VISIT TO ROBIN DICKIN’S YARD AT GREAT ALNE
TO SEE ANTI COOL, DONTMINDDBOYS AND GALACTIC POWER
SATURDAY 08 JULY 2017
EPDS on twitter:
EPDS on facebook:
Robin Dickin Racing:
Summertime had arrived again, with a number of stable yard visits in the offing. The first was scheduled for 01 July, to Graeme McPherson’s operation near Stow-on-the-Wold, and a second one to Robin Dickin’s yard the following Saturday.
However, a spanner was thrown in the works when I contracted a stomach bug virus on 30 June and I was unable to attend the visit to Graeme’s yard as booked. Graeme currently trains Ami Desbois, Stynes, Londonia and an unnamed mare (stable name Rabbit) for EPDS.
The bug lasted for six days but, by the following Thursday I had finally recovered so was able to attend the visit to Robin’s yard on Saturday 08 July. Robin trains Galactic Power, Dontminddboys and Anti Cool for EPDS Racing; Galactic Power is one of two horses which run for the EPDS Twitterati Racing Club and, as such, is ‘my horse’ as I’m one of the members thereof.
Robin is based in Warwickshire, at Great Alne near Alcester; a handful of miles to the northwest of Stratford-Upon-Avon in fact. As I still don’t have access to a satnav, I decided to research the final stages of the route on Google maps. Thus, having driven the route visually on screen, I knew the landmarks to look out for in order not to get lost along the way. According to the directions, it would take approximately one hour and 50 minutes to get there. With this in mind, I set my alarm for around 05:00 on Saturday, with the aim of setting off at 07:15.
I showered, washed and dried my hair before eating a breakfast of two buttered slices of white toast, plus half a cup of tea.
My outfit today was a pair of M & S pink jeggings described as ‘raspberry’ on the label; a BHS black with white, pink and mauve butterflies-design shirt, black BHS frill-edged cardigan, brown M & S Footglove ankle boots. I also took my moccasins to change into for the drive home (although I didn’t need them in the end), and M & S snow-boots just in case the terrain was worse than expected as I’d not visited the yard before. I think I was slightly overcautious, as it was early July and the weather had been particularly hot and dry in recent days or even weeks! I also took a raincoat just in case! I applied basic makeup today – just a base, mascara and eyebrow pencil – and was soon ready to depart.
According to the clock in my car, it was 07:13 when I left home.
I’m fully familiar with the route to Stratford racecourse, so I headed out via my City Centre and along the A4147 to Hemel Hempstead; I have to confess my mind was wandering as I drove but, fortunately, I realised just in time that I’d entered a 40mph speed zone patrolled by cameras! 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 heading up the hill to join the A41 bypass.
I continued in a north-westerly direction upon the aforementioned dual carriageway, 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, using the northern option, in order to re-join the A41 heading out of town towards Waddesdon. It was definitely a road-kill day, as a dead badger was lying in the middle of the road just to the west of the railway bridge close to Aylesbury Vale Parkway station. A little further along, a bird of prey flew across the road and landed on the fence to the left-hand side of the road. I’d hazard a guess that it was a buzzard; it definitely wasn’t a red kite, and it was far too large to be a kestrel.
Anyway, I continued through Waddesdon and onwards towards Bicester, passing through the village of Kingswood en route. Having missed the opportunity to overtake me on the brief section of dual carriageway to the west of this village, I was passed by one or two vehicles further along; I was in no particular hurry. There were road-works on the approach to Bicester and a further example of road-kill; on this occasion a dead muntjac in the middle of the road.
I 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 headed in a north-westerly direction along the motorway, before leaving at Junction 15; the traffic had been free-moving, apart from the odd occasion when a slow travelling lorry decided to overtake a lorry travelling even slower!
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. The road remained familiar, as I used to travel to Stratford racecourse via this route before I discovered a more scenic option through Banbury and along the A422.
I’d also had previous experience of the left-hand fork, the A439 which heads into Stratford itself; I’d diverted back into the town on one occasion when, due to road-works, there had been a long tail-back on the A46 dual carriageway leading down to Junction 15. Anyway, on this occasion I continued on the bypass; it soon headed steeply downhill to a roundabout where it crossed the A3400.
I left the A46 at this point, taking the fourth exit to head north-westwards upon the aforementioned A-road. This was the section of my route which I’d driven visually on Google Maps. I knew I had to continue upon the road until I saw a car dealership to the right-hand side, next to a junction, and had passed under a railway bridge shortly afterwards. I was seeking Salter Lane. However, it was at this point that my carefully laid plans went slightly awry; Salter Lane was closed to traffic! There was a group of kitted-out cyclists waiting to exit the junction despite this.
Anyway, fortunately I had an alternative route mapped out although I’d not driven it ‘in vision’; just in case I missed my original turning! Therefore I continued along the A3400 until I reached a village named Wootton Wawen. I turned left, just before the Bulls Head pub, 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 soon headed through Little Alne, at the far end of which I passed the lane where I would have emerged had I been able to travel via my intended route.
The road was winding in places, so it was necessary to drive with care and not too much speed! The landmark I was looking for was a house with Tudor-style timbering on the upper storey; I knew that the Park Lane turning would be situated shortly afterwards, to the right of the road on a slightly left-handed bend. Got it! I turned right and headed along the residential road; a fork to the right entered a newly constructed housing development of high value homes. I needed to take the left-hand fork ... but there was another hitch in my plans ... a large lorry was completely blocking the thoroughfare and workman were levelling out the delivered tarmac upon the driveway of a bungalow located to the left-hand side of the lane.
There were a couple of gentlemen walking their dog, so I wound down the electric window to ask what I should do; they suggested I park on the grass verge and walk to Hill Farm. It was just a couple of minutes away they said. I pulled over; shortly afterwards the lorry backed out thus opening the thoroughfare. A car which had been waiting to exit from the Hill Farm direction drove through the space now created.
Despite there also being a vehicle and trailer parked a little further along the lane which reduced clearance, I managed to squeeze through the gap, although shrubs in the garden of a neighbouring property did scratch along the passenger side of my car. I continued along the lane, under overhanging trees, until the public section of the lane terminated at the entrance to the Hill Farm property.
Having then turned right to head uphill, I had to pull over to the left to allow another vehicle to pass on its way downhill. The address given was that of Hill Farm so, upon reaching a converted barn and stables, I turned right and headed along the gravel drive; but there was no-one to be seen. However, I knew that Robin and his wife had taken on the big house at Alne Park, at the far end of the driveway, as a B & B. So I turned around and, as I did so, three cars passed by on the roadway, all heading towards the pillared entrance of the park itself. A number of racehorses had been turned out in the field next to the drive too.
I followed them and found a number of vehicles parked in the driveway or upon the adjacent grass. I’d found my destination as a number of fellow syndicate members, the Managing Director John, along with Robin Dickin were waiting for everyone to arrive. It was 09:25. There were, however, a number of latecomers, all of whom had been delayed by the return of the tarmac lorry. I understand some had walked up, whilst others had been given a lift from ‘base camp’ to their final destination! But it definitely wasn’t a two minute walk from there.
Galactic Power and Dontminddboys were currently undertaking their summer break; spending the evening and overnight out in the field, whilst being brought in to their stables during the heat of the day. However, Anti Cool was in the process of returning to action following a tendon injury which had occurred on 01 September last year; this being the case, he was currently on light training duties.
Four horses would be exercised for us to view, namely the chestnut blaze-faced Storming Harry, bay Jackheath, bay The Lion Man, and of course Anti Cool; he’s also a bay. Having warmed up whilst walking in a circle upon the grass area adjacent to the main buildings, the four horses headed off down the hill towards Hill Farm before entering the gallop and trotting the distance thereof and returning to the area close where we were standing, near to a large barn.
They then repeated the exercise, at a faster pace; apart from Anti Cool who was purposely detached from the other three and followed at a collected canter. Robin was taking no chances, just in case Anti Cool got too excited and decided to race against the others. Exercise session over, the horses were ridden in a circle, at a walk, to warm down. The lass aboard Anti Cool circle our group so that we could get a better look at him as he did so.
The four horses were then returned to their stables, having been hosed down on this warm July morning. We, meanwhile, headed to the patio area to the far side of Alne House for drinks and eats. Bucks Fizz was available but, as I was driving, I stuck to orange juice. There was also iced water or coffee if preferred. I also ate a croissant.
Robin had installed a temporary pool for his workers during the hot weather; also a smaller paddling pool for his dog! Robin’s daughters compete in eventing and a dressage arena was laid out on the lawn to the side of the house; this particular weekend they were competing at Barbury Castle. A few weeks after this visit, daughter Harriet would ‘take on’ the former racehorse Custer Of The West; he’s owned by Mrs Prowting and used to be in training with Alan King. The flashy chestnut’s pet name is Custard; he raced under rules eight times and retired in May 2013. Choc rode him a couple of times too.
Dontminddboys and Galactic Power had been brought in from the field and were led around to the conservatory area for everyone to meet. They both looked quite fit, despite being on their summer holidays; they’d been groomed ahead of meeting their visitors. Robin explained that he doesn’t like his horses to wind-down too much during their time off because, if they do, it takes ages to get the weight off again and regain their former fitness.
I took the opportunity to take numerous photographs whilst the horses stood patiently beside the patio. They both have lovely natures; the pocket rocket and the gentle giant. I also noticed that Galactic Power’s forelegs had been bar-fired at some point in the past; he was bred in Ireland.
Robin was asked about Thomas Crapper; he is recovering well following a fracture to a bone at the back of a knee, and a subsequent operation to remove an associated chip of bone. The horse was due to be scanned again the following week to see if the fracture had healed. On this date, it was unknown whether he’d be able to race again. Evidently it was an identical injury to that sustained by Wildehearted Woman which ended her racing career.
The Skeltons’ yard is adjacent to Alne Park and the former Paul Nicholls assistant was in the process of acquiring more land in the area. The country house which Robin and his wife currently ran as a B & B was to be sold by their landlord, so the trainer would soon be moving back to Hill Farm itself and expanding the yard and facilities located there. At this point in time, his charges were split between the two locations, although they were in very close proximity; just a walk away in fact.
I also learnt that Graeme McPherson had purchased more land recently, in order to expand his operation near Stow-on-the-Wold.
Robin recounted a few stories too and told us about a recent visit to Ireland which he’d made in search of new horses.
People began to drift away as midday approached; I left a minute or two before noon. One or two people had to cadge a lift from others in order to save themselves the task of walking back down the hill to Great Alne, having left their vehicles close to the main road due to the earlier obstruction caused by the tarmac lorry.
I drove back down the driveway and out through the brick pillars which denoted the entrance to Alne Park. Two horses, one of which was a grey, were being ridden down the driveway ahead of me, so I followed at a safe distance, very slowly. They peeled off towards the barns at Hill Farm, whilst I swung right-handed to head down the hill and exit the property. I continued down Park Lane, beneath the overhanging trees and had soon reached the dwellings at the village end of the lane.
The vehicle and trailer were no longer parked to the left-hand side of the road and I glanced to my right as I drove past the bungalow; the tarmac driveway was now complete, with no sign of any workmen or the tarmac lorry which had earlier obstructed the route.
I reached a T-junction shortly afterwards, the B4089; it was decision time. Should I turn left and return via my outbound route, or turn right in order to return via Alcester? The latter also gave me the option of heading back via Stratford and subsequently via the A422 to Banbury, or via the even more scenic route through the Cotswolds upon the A44 through Moreton-In-Marsh and Chipping Norton. I turned right, because I’d decided the very scenic route was the one for me, having missed out on an excursion to the Cotswolds the previous Saturday. Besides, I didn’t need to be home until mid-afternoon when I hoped to watch the Wimbledon men’s singles matches on TV.
The B4089 wound its way to Alcester and, although fellow attendees had remarked upon the pretty village high street, I chose the ‘through traffic’ route; it headed via an industrial estate at the far end of which I briefly joined the A435 to head in a southerly direction. At the second roundabout I continued ahead, and was now travelling down the A46.
However, where the A46 became part of the Evesham bypass, I encountered a long queue of traffic waiting to enter this section, tailing back from a roundabout. This was a result of traffic heading in from the right, from the direction of Worcester; they had priority. Traffic continued to be heavy upon the bypass but, fortunately, having negotiated one further roundabout en route, I was able to turn left at the next one.
I was now travelling on the A44 and following the sign-posted route towards Oxford. In fact the route from the Evesham bypass all the way home is already very familiar, as it’s my chosen return route from Worcester racecourse! Anyway, I continued along this thoroughfare which is the Broadway Village bypass and it soon began to ascend the very steep Cotswold escarpment at the inappropriately named Fish Hill. Broadway Tower and Country Park are situated to the right-hand side of the road at this point.
The road continues to rise, but far less steeply now, and soon passes the turning to Stow-on-the-Wold. I continued upon the A44 as it headed through Bourton-on-the-Hill and onwards to Moreton-in-Marsh. Upon entering the town, I turned left to head along the main street briefly, before taking a right in order to remain on the A44.
Further along there is a turning signposted for the National Trust property of Chastleton House and, after that, another right-hand turn, the A436 to Stow-on-the-Wold; I’d have travelled that particular route the previous Saturday had I been able to visit Graeme McPherson’s yard. I continued to Chipping Norton. There were temporary traffic lights operating on the hill prior to the main High Street; the gas main surroundings were being strengthened evidently.
Having negotiated this obstacle, I continued through the town and headed out thereof upon the ‘local traffic’ route as I always do! An impatient driver was following me as I kept to the speed limit through the initial section and he sped by as soon as he was able. The junction at the far end is controlled by traffic lights and they were on green as I reached it; I turned right. This section of the A44 had recently been resurfaced. Signs warning of a lack of road markings and loose chippings adorned the verge; I think it stated 14 miles of disruption. The chippings had already ‘settled’ so it was safe to drive at around 50mph, as did the vehicles in front of me.
On the outskirts of Enstone, just around a left-hand bend, the B4030 bears off to the left; I took this route. The slip-road in from the opposite direction was a little chock-a-bloc, due to waiting vehicles one in one out, but it didn’t affect my side of the road. I headed through the outskirts of the village and onwards through Gagingwell and Middle Barton. I continued across the A4260 at Hopcrofts Holt, before heading down the hill to the causeway adjacent to Rousham House; I had to wait at the traffic lights prior to this crossing.
I headed through Lower Heyford, turned right shortly after a left-hand bend, and then continued through Caulcott before getting stuck behind a slow-moving farm vehicle as the route approached Middleton Stoney. Fortunately the driver turned right at the junction with the B430. I continued to Bicester; there are 16 speed humps on the residential road into town! At the far end I turned right and was briefly held up by traffic entering the Bicester Shopping Village; there were ongoing road-works at this junction and a number of houses appeared to be under construction to the left-hand side of the road too.
Anyway, I turned left and continued along the Bicester bypass and onwards towards Aylesbury, passing through Kingswood and Waddesdon en route. Upon arrival in the Buckinghamshire town, I headed around the northern section of their ring-road before rejoining the A41; road-works continued on this section of the route. I then headed along the dual carriageway of the main A41 bypass, past Tring, Berkhamsted and Bourne End. I exited at the Hemel Hempstead junction and headed downhill and along Two Waters Road.
The ‘Magic Roundabout’ was far busier than on my outbound journey as it was now early afternoon. Having negotiated this novelty traffic island, I headed uphill along St Albans Road, taking the roundabout ‘bypass’ route at the entrance to Jarman Park; a vehicle ahead of me decided to also take this route, despite being in the outside lane at the time!
I continued along St Albans Road, before turning right at the Maylands Avenue roundabout in order to head through Leverstock Green. Ensuring that I remained within the speed limit to avoid being clocked by any of the speed cameras along the A4147, I headed back to St Albans. I continued around the ring-road, passing two ‘Smiley Sids’ on the way; he smiled at me on both occasions!
I arrived home at 14:50 and had time in hand before the show-court men’s singles matches commenced at Wimbledon. Djokovic was playing his third round match today and his current coach was Andre Agassi.