You never really know what’s going to grab your attention and imagination when you’re young. Football was almost literally my life. Rarely a day would go by without a game in some capacity – playing or supporting my beloved Leeds United. Two things have changed a bit since then – my life isn’t quite so concentrated, and the fact I’m still alive shows that my love of LUFC decreased in intensity.
I knew that my Grandad enjoyed the odd flutter and that my Dad was partial to a trip to the races so sparingly we’d make the short journey to one of the local racecourses, or even get out the Roses tin of coppers and play fantasy bookies in front of Channel 4 Racing. Slowly but surely the seeds were being sown, and I was becoming an avid horse racing fan. Some of our earliest memories are our most vivid and fondly remembered. Looking back over my encounters with the sport, five particularly stand out and contributed to where I am now.
- 1. Spectested wins at Wetherby
The formbook simply reads “Held up and behind, hit 3rd, pushed along halfway, headway 3 out, ridden and stayed on from next, driven flat to lead last 50yds”, however, that last fifty yards probably was crucial to me writing this piece right now. Looking back, it was obviously a superb piece of form reading – a handicap debutant stepping up in trip – but in reality, the half-decent odds would have been 90% of the decision-making process. I remember this as my very first winner and it was special because I’d given up on the horse. It seemed to come from nowhere, or more likely I was too busy watching the queue for hot dogs, and I remember shouting “that’s my horse, that’s my horse!” as Wayne Hutchinson cajoled him to the front. The buzz I got from that was greater than the financial reward – even if a tenner is a lot of money to a young teen (heck, and a student!). I think most people will remember their first winner and that’s what puts a 94-rated hurdler into my top 5 memorable horse racing moments.
- 2. Not So Grand National
When On His Own crashed out at Bechers’ on the second circuit in the 2012 Grand National whilst looming large, you’d probably think it was the first gut-wrenching moment I’ve had at that particular obstacle in the big race. “Brook” wouldn’t quite be the word I used at the time and I wouldn’t be the only person to fall foul at this particular fence in 2005. There have been numerous hard luck stories in the National but Clan Royal certainly fits into that category having been headed late on in the 2004 renewal. What happened the following year was as harrowing experience as I’ve felt watching a horse race. It was too much to place on the heart of a 13-year-old lad who was thoroughly enjoying the vast majority of the marathon. In many ways it was made worse as I could see it happening in slow motion in front of my eyes. It wasn’t a simple fall or unseated rider; there weren’t even any rivals nearby to worry about. The danger appeared in front not behind. However, it actually manifested at the side. Tony McCoy, piling on the pressure from the front, was suddenly left with no option but to sit and suffer as a loose horse ran right across him, leaving him unable to jump the flight and be officially “carried out”. I’m still not over it. In denial I selected him the next two years but it was never to be. I feel sorry for Clan Royal. I hope he feels sorry for me.
- 3. Denmania at Newbury
When hearing about the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, only one horse comes into my mind. He put in a terrific effort in the 2010 renewal but it was his performance the year before that I consider the foundation for my love of national hunt racing, and the moment that sold me racing as a sport, and not just a financial game. Of course I’m talking about Denman. At the time of the race I did have a solid knowledge of horses in training and whatnot, and remember me and my Dad agreeing that he looked a good price considering he was comfortably the best horse in the field. It was only really after the race that I realised what a performance I had witnessed. Carrying 11-12 on his back (a full 22lbs and 29lbs higher than the second and third-placed finishers respectively), the “tank”, as he is affectionately known by many, jumped and galloped on strongly to put in one of the best displays in a jumps race in recent years. He could have folded when challenged by stable mate What A Friend but that wasn’t the Denman way. This would be the first time I was truly mesmerised by a horse and much like the experience of a first win, I view this as a fond memory and as a time where my true love for the sport was realised.
- 4. Authorized To Print Money?
It was a pleasure to see Frankie Dettori get the Derby monkey off his back in 2007 when he partnered the hot favourite Authorized to a storming success at Epsom. The Peter Chapple-Hyam-trained son of Montjeu routed some very good horses and it was a performance that suggested he was the real deal. The Coral Eclipse at Sandown the month after would be another comfortable victory and he’d be on his way to Longchamp as an outrageously short-priced favourite. Or not, as the case may be. Well, he did go off at 11/10 for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but that didn’t go so well, and I’d rather not have to talk about the Eclipse either. However, for the sake of balance, and the truth – as this is a memorable moment – I will. I would go to my Dad’s every Saturday around lunchtime (if we weren’t going to Elland Road) and on this occasion he quickly brought up the race, basically asking me for confirmation that the Derby winner would prove successful again. Naturally I complied and he did something he wouldn’t do again (from memory) and placed a bet on an odds-on favourite. It was clear from some way out that Authorized wasn’t going to put in as authoritative performance as he had the month prior but it did appear as if he was just about going to edge it and save our blushes (and supper, quite literally). He narrowly got to the front and just as they came to the line…boom! As the action was so intense on the far side of the track, little attention was given to Nownowcato (not helped by an awful camera angle), who had gone it alone on the stands side. It soon was, however, as pictures showed that Ryan Moore had matters in hand and had secured victory by a length-and-a-half. I’m not sure anything was really said for a while afterwards. I think we both felt the same pain in the gut, for all I’d lost nothing financially. He never did say how much he placed on the 4/7 shot.
- 5. Indian Summer At Ascot
When you like to write about the sport of horse racing, it’s enjoyable to watch great races and talk about the latest goings-on, but there’s nothing quite like getting something right. I’ve posted my thoughts and my views on particular races (and particular horses) for a few years now but one of the first real calls I got correct came at Royal Ascot in 2007. I didn’t win any money on it given I was fifteen at the time but I remember posting on the internet that I was keen on the Richard Hannon-trained Indian Ink for the Coronation Stakes. Rain came down on the morning of the race and it caught my eye given the filly’s best performances had come with some give in the ground. Even though subsequently the contest has been marked down as a bit of a sub-standard event due to the deteriorating conditions, her performance still rates as one of my favourites in flat racing – and maybe was outright prior to Frankel’s demolition job in the 2000 Guineas. Sure, there’s some sentimental value thrown in for good measure, but this was a Group One race and my word did she win it like a Group One horse. It took her a few strides to hit top gear but once she did she was away. “Indian Ink sets sail for home…and scampers clear!” roared Simon Holt in a manner which suggested he was also taken aback somewhat by the style of victory. 8/1 winners at Royal Ascot have come since but none stand out like that one does. I watch the video every few months and never get sick of it. She didn’t race again. Probably not a bad idea. Maybe I should have done the same when sticking a quid on Slavonic Lake to win a Wetherby hurdle at 50/1 a few years ago. You never forget.
[information_box]Written by Ben Rowe
Ben studies in Liverpool but is born and bred in Yorkshire. A racing, Leeds United and Alan Partridge fan
Follow him on Twitter @cerealdestroyer[/information_box]