MARTIN KEIGHLEY’S OWNERS’ DAY
SUNDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 2013
One of the stable stars,
In July I was very pleased to receive and accept an invitation to Martin Keighley’s Biennial Owners’ Day, on this occasion to be held on Sunday 29 September.
It had been a very quiet summer, Choc-less apart from the Heythrop Country Fair in June. This was due to an extended absence from the racing scene whilst recovering from an injury incurred in early March. However, Choc returned to action on Tuesday 17 September, riding to victory aboard Letsby Avenue in a Handicap Hurdle at Stratford. His first winner in a season which would hopefully be productive and injury free.
By the end of September my diary was filling up, beginning with an Osmonds concert at the St Albans arena on Saturday 21 September. I also had the pleasure of meeting up with fellow-Choc and Osmonds fan Sandra Stewart, who had kindly contacted me through this website to suggest we meet up before the event. It’s always good to chat to someone who appreciates the lovely Choc as much as I do.
Just 8 days later it would be time to set off into the beautiful Cotswolds countryside. The weather was set fair for both Saturday and Sunday of this particular weekend, so I spent time on Saturday deciding upon my final choice of outfit. For weeks I had been intending to wear my ‘patriotic’ red, white and blue striped M & S tunic but, in the event, chose instead one of my favourites, my mauve Wallis tunic, teamed with blue M & S jeggings, a mauve long-sleeved cardigan, my purple jacket and blue ankle boots. Plus a blue ‘stars’ scarf, purchased from M & S, to tie the two colours together. Although I was dismayed to discover I’d put on around 5lbs since I’d last weighed myself just a couple of weeks ago! Never mind, tunics hide a multitude of sins ... namely my stomach!
My alarm was set for 06:00, I rose at 06:15, showered and washed and dried my hair, before eating a breakfast of porridge with blueberries, and two slices of white toast. Having applied my make-up, I was ready to depart at 08:40. Does it really take me that long to get ready? I must have spent time faffing about! Mind you, come to think of it, I always allow myself two hours to get ready during the Cheltenham Festival.
Anyway, my route took me around the local ring-road and, as usual, I encountered one of those Sunday morning drivers who are travelling at well over the speed limit and overtake by using the right-only lane at traffic lights. I recall it was ‘white van man’ today. No surprise there then.
I drove to Harpenden, then Redbourn and past Flamstead, heading for Dunstable. I was rather perturbed to see lots of roadkill today, including a muntjac deer. Upon reaching Dunstable I took the route through the housing estate, via Lowther Road and Langdale Road; I was pleased to see that much of the roadway had been resurfaced, but far less so that speed bumps had been installed. That’s all I need – they play havoc with the suspension of the car. I’m sure that’s why it costs so much to have a car serviced these days. Trust the few selfish speeding motorists to ruin it for those who obey the 30 mph speed limit in residential areas.
Having joined the Dunstable to Tring road, I then took a right turning and headed for Tottenhoe and onwards to pick up Lesley from her home in the village of Eaton Bray. Our journey then took us around the Leighton Buzzard bypass, through Wing and on to Aylesbury where we joined their ring-road to reach the A41. We got stuck behind a large lorry heading out of town and through Waddesdon and Kingwood but, as I was immediately behind it, I was able to overtake on the short stretch of dual-carriageway just west of the latter village. Although I did brake fairly sharply at the end of this, to avoid a group of pheasants which wandered onto the roadway as I approached. I didn’t particularly want them plastered across my radiator grill.
Our route then took us to the fast expanding town of Bicester, along their bypass, followed by a right turn and a left turn to reach the B4030. A group of five very noisy motorcyclists overtook us as we headed out of the town, although they, like us, had to stop at temporary traffic lights which had been placed prior to roadworks on our side of the carriageway just west of the bridge over the M40. Having cleared this obstacle, we soon reached the traffic lights at the junction with the B430 at Middleton Stoney.
When the lights changed, we continued across this slightly oblique junction and entered a further section of the B4030, the early part of which contains a number of sharp bends. Having passed through Caulcott (you can tell I love maps) we reached a cross-roads, just to the east of Lower Heyford. I recall on a trip to the Cotswolds with my friend (and ex-boyfriend) Mark, that we once drove straight across at this point and ended up in the village by mistake. In fact to remain on the B4030, you need to turn left at this junction.
The road then bears around to the right, down past Heyford railway station, over the single road-width traffic light controlled causeway spanning the River Cherwell, and up the hill to Hopcrofts Holt. Having crossed the traffic signal controlled B4260, we entered the final section of the B4030, again another section with many road bends. The route passes through the village of Middle Barton, then Gagingwell before reaching Enstone.
The suggested route to exit onto the A44 is via a short section of the B4022, as this allows better visability than the more northerly and oblique B4030 junction. We continued along the A44, reaching the traffic light controlled junction where we turned left and entered Chipping Norton. We drove along the High Street, and turned down the hill, with the landmark of Bliss Mill soon appearing to our left. Having left the town we continued along what is still the A44, heading towards Moreton-in-Marsh.
Opposite the Greedy Goose pub, we took the A436 past the Adlestrop turning and descended the hill to the bridge over the railway and Evenlode river. Following this, the road climbs up the hill into Stow on the Wold, where we passed Choc’s current favourite haunt, The Bell at Stow. We were slightly delayed by the car in front of us seeking to find a parking space along the main street.
After waiting at the traffic lights at the top of the hill, we turned right and headed a short distance along the A429 before bearing off to the left onto the A424. After a while we saw a turning to our left signposted Condicote, which we took. I know it would be easier to drive just a little further along the A424 and take the lane direct to Luckley ... but we have become accustomed to taking the first available turning and doubling back upon ourselves.
As the lane descended into the valley we passed a large group of Sunday morning ramblers. We then continued down the hill and past the trout farm before climbing up the other side. Despite knowing that I had to take the next turning, which is actually signposted Condicote, I continued straight ahead; there was a car following us, and they took this turning. However, I did turn right at the next lane and entered Condicote via a meandering route through the houses. Upon reaching the walled green in the centre of the village, I drove around it in a clockwise direction to reach the Luckley road ... solely because I felt like it!!!
We were nearing our destination, the lane dips down to cross a river before rising steeply and approaching a small hamlet of houses and the entrance to Martin’s yard. Visitors were directed to park in a stubble field across the way. I parked my car at the far end of a row of vehicles. It was about 11:10 when we arrived. I changed from my driving mocassins into my blue boots and we set off to walk back across the field, over the lane and into the driveway of the yard.
Helpers waiting at the gate handed me a programme, containing colour photos of all the horses. Refreshments were on offer just outside the main barn, Lesley had a drink and a cup cake, I refrained on this occasion. We then set off into the barn to see the horses. Mauricetheathlete was stabled in the first box to the right, the unnamed Proclamation gelding to the left; the latter was very friendly and enjoyed being petted. There were warnings on the doors of the boxes of those horses which would bite or might bite.
I was particularly taken with an unnamed Milan filly. She is a very pretty bay, with four white socks or stockings. Another visitor did say to me that one should avoid horses with four white socks – that old adage ‘one white sock buy a horse, two white socks try a horse, three white socks look well about him, four white socks do without him’. She told me her horse had four white socks and sometimes had lameness problems ... personally I love to see a flashy bay! My favourite. Anyway, the filly was gorgeous, so gentle and friendly.
We worked our way down the barn, saying hello to all the horses in turn (or at least those which didn’t bite), including Benbane Head, Seymour Eric, Champion Court and Any Currency (Woody). I was surprised to see Georgian King, as I recalled the name from back in the day when he was trained by Alan King. He’s 10 now, and has been absent from the racecourse for almost 2 years, but should be back in action again soon.
In the large open boxes at the far end of the barn were Havingotascoobydo and Court In Session (Judge). And, in the far corner, ponies Thomas and Crunchie. There are two stable kittens – a black and a tortoiseshell – which Lesley made friends with. She has two cats, Twiglet (female) and Scrabble (male), which she took in many years ago when their owner moved aboard. Also a Golden Labrador named Max, which she also took in when the original owner was no longer able to look after him. She also fussed over Windsor, the Keighley’s black Labrador. Twiglet always makes a beeline for me when I visit Lesley’s house, Scrabble is rarely seen as he seems to spend most of his time out and about!
Anyway, having completed the tour of the barn, we headed out to see the horses occupying the other loose boxes. Sky Calling, recently retired due to injury, is still at the yard and will in future head off to stud. Having seen these horses, we headed across the way to spend more time with the Milan filly, who had now poked her head out of the rear window of her box. I said hello to Martin too, as he exited the main barn.
When we returned to the main barn once more, six of the horses were being saddled up in preparation for warming up ahead of taking them across to the gallops. As it was now approaching 12:30, we found a space to sit upon the straw bales alongside the warm-up area and the horses and their riders soon appeared – Primo Capitano, The Kvilleken, Court In Session, Havingotascoobydo, Annacotty and Benbane Head. The riders included stable jockey Ian Popham, Tom Siddall, and presumably Ollie Garner.
The horses were walked, trotted and cantered anticlockwise around the all-weather strip, then same in the opposite direction. At this point, Lesley told me that Choc had arrived, because she had seen him over my right shoulder. Be still my beating heart! I glanced across, he was wearing blue skinny jeans, a light brown tweed jacket, very shiny brown boots and, I think, a blue shirt with white colour, plus sunglasses.
Soon it was time for everyone to head across to the gallops to watch the horses, I didn’t say hello to Choc at this point as he was chatting to someone. I would save that pleasure until a little later.
Crossing the lane, Lesley and I walked along to the top of the gallops, farther than many of the guests ventured. With everyone now watching from within the field, the horses arrived, their riders walking them down to the bottom of the gallops before setting off toward us two by two. Benbane Head with Annacotty, followed by Court In Session and Havingotascoobydo, bringing up the rear Primo Capitano and The Kvilleken.
Having completed their work, the horses were ridden back along the top of the field and we all returned to base. It had been quite breezy in the open space of the gallops, although certainly not unpleasant as it had been wall-to-wall sunshine since daybreak. In the shelter of the yard, it was warm enough to take off my jacket.
We stood atop a large grass mound in order to get the best view of the remaining horses as they were paraded. I wrote the horses’ names in my notebook as I took photographs of them. ATR’s Robert Cooper was on hand to interview Martin about his charges. All the horses were well behaved, although Midnight Thomas needed a lead from stable stalwart Brimham Boy, and the unnamed Kayf Tara pulled free of his handlers, trotting around the paddock area for a few brief moments before allowing himself to be caught once more.
Martin also pointed out the old David Nicholson gallops which could be seen running alongside the wood in the far distance and said that his horses sometimes used them also.
Young Freddie Keighley demonstrated his jockey riding style upon one of the two mechanical horses; these proving very popular with the children in attendance today.
I waited until we headed to the food tent before saying hello to Choc. He was sporting stubble today – which I can attest to having kissed him on the cheek! Unusual, as his face is usually as smooth as a baby’s bottom! Ah, a bit of rough!!!
We joined the queue for lunch – a choice of brown roll or white (I chose the latter), filled with pork, apple sauce and stuffing. We then returned to sit upon the straw bales whilst we ate, before venturing to the marquee to find dessert. Lesley had the last piece of cheesecake, I had a slice of chocolate gateaux and a piece of the almond and plum dessert. We both had a slice of the horse-shaped cake. Desserts are my favourite. Choc was chatting to a group friends outside the marquee, as I could see him through the thin rear awning!
It was now drinks time – no alcohol for me as I was driving – nor Lesley as she asked for a drink of water. I had blackcurrant with ice. We returned to the hay bales and soon people began to drift away to head home.
We left at around 15:15. But not before I’d said goodbye to Choc. We hung around for a few minutes until Robert Cooper had departed having said his farewells to my favourite jockey. Another kiss on the cheek from me. I apologised for being a little tongue-tied today. It sometimes takes me that way, when I speak with my favourite jockey! If I were a horse, I know I’d be the one standing at the back of the loose box, unsure about ‘saying hello’ until I knew the human being well!
When we reached the car park I noticed that Choc had left his driver’s window half open ... these country folk obviously don’t expect thieves to be rambling through the countryside! Or crazy old superfans to stow themselves away in his car either!!!
Upon leaving the car park I decided to turn left and head back through Condicote, before joining the B4077 and driving back through Upper Swell to Stow.
We got stuck behind a farm vehicle as we headed down the hill out of the town. One crazy driver decided to overtake me, the car in front of me and the farm vehicle as we headed down the lane; however, it wasn’t really necessary as the obstruction soon turned into a farm entrance and we were free to increase our speed to the 50-mile an hour limit applicable for this stretch of road.
We re-traced our outward journey, through Chipping Norton, Enstone, Middle Barton, past Hopcrofts Holt; we had to wait at the traffic lights for our turn to drive across the causeway over the River Cherwell, and were also held up once more at the roadworks close to the M40 bridge. We then returned to Bicester and civilisation once more ... oh how I’d love to live in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside. Civilisation is very uncivilised these days!
We drove back along the A41 to Aylesbury, the car in front of us almost failing to stop at one of the roundabouts as a car heading in the opposite direction took a right-turn at one of the roundabouts to the west of the town. We then headed around their ring-road, ensuring that I stayed within the speed limit on this camera-controlled stretch of the journey.
Our journey then took us along the A418, at one point a couple of police cars sped along the road in the opposite direction. We drove through Wing, and joined the bypass to the west of Leighton Buzzard. Lesley asked me to stop off at the petrol station on the Billington Road in order that she could visit their cash machine.
Then we headed back to her home in Eaton Bray. On our drive along the lane on the outskirts of the village we passed her daughter Hollie, she was out walking their dog Max. We waved to her.
I dropped Lesley off, promising to let her know of any racing-related plans I might have in the near future – so that she might accompany me. It’s always last minute plans, as I never know for definite until the racecards are published 24-48 hours ahead of time and I’m informed of where Choc is riding and how many rides he might have.
As it was still daylight, I decided to travel back via Tottenhoe and Dunstable; I would be able to easily spot the road speed bumps mentioned earlier. It seemed that as soon as I reached the Hertfordshire county boundary, the sun disappeared and it became gloomy. Very weird. I travelled back past Markyate and Flamstead, around the Redbourn bypass, turning left to reach Harpenden Common and to begin the final leg of my journey back to St Albans.
I arrived home at 18:10. It had been an excellent day. Fantastic weather, beautiful countryside, lovely horses, great company and, last but not least, the gorgeous Choc! What more could a girl want?