Sun Racing Stayers Hurdle (Thursday) for sports’ fanatic Andrew Gemmell. I’ve also been wowed by Fakir d’oudairies who skipped round Cheltenham in the Triumph Hurdle Trial. J P McManus must have been at least as impressed because he subsequently purchased the juvenile hurdler (for an undisclosed sum). McManus already owns ante-post JCB Triumph Hurdle (Friday) favourite Sir Erec so the owner and Joseph O’Brien can toss up - Triumph or Sky Bet Supreme Novices (Tuesday): in the latter our trainer Nigel T-D’s Al Dancer is fancied for a ‘home win’.

The Irish have come to dominate Cheltenham. Willie Mullins has been champion trainer five of the last eight years; Gordon Elliott in 2017 and ‘18. The latter’s Dallas des Pictons, one of the trainer’s fifty (that’s five zero) ‘possibles’, is readied for the Martin Pipe. “Farewell to the last of the Willie Mullins Great Generation” was the Sporting News Ireland headline which concluded that despite Mullins mentioning a mere twenty nine “possibles” he hasn’t his “inevitable winner”: oh no? He’s sweet on Benie des Dieux in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Tuesday). She’s beaten Apple’s Jade twice including last year’s OLBG.

This year’s 91st Gold Cup is, arguably, up for grabs – it was in 2010 when it was stolen. The original trophy was retrieved last September. So, throats cleared for the ‘Cheltenham Roar’ to send the Supreme runners on their way on the glorious twelfth, save enough breath for realization of Highclere hopes and dreams that another great celebration of our sport will climax - in Style.

Rolf's Ramblings Part 2

Although we’ve been domiciled, contentedly, in Hampshire, for thirty years, another hundred yards and we’d be in Wiltshire’s ‘Golden Triangle’ (not isosceles) - Marlborough, Hungerford, Newbury. Our neighbouring socialites are…

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Although we’ve been domiciled, contentedly, in Hampshire, for thirty years, another hundred yards and we’d be in Wiltshire’s ‘Golden Triangle’ (not isosceles) - Marlborough, Hungerford, Newbury. Our neighbouring socialites are all self-styled democrats (small ‘d’) so naturally they prohibit the ‘b’ word, Brexit from conversation.

I will not be cowed: when it’s our turn to play host I’ve ‘stockpiled’ retaliation: I’m censoring ‘doughnut’ or ‘Oxo’. Doughnut? Perhaps not, the nation can hardly stockpile holes. Oxo then; but Oxo is…stock…OK, yes, very silly.

No silly season compares with the perpetual motion (give or take a flu epidemic) of day, night and twilight racing which, given a critical shortage of staff, dearth of horses, and the desertion of punters, merits a ‘b’ word - barmy. Stevie Smith’s famous poem “Not waving but drowning” defines the British Horseracing Authority whose numb insistence on saturating the calendar with dire fixtures while shrugging off crass blunders was topped by the cherry of fining a trainer for waving at his horse: racing’s problems have indeed gone viral.

With Government scenting votes in denying ‘drowning’ punters from ‘waving goodbye’ to their cash in FOBTS particularly, animal activists and political animals (odd bedfellows) are shaking racing’s foundations, or at least rattling prints of Classic winners and former BHA Chairmen hung on the walls of HQ, Holborn: the Central Line used to get the blame for the trembles.

Relief (?) from endemic aberrations to esoteric ones: a Panel of International Handicappers (sponsored by Longines) delivered ratings for 2018’s World’s Best Racehorses. The International line-up - “We’ve been bold and measured” – ranked two of the winners of the world’s three richest races: Thunder Snow, Dubai World Cup (£4m) and Redzel, Australia’s Everest Sprint (£3m) equal sixteenth; with Gun Runner, £5m richer out of the Pegasus in Gulfstream, Florida was deemed equal fourth: money can’t buy you love, or prestige, City of Light’s connections pocketed £3m on Pegasus day; he rates 32nd best.

Cracksman’s measly £1m Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot promoted him (only third to Roaring Lion and Enable in the Cartiers) to the World’s joint-best, alongside Australian mare Winx. City of Light raced on drugs (Lasix), as did Enable (joint-seventh), Expert Eye (joint-fourteenth) and Line of Duty (joint-eleventh juvenile in Europe) in winning their big Breeders’ Cup prizes.  Winx’s thirty successive home victories and Cracksman’s domestic heroics were inscrutably clean ‘kills’.

The race again crowned “Best in the World”, the Qipco Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (£2.5m), was truly international (five nations) fought out between Enable and Sea of Class, the latter joint-fifth best three-year-old in World Rankings. Best race for three-year-olds on the planet, the Investec Derby (of course) went to Masar, just joint-seventh of his generation - according to the handicappers. Maybe such eccentricities excited the Racing Post to rate Enable tops (no quarrels there) and Sea of Class, short neck runner-up in the Arc, 41st: one for the new BHA Handicapping Review Panel?

Too Darn Hot is top-rated two-year-old by 5lb. In his uncontestably impressive unbeaten four-race career Too Darn Hot beat only one subsequent winner. What’s he worth when connections have paid £200,000 (only £100,000 less than as a yearling) for Whitlock just to act as lead horse? Frankel’s lead, Bullet Train, cost nothing but then he was the great one’s half-brother.

Bantering the relative merits of racehorses once put bums on bar stools. However, ominous times (the influenza outbreak a harbinger?) loom. The former BHA chairman (portrait probably not gracing HQ walls) having gained the politicians’ ear, got a flea in his from the High Holborn snipers and was soon out (on his ear): how about VAR for BHA Board meetings?

Selective political consciences have been pricked by the universally devastating social consequences of FOBTS, hence the Betting Office pogrom though bookmakers’ predatory instincts will survive forecast shop closures. Charles Dickens, no less, wrote in 1852: “Presto! Betting shops are springing up in every street!” That enabling Act lasted just two years and it was another hundred, 1961, before they were legalized again. But Dickens’s conclusions on betting in the ‘Weekly Journal’ were predictably prescient: “This flourishing trade is a melancholy index to the round numbers of human donkeys who are everywhere browsing about”. What would the great chronicler of destitution and dysfunction have made of the firm which held out the carrot to “human donkeys” of 33-1* about 10-1 ON champion chaser Altior at Ascot last month? (*Terms and conditions – odds to no more than a pound and a new account – no joy for the sharp punter who tried to open a hundred).

Still, racing’s promiscuous problem is the whip. Jump jockey Lizzie Kelly made the most pertinent observations on the topic in the Racing Post, backed up by William Buick’s father Walter, former champion jockey in Norway and reduced to despair at the decline of racing there since the whip was abolished. Ms Kelly’s last line is valedictory: those who abhor the whip are dedicated to aborting horseracing.

Whose side did the late great comedian Tommy Cooper take? “I backed a horse today at twenty to one and it came in at twenty past four. He was so late coming in he had to tiptoe back to the stables. And the jockey kept hitting him like that with a whip – like that – not like that – like that and the horse said ‘What are you doing that for? There’s nobody behind us’”: silly? Certainly; genius? incontestably.

Enough, the sport is bigger than its foes. My memorable moment of 2019 has already (perhaps) been and gone. A man was facing away from the giant screen dominating Cheltenham’s parade ring not because he couldn’t bear to watch but because he can’t see. He can hear though: “Paisley Park is being pushed and shoved along” barked the commentator: owner Andrew Gemmell was unmoved. And, as Paisley Park scythed through, taking the Cheltenham hill by storm, Andrew knew: such jubilation, you’d have thought he was Irish. Paisley Park will take his sporting nut owner places even he’s never been. He’s a horse to roll back the years on any man; to invite the rudest ‘anti’ to stop and think.

Through feel and ‘touch’ gifted to few with sight Andrew, long time Highclere devotee, was born with commitment to sport, supping from a cup which all who imbibe are lifelong addicts. There’s only one Andrew Gemmell though; would, for racing’s sake, there were more.

Alex reporting on: Andreas - A Trip Into South African Wine Country

On a recent holiday to South Africa myself and a friend braved high 30’s temperatures to visit a beautiful vineyard in the Western Cape called Andreas. The reason for my…

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On a recent holiday to South Africa myself and a friend braved high 30’s temperatures to visit a beautiful vineyard in the Western Cape called Andreas. The reason for my curiosity was fellow Highclere owner David Croft who, with a group of other UK wine enthusiasts bought the land in 2015. Their ambition is to build on the wine’s existing heritage, enhance the quality of the wine and take it to an even wider audience.

Nestling in the Bovlei valley, just outside Wellington (about an hour’s drive from Cape Town), the Andreas wine estate is a hidden gem comprising 4.5 hectares of vineyards, an elegant eighteenth century house and beautiful gardens. With a history dating back to the first Huguenot settlement in the valley, the estate forms part of the parcel of land originally granted to Barend Blum in 1699.

Long, hot summer days, cooled by late afternoon breezes, chilly, wet winters and sandy and loamy soils combine to provide the perfect terroir for the Shiraz which is produced. Small, dark and flavoursome berries are at the heart of this noble grape. We were there just a week or two before the harvest and tasted some unbelievably sweet fruit from the vines which bodes particularly well for the next vintage which is being picked right now. After months of careful nurturing, the grapes are hand-picked in the early morning and brought cool and dew-fresh to the cellar, to await their metamorphosis at the skilful hands of our full time winemaker, Shaun Meyeridricks, formerly of Boekenhoutskloof, one of the leading vineyards in South Africa. The wines spend between 12 and 18 months on toasted French and American oak, and are selected from the best individual barrels to create the final blend. Limited output means the wine maker is to able to exercise strict, hands-on quality control at each stage of the winemaking process, from the vineyard to the cellar, and everything, including bottling, is done on the premises.

On our visit we tasted the 2015 and the 2017. The 2015 is smooth, full-bodied, with characteristic peppery, spicy, and berry flavours. It is drinking really well now and suffice to say no spittoons were used!! The 2017, the next vintage to be released, is a slightly more refined style with a touch more elegance than the 2015 and was still evolving at the time of drinking.

Andreas is a beautifully refurbished Western Cape Dutch property. Dating from 1799, the estate is set amidst serene gardens and in a perfect location if you are looking for a mountain biking or hiking break, as well as good tee shot from some world class golf courses! If you’re looking for a more relaxing holiday, this Western Cape Wine Estate is the dream location for a yoga retreat, the extensive, landscaped gardens have a tranquil pool area in which to cool off on a hot summer’s day. And, of course, there’s the wine! Many of the original features have been lovingly restored and, together with the exquisite decor and furnishings, make it a unique retreat. This stylish country house boasts four luxurious, en-suite bedrooms and three spacious lounge areas. Each bathroom has been recently renovated, offering guests a free-standing bath and large walk in shower.

If you would like to try the wine for yourself you can buy Andreas (£16 per bottle) from the following stockists:
Hard to Find Wines  07146389749  01295672290

Taittinger Moment

This months Taittinger Moment goes to Andrew Gemmell who will no doubt be getting very nervous as we draw nearer to the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham for which he has the…

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This months Taittinger Moment goes to Andrew Gemmell who will no doubt be getting very nervous as we draw nearer to the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham for which he has the hot favourite in Paisley Park. From all the team at Highclere we would like to wish Andrew the very best of luck and we look forward to cheering Paisley Park up the hill next Thursday!

Out and about with the Highclere camera

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