DIARY – VISIT TO CHURN STABLES IN BLEWBURY
TO SEE EPDS RACING’S SYNDICATE HORSES
SATURDAY 28 OCTOBER 2017
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This was my second stable yard visit during the autumn of 2017; the first being to Graeme McPherson’s yard near Stow-on-the-Wold a fortnight earlier. I’d missed the visit to Robin Dickin’s yard because I was concerned about storm ‘Brian’; in hindsight it would probably have been okay to travel out to Warwickshire, as the storm wasn’t as bad as predicted.
The arranged time for arrival at Noel’s 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. The alarm actually sounded at 05:35 and woke me from a dream-sleep.
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 wouldn’t have time to pop into the M4 motorway service station during my outbound journey.
My outfit today was a pair of soft spice-coloured M & S jeggings, a cream coloured polo-necked ribbed-knit M & S sweater (I’ve suddenly collected them in a whole range of colours this autumn – cream, black, dark grey, navy, berry, cobalt, red and magenta), a turquoise-coloured BHS fleece (described as ‘lake’), a recently completed striped snood (knitted in Sirdar Colourwheel ‘Flower Garden’), a pair of red/orange/gold Fired Creations earrings, my burgundy/brown ‘stable visit’ jacket, and black M & S Footglove snow-boots. I also wore my black M & S Footglove ankle boots to drive in, and took a spare pair of moccasins (nubuck).
Having applied L’Oreal Extraordinary Oil moisturiser, I used Max Factor Colour Adapt ‘Natural’ shade foundation. My mascara was black/brown Max Factor Voluptuous false lash effect mascara, and Revlon dark brown Brow Fantasy; I like the pencil but don’t use the accompanying gel. I also hid the shadows under my eyes with L’Oreal perfect match La Touche Magique concealer; it’s best to apply this using a very small, shaped sponge. And I wore contact lenses too. This is not an advertising feature!!!
I pulled out of my driveway at 07:35, with around 90 minutes available to reach my destination; I travelled to Blewbury using my tried and tested route using the M25/M4 although, in fact, Google recommends the M25/M40 route as it’s 5 minutes shorter in duration.
The route I’d chosen meant joining the M25 at junction 22, having decided to circumnavigate Highfield Park on the way; I was also curious to see what progress had been made with the long-term road-works outside a local school. There were no issues on the London orbital motorway and I’d soon reached Junction 15 where I headed down the slip-road to join the M4 westbound carriageway.
There weren’t 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 due to road-works upon the slip-roads of the A329(M). Getting into a horsey mood, I’d followed a NRT horsebox (Newmarket Racehorse Transport) lorry in the Windsor area and, further along, a smaller Godolphin box. They must have been heading to Newbury for their last day of flat racing for the season. Both boxes also had the word ‘horses’ translated into both French and German painted on the back.
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.
The traffic lights adjacent to Beale Wildlife Park, which control the flow of vehicles across the single track bridge over the railway, changed to green as I slowed down on the approach. Having reached the far side thereof, a speed limit was still in place due to the wall around Basildon Park being rebuilt. I continued through the 30mph limit at Lower Basildon village and onwards to Streatley.
The work on a building beside the narrow entry to Streatley Hill had now been completed and the road was open once more. 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. Near the beginning of the road, on the right-hand side, workmen were carrying out remedial work on the bank and ditch; this being the case, there were temporary traffic lights to negotiate at this point. The A417 dips and rises and twists and turns, all the way to Blewbury. I saw a number of red kites en-route.
I slowed down upon entry to the village, the speed limit being 30mph. Boham’s Road is located at the far end of Blewbury, opposite a garden centre; I turned left and headed up the hill towards the yard. At the top of the hill, a car pulled out of a driveway to my left and was now heading in the same direction as me. I had a feeling that the occupant might be lost – it’s difficult to find Noel’s yard if you use a satnav because it directs you to the wrong place!
Anyway, further along where the lane bears left, the car stopped. I overtook and stopped also; indeed the driver was lost and, after a brief conversation, I instructed him to follow me as I knew the way. A short-distance further along, we turned left , then right, so as to drive 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 a number of vehicles already parked. I put on my snow-boots as the grass was wet and, along with the gentleman from the other car, walked over to the entrance to one of the main barns.
I’d noticed one of the regular stable visit attendees had entered the barn, but I couldn’t see him; stable staff were readying their mounts for the next lot. Having briefly patted Wild Murphy, I decided to wait outside so as not to get in anyone’s way. A number of people had remained in their vehicles for the moment, it was 09:10. It transpired from my conversation with the ‘new visitor’ that he’d purchased a share in Kincora Fort just a day or two previously.
A few minutes later I caught sight of the regular visitor at the far end of the barn, close to the refreshments, Noel also. I went to say hello. The trainer said he wasn’t expecting too many people to visit today, as only Kincora Fort was currently in work; Daliance had been retired due to injury, although he was still presently living at the yard, and Cecilator was having a well-deserved break with the aim of bringing her back to re-start in February.
I told Noel that I came to see all of his horses, not just EPDS Racing’s horses – as a horse-lover as well as a National Hunt racing lover, it’s nice to see them all in their home environment; especially as I don’t get to the races very often to see mine or the other syndicate horses run, due to work commitments. All of the horses were friendly, apart from the off-spring of Briery Queen’s sister; Noel pointed about that the grid on her stable door was closed because she bites. The Managing Director of EPDS Racing, John Powell soon arrived with his toddler son Alfie.
A number of people having arrived, one of them set off to find Kincora Fort, within the first, full ‘aisle’ – I thought I’d check around the corner, in the second aisle, as that had been his location on my previous visit. He was in the first box, as before. He was being saddled-up, whilst a head-collar tethered him to the back wall; it was a bit like a riding school, when you go to collect your tacked-up conveyance ahead of a lesson!
A total of six horses were ‘pulled out’ this lot – Balli Martine, Kincora Fort, Drift, Undisputed, Midnight Merlot and the now-gelded Santiago Rock; Noel is hoping for an improvement from the latter. Noel’s wife, Clare, rode Balli Martine, and Noel applied bandages to Midnight Merlot before they set off to warm up in the indoor school. One of the horses got left behind, so we stood aside in order for them to pass ahead of joining the others.
The six horses were trotted around the school, Balli Martine leading the string, from Kincora Fort, Undisputed, Midnight Merlot, Drift and Santiago Rock. Everyone then headed over to the parked vehicles and we piled into three or four of the 4x4s, with a Mini tagging along too; the driver appeared to have arrived late. Today I rode in Noel’s passenger seat; he did apologise for the muddy state of the vehicle, inside and out, but there’s not a lot you can do about it when working with horses in the countryside!
In order to obtain the best possible view for the owners, Noel drove us up the hill beside the gallop; this gallop runs adjacent to those of Eve Johnson-Houghton. Noel’s earlier string had used the gallop across the other side of the valley, also owned by James Dyson’s Beeswax company. The trainer explained that, in the future, it is his and Clare’s ambition to own their own yard rather than rent his facilities as at present. There are two barns at Churn Stables, Noel uses one of them; there are 38 boxes therein. Evidently Noel had been to Newbury races the previous day, with a Sir Percy colt – he’s now called Percy Prosecco , being out of Grapes Hill. He’d finished 10th of 14. I’d missed him from my runners of interest list, as I tend to concentrate on National Hunt racing.
Having reached the top of the hill, we alighted to await the horses; they headed up the gallop in two groups of three, Balli Martine, Kincora Fort and Drift, then Undisputed, Midnight Merlot and Santiago Rocks. The horses did two gallops, before circling at the top of the hill so that we could get a close look at them before they headed back to the yard. Noel talked about the differing natures of racehorses, for instance, Kincora Fort and Briery Queen are easily spooked by objects, and non-existent objects too.
We followed along behind them; Noel pointed out three horses heading along the gallop across the valley – they may have been inmates of Hughie Morrison’s yard, or that of Geoff Deacon. We caught up with Noel’s string close to the yard, with Kincora Fort leading his stable companions back. When asked about his preferred jockeys, by one of my companions, Noel said that Wayne Hutchinson is his number one choice when available to ride; he’s Alan King’s stable jockey. He also likes Leighton Aspell, and Will Featherstone if a conditional jockey is needed. He sometimes still engages James Banks.
Having alighted from our vehicles, everyone headed into the main barn. Most people headed for the refreshments, I decided to embark upon a tour of the horses housed therein. I started with Authorized Too, Daliance wearing a hooded eye shield because of the issues he’d had previously, Another Crick, Sensulano, and Drunken Pirate (he’s known as Big Sam by his owner Mrs Prowting and racing manager Hannah Bishop); I love him, he’s a gentle giant. His name is very apt; he’s by Black Sam Bellamy out of Peel Me A Grape, making him a half brother to Midnight Merlot, Coyaba, Letsby Avenue, and Passing Shadow. Black Sam Bellamy is by Sadler’s Wells out of Urban Sea. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner in 1993, Urban Sea was also the dam of Sea The Stars and Galileo.
I also saw Wild Murphy, Primo Blue, Undisputed, Diva Du Marquis, Briery Queen, Minella Treasure, Samson The Man who had an engagement in the Cheltenham Bumper later in the day (he finished 7th of 14), the retired Friendly Society who was still looking for his forever home, also Percy Prosecco. The horses which had been on the gallops spent some time on the horse-walker before being brought back to their stables, this included Midnight Merlot whose box was next door to Drunken Pirate.
The morning had flown by and, by 11:20, it was time to leave; I thanked Noel for his hospitality and wished him luck at Cheltenham, and also said goodbye to John. Having removed my jacket and changed back into my ankle boots, I was ready to set off. The guy from Hemel Hempstead left just ahead of me, as did John with son Alfie. However, upon reaching the one-way system they turned left, whereas I turned right as instructed by a sign! This meant I lost ground on the pair of vehicles initially, but soon caught up as we headed along Boham’s Road. Further along, we had to pull over to the left to allow a car heading in the opposite direction to pass.
All three of us turned right at the T-junction with the A417. However, further along, John briefly pulled onto the forecourt of the Blueberry pub in Blewbury – that’s a play on words presumably! I continued along the road, travelling behind the guy from Hemel Hempstead until he turned left down Halfpenny Lane in order to cut off the corner en route to the A329; presumably he was travelling home via Wallingford, Benson and Watlington.
By this stage, John was travelling immediately behind me. We had to stop at the temporary traffic lights, close to Streatley, as the workmen were still carrying out remedial work on the bank and ditch. I confess to being a little paranoid, now that I was being followed by someone I knew!!! In fact I had also intended to return home via the Watlington route, but I was worried that John would think I was an idiot because I hadn’t cut off the corner as ‘Hemel Hempstead’ man had done!
This being the case, having reached the A329, I now turned right. I had wait at the traffic lights within Streatley before heading up the hill upon the Reading Road and through the village of Lower Basildon. The lights controlling the traffic passing over the railway bridge were set to red when I arrived; once they’d changed to green I continued my journey back to Pangbourne, with the River Thames soon visible to my left. I passed beneath the railway line arch once more, through the main shopping street, before taking the second exit at the mini-roundabout to head along the A340.
There’s a 30 mph speed limit through the village of Tidmarsh; the road soon passes over the M4 and it was full steam ahead at 50 mph to reach a large roundabout on the A4. John, who was still following me up to this point, turned right, possibly heading to the yard where the retired EPDS horses live, near Upton Nervet I believe.
Meanwhile I headed back along the A4 to reach Junction 12 of the M4; I joined the eastbound carriageway. There were signs on the motorway warning of congestion due to fans attending the Reading vs Middlesbrough match being held at the Madejski Stadium. Presumably the kick-off was later in the day as there was no congestion currently. I continued upon my journey, noting that the Junction 10 exit road was closed to all traffic; there was a lorry carrying cones parked on the exit road carriageway.
As I approached the next junction, traffic began to slow as drivers spotted displays on the gantries suggesting a speed limit of 60 mph. As I intended to avoid the M25 on my homebound journey, this signalled that it was time for me to leave the M4. This being the case I headed up the A404 towards High Wycombe. I left the dual carriageway at the Marlow junction, turning right to travel through Bourne End and onwards to Wooburn Green. I turned right at the picturesque green in order to leave the A4094, heading up the steep hill and over the M40 to reach the A40.
I then turned right to head in an easterly direction to Beaconsfield. At the end of the town’s main street I turned left so as to drive along the A355 to Amersham. The road descends a steep hill on its journey to Old Amersham. At the junction outside the Tesco Superstore I turned left; I then pulled over to allow an ambulance, with lights flashing, to pass. The emergency vehicle pulled over just a short distance further on; something appeared to have happened outside the small range of shops to the right-hand side of the road, with a number of people having gathered around.
I continued to the junction in front of the Market Hall, at which point I turned right. St Mary’s Church is situated close by, to the right-hand side of the road; there must have been a wedding imminently, as there were people milling about, dressed up to the nines! I drove up Rectory Hill and into Amersham. I then turned left upon the A416 and soon headed down the hill into Chesham. There was a traffic tailback on the initial section of their ring-road; this was caused by the frequent use of a pelican crossing. It was a crossing I frequented during my rambling days too!
At the far end of the dual carriageway, I turned right, and waited for someone to walk across the zebra crossing. I then headed up White Hill to a roundabout, before entering Lye Green Lane which took me to Bovingdon. There were a number of vehicles heading in and out of the Bovingdon Market site as I passed by.
I encountered a long queue of traffic on the outskirts of Bovingdon. Further on, it became apparent that this was caused by temporary traffic lights outside a building site; retirement apartments were being constructed. Having negotiated this obstacle, I continued down the B4505 to reach Boxmoor. I had to wait for the traffic lights situated at the T-junction to change; I turned right. The road heads under two parallel railway bridges; these carry the main Euston to northwest line. I headed straight across at the roundabout outside the station, before turning left to continue along Station Road to the infamous ‘Magic Roundabout’.
I travelled anti-clockwise around it, 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 also drove past two ‘Smiley SIDs’ and they did just that. I arrived home at 13:20. My return journey had taken two hours.
And I was in time to watch the first race on Day Two of Cheltenham’s Showcase fixture on TV. It was a good day for Nigel Twiston-Davies, with three winners – two ridden by his son Sam. Also, Double Treasure won for Jamie Snowden.