VISIT TO GRAEME MCPHERSON’S MARTIN’S HILL STABLES
TO SEE AMI DESBOIS, AND OTHER EPDS HORSES
SATURDAY 13 OCTOBER 2018
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This was my third visit to Graeme McPherson’s yard. A major perk of belonging to one of the EPDS syndicates is the fact that any member of any of the syndicates can attend these visits; it doesn’t just apply to the trainer of their specific horse or horses.
Graeme’s yard is situated near Stow-on-the-Wold, beside the road to Bledington. In fact it’s ‘Choc’ country, as Apple Tree Stud is situated nearby.
currently had five EPDS horses in his charge - Ami Desbois, Londonia, Stynes,
Leapt and Jessica Rabbit. A
disadvantage when visiting Martin’s Hill is the fact that attendees are asked
to report by 08:00, so that we can go to the gallops to see the horses. The time isn’t early, provided one doesn’t
live around 90 miles away in Hertfordshire which, at this time of the year,
means beginning the journey during the hours of darkness.
Anyway, I set my alarm for an early call (03:50 as it turned out!) on Saturday morning. I showered, washed and dried my hair, applied minimal makeup – foundation, eyebrow pencil and mascara – ate a breakfast of two slices of toast and marmalade and departed home at 05:50.
My outfit consisted of a dark-blue thermal T-shirt, grey/mauve check M & S sweatshirt (a recent acquisition), silver-grey jeggings/jeans, lavender fleece, and maroon scarf with a bird of prey print; also my purple butterfly-wing earrings. I took my Kipling graphic print Defea handbag, and would ‘christen’ a burgundy with white polkadots waterproof coat; I bought it at sale price, from Cotton Traders, and it has a fleecy lining and also a fleece-lined hood.
I also took my brown M & S footglove ankle boots as a standby but, in the event, wore my black snow-boots; I wore my grey Hotter Aura shoes to drive in ... I love these and have lived in them all summer.
My outbound route took me around the local ring-road and down to the London Colney roundabout; only the main city access roads are now lit between midnight and daylight hours, along with road junctions along said ring-road. There were no lights upon the London Colney bypass, but there never have been. I joined the M25 at junction 22; the motorway is lit, so there were no issues during my journey to Junction 16, at which point I joined the westbound carriageway of the M40.
There is also lighting along the M40, until the viaduct across the valley east of High Wycombe. The lighting recommences before Wycombe Central, junction 4 and continues to almost the beginning of the escarpment; lighting is needed on this particular stretch as it’s often affected by a low cloudbase during inclement weather. I left the motorway at junction 8, following the A40 to reach the Headington roundabout and subsequently driving along the the dual carriageway of the Oxford bypass.
Having reached the Wolvercote roundabout, I then headed out across the Cotwolds on this very familiar route. The weather wasn’t brilliant, as it had begun to rain by the time I’d reached High Wycombe, although it was 17 degrees despite being dark! I’d describe it as ‘light’ at the point I reached the Eynsham roundabout. It was also very breezy, as the country suffered a battering from Storm Callum.
I subsequently arrived at the beginning of the Witney bypass and sped along it ... until caught by surprise due to a newly constructed roundabout! Having negotiated this incongruous obstacle, I continued along the remainder of the bypass to reach the Minster Lovell roundabout at the far end thereof. The A40 then heads along the top of a ridge, before arrival at a roundabout at the southern end of Burford.
I turned right here and headed down the steep hill, this being the town’s high street, to reach a single-track bridge over the River Windrush. I had to wait at the traffic lights controlling the flow of traffic over said bridge, before following a lorry over it; fortunately that vehicle turned right to head in the direction of Chipping Norton, whereas I turned left to continue my journey along the A424 to Stow-on-the-Wold.
The road rises out of the valley and obviously I wasn’t travelling fast enough for the locals, as two cars overtook me en route. This stretch of the road is quite bleak but, further along, the road rises through wooded areas before falling once more.
I soon arrived at the junction with the Cirencester road; the A429 Fosse Way. I turned right at the traffic lights thereon, having waited a few moments for them to change, and drove up the steep hill into Stow-on-the-Wold. There is a staggered junction at the top of the town and I turned right into Sheep Street, before heading down the hill at the designated 20mph, past The Bell, and out into open countryside once more. The B4450, Bledington Road, is situated to the right; I took this turning.
It is just a short distance to Martin’s Hill; I glanced through the gateway on my left and noticed the absence of vehicles within the visitors parking area ... it was only 07:40, so I decided to continue in the direction of Bledington, doing a ‘time wasting’ circuit of the lanes near Icomb, hoping to find fellow EPDS members when I returned to Martin’s Hill; this little detour took me past the entrance to Apple Tree Stud ... I just couldn’t help myself ... LOL!!!
When I got back, just a few minutes later, I discovered that two cars had now arrived so I parked up on the grass alongside. Two bales had been placed on the driveway, preventing visitors from continuing directly to the parking area just beyond the stable area; I was pleased about that, as I had always been reluctant to drive through the yard to park!
I alighted, put on my coat and snow-boots before walking up the driveway to the yard entrance. On the way I passed a paddock which housed two horses. There were a couple of people ahead of me and, when we arrived in the yard and having been greeted by Graeme, he explained that he was running a little late; he had intended to meet everyone in the car parking area so as not to get under the feet of his stable staff as they saddled up their mounts ahead of the next lot.
Whilst walking back down the driveway, Graeme explained that one of the ‘paddock horses’ was heading to the sales and the other, Swaledale Lad, was waiting to go to a new non-racing home; a home which fellow attendee Jill had organised. It later transpired that this home was with Paula, who I know and am friends with on facebook! She was part of ‘Laddy’s’ syndicate before he was retired and she is so much looking forward to fun times ahead with her new ex-racehorse!
The first lot headed back to the yard, having warmed down, whilst we were standing in the parking area. Graeme also took us across to see a couple of fillies which were turned out in a field adjacent to the drive. He went into the field, to see if he could get their attention, banging on the field shelter in an attempt to bring them across to us; we couldn’t see them. However, it transpired that one, which was related to Ami Desbois, was hopping around. Graeme wondered if she had a stone in her hoof. Closer inspection told the trainer that she’d been kicked by her field companion ... fortunately it had drawn no blood. This field companion did appear – she is owned by the connections of Skipthecuddles, the tongue-less horse, and she has been named Missthecuddles!
The stiff breeze had also lifted the hat from Barry’s head; it had flown into the field, so the trainer retrieved it for him. By this stage I was already loving my new coat, and the hood was fab; no worries for me with regards to keeping a hat on my head today! We then headed across the road to the gallops, where we waited for the next lot to arrive. This lot would include Ami Desbois; he’d been on the injury sidelines since suffering a problem with his forelegs. Jessica Rabbit wasn’t able to join us, as she’d currently got a ‘snotty’ nose.
Graeme explained that his existing gallop was due to be replaced in a couple of weeks’ time; same type, different manufacturer, as this one had come towards the end of its useful life. He demonstrated by picking up a handful of the surface ... it was subsequently taken by the wind and ended up in the faces of a number of the visitors; oops! I felt it a little, in my eyes for a brief moment ... not brilliant, as I was wearing contact lenses!
Graeme also explained that the BHA was introducing new colours to its obstacles at a number of courses this season. The usual orange was being replaced by a combination of white and yellow ... I was under the impression that research had already been carried out into the use of ‘orange’ but, evidently not. Surely sense should have prevailed earlier, knowing that humans and animals interpret colours differently.
There was a fascinating programme, a number of years ago, which investigated colours. It was discovered that culture and language define our perception of colour. And, contrary to popular belief, blue wakes you up, so is not actually suitable for bedrooms. But I digress ...
Having arrived, led by Ask Ben and Ami Desbois, the horses did two ‘gallops’, although not at full pace today before heading back to the warming-down circle. The ‘carpet’ surface was also being replaced here; never again would Graeme use a carpet gallop. He told us it was much cheaper, but pretty useless! It gets dry and dusty in summer and waterlogged in winter. Graeme said he might take a number of his horses on an ‘away day’ to Lambourn in the near future, to use their extensive gallops facilities.
Graeme’s dachshund had accompanied us across the road, and the trainer had to ensure that he wasn’t tempted to get under the feet of the horses then, latterly, that he crossed the lane safely. Graeme’s other dachshund, a companion to this one, had died as a result of being hit by a car on this lane.
We watched as the horses warmed-down, before heading back to the yard. The dog headed up the driveway ahead of us; it was funny watching his little legs going ten to the dozen as he trotted along. We were invited to have breakfast in the main house. The stones steps on the pathway had been secured since my last visit. The main worry now, was negotiating the dog poo just prior to the garden gate!
We removed our boots and shoes before entering the hallway and left our damp coats within. Graeme offered everyone a glass of champagne; I didn’t partake, as I was driving ... although I’m not a fan of any alcoholic drink! There was orange juice, coffee and tea to choose from; I chose the former ... although I did spill some on the table, but did mop it up with clean tissues! There were also numerous bacon or sausage baps and croissants or Danish pastries; I ate a bacon roll, a small croissant and a Danish pastry too!
I spent time chatting to Philippa, who I know well. She’d visited Robin’s yard a couple of weeks ago. One of the attendees, a regular EPDS owner, had a birthday today, so we sang Happy Birthday; he was presented with a birthday cake too.
Latterly, Graeme explained his plans for the EPDS horses; beginning with Ami Desbois. The ‘something not quite right’ towards the latter part of last season transpired to be an issue with the cannon bones in his front legs; a scan, with dye, identified the areas of inflammation, and an MRI scan pinpointed the exact issue. Both bones have now been pinned and, therefore, the underhoof conditions will be vital moving forward.
Stynes, Londonia and Leapt all had leg issues presently; the worst being Leapt who had a v-shaped tear in a tendon. Graeme explained that this cannot be treated by stem-cell therapy due to the type of tear; time is the only healer.
Graeme also explained that stem-cell therapy involves taking cells from within the horse’s sternum and injecting them into the tendon to encourage faster healing. Being a QC, he said one of his law cases had involved the death of a horse which had lost its life because the needle had been inserted into the front of the sternum, had continued through the marrow, then out through the other side of the bone and into the animal’s heart!
The trainer also mentioned that stable inmate, the mare Visage Blanc, had snapped a tendon; as a result, he said one of her fetlock joints had ‘collapsed’ completely. However, as she was wellbred, with breeding prospects, the owners were going to give her six months to see if she could be saved, following rest.
With three of EPDS Racing’s horses out of action at present, Graeme had kindly offered to run Hollywood All Star as their substitute for the foreseeable future. The identity of the horse had been a mystery to the syndicate members, to be announced today ... but I already knew, because I’d looked at Graeme’s website in recent days and the horse was already listed as an EPDS one!!!
Plans were also confirmed for Money Maid. She’d given birth to the gorgeous filly ‘Cookie’ in late spring and was due to return to the yard shortly; this was to see if she still had a ‘racing’ temperament, following motherhood. Money Maid had suffered a tendon injury during her last run, although she had won that day.
Having been sitting down for a while, on a semi-padded chair, my pelvis was beginning to ache, very vaguely; I stood up now. I wasn’t keen on listening to a conversation about needles ... having received a cortisone injection recently. Mind you, it seemed to have been a great success in treating the diagnosed problem. Although, having undergone steroid drug treatment, I wouldn’t be eligible to run in a horserace at the present time!
With breakfast over, Graeme took us outside for a tour of the current yard inmates. We started with the ex-Alan King-trained grey, Paddys Runner; the trainer is still convinced that the horse has fallen out of love with racing. Others housed in this part of the yard included Kayf Blanco, Follow The Swallow, the mare Poperinghe Ginger and Ask Ben. Graeme had purchased a 2-year-old from the Dermot Weld yard; the youngster was formerly owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum. He currently stands under 15 hands and is named Andaleep. However, Graeme is hopeful he’ll grow a little, with time, but said he jumps well! Besides, height isn’t everything if hurdling ... just think of Katchit!
We then headed into the main yard, where Graeme gave a tour of those housed within. There was the currently injured Norman Stanley; also Ami Desbois, Bentons Lad, Fleeting Visit, Delirious Love and It’s Fine Wine. Also Cranbrook Causeway; the trainer described him as having one ‘thick’ hind-leg, which he believes to be the result of an earlier injury. However, Graeme likes the horse and believes he may have found the key to this so far disappointing equine.
Captain Dinosaur is a ‘Scorpion’ and yet to race but he’s hopeful for the horse. Serpico was still recovering from the injury sustained at Huntingdon recently; he severed an artery in his leg. We saw Shady Glen and veteran Red Admirable, also the currently sidelined Captain McGarry; the latter beat a Nicky Henderson-trained horse to win a bumper race. Alexander The Grey was also injured, having fallen at Stratford recently; jockey Kielan Woods broke his collarbone as a result. The grey was waiting for an operation, to repair a detached ligament.
Skipthecuddles also occupied a box towards the near end of the yard; he wasn’t feeling particularly friendly, hiding within his box. One of Mrs Prowting’s homebred youngsters is now an inmate, Passing Shadow; as the name suggests, he’s by Passing Glance, out of Peel Me A Grape. We also saw the recently purchased Lord Scoundrel; he was formerly owned by Gigginstown and was trained by Gordon Elliott. In fact he won the Galway Plate in 2016! Although currently a 9-year-old, Graeme said he couldn’t resist buying the horse, as he seemed too good a bargain to pass up. However, the trainer is going to give the horse a break, before he returns to action, as he gets the impression that his new acquisition is a little ‘jaded’.
Finally we headed to the top yard, to see the remainder of the horses which were ‘in’ at present. This was a very small yard, with wooden boxes and just a few inmates. Housed here were Ballina Lady and Rogue Diamond; the latter wind-sucks ... this causes her issues, because she can ‘blow up’; the vet has to visit to release the gas!!! Gowanauthat occupied one of the boxes too; one also had ringworm currently, so had to be avoided.
There were three further boxes in the yard; Generous Chief was housed in the first of these – he was due to go to the sales. He’d lost his form and needed a change of scenery to, hopefully, rejuvenate him. Exactly the same had happened at his previous yard, before he joined Graeme and rediscovered his mojo.
Next door to him was Hollywood All Star; almost black in colour. He seemed like a nice horse. Bill, aka ‘Cirencester man’, said he had been part of the horse’s syndicate earlier on in his career. And, finally, we saw Jessica Rabbit, complete with snotty nose. We all steered clear as, if we stroked her, Graeme requested that we subsequently avoid any of his other charges, just in case the virus was passed on.
Graeme had also warned his visitors not to get too close to the horses; being animals, he said they might ‘bite their face off’ – he’d seen it happen! Obviously it can, and he’s always going to be cautious of lawsuits, being a QC.
Despite gaining planning permission for a barn, which would provide double the amount of stabling, building works had not yet been started! It had earlier been reported that this was expected to be completed by the end of October ... very frustrating ... he needs a new builder!!! Once his new facility is installed, Graeme is also going to purchase a water-treadmill.
It was now the end of the visit; I thanked Graeme, and also said goodbye to John Powell, Barry and Bill. Bill said I had to come racing when Pride Of Pemberley returns to action. He only goes to the races when one of his syndicate horses is running, preferring to watch racing from the comfort of an armchair on other days!
I walked back to my car with Philippa and her friend Sarah. Having said cheerio, I began my journey at 11:40.
Having left the property, I turned right to drive down to the A436, retracing my route back to Stow-on-the-Wold. It took a few minutes of queuing to negotiate the traffic lights in the centre of town; it didn’t help that the vehicles ahead of me were partially blocking the inside lane, preventing me from using the left-hand filter!
I then headed down the hill upon the Fosse Way; the A429. The Burford road bears off to the left, so I took this route. The road continues downhill initially, then uphill through woodland close to Wyck Hill House. There’s additional woodland further along, before the route opens out and becomes quite bleak, although there’s a great view across the Windrush Valley, with Burford nestling below. An oasis in the midst of a desert! It was my turn to drive fast, as I’d soon caught up with the vehicles ahead; our progress solely interrupted by a hedge-cutting vehicle to the near-side as we approached the town.
There’s a sharp left-hand bend, just prior to the roundabout situated close to the single-track bridge over the River Windrush. I only had to wait for one traffic light change before I was able to head up the steep hill towards the A40; near the top, there was an Ocado delivery van blocking the roadway. Fortunately this moved off just as I approached. At the roundabout beyond, I turned left to head in an easterly direction along the A40.
I’d soon reached the Witney bypass; it’s a pleasant change to drive along this stretch of the route during daylight hours. I negotiated the new roundabout once more, before continuing my journey. As it was Saturday lunchtime, there was a tail-back from the Wolvercote roundabout and I was stuck in this for a few minutes. In fact the wait was so long between traffic light phase changes, that I had the opportunity to remove my fleece whilst sitting in my car! The early morning rain had cleared, replaced by bright and warm sunshine. In fact it was 24 degrees now; amazing for mid-October.
I continued along the next short stretch of the A40, before arriving at another roundabout; this is controlled by traffic lights too. The bypass continues as a dual-carriageway to the Headington roundabout. Subsequently I headed down the final stretch of dual-carriageway to reach the eastbound carriageway of the M40.
Traffic on the M40 was flowing well, although I did get annoyed by one vehicle whose driver was intent on travelling in the middle lane despite its speed. I was whizzing along ... until I reached the viaduct just prior to Junction 3; at which point all traffic came to an abrupt halt. I was travelling in the middle lane at this point. There appeared to be a road-block, consisting of police cars and maintenance vehicles. A number of drivers ahead of me even got out of their vehicles in an endeavour to discover the cause of this unexpected delay, although I don’t think anyone was the wiser for it!!!
Anyway, after waiting for around 10 minutes, the police and maintenance vehicles moved off and everyone was free to continue their journey. I was still in the dark regarding the delay, as I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary further along the motorway; perhaps something had fallen off a vehicle, and needed to be removed from the carriageway to avoid a collision?
Anyway, I’d soon reached the M25 and took the slip-road in order to join the clockwise carriageway. Traffic was moving freely upon this motorway as I headed back into Hertfordshire, leaving at Junction 22. I headed up the London Colney bypass and entered my home City, arriving home at 13:45.