DIARY Ė VISIT TO CHURN STABLES IN BLEWBURY
TO SEE EPDS RACINGíS SYNDICATE HORSES
SATURDAY 05 AUGUST 2017
Daliance schooling over a hurdle
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This was my second stable yard visit during the summer of 2017; the first being to Robin Dickinís yard in Warwickshire in early July.† Unfortunately Iíd missed out on visiting Graeme McPhersonís yard on 01 July having succumbed to a stomach bug the day before.
The arranged time for arrival at Noelís yard was between 09:00 to 09:15, so I set my alarm for 05:45 with the aim of leaving home at 7:30.
I showered, washed and styled my hair before eating a breakfast of two croissants.† I drank half a cup of tea, not wishing to be caught short at any point; I probably wouldnít have time to pop into the M4 motorway service station during my outbound journey.†
My outfit today was a pair of dark blue M & S jeggings, an orange Wallis gypsy-style tunic, a navy blue M & S fleece which still had a tendency to shed fluff, a true-blue Ďleafí pendant necklace, a blue lace-edged scarf, plus a light blue BHS raincoat and black M & S Footglove snow-boots.† I also took my brown M & S Footglove ankle boots and wore a pair of moccasins to drive in.† A pair of nubuck M & S moccasins had been pressed into service this summer, for driving, mid-brown in colour with white leather trimmings; my previous navy blue pair having been demoted to Ďwalk to workí shoes.
I tried to save time by minimising my make-up.† Having applied LíOreal Extraordinary Oil moisturiser, and Simple Regeneration age resisting eye cream, I used Max Factor Colour Adapt ĎNaturalí shade foundation.† My mascara was black Lash Extension Effect Mascara, also Max Factor, and Revlon dark brown Brow Fantasy; I like the pencil but donít use the accompanying gel.† I also hid the shadows under my eyes with LíOreal perfect match La Touche Magique concealer; itís best to apply this using a very small, shaped sponge.†
Despite trying to save time, it was already 07:32 when I pulled out of my driveway; so with just under 90 minutes available to reach my destination, I travelled to Blewbury using my tried and tested route.†
I had been mulling over a change of outbound journey, just for a change of scenery; the recommended route supplied by Googlemaps is M25, M40 to Junction 6, then via Watlington and Benson, before heading down the A4074, over the Thames, and onto the A329 before cutting through a country lane just before Moulsford in order to reach the A417.† However I wasnít keen on this, having driven the latter part of the route on a homebound journey previously; I have an aversion to the bottleneck in Watlington.†
My tried and tested option involves the M25 and M4.† This very familiar route meant heading around the ring-road, before continuing via the London Colney roundabout and joining the M25 at junction 20.† There were no issues on the London orbital motorway and Iíd soon reached Junction 15 where I headed down the slip-road to join the M4 westbound carriageway.†
There werenít any problems on this motorway either, although there was still a short section just prior to Junction 10 where the speed limit was set at 50mph.† I left the motorway at Junction 12 and continued down a brief section of the A4 before turning right to head along the A340 to Pangbourne.† Having passed beneath the railway arch in the centre of the town, the road bears left to continue along beside the River Thames.†
I was held up briefly at the traffic lights adjacent to Beale Wildlife Park; they control the flow of vehicles across the single track bridge over the railway.† Having reached the far side thereof, there was a speed limit in place as someone was rebuilding the wall around Basildon Park, working close to the side of the road.† I continued through the 30mph limit at Lower Basildon village and onwards to Streatley.†
Once again Streatley Hill was closed due to work being carried out on the house adjacent to the narrow roadway.† I continued ahead, before bearing off to the left and heading past the entrance to a golf club and then out onto the Oxfordshire Downs.† The A417 dips and rises and twists and turns, all the way to Blewbury.† I saw a stoat disappear into the long grass at the side of the road, having moments before crossed over from right to left.† Stoats are bigger than weasels and have a black tip to their tails.†
I slowed down upon entry to the village, the speed limit being 30mph.† Bohamís Road is located at the far end of Blewbury, opposite a garden centre; I turned left and headed up the hill towards the yard.† Not far from the yard, just before the road bears left, there was a lady walking two dogs; she stepped onto the verge, with her pets, to allow me to drive by.† I thanked her.† I turned left shortly after the aforementioned corner in order to enter the driveway leading to Churn Stables.† A right-hand turn took me around the one-way system, before heading down a track to the far side of the barn and onto the grass parking area beyond.† There were four vehicles already parked and I drew up alongside; one of the 4x4ís belonged to Noel, John from EPDS Racing had arrived too and stood chatting to other early arrivals.† Having changed into my snow-boots, I went over to say hello.
Whilst waiting for others to arrive, around 20 were expected in total, subjects discussed included the beauty of the Oxfordshire Downs; John recommended a walk along the Ridgeway and, especially, Waylands Smithy.† Also cricket; John plays for Stonor which, of course, had its pitch and pavilion featured in Midsomer Murders.† He said, originally, the team was going to provide extras, until the match became one between two youth teams.† The episode was Death and Dreams, one of my favourites.
Although not everyone had arrived by 09:15, we headed into the large barn in search of Noel.† The horses due to head out for the next gallop were being groomed and saddled up; hooves were picked too.† There werenít many horses currently in situ, it being early August.† However, there was Primo Blue, an unnamed 4-year-old filly, also Wild Murphy, Minella Treasure, EPDS Racingís Daliance, Sensulano, Another Crick, Authorized Too, EPDS Racingís Cecilator, Pattara and the retired Friendly Society.† Around the corner were EPDS Racingís Kincora Fort, and two 2-year-old colts Ė one unnamed by Sir Percy, and another named Santiago Rock.
The horses heading out to the gallops were Daliance, Kincora Fort (aka Brian), Cecilator (aka Molly), plus both of the 2-year-olds.† The Sir Percy colt is owned by the partnership which used to own Bingo DíOlivate before he went to the sales and subsequently moved to Gemma Andersonís yard, and Santiago Rock will run in the Katchit colours!
Daliance wore a special hood today, a fly mask in fact.† Heís been on the sidelines since suffering an issue with one of his eyes; treatment included eye drops and two bouts of laser surgery.† The thought is that he damaged the eye whilst in his stable and it is understood that he has retained around 70% vision in it; the eye is now sensitive to light and starts off clear, early morning, but clouds over during the day.† John suggested what he actually needs is a pair of sunglasses!
The horse has been unable to return to the track until the drugs have cleared his system, hence the enforced absence.† Connections are hopeful that the issue has been solved but, if it reoccurs, the only option will be to remove the eye.† Poor old Dali, although he isnít the easiest of horses to handle on or off the racecourse!
Kincora Fort was on the comeback trail too, having been off the racecourse since winning at Kempton Park in May 2015.† He injured a tendon and was on the way back last summer, before injuring the tendon in the other foreleg.† He was still on light duties today.
The horses warmed up around the box-hedge lined track outside the barn initially, before going into the indoor school.† Meanwhile Noel and his visitors headed out to the vehicles to begin our drive to the top of the gallops.† Today, I travelled in the back seat of Johnís 4x4.† There was a large bird of prey, quite low, gliding over Noelís gallops as we drove up the hill; it was probably a buzzard, as it was light in colour.† Definitely not a very familiar red kite.
Having alighted at the top of the hill, we kept a close eye on the far end of the gallop, hoping to spot the horses as they arrived at the bottom.† After a few minutes, four of them appeared, and Daliance led the two colts and Cecilator up the gallop; they passed by us on their way to the top.† A while afterwards, Kincora Fort headed up at a steady canter; that was him done for the day.† The others headed back down to the far end to repeat the exercise.† Brian headed back to the yard, but he got excited and began play-up as the others galloped by on their second run.
Noel had pointed out all of the racing establishments which were visible from the top of the hill, Hughie Morrisonís yard is on the other side of the valley and Eve Johnson-Houghtonís yard is adjacent; Noel used to occupying her reserve yard until Eveís string grew too big.† We saw a number of her horses heading up the gallops today too.† Mick Channonís gallops, at West Ilsley, could be seen on the horizon.† There was another yard over to the left, but I canít remember who he said it was!† Beeswax Estates, aka James Dyson, owns Churn Stables and Noelís and Hughieís gallops too.
Noel is still in process of clearing molehills from the diagonal grass gallops to the east of his all-weather one, and he hopes to use them soon.
Daliance and his companions then circled around at the top of the gallops whilst we stood nearby; many of our group took further photographs, including me.† After that, the horses began their walk back to the yard.† However, Daliís work session wasnít finished for the day, as he stopped off beside a line of hurdles and fences situated on the grass, beside the track, on the level ground at the bottom of the hill.† The vehicles pulled up alongside and we headed out onto the grass beside the fences.† Meanwhile, Noel put a pair of protective boots on Dalianceís forelegs and, of course, removed the horseís mask so that he could see better ahead of his task.† The rider then took him over the three flights of hurdles before repeating the process.† He rapped two or three but, on the whole, jumped very well.†
We then returned in the 4x4ís to the yard; during the drive back, I noticed horses being exercised on the gallops at the bottom of the valley.† There was a kiddie-lock on the rear door of Johnís 4x4 so he had to let me out each time we alighted!†
When someone asked about the mare Theatregoer, which is owned by Noel, he confirmed that she is now in foal to Scorpion.† Having entered the right-hand entrance to the barn, I headed along the line of loose boxes, stroking those horses which appeared keen for me to do so.† I think my favourite was Another Crick; I also liked the mare Sensulano and Wild Murphy.† Authorized Too was quite friendly also; heís won on the flat twice recently, and was runner-up at Stratford earlier in the week.† It seems that, according to his name label, the retired Friendly Society is still looking for his forever home.
Noel explained that Wild Murphy had been quite a sick horse, returning to the track at Stratford also; the horse suffers from allergic reactions and is now on a special and unique diet within the yard.† The trainer was very pleased with his 6th place, considering the circumstances.† Also, Minella Treasure had been transferred from Alan Kingís yard, because his former boss was finding it impossible to keep David Sewellís horse sound behind.† Another Crick, as the name might suggest, is also owned by David.†††††††††††
The horses which had been on the gallops spent some time on the horse-walker before being brought back to their stables.† I spent some time with Cecilator too; sheís sweet.† By the time I went around the corner to see Kincora Fort, he was more interested in his lunch!† Noelís wife Clare also came to see Brian, and fed him a number of polos; these were courtesy of Authorized Tooís owner who had sent them following her horseís excellent recent results.†
At this point, the heavens opened.† Thank goodness we are inside the barn and not out on the gallops when the very heavy shower arrived.† It was extremely noisy though, as the rain came down in stair-rods and was bouncing off the roof.
Latterly, Noel fetched the unnamed 4-year-old filly for everyone to see; heís hoping to call her ĎDriftí.† She originated from a west-country breeder who recently passed away and, although she has been broken-in, the process will be recapped due to everything being put on hold due to her breederís illness and subsequent death.† She could be an EPDS horse at a later date, if enough people were to show an interest in her.† Sheís by With The Flow, out of Lady Exe.†††††††††††††††
I paid a visit to see Daliance too, but he snapped at me Ö yep, thatís Dali for you!† At the time of the visit, the plan for both Daliance and Cecilator was to take them to run at Les Landes in Jersey on Sunday 13 August.
Earlier, Noel had mentioned that Briery Queen will be coming back for just one more season before heading off to stud; however, the owner/breeders will be sending him a half-sister as a replacement.† Although Noel did say the replacement doesnít have the best disposition evidently!†
He also likes to leave a bit of work to do when running bumper horses and, when pressed, he said his best one is Bally Martine, which he owns and hasnít run under rules yet; he had to withdraw the horse from its intended debut in the spring because of ground issues.† He has no objection to starting horses off and will gladly sell Bally Martine, to run for another yard if necessary, if he displays the hoped-for talent.††
Anyway, as it neared mid-day, it was time for me to depart.† I thanked Noel before leaving, and headed out to my car.† It was no longer raining, although I did hear a faint rumble of thunder.† I left the yard at around 11:55, following a 4x4 out of the parking area.† However my car being just a little Fiesta, the front bumper stone protector (is that what itís called?) scraped on the ground as I headed down the grassy slope onto the driveway because there wasnít quite enough clearance.† Oops.†
I headed out via the right-hand arm of the one-way system and back along the driveway to Bohamís Road, negotiating a number of speed bumps along the way.† Having turned right upon reaching said road, I followed two vehicles back down the hill to Blewbury.† A car heading in the opposite direction had to wait for us to pass, just before the descent.†
As I nearly always do when returning from a yard visit, I decided to take the scenic route home; however, today, it proved to be even more scenic than usual!†
Having reached the main road which heads through Blewbury, the A417, I turned left.† I headed through Upton but instead of turning left as on all previous occasions in order to join the A34 southbound carriageway at Chilton, I continued in a westerly direction towards Rowstock.† There were road-works en route, just prior to the bridge over the A34; evidently a new road link to Didcot was being constructed.† When I reached Rowstock, I turned right at a roundabout and headed northwards hoping to join the A34 northbound carriageway.
However, as I approached the traffic-light controlled roundabout below the dual carriageways, I noticed that traffic was almost stationary thereon.† Oh well, that was my planned route eliminated.† My only option was to head into Didcot, although I hadnít a clue where I was going!† Because I was in the left-most lane having expected to head up the slip-road onto the A34, I thought Iíd stick to that lane around the roundabout so as not to annoy too many fellow drivers!† As a result, I soon found myself in the industrial area of Milton Park.†
I continued along the main through-road, Park Drive evidently, before encountering road-works at a roundabout.† It appeared the only option available was to turn right once the temporary traffic-lights turned to green.† It was a bit weird heading anti-clockwise at said roundabout, before exiting down a road-entry point designed for traffic heading in a clockwise direction!
I was now travelling down Milton Road, with a railway line to my right, and the Didcot cooling towers to the left; there are only three towers remaining, the three nearest the road having been demolished.† At the far end, following a further roundabout, I continued upon the A4130 as it headed around the perimeter of a housing estate; there were a number of additional roundabouts thereon.† At the far end I turned right, heading down Abingdon Road and onto Hadden Hill; I was following signposts to Wallingford.
The road passes to the north of Brightwell-cum-Sotwell before arriving at a roundabout; there was an option to turn right, which would have taken me around the Wallingford southern bypass, but I continued straight ahead, into the town.† Traffic taking this route was slowed by speed-bumps.† I arrived at cross-roads, mid High Street, and had to wait for the lights to turn green.† A right-hand turn would have taken me to the Market Place; Wallingford is Midsomer Murderís Causton.† A left-hand turn would have allowed me to head along Castle Street and cross the Thames at Shillingford ... but I didnít know that at the time!
Anyway, I continued straight ahead, the road narrows for a short while and then, just ahead of the bridge over the Thames, there are further traffic lights to control the single-flow of vehicles over the narrow bridge.† The village on the other side of said bridge is Crowmarsh Gifford, so I drove through it and subsequently reached a roundabout upon the A4074; I then turned left.
However, unlike the previous time when Iíd travelled back from Noelís via this road, on this occasion I decided not to enter Benson and travel back via Watlington; instead I continued to Shillingford and turned right at the roundabout to drive through Warborough.† Warborough is another village which features heavily in Midsomer Murders, especially The Six Bells pub; although itís not visible from the main road, but sits beside the green behind the church.† And, yes, Iíve been for a ramble through Warborough!
I was now on the A329, and I continued around a tight left-hand turn and through Newington; Newington House featured in an episode of Middie Murders too.† Upon reaching Stadhampton, I waited quite a while to turn right onto the Thame Road; it didnít help that, when there was a break in the traffic, vehicles from a petrol station forecourt pulled out to fill the space before I could exit the junction.† Damn.
Anyway, having finally negotiated the T-junction, I headed through the Stadhampton Recreation Ground and took the road signposted for Little Milton; I drove by the Lamb Inn Ö Iíve had a drink in that pub when Mark and I were rambling in the area.† It turned out to be a bit of a nightmare in the end, as it was a walk which I planned using an ordnance survey map and, as usual, Iíd made it a bit longer in distance than it should have been!†
The section of the walk pre-Lamb Inn had been fine, starting out at Garsington and taking in Denton House, which had also featured in Midsomer Murders.† We visited Great Milton, Great and Little Haseley too.† However, there were supposed to be stepping stones across the River Thame and it turned out that these had been washed away and not replaced!† Mark was actually going to wade across Ö I donít think so; he also suggested we take our boots off and walk across the river at a ford further upstream Ö not on your life!††
In the end, and although we were walking blind so to speak because it went Ďoff mapí, we ended up in Stadhampton and then walked along the main B480 towards Oxford before finding the lane to Garsington in order to collect the car.† As I mentioned before, I was a terror when it came to planning my own walks, rather than using ones which had been published in books!
Anyway, back to today, I continued along the A329, passing by the windmill near Great Haseley; itís now got sails, which it hasnít had during the years when Iíve known of it.† The road soon passes over the M40, with access to the motorway, but I continued ahead towards Thame; I also drove past a golf club Ö Iíve rambled through there too; it may have been the one which started out from Waterperry Gardens.†
The road bypasses Thame and latterly Haddenham; Midsomer Murders uses both of these on a regular basis, also Long Crendon.† Theyíve filmed in nearby Shabbington, Chearsley, Cuddington, Westlington and Nether Winchendon too.† I continued past Dinton Castle; the folly is now being restored and, as such, is cordoned off by metal-grid barriers.
I continued through Stone, past Hartwell House Hotel and entered Aylesbury.† My journey then took me around the southern section of their ring-road, which meant driving past their notable Council offices building and the Waterside Theatre, before heading off of town upon the A41.† Road-works were still being carried out near the Holiday Inn; they are long-term and it appears that traffic lights will soon be installed at the junction.
I continued to the roundabout at the beginning of the A41 bypass and headed along the dual carriageway thereof; eventually I decided to overtake the car in front of me because Iíd got fed up with its speed varying between 65mph and 50mph.† The road bypasses Tring and Berkhamsted, and I exited at the Hemel Hempstead junction.†
I headed down the hill and through the traffic lights, they were on green; Iíd entered Two Waters Road and subsequently negotiated the ĎMagic Roundaboutí before heading up the steep hill, and continuing in the direction of the M1 motorway.† At the traffic island at the end of Maylands Avenue, I turned right and headed through Leverstock Green and back to St Albans.† I travelled around the ring-road and home; I arrived back at 14:00; I also drove by two ĎSmiley SIDsí.† One of them scowled, but only for a second Ö I wasnít speeding, perhaps it was the car behind me.
It had taken me less than 90 minutes to get to Blewbury, but just over two hours to drive back home via my scenic route.
Annoyingly, my car could no longer be described as clean, although Iíd washed it the previous Sunday.† I donít know why I bother sometimes.† It had been splashed with dirty water, from the puddles which Iíd driven through, mainly on the section of the route between the bridge over the M40 and Aylesbury.† There was also sand stuck to the front bumper stone protector, as Iím referring to it, as a result of my driving off the grass at Noelís without the required clearance!†††††
It was time for a late lunch; Iíd not eaten since 07:00, apart from a large chocolate-chip cookie Iíd chosen from the offerings available whilst at the yard, before settling down for the evening to watch the World Athletics Championship taking place at the London Stadium ... I also began to draft this diary!
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As hoped for, both Cecilator and Daliance made the trip to Jersey and were both rewarded with third places in their respective races.† Dalianceís race was over hurdles and Cecilatorís was on the flat; Will Featherstone rode the chestnut and a local jockey rode the filly.† Dali also won the prize as best turned-out ahead of his event!