VISIT TO ROBIN DICKIN’S YARD AT GREAT ALNE
TO SEE ANTI COOL, DONTMINDDBOYS AND GALACTIC POWER
SATURDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 2018
Thomas Crapper (right) and Galactic Power;
Anti Cool is just behind GP
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In addition, Robin Dickin holds an Open Morning, which is open to any member of the general public, on the first Saturday of the month, throughout the main part of the National Hunt season.
This was the first stable visit of the 2018/2019 season organised by EPDS Racing; in 2016 and 2017 there had been a round of visits during July and August, but not this year.
This was my second trip to Robin Dickin’s yard, which is based in Great Alne in Warwickshire; the first having been in July 2017. Robin trains three horses owned or syndicated to EPDS Racing – Anti Cool (aka Andy), Dontminddboys (aka Casper) and Galactic Power (aka GP). Anti Cool had been on the injury sidelines since his last run on 01 September 2016 and was now well on the way back; fingers crossed. Dontminddboys had been on a course of antibiotics, having been affected by a virus; as a result, he was currently undertaking limited exercise. Galactic Power was fine, and held an engagement in one of two races at Southwell on 02 October; either the Conditional Jockeys’ race piloted by Ceris Biddle or the 2 mile 4½ furlong Handicap Hurdle race.
It’s always useful to look back at previous diaries to discover how long it takes to drive to a yard location. My previous journey took 2 hours and 12 minutes; this included a delay on the lane approaching the yard due to the resurfacing of a driveway. Once again, attendee arrival time was set for 09:30, so I aimed to leave home at 07:15. I set my alarm for 05:30 although, in the event, I woke and rose at 05:10. There was a slight delay in taking a shower because I could hear a beeping sound somewhere in the house and needed to locate the source. It transpired to be the CO2 monitor – the in-built battery was running low, so the unit would have to be replaced. I ordered a new one the following day, which arrived before the end of that week.
Anyway, I made a cup of tea prior to taking a shower; I washed and dried my hair too, before applying my make-up. Breakfast was one croissant. I was ready to leave at 07:17.
Today’s outfit was a dark blue thermal T-shirt, a beige/navy blue striped sweater, purple fleece, navy blue fleece gilet, and a new pair of indigo high waist super skinny M & S jeans, with bum lift evidently! I love them ... not that I need bum lift, as I don’t carry my weight on my bum. Also my burgundy jacket, brown footglove ankle boots, dark blue/silver earrings, navy/blue/gold/white Kipling handbag, and blue M&S scarf with tassels. I wore my grey Aura Hotter shoes to drive in and also took my M&S snow-boots just in case I discovered underfoot conditions were damp. I also wore my white glove whilst driving, to protect the skin on the palm of my left hand which was still healing following suspected contact dermatitis.
I’m fully familiar with the route to Stratford, so I headed out via the City Centre route and along the A4147 to Hemel Hempstead; I was delayed briefly in Leverstock Green due to temporary traffic lights controlling the flow of traffic around a large hole which had been dug in the other carriageway. With water in the gutter, it suggested a burst water-main.
Having reached the roundabout to the southern end of the town’s main industrial estate, I turned left and continued along the dual carriageway past Jarman Retail and Leisure Park and down the steep hill to reach the infamous ‘Magic Roundabout’. I then headed along Two Waters Road and across the A4251, before continuing up the hill to the roundabout beneath the A41 bypass. There were road-works currently being carried out on said roundabout, with the top layer of the road surface still to be replaced.
I followed a police car up the slip-road to join the A41 and continued in a north-westerly direction, passing through Boxmoor – there were no Belted Galloway cattle in the bordering fields today – past Bourne End, Berkhamsted, Tring and onwards to Aylesbury. I then headed around their ring-road, in an anti-clockwise direction; much of this route had been resurfaced recently, and I subsequently rejoined the A41 heading out of town and I continued onwards through Waddesdon.
There was a broken-down vehicle on the other carriageway, exiting the roundabout outside of the Woodham Industrial Estate. I continued through the village of Kingswood and on to Bicester. There were road-works at the roundabout upon entry to the town, outside the industrial area; traffic lights were being installed. I don’t know what the fascination is with traffic lights ... although, in general, it always seems that traffic lights have been installed where there should be a roundabout, and vice versa!
I subsequently headed along the dual carriageway which runs beside the Shopping Village before turning left at the far end and continuing down the final section of the A41 to reach junction 9 of the M40. I then drove in a north-westerly direction along the motorway, before leaving at Junction 15; the traffic was free-moving throughout. In the early hours of the previous day, there had been a fatal crash between Junctions 15 and 16, involving three lorries – how three lorries managed to collide at 04:00 in the morning is a bit of a mystery to me, but there had been an inferno as a result.
At the top of the junction slip-road I took the second exit to head along a short section of dual carriageway to a smaller roundabout where I turned left onto the A46. I’d soon reached a third roundabout, where I took the right-hand ‘fork’ in order to continue upon the Stratford Upon Avon bypass. This eventually headed downhill to a roundabout, where I turned right to head along the A3400.
Last year, my intended route via Salter Lane had to be abandoned due to the road being closed. This year, despite the lane being open to traffic, I decided to continue to Wootton Wawen as I’d done on the previous occasion. On the approach to the village, there is a canal aqueduct – there was a sign upon it stating so; I didn’t notice that last year! There is also an aqueduct spanning Salter Lane and the adjacent railway line.
Just before the Bulls Head pub, I turned left and continued down a residential lane for a short distance before turning left again to head towards Great Alne and Alcester on the B4089. The road headed through Little Alne, whilst meandering through the Warwickshire countryside. Having reached Great Alne, I turned right into Park Lane. Beyond the last house thereon, the thoroughfare continued slightly uphill, beneath trees, to the gate denoting the entrance to Alne Park. The lane now climbed steeply until reaching the yard at Hill Farm. I pulled over to the right and parked on the grass, within a second line of parked cars. It was 09:20 and it appeared that the majority of attendees had already arrived.
On my previous visit, Robin and his family had been living at Alne House itself; with his wife Claire running a B & B. However, on that occasion a move was imminent, as the house had been sold to neighbour Dan Skelton. This meant that Robin and his family had been displaced and thus would move back to his former abode, Hill Farm, just down the driveway.
It was a beautiful late September day, if a little cold early morning, so I changed into my ankle boots rather than snow-boots, put on my jacket and scarf before heading across to the house where everyone was gathering therein. I headed through the hallway and into the enormous kitchen and family room. Beyond was an equally large sitting room. What a beautiful home I thought.
There were bacon sandwiches and tea/coffee on offer, plus some sort of sweet mini-bites. I passed up on a drink, as I didn’t want to be caught short on the gallops. I also turned down the food, having already eaten breakfast.
With the horses tacked up and warming up by walking around the perimeter of the horse-walker, our group and the trainer headed outside to see them. The string was being led by veteran Thomas Crapper, ridden by Robin’s daughter Harriet, and included Anti Cool, Galactic Power and Dontminddboys. Conditional jockey James Nixon was aboard Anti Cool; he’d ridden the Tony Carroll-trained Havana Beat to win the Conditional Jockeys’ and Amateur Riders’ Handicap Hurdle at Aintree on Grand National Day.
Robin mentioned that, in general, stable lasses work harder than stable lads; the girls’ charges were always the first to be pulled out in the morning! And, they truly love the horses.
As Robin had lost some of his stabling during the Skelton purchase of Alne House, and 50 acres of the 120 acre estate, a new barn had been erected to accommodate Robin’s displaced horses. There was a new wooden building, housing the office, etc, and quarantine boxes too. Robin said the facilities at the Skelton yard are second to none, and he is determined not to be the ‘poor’ neighbour; as a result a number of improvements have been made and further ones will also be instated.
Although being uprooted, Robin said he preferred the accommodation at Hill Farm; I can understand why, the barn is beautiful. I’d love to live in the country, or at least within a village; sadly, though, it would get difficult as one grows older and needs nearby amenities and health care facilities in order to survive day-to-day.
When asked, Robin told us that his favourite racecourse is Towcester; obviously he hopes the course can be saved, having gone into administration recently. He said it’s a proper course, as jockeys have to use their skills to negotiate it ... unlike at other venues!
Robin said he admires the facilities in Newmarket and Lambourn, but doesn’t approve of the modern-day culture in these training centres. Also, the turnover of staff at the main training centres is horrendous, because it’s so easy to walk out of one yard and into another in search of employment.
We followed the horses out of the yard and into a nearby field. They continued to warm up, although Galactic Power was taken away from the others as he wasn’t walking 100% soundly on the field surface which was hard.
The horses subsequently set off for a canter down the flat gallop and back again. The flat gallop is going to be upgraded, and a new grass gallop created adjacent to it as well. Robin explained that Dontminddboys was currently on lighter duties, having succumbed to a virus recently. The first medication had failed to remedy his white cell blood-count, but a second and different type had proved successful. Obviously he cannot run with drugs in his system, so he’d need to be given the all clear before doing so. Besides, ‘Casper’ loves Leicester racecourse; so there was no particular hurry to run him.
After another ‘walk around’, five of the horses headed into the jumps arena – Thomas Crapper, Anti Cool, Galactic Power, plus the two dark greys. Whilst the quintet cantered around and around, heading over a couple of hurdles per circuit, Robin explained that his daughter had purchased these obstacles as his 65th birthday present! Schooling completed, the horses returned to the field and circled around us once more.
The string then headed across the driveway to the hill gallop; we followed, taking a short-cut through a paddock where two of Harriet’s eventing horses had been turned-out. There was a flashy chestnut which Robin identified as Mrs Prowting’s Custer Of The West aka ‘Custard’; Robin said he didn’t understand why the owner would send one of her precious ex-racers to his daughter but wouldn’t send a current racehorse for him to train!
Fortunately the electric fence, at the far side of the paddock, wasn’t currently connected to the current! Although, Robin didn’t seem too sure about this, initially! We subsequently walked across the carpet gallop and across the top of the adjacent field in order to stand on a promontory area above said gallop. Seven horses took part, including Andy and GP, and they were led by Thomas Crapper. Meanwhile Dontminddboys was ridden down the field slope, before being trotted back up. He waited at the top until the others had completed two gallops.
The horses soon joined us and Dontminddboys on the promontory area; they walked around, warming down before returning to the yard. We headed back also; Robin told us the history of the two mares and their homebred foals which were occupying the adjacent field. The final leg of our walk took us back through the paddock where Custard and his companion were turned-out.
Having arrived back at the house, I missed the opportunity to catch up with the next lot at this stage, heading there a little too late. However, I did subsequently enter the kitchen in search of the bacon sandwiches, eating two! I then returned to the yard once more; the horses which had been exercised earlier, including the EPDS ones, were now being taken off the horse-walker and returned to their boxes. One of Robin’s dogs, a terrier named Maude, wanted attention from me; I declined ... I’m not a ‘dog person’ ... or a ‘cat person’ for that matter!
A number of the EPDS visitors took the opportunity to head back to the hill gallop with the current lot; I joined them. We headed through Custard’s paddock once more, before continuing into the adjacent top field on this occasion. The electric fence in this one was working, but we avoided a shock; Robin revealed the fact that it was connected after we’d negotiated the tapes! We crossed the carpeted hill gallop near its end, and entered the field occupied by the two mares and foals.
Again the horses did two gallops up the hill before warming down in the top field adjacent to Custard’s paddock and heading back to the yard. One of them was reported to be slightly unsound, behind; Robin said his wife would need to take a look at it – she’s an equine chiropractor! He also said he’d be lost without her, in all areas of his life.
Robin explained that a public footpath runs along the side of the latter field; wooden posts had been installed, in preparation for fencing to be attached. However, he said that the posts further up the field would need to be re-positioned, because the workmen hadn’t left sufficient room for the ramblers to walk between the fence and the hedge! Oops! It had been Claire Dickin’s idea to install a fence; she was worried that any horses in the field might kick out at a dog accompanying the walkers, thus avoiding being sued!
Personally, unless the dogs belong to the landowner or are working dogs within their own environment, I think they should always be kept on leads in the countryside. Obviously there’s sheep worrying to contend with; in fact, animal worrying of any kind caused by a canine. I recall Abbots View Alpacas said they lost one of their camelids during a walk outside their farm boundary, following an attack by a dog. Cattle can be very dangerous, to walkers; never walk between a cow and its calf. I can also recall taking a footpath diversion, having encountered cattle with huge horns, within a field near Hawridge in Buckinghamshire.
On this occasion our group exited the top field via the ‘proper’ gate, rather than via the ‘electric fence’ route, continuing down the driveway to the yard.
Harriet was about to take her 3-star event horse for a hack; Dargle Looks. He was very well behaved, standing on the driveway whilst his rider enjoyed a chat with everyone. However, Harriet said he’s a naughty horse, who doesn’t like other horses! He often jumps out of his field too. She said that, when she has been on the injury sidelines, the former head girl exercised Dargle; he whipped around and dumped her! Harriet told us that she bought him cheaply, for an event horse, due to his personality issues. The vendors knew he needed a proper horseman or horsewomen to pilot him, but having seen her ride the horse they were pleased to sell him to Harriet; they were well-suited.
Dargle completed Blenheim in 2016 and her ambition is to complete Badminton before her mount gets too old. He’s currently 15 or 16. She said only certain cross-country courses suit her mount and Burghley isn’t one of them! Dargle had been on the injury sidelines recently and was now on the way back.
I left the yard at noon, to begin my journey home. I headed back down the hill to the main gate. Harriet and Dargle Looks were standing in a lay-by, down the lane; she waved me by as he stood as solid as a rock.
Last year, I’d headed back via Alcester, Evesham, Chipping Norton, Bicester and Aylesbury; this time around I decided to retrace my route back to the M40. Whilst driving on the motorway, I mulled over my options with regard to the remainder of my return route. I could have left the motorway at Banbury and travelled back via Brackley, Buckingham, Milton Keynes and the M1, or retraced my route via Bicester. I dismissed the former as no longer familiar, having not travelled the route for many years. The latter falls down in that Bicester is a nightmare around lunch-time, due to the Shopping Village and the new Tesco store causing congestion on the A41.
The M40 was clear, until the approach to the A41/A34 junction, at which point traffic came to a standstill. So that was why an overly large number of vehicles had decided to leave at Junction 10; that will be the ‘satnavers’ then! It later transpired that it was just the inside lane which was badly affected, due to an obstruction on the slip-road leading up to the roundabout. Eventually there was a break in the traffic and I was able to move into the middle lane in order to bypass the junction.
The stretch of motorway which passes through Otmoor is not well travelled by me; I am familiar with the M40 north of junction 9, and east of Junction 8, but not in between. I could have left the motorway at junction 8A, and headed back via Thame and Aylesbury, or junction 6 and returned via Princes Risborough and Wendover. I chose to remain on the motorway and continued up through the Chilterns Escarpment, bypassing High Wycombe en route. One driver didn’t realise that the inside lane at High Wycombe Central continues up the slip-road, so made a last minute manoeuvre into the middle one; I had to brake as a result.
My final cross-country route option was to leave at Junction 2 and head back via Amersham, Chesham and Hemel Hempstead ... but, by this stage, I just couldn’t be asked; I continued to the M25 instead, and joined the London orbital motorway at junction 16. I subsequently headed along the clockwise carriageway.
I’d read internet reports that the familiar ‘Give Peas a Chance’ graffiti which adorns a railway bridge spanning the motorway between junctions 16 and 17 has suffered a mishap. It had morphed into ‘Give Helch a break’ – protesters want the original graffiti to be reinstated ... and I actually agree with them!
Nearing Watford, I noticed a large plume of black smoke originating from somewhere within the M25. I later discovered it was caused by a huge fire at a scrap-yard in Oakridge Lane in Aldenham; the smoke was drifting across Borehamwood, Bricket Wood and Radlett, with residents being warned to keep their windows closed.
I continued to junction 20, before leaving the motorway and heading up the London Colney bypass to enter my home City. I arrived home just after 14:15.
* * * * * * *
Galactic Power missed his intended trip to Southwell on 02 October as he was discovered to still be sore behind as his race date approached. However, this issue soon resolved itself, with a new date for his post-holiday return envisaged to be Carlisle on 18 October.