Good morning all,
Not quite a tale from the rail, but I went to Fontwell as an “owner” last week to enjoy some racing and see how they were coping with racing without a crowd. My experience of the day is on the main piece today, along with a selection from Thirsk.
It’s a long way, is Fontwell. Well, not if you live in Chichester, granted, but when you’re a lad from the Midlands (listen at me, a lad, I’m 51 ffs) then Fontwell’s a trek.
I’ve been reminded of this by the good lady, who has also reminded me that I’ll be travelling down there on a Bank Holiday Friday. She also reminds me of the last time I travelled somewhere on a Bank Holiday, to Plumpton, which was a round trip that took in the region of 10 hours and I swore blind, as I got out the car late that night, back knackered and just about able to keep my eyes open, that I’d never do it again. Ever.
But that was then, this is now, and I’m starved of racing. Anyway, I’m staying down after Fontwell in an Airbnb in Brighton with the intention of going to Windsor on the Saturday. So I’ll be fresh as a daisy Saturday morning rather than a mess that can’t haul himself out of bed. That’s the plan, anyway.
I’m off to Fontwell courtesy of Lawney, who has put a badge aside for me on the gate. I do like Fontwell a lot. When I was pretty much living with Caroline in Redhill we’d frequently go, as it wasn’t far and it also meant we could go and visit the seaside afterwards as well. What’s not to like about that?
I stop halfway to pick a Post up and grab some breakfast – everyone’s got their masks on in the service station, before I tackle the M25. However, to my surprise, I sail down, without so much as even the most minor of delays. If this is what a lockdown does then I’m not against this bit of it, I have to say. Working from home has many advantages, and less traffic on the roads is one of them.
On arrival at Fontwell you’re asked to get out of the car for your temperature test, and once it’s established you’re in good health, you can pick your badge up and drive into the centre of the track. As with Southwell, the course is essentially divided in half – half for the owners, half for those helping to run the place for the day. And that includes both jockeys and trainers.
The only bookmaker there is Sid Hooper, and I’m pleased to see Ian is running the joint. I haven’t seen him since….well, you can guess when. I like Ian, he’s a laugh and I catch up with him as the afternoon progresses to see how he’s getting on. (Spoiler – it’ll end badly).
The first two races come and go and I manage to find a couple of losers before the Punt tip Mogestic has his turn. I’m on at 20s and he’s going off a lot shorter than that, which gives hope. He travels and jumps well and when he quickens clear with two to jump, things are looking rosy. Sadly, as so many before him have done, and many will in the future, he manages to doss it away on the run-in and Seaside Girl picks him off with a couple of strides to go. The place part of the bet is scarce compensation. I need a cup of tea.
Fontwell have done a cracking job for owners, opening up a bar upstairs for them so they can sit on the rooftop terrace to have a drink, giving them a good view of the paddock. I’m guessing there’s around 80 of us in total and despite the tables being spaced out, there’s enough room for us all. I chat to a old lady who has a share in Certainly Red in the 2.45, she’s not hugely hopeful but, she says, “ you never know.” She’s part of the Venetian Lad partnership and sure enough, she used to have a share in that wonderful old Fontwell specialist. “Seven times he won for us here”, she says, the joy in her voice easy to hear. “We’d love another like him!” We all would, my good lady, we all would.
With owners not allowed in the paddock, some of the trainers come across to have a word with them over the railings, and it’s not hard to hear them! Chris Gordon loudly informs the owners of Commandant in the next that he’ll need the run – “like me, he’s put a few pounds on during lockdown” he says, patting his belly – but to be fair to Commandant he runs a cracker, only giving best between the last two. One for the tracker, maybe?
I lay Transpennine Star for a few quid after seeing him in the paddock, he looks a bit light to me, and he duly runs a stinker. Not so Certainly Red, who runs a very good race, and looks sure to win something on this soon. I’m off for another cup of tea though, and I stick a few biscuits and an apple in my pocket for the digs later. I’m bound to get peckish.
The rain has hit, and in a major way. There’s thunder and lightning all around us now and conditions are getting much softer. Some of the grass outside the paddock has become waterlogged very quickly. I’m hoping that by the time the bumper gets around it’ll have eased off a bit, but sadly that’s not the case and I stand under a tree to try and keep my notes dry.
I’m joined by a very nice old lady who is looking to catch up with Seamus Mullins after the last. Sadly, she informs me her husband passed away a couple of months ago but that Seamus, a friend of the family, has been very kind to her and she wants to say thankyou. She also informs me she’s just bought Romanor that very day, and I tell her she should have a lot of fun with him.
On the way out I see Ian, and ask him how the afternoon went. “Was going alright until that last and I managed to lay six fifties the winner. Only loser in the book. Just about covered the expenses for the day.” Bookmaking with just the owners to play with isn’t an easy game, it seems.
With the racing complete, I’m off to Brighton, with a stop-off in Worthing at the excellent Chipwick’s for a fish and chip tea by the sea. If only it wasn’t raining….
Over to Thirsk today and I like the chances of Our Little Pony in the 4.35. There's plenty of pace around her, which will help as she's a hold-up that needs a good pace to come off, and she ran well in a better race than this at York last time. The ground should be ideal and I expect her to travel strongly here. If she's good enough, she can finish the job off late.
Good luck with all your bets today,