DIARY – VISIT TO WHITE SHOOT STABLES
TO MEET MENACE, THE TWITTERATI SYNDICATE HORSE
SUNDAY 15 FEBRUARY 2015
Trainer Noel Williams
pictured with Menace
EPDS on twitter:
EPDS on facebook:
Noel Williams Racing:
Noel Williams on twitter:
Where to begin ...
I read a tweet from John Powell of EPDS Racing, possibly retweeted by Noel Williams who already trains one of the EPDS Syndicate horses, Kincora Fort. I’ve followed Noel on twitter for a while, as he worked as Alan King’s Assistant for 10 years before setting up his own training yard in Blewbury, Oxfordshire. And, of course, he’s in Choc’s circle of friends too.
The tweet appeared on twitter on 17 January 2015, proposing the idea of one racehorse with 140 syndicated owners, at a fee of around £15 per month, and asking if there was any interest. The answer must have been affirmative, as a few days later John asked those interested to contact him via email for further details. So I did, and a few days later received a copy of the draft terms, etc.
On 22 January there was notification that a photo of the chosen horse who, like Kincora Fort was also trained by Noel Williams, would soon be posted on twitter. And on 23 January Menace’s photo appeared; a very cute chestnut. Strangely enough, I already knew of Menace’s existance as, in addition to following Alan King’s horses and Martin Keighley’s horses, I follow Noel’s too! Menace had turned four on 01 January, and run in his first race on my birthday, 05 January; a bumper on the all-weather at Lingfield Park. He finished 6th that day. It was planned for Menace to return to the same racecourse on 25 February, again to compete in a bumper race.
With my last minute arrangements for attending Cheltenham Trials Day and Newbury Pogo Pandemonium, I put my decision on the backburner for a couple of days but, by Sunday 25 January, I had made my decision to join the syndicate. I let John know and he sent me the finalised forms to complete. I arranged the monthly standing order of £15 for a 12-month period, visiting my bank on the Tuesday to organise this; I had to wait for longer than expected to see the advisor, and slightly overran my lunch hour as a result!
Anyway, I returned the completed documents in the post to John, and the rest is history.
John made arrangements for any syndicate members wishing to do so, to visit Noel’s yard on Sunday 15 February to meet Menace. There were two sessions, one at 10:00, the other at 11:30. I chose the earlier one, as I had already made arrangements to have my hair trimmed that afternoon, so needed to be back by lunchtime if possible.
I spent Saturday at home, watching the racing from Ascot; Balder Succes romped home in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase on this day. I also completed and uploaded my Pogo Pandemonium diary; my website was now up-to-date again ... or at least it would be until my excursion the following day!
As you probably know, I don’t use satnav to navigate; I look at a map and then drive! A few days prior to my trip I did a little bit of research to find out the shortest and/or easiest route to Blewbury. Google maps suggested that the shortest route was via the M25 then M40, leaving the motorway at Junction 6, then heading through Watlington, Benson, crossing the Thames south of Wallingford, heading southwards along the A329 and cutting through via a lane just prior to Moulsford to reach the A417; the latter road passes through Blewbury. This route is 61 miles in distance, and I know Watlington and Benson from my days as a rambler.
But there is another ‘motorway’ option and this is the one I chose on this occasion; 69 miles in distance, with an estimated travelling time of 1 hour and 22 minutes. I also like to know the ‘lie of the land’ so to speak, checking out a visual image of the area from satellite images; obviously it doesn’t provide any contour guidance, but you get a rough idea of what to look for in the way of landmarks! Thus I knew that I needed to turn left into Woodway Road immediately after passing the first building on the left upon entering the village. Woodway Road becomes White Shoot, and the stables are on the left-hand side.
Unlike my days out at the races, when I take ages to decide what to wear, it was easy to choose my outfit for my trip to Oxfordshire. And thus my clothers were laid out a few days in advance. Two thermal t-shirts – plum and purple, v-neck BHS aubergine sweater, navy blue fleece and navy blue gillet. The latter I added just before I left home because it was cold outside; it was grey and overcast but dry. Also dark blue jeggings, black footglove snow-boots(!), brown ASOS handbag, burgundy/brown quilted jacket, brown/burgundy/cream material scarf, and shades of pink/mauve maple leaf necklace with matching earrings (as constructed by me).
Knowing that my journey should take me around 82 minutes, I decided to set my alarm for 06:00, with an estimated departure time of 08:30. I showered and washed and dried my hair, applied my make-up and ate a breakfast of porridge and white buttered toast.
In recent months I’ve developed a terrible habit of procrastinating prior to journeys but, today, I left just 2 minutes after my planned departure time. My route took me around the ring-road to reach London Road; I headed to the London Colney roundabout and along the bypass to Junction 22 of the M25 where I joined the motorway. I headed around the anti-clockwise carriageway to Junction 15 for the M4; and it’s so frustrating when other drivers leave it until the last possible moment to get into the correct lane prior to the junction ...
It was 09:00 as left the M25 and commenced my journey westwards along the M4. It was really odd, because it felt like I’d made my outward trip to Newbury for Hennessy Gold Cup day very recently, rather than 11 weeks ago. There were no hold-ups on the motorway and I had reached the Reading West junction by 09:30. I then took the familiar route along the A4, but this time only as far as the second roundabout after the interchange, where I turned right along the A340 and headed towards the large Thames-side village of Pangbourne. Enroute the road passed over the top of the M4.
Close to the centre of the village is a narrow section of road, where vehicles entering from the direction of the A4 must give way to oncoming traffic. Further on is a mini-roundabout; signposted to the right is Reading. I went straight on, I had now joined the A329. I drove over a raised zebra crossing and under a narrow railway bridge where signs warned of possible vehicles in the middle of the road due to the design of the archway.
I have been to Pangbourne before, once having entered via the Whitchurch toll bridge when returning from a ramble with Mark, the other time when on an excursion to Basildon Park and Beale Park with my friend Denise. The road passes very close to the Thames at this point of my journey; in fact for a short distance the road is but metres from the river.
Having left Pangbourne, the road soon heads past the aforementioned Beale Park; it’s a zoo/wildlife park. I remember being fascinated by a pair of tiny baby ring-tailed lemurs; Denise later bought me a cuddly lemur toy for either my birthday or Christmas! The A329 then passes over the railway line, with traffic signals controlling this narrow section of the road; it’s like a chicane in layout. On the far side of the bridge there were maintenance vehicles parked to the right-hand side.
A little further on, the road passes the twin gatehouses of Basildon Park, a Georgian mansion; part of the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice was filmed there. The route then passes through the village of Lower Basildon, where a 30mph speed limit is in place. Further on, is the village of Streatley. Traffic lights control the crossroads in the centre of the village; the turning to the left heads to Newbury. To the right, and over the Thames, is Goring. I’ve been to Goring, again when rambling; I recall we parked in the station car park that day.
In fact it was a very long day, the day we ended up in Goring. Mark and I did four separate walks in one day, finishing off the final routes in Alan Charles’ Pub Walks in the Chilterns book. We began at Binfield Heath, then Hailey, then Checkendon and finally Goring-on-Thames. We did about 16 miles that day and were already seizing-up by the time walk number three was underway! Those were the days ... gluttens for punishment. But I digress.
Having negotiated the traffic lights at the crossroads within Streatley, I continued a short distance along the A329 before bearing off to the left along the A417. Just past the entrance to a golf club, the road begins its journey across the downs, entering Oxfordshire shortly afterwards. My newly purchased AA road atlas shows this stretch of the journey as scenic; nice for a passenger to look at but of little use to a driver when needing to pay attention to the switch-back nature and bends on this section of the A417! It’s probably lovely in summer but I’d describe it as rather bleak during the winter months.
After approximately five miles I reached the village of Blewbury. Having passed a cluster of buildings on my left, I turned into Woodway Road. The residential area was soon left behind; there were further buildings on the right, before the beginning of a tree-lined hill which led up to the downs. I passed a cyclist who was endeavouring to ride up the incline … rather him than me! Mind you, I wouldn’t have turned a hair had I been asked to walk up the hill.
I soon alighted upon a group of buildings to the left of the lane; a number of vehicles were parked upon the verge to that side of the road. There was space for one or two additional cars, so I pulled up behind the nearest one. As the verge was muddy and rutted, I decided that it would probably be a wise decision to turn my car around in order to face downhill, just in case I later found myself stuck in the mud and unable to move without being towed out! It was 09:55.
Having done a u-turn, I pulled back into the original parking space but my car was facing downhill now. During the three-point turn ... or may have been a five-point turn, I’d had to waive the cyclist past too. Anyway, I changed into my black snow boots in preparation for the short walk to the yard. Whilst I was putting on my coat, John and two young lady companions arrived. He introduced himself, shook my hand and also kissed me on the cheek!
I followed them a short distance up the lane, before heading down a brief slope to the left to enter Noel’s yard. I believe we were the last people to arrive. Inside a small brick-built barn, Noel and his secretary Clare Ludlow had organised hot drinks and biscuits, but I didn’t partake as it was very nearly time for everyone to meet our racehorse Menace.
Noel’s horses are housed in an American-style barn; he has approximately 16 horses in the yard at present. He went to fetch Menace, whose box was located in the far right-hand corner. After a few minutes, he returned with our little chestnut horse; I think he’d spent a few moments making sure that Menace’s coat and hooves were still in pristine condition ahead of his introduction. Menace was wearing a green sheet emblazoned with the words EPDS Racing.
Menace was very calm and collected, despite being just a 4-year-old. Of course, technically, he might still be a 3-year-old but, for racing purposes, he’s four. Noel said he’d bought the horse at Ascot sales, after everyone had decided what a lovely little horse he was. He also likened his character to that of Katchit, winner of the 2008 Champion Hurdle ridden by Choc! The late lamented Katchit was 15.2 hands, as is Menace.
Having been sired by Papal Bull, initially they wanted to name him Holy Cow, but that name had already been taken. They decided upon the name Menace because he is a ‘cheeky chappie’ and sometimes gets into scrapes. Noel said he’s very easy to train; when he asks him to do something and he does it. There appears to be no ‘side’ to his character.
After Noel had finished leading him around, members of the syndicate were invited to go over to pat and stroke the horse. Menace was very friendly; he has a nice face and a kind eye. One guy asked if it was okay to give him a polo – yes, that’s fine, as one of Noel’s stable staff always carries a tube of polo mints to give to the horses.
John also announced that, by a large majority, members of the syndicate had decided that the fairest way to allocate owners’ badges would be to undertake a ballot. Anyone wishing to attend on a Menace race-day would let John know and he’d then enter their name in the draw.
Once a syndicate member had attended using an owner’s badge, they would be given a lower priority than others, for just their next requested race-day, after which they would return to normal priority. If someone was awarded an owner’s badge but then didn’t turn up, they would be given lower priority for two subsequent requested race-days!
Once Menace had been returned to his stable, Noel fetched out the other EPDS horse which he trains, 6-year-old Kincora Fort. The horse is known as ‘Brian’ within the yard, as his sire is Brian Boru. He’s a much bigger stamp of a horse than Menace.
After that, everyone went into the barn to meet the other horses too. Noel did warn that a couple of the animals were a little less friendly than the others … presumably they would bite! Briery Queen is the star of the yard; all being well, Noel hopes that she might run in next season’s OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
I made my way along the barn, finding out which ones were the friendliest en route. At one point I spoke with John, explaining that the recently retired Walkon had been my favourite horse. Upon reaching his loose box, I discovered that Menace had been secured to a ring located on the back wall of his stable; presumably to ensure he couldn’t roll and thus mess up his coat ahead of his second group of visitors arriving later in the monring. But he was all wrapped up in a nice warm rug.
Anyway, having been along the two rows of horses, and being unable to make a further fuss of Menace, I alighted upon Chance Taken once more. The 7-year-old bay mare has a very kind nature and loved to be stroked. Whilst there, John explained to Noel that my favourite horse had been Walkon, one he would have known during this days with Alan King. I told Noel that I’d especially liked the grey since his comeback run at Ascot when he’d appeared in the Parade Ring with a beautiful white tail. During his juvenile season, Walkon’s tail had been threadbare to say the least! The ugly duckling has turned into a swan!
Anyway, Noel came over and said what a nice kind mare Chance Taken was. Indeed.
I also overheard someone saying that they had never heard of Noel Williams before they’d signed up to the syndicate. But I guess I’m mainly aware because I’ve followed Choc since 2008, and thus know about Alan King and his team by association.
Time soon crept up upon the first group of visitors and it was now around 11:15; time to leave and make way for members of group number two. In fact a couple of them had already arrived and were waiting within the small brick-built barn to introduce themselves to John.
I said goodbye to Noel, and wished him luck with all of his horses. Also to John, saying I hoped at some stage to meet up at the races when Menace was running.
I returned to my car, and changed out of my muddy boots whilst sitting in the driver’s seat. Someone had brought a spaniel along and he was hovering around the car at this point too. I started my car and had no problem with tyre traction as I drove onto the surface of the lane, continuing down the hill to the main road once more. I turned right at the T-junction to head back towards Streatley.
The speed limit along this stretch of the A417 is 50mph and, despite my driving at this speed, it still wasn’t fast enough for one local who overtook me! It had crossed my mind to take a more scenic route home but, in the event, I decided it was far easier to just retrace my tracks. So it was back through Streatley, stopping briefly at the traffic lights in the centre of the village; it appeared to be a three-way phased junction due to the narrow single-lane entry to the road signposted Newbury.
I drove back through Lower Basildon and arrived at the ‘chicane bridge’ over the railway line once more. There was no sign of the maintenance vehicles which had been parked at the side of the road on my outward journey. Having negotiated the bridge and driven past Beale Park, I soon reached Pangbourne, the River Thames running close beside the road to the left. The road soon beared to the right and passed beneath the railway line, followed by the raised zebra crossing and a mini-roundabout.
I took the second exit, the first one would have taken me to Reading. As I drove away from the centre of the village I noticed a small river to the left-hand side of the road; it was the River Pang. There is a river Bourne too, which joins the Pang to the east of the village of Bradfield. The Pang’s water voles are thought to have inspired Kenneth Grahame’s character Ratty and his book Wind In The Willows.
Having left Pangbourne behind me, I drove back across the M4, to reach the A4 once more. I was now back on very familiar ground. I turned left, negotiated one further roundabout and had soon reached Junction 12 of the M4. I was soon on my way along the eastbound carriageway of the motorway. Obviously there was more traffic than earlier in the morning, but no delays although traffic did have to slow down as it filtered onto the M25.
Traffic was flowing at around 50mph between Junction 15 and 16, but after that I was able to regain speed and there were no delays for the remainder of my journey upon the motorway. I left the M25 at Junction 22, heading up the dual carriageway towards St Albans. I arrived home at 12:45; in time for lunch and in plenty of time to have my hair trimmed.
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