Menace 4.jpg


Menace and me



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EPDS Racing arranged another visit to Noel Williams’ yard, just five weeks after the previous one.  This was to allow syndicate members to see Menace on the gallops, finally.  The first visit in February 2015 was to meet our horse, and on the second visit in October 2015 Menace was resting, having run at Exeter two days previously.  Then, on 06 February, he’d been in light work having taken a mid-season break due to the heavy ground. 

This day was the final Saturday before the 2016 Cheltenham Festival; the beginning of my busiest period of the year.  Not only that, but due to reorganisation at work, it had been manic since 01 February!  So, by this stage, I was looking forward to a very well-deserved 10-day break; and it began on this Saturday.

The arrangement was to meet at Noel’s yard at 10:30.  I did set my alarm but, in the event, I was awake by 06:10.  Having showered and washed and dried my hair, applied make-up, eaten two croissants for breakfast, I was ready to go by 08:30.

Today’s outfit was a pair of dark blue jeggings, a grey thermal t-shirt with a design of small black doves upon it (I have two of these), a mauve v-neck sweater, lavender coloured fleece, burgundy jacket, violet ‘sausages’ scarf (as pictured above), black canvas handbag, short striped M&S wrist-warmers, Fired Creations “Violetfire” necklace and earrings.  I also took my snow-boots.  I wore full make-up, with a pale shade on my eyelids (I normally wear plum or dark brown); I needed a lift because I looked very tired due to long hours spent at work. 

At the start of my journey, I visited the local supermarket to top up the petrol tank of my car; it had been between half and a quarter full.  My route then took me to Junction 22 of the M25, and I followed the anticlockwise carriageway around to Junction 15, the M4.  There were warnings of an incident displayed on gantries between the Kings Langley and Chorleywood junctions, but no sign of anything untoward. 

I always ensure that I move into the inside lane in plenty of time before I reach the interchange; there was one idiot who almost missed it.  The driver literally squeezed between vehicles using lanes intended for those wishing to continue upon the M25, and then had to drive across the white hatching lines in order to make it onto the slip-road.  Talk about leaving it until the last minute; what a fool.

Having taken the westbound carriageway, I headed to Junction 12; the same junction I use when I go to Newbury racecourse.  It had been a little misty at home, but it was foggy from Maidenhead until the point I exited the motorway.  Initially I headed along the A4 Theale bypass, before turning right at one of the roundabouts in order to head along the A340 to Pangbourne. 

Having joined the A329 and driven beneath the railway arch in the centre of the village, I then headed along beside the River Thames, past Beale Wildlife Park, over the narrow traffic-light controlled railway bridge, through Lower Basildon to reach Streatley.  Having negotiated the crossroads in the centre of Streatley, I continued a short distance along the Wallingford Road, before bearing off to the left along the A417. 

A short distance along the road is a sign marking the boundary of West Berkshire with Oxfordshire.  There doesn’t actually need to be a sign because, solely having noted the state of repair of the roads, it’s obvious that you’ve entered Oxfordshire!  Hertfordshire’s roads are in a diabolical state of repair, as are Buckinghamshire’s.  West Berkshire’s roads are terrible; there had been a road repair scar running all the way from Pangbourne, through Streatley, all the way to the county boundary; at which point it disappeared, because the A417 had been resurfaced fairly recently!  Sadly the repair had seen far better days, and God only knows what havoc it was causing to every vehicle’s suspension as it drove along this stretch of the road. 

Anyway, I’d soon reached Blewbury, at which point I turned left into Woodway.  I had to wait for a van to pull out of a turning to the right as I headed along the lane, before I headed up the hill towards the stables.  Again I chickened out of parking on the grass verge, instead choosing to do a u-turn and park facing downhill upon the final tarmac passing place!  It was just before 10:15.        

Whilst I was locking up my car, a number of horses from Eve Johnson-Houghton’s string headed down the roadway past me, before they turned around and headed back up the lane once again.  I walked up to the yard entrance, where a couple of people were already waiting.  Then another lady joined our group; a blonde haired Irish lady who I’d met during the October 2015 visit to the yard.

As we chatted, a lady from the original group came over to me and asked if I was ‘Jane’.  Er, yes.  “I’m Caroline”, she said.  I must have looked blank ... as you do, because she told me her surname, and I then knew it was a work colleague I’d known for years, but only to talk to as she works mainly in the field and is based in Yorkshire.  Evidently she recognised my voice.  It’s a small world!

We chatted as we waited; entering the yard at 10:30 as arranged.  This gave Noel and his team chance to sort out the horses which had worked earlier in the morning.  I had a quick glance around the barn to see which equines had been tacked up ready to go up to the gallops.  Excellent; Bingo D’Olivate was one of them.  He’d won at Newbury the previous Saturday, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson; starting price 14-1!  He would be joined by Theatre Goer, who’d also run well to finish runner-up in her race at Newbury on the Friday.  The other horse joining Menace would be EPDS’ Daliance. 

A number of horses had been moved to a different box.  Cinderfella had moved to Big Society’s old box, with Pattara returning to the end box to take Cinderfella’s place.  Menace was still in the nearest of the two outside boxes, alongside the mare Kokomo – that’s because they are both smaller than the average thoroughbred!  Friendly Society had taken up residence in the small haybarn, next to Chance Taken, and opposite Theatre Goer.  Presumably EPDS’ Kincora Fort had now gone back home to complete his recuperation following a leg problem.  I made a special point of going to see Chance Taken before we headed up to the gallops. 

Noel currently had the maximum of 20 horses in the yard, with a handful absent through injury.  The new yard, on the far side of Blewbury, had space for 80 horses, with Noel hoping to fill 40 of the boxes in due course. 

Initially the four horses to be worked were ridden around the outside of the aforementioned barn, before they set off to the gallops.  The visitors accompanied Noel to the gallops on foot, with John and his partner Ellie, and son Alfie, taking their 4x4 along with anyone unable to walk that far.  It was a little bit misty, at a distance, but an improvement on earlier conditions according to Noel.  And anything was an improvement on the gale which was blowing during February’s visit!  That day, it had been almost impossible to hold a camera still enough to take any photos whatsoever!

When asked, Noel said he didn’t have a Cheltenham Festival runner this year but, all being well, he hoped that Briery Queen would be able to run in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle next year.  This season hadn’t gone to plan for her; the fall she suffered at Haydock earlier in the season had dented her confidence and it had taken time to get her back to her old self in order to win a mares’ race at Doncaster earlier in the month.  However, next season would probably be her final one, as her owners were breeders and would be keen to have her as a brood mare.    

All four horses did two gallops up the all-weather strip, with solely Daliance and Menace doing three.  The other two didn’t need to do too much work, having run recently at Newbury.  Gallops over, the syndicate members walked back to the yard; I chatted to the Irish lady as we headed back.  Having walked back down the tree-lined driveway to Eve’s yard, we exited onto the lane where we encountered another string of her horses; we waited for them to pass by. 

Daliance’s legs were being hosed down as we arrived back.  The two EPDS horses were returned to their respective stables; a short time afterwards, firstly Menace, then Daliance were led back out to be hosed down because they were hot and sweaty.  There was also an opportunity for Ellie to take individual photos of a number of us with Menace (see link below). 

I don’t pat horses, I stroke or scratch them but, having done this, I felt unable to eat any of the goodies on offer without an opportunity to wash my hands.  Hannah Bishop had suggested to me that Midnight Merlot likes polos, and Midnight Jitterbug likes carrots.  So, with this in mind, I fed two polos to the former, and half a carrot to the latter; I also gave King Kayf a polo.  Bingo still likes to lick hands, which he did with me; and he almost got hold of one of the ‘sausages’ in my scarf ... the little tinker!  I gave Chance Taken a polo; Friendly Society seemed to be looking on with envy, so I gave him one too! 

I said my goodbyes at around 12:40 ... and was probably the last to leave, apart from John and Ellie!  I thought about going across country to get home ... in other words, heading for Wallingford or possibly crossing over the Thames at Goring ... but I ended up retracing my journey instead.  Although lunchtime, the roads weren’t congested, except for the stretch of the M25 between the M4 and M40 – but that still wasn’t bad, just a reduction in speed, rather than a traffic jam.  However, I have to confess that I felt absolutely worn out as I drove back along the M4, yawning many times.  Oh God, that was not a good sign considering I’d need to drive a total of 800 miles over a period of 4 days during the Cheltenham Festival the following week.  

I arrived home at gone 14:00, because I paid a return visit to the local supermarket to top up the petrol tank once again; there was a long, slow moving queue of traffic through the shopping area leading to the supermarket.  Fortunately, however, there wasn’t a queue to use the pumps! 

It had turned out to be a beautiful mid-March day and, as such, I decided to wash my car when I got home, although I did take a little time out to watch the racing from Sandown Park, including the Imperial Cup where Martin Keighley’s Solstice Star, seeking a five-timer, finished an excellent second in the race.  I should have worn rubber gloves as, later in the evening, the back of my hands had become itchy and blood speckled. That’s usually an autumn issue – it just goes to show what topsy turvy weather we have nowadays. 

The following day I visited the second day of the local Agricultural College’s lambing live event.  And, this year, I actually saw a lamb being born.  I also saw four alpacas, a number of the horses and ponies housed at their equestrian centre, white park cattle, Toggenburg goats and kids, and Saddleback pigs and piglets.  

And I had my haircut ... hoping that the weather during Cheltenham week wouldn’t be so cold that I would regret this!  The one major problem with short hair is having cold ears during the winter. 


Click here to view my photographs


This link features our visit to see Menace on Saturday; I’m pictured too:






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