At the start of 2014, I began my “challenges” to raise awareness of mental health issues… yesterday I completed the 64th of those challenges by becoming a racehorse owner for a day.
The (perhaps simplistic) connection between the challenges and the underlying aim is to try and show just what can be achieved by being able to ask for help. My life with dysthymia has changed so much since I finally realised that I needed to seek help for a condition I’ve had for over forty of my fifty-two years; and even though I’m not well-known and have no real talents, I still want to use my lived experiences and challenges to try and make a small difference.
Yesterday’s trip to Ripon races took two years to arrange… and I am indebted to an old friend from my cricketing days, Keith Nicholson, for his willingness to help, his perseverance, and his fantastic support of the project as a whole.
Keith has a long-standing love of horse racing—matched only by his love of turning down my many appeals for leg before wicket down the years—and Thursday’s declaration of Dhaular Dhar in the 4:50 race finally allowed Keith the opportunity to invite me into the parade ring.
It was a beautiful but slightly breezy afternoon, and thousands of racegoers had made their way to the picturesque North Yorkshire course. I met Keith and his good friend Colin Batey outside the entrance; we collected our owners’ badges and headed for the “Owners and Trainers” bar, where I promptly spilled hot chocolate down my grey tie.
Thankfully my pristine white shirt and new jacket avoided the chocolate dribble, the tie made a full recovery after a quick wipe with a damp cloth; and hopefully I almost looked the part as we headed out to place our bets for the first race.
The favourite (and my selection) duly obliged and meant that my bets for the next three races would be covered—which was a relief since I picked out two seconds and a fairly comfortable last in the next three races.
Even though each of the races were over in a matter of a minute or two, the intervals in between and the afternoon as a whole flew by. It was great to catch up on some cricket chat after so many years, as well as exploring the course and being constantly surprised at how you were treated if you we wearing a red oval badge. One random bloke even asked me if I had a horse running… “Oh yes… just one of my string has made the trip today,” is absolutely NOT what I actually said!
As the fourth race finished, we hurried over to the pre-parade ring to see Carol Bartley lead in Dhaular Dhar (known as “Dazzler” to his friends) for what would be the fourteen year-old’s 150th race—quite remarkable. Keith said hello to Carol and had a quick chat with Jim Goldie Jr., son of the trainer… Jim Goldie Sr. (which I presume you’d worked out for yourself!).
Once saddled, Carol and Dazzler did a few laps of the parade ring, where Keith, Colin and I were now standing (and I was trying… and failing to look important). We took a few pictures, before Jim joined us and then the jockey Lewis Edmunds appeared….
I’m not sure how old Lewis is, but I’d guess he’s not many years older than the horse he was riding. Lewis is an apprentice, which means he is able to “claim” seven pounds, effectively giving the horse less weight to carry in compensation for the jockey’s inexperience. The ground was ideal for the veteran campaigner, although Dazzler apparently isn’t keen on too much wind—well there’s one thing we have in common. Lewis was instructed to get the horse comfortable towards the rear of the field and try to come with a late run that, if successful, would win me a small fortune.
Moments later, Lewis was in the saddle and Carol (no mean jockey in her own right, I understand) led horse and rider out onto the course. I must admit I began to feel a sense of nervous excitement as the horses cantered down to the start, were helped into the stalls and the race got underway.
Sadly, despite both Dazzler and Lewis’ best efforts, the next mile and a half didn’t quite go according to plan, and my hopes for a bumper payout and an early retirement were dashed….
We headed out onto the course to hear what Lewis had to say about the race, and we managed to get a couple of photos (Keith taking mine before he told me to smile), before Dazzler disappeared… presumably to have some cooling water thrown over him before a bite to eat and a well-earned rest—I had similar plans for my own evening.
I have to say it was a fantastic experience; both a thrill and a privilege to enjoy a day at the races from an owner’s perspective. Thanks especially to Keith, but also to Colin, Jim, Lewis and Carol who helped make it such a memorable day.