A late Happy New Year to all our blog readers. We hope you all enjoyed a relaxing Christmas break, including the festive racing. Who could forget Cue Card’s triumph in the King George VI Chase and the thrilling duel between Sprinter Sacre and Sire de Grugy in the Desert Orchid Chase. We trust you are all looking forward to another exciting year on the turf.
In 2016 we hope to bring you a wider variety of blogs which will include a series of Palace House Stories as we look forward to our move to the legendary stable later in the year.
However, before we properly get underway for this year we asked several of the staff and volunteers at the National Horseracing Museum to let us know their highlights of 2015 and their own dreams for this Special Year.
Alan Grundy, the Assistant curator put forward both his national and personal views. Nationally he thought Frankie’s tactics and Golden Horn’s performance in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was the major highlight of 2015. While closer to the action Alan remarked “I would choose David Oldrey’s home –bred filly Redstart’s (pictured below) win in the Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury in April. Her subsequent run in the 1,000 Guineas on firm ground jarred her up very badly and she was unable to run again last season. She spent the rest of the year in a paddock near David’s home. After feeling very sorry for herself for a month or so she gradually perked up and was like her old self by the autumn. She is now back in training with Ralph Beckett and it is thought she could well be a lot of fun in 2016. She will, of course, not run on firm ground”.
From a personal view David has been an owner-breeder, with a small number of mares, for many years. It’s great to see him with a nice filly”.
Commercial Director Liz Wilkinson believed that 2015 on the flat would be remembered for the amazing achievement of American Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh and Golden Horn’s impressive wins in the Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Over the sticks she highlighted the way the eight year old Conygree galloped and jumped the field into submission in the Cheltenham Gold Cup to become the first novice to win the race since Captain Christy in 1974.
Looking ahead to 2016 Liz pondered what the Cheltenham Festival would be like with the new stand and paddock area fully open in the first National Hunt showpiece event since the retirement of AP McCoy. And will Faugheen win his second Champion Hurdle crown and be the new Istabraq?
On the local front Liz wonders how the first crop of Frankel two year olds will perform. More significantly 2016 is “The Year of the Heritage Centre….Palace House will open in the year that Newmarket celebrates 350 years of racing”.
Frank Conlon former head man and work rider for both Sir Michael Stoute and the late Sir Henry Cecil, but who now works in the practical gallery endorsed Liz’s comments about American Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh, the first to do so since 1978. The latter was won by Affirmed who was ridden by then 18 year old starlet Steve Cauthen who Frank Conlon fondly remembers working with at Warren Place.
Having worked at the British Racing School for seven years until April last year Frank hopes that former course students among them Tom Marquand, Jack Garritty and Lulu Stanford all enjoy a successful season.
Deputy Director and Curator Graham Snelling thoughts were brief, but I am sure we would all agree the recent award of a knighthood to AP McCoy was well deserved. “The man is a legend” said Graham.
Personally I enjoyed the thrill of the three day Aintree meeting for the first time since 2009 with my father and friends. The highlight of the meeting for me was the impressive display by Don Cossack with AP on board beating Cue Card by twenty six lengths. What an awesome performance. Can he reach that level again at Cheltenham on Friday 18 March?
On the flat I was very fortunate to follow the fortunes of Ed Dunlop’s gelding Trip to Paris thanks to the advice of practical gallery staff member and former jockey John Snaith, culminating with his 1 and half length win in the Ascot Gold Cup at 12/1.
As for this season I am already looking forward to returning to the Rowley Mile on Guineas weekend and working in the racecourse shop. It will be fascinating to see whether Air Force Blue, the strong ante post favourite can confirm his superiority as a three year old in the 2,000 Guineas. I was lucky enough to witness Charlie Appleby’s colt Emotionless debut win at Newmarket in August last year and just wonder, if recovered from injury he might be able to turn the tables on Air Force Blue in the 2,000 Guineas.
Solow’s progress was Tony Lake’s highlight for 2015. Trainer Freddy Head raced the Werthheimer & Frere-owned gelding over two-mile trips last season, but since returning to a mile he has notched up nine consecutive wins, with the last five in Group One company. The five-year-old’s season started in March in the Prix Montjeu on Chantilly’s all-weather course and concluded with an authoritative display in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October. En route the grey won at Meydan, Longchamp, Royal Ascot and Goodwood. No one can argue with Head who said, "He's very special. To be able to keep his form like that all through the year with all the travelling he has done makes him a very good, very special horse."
Being an advocate of racing’s heritage, Tony unsurprisingly wants to wind the clock back in 2016. At the top of his list he would like to see the Jockeys’ Championship return to its traditional slot: from the Lincoln meeting to the Manchester Handicap meeting. Furthermore, he would also like to see the Champion Stakes return to “its rightful home and on decent ground” at Newmarket.
Perhaps a few of our thoughts above have got you all thinking of your own special racing moments of 2015 and your expectations for 2016. Don’t forget, however dull the weather is at present the Cheltenham Festival is only nine weeks away on Tuesday.
By Stephen Wallis