31/3/21: Back to Fakenham for MR JACK and with Brown Bullet threatening to catch him up for wins on the season, he decided it was a good time to make it four triumphs from his last five races. With the handicapper having further edged him up, Mr Jack only held the runner-up off by a neck, but a win is a win is a win. Hard work but he was a very willing contributor.
21/3/21: Soon after our wise prediction of Friday, the next winner came along at Fontwell. It also proved that the post-race verdict at Doncaster was spot on as well, so cue great smugness all round as BROWN BULLET won on Saturday at Fontwell. The better going again saw her very enthusiastic to get on with the job but Page used that to pressure the opposition from the front as the field approached the third last, and one by one they dropped away. Unfortunately FINNEGAN'S GARDEN was not able to make it double on the day, and Sunday's Chepstow visit for OUR DOT'S BABY and GUSTAV did not nab a first prize either. Still two winners from six runners over three days work is not a bad haul. Additionally, we are not short of entries in the coming week (four runners at Plumpton on Monday), so with a bit of luck...
19/3/21: It is an oft overlooked truism that most people (by which we mean the website editor and a smattering of eccentric hunter chase followers) would spend Gold Cup day nowhere else other than Fakenham. Well, it worked for us this year as MR JACK brought up our tenth winner of the season. Up with the pace throughout, Niall Houlihan went for home first and had enough in hand to keep the final challenger at bay by about a length - perfect timing. The win takes the Shovelstrode team to our second highest seasonal total - Mr Jack being the leading contributor - and if the ground finally comes in favour of the majority of the yard, there could well be more to come in the last few weeks of such a weird term. Earlier on the card DREAM DU GRAND VAL was fourth, racing with an encouraging amount of enthusiasm, which augurs well for him as an individual.
15/3/21: In the last week or so we have not had a winner, but there have been some highly creditable performances. FINNEGAN'S GARDEN got a battling third place at Fontwell to show us that despite being twelve years old he is not done winning yet. Every time Andy walks past his box Finn holds out a sign saying "Find Me The Right Race!" Advancing years are not making him less fussy and demanding but we must resist his requests for an online petition. In the traditional festival curtain raiser at Plumpton, the typical array of representatives were fielded (but nobody had to go to Taunton on the same day), CLONDAW ROBIN finished a good third, his fourth time in the first trio from as many runs this season. He has not yet borrowed Finn's sign, so we will be looking hard for that fractionally more manageable race that he needs before Robin gets any clever ideas. Later on the card DEVIOUS DICKS DAME was a promising second, only beaten by a recent wide margin winner that was way ahead of the handicapper. James Davies was very bullish about her chances of another win soon. To the right, added on 16th March, is a broad picture catch up.
6/3/21: Another winner in the bag, courtesy of OUR DOT'S BABY, who landed a handicap hurdle at Newbury. To say that she was quite well in herself would be an understatement as she pulled absurdly hard through the race and yet still had enough energy to see out the race strongly, having decided that she was going to lead at halfway, irrespective of what Page's plan might be. Still, all's well that ends well. Incidentally, Shakespeare completely lifted the plot of his play of that name from one entry in Boccaccio's "The Decameron." They don't teach that at school, kids, so come to our website to pass your English Lit GCSE. After the race Page picked up a ban for getting into a forthright exchange of views, accompanied by much finger pointing and jabbing, with one of the other jockeys. It seemed rather harsh for what was nothing really, and Page was really just trying to fit her arms back into their sockets, but watch out for it being the plot of a long lost Shakespearean work soon to be discovered. On the same day at Doncaster BROWN BULLET ran really well too, but our expectations that the better going would bring out some improvement were foiled in the sense that it worked equally as well for some of the oppo...most unsporting of them.
1/3/21: Well that was a pleasing couple of days. On Sunday a couple of horses headed happily to Hereford and both got placed. MR JACK, who was trying a longer race, ran a cracker to be second, but had the bad luck to run into a handicap debutant who had been deemed worth a shot at a Grade 2 novices' hurdle. Under the circumstances, time may prove that second place was as good as was realistically possible. An hour later FINNEGAN'S GARDEN put up a fine show for an old timer to finish third in a busy handicap chase. He has been going well enough to deserve another success soon. The following day found us only having to go as far as Plumpton. There DYLANSEOGHAN set a good example for Finn, turning a couple of almost complete performances this season into the real deal, getting home by a short looking short head in a race where only a length and a half split the first four finishers. A switch to blinkers plus some sympathy from the handicapper adds up to a belated first win at a course where he usually runs well. Catch the replay on At The Races.
22/2/21: We sent a lorry load up for visit to Market Rasen and got off to a flying start. BLARNEY BATELEUR won on her handicap debut, in rather heart stopping style. Coming from off of the pace, she was presented with a wall of horses in front of her in the home straight, not all of whom were galloping in the straightest of lines. Rider Niall Houlihan had to get it just right as to which gap to go for (and when) and his eagle eye picked out the right one on the run-in he had enough horse under him to take the opportunity. Later on the card DREAM DU GRAND VAL was in a race shown on ITV4 race and graciously behaved perfectly well at the start, protecting their busy schedule. At the end of the meeting HESBEHINDYOU made his racing debut in what had the look of a decent bumper and finished a creditable fifth. He should make a nice novice hurdler next season but one more run in bumpers before summer might be on the cards for his mental development.
19/2/21: The bad weather finally relented, after a few weeks in which we were assailed on both the snow and heavy rain fronts. The first runner back was WATAR ALLSTAR, who went to Leicester, where the going stick reading was on a rare low of 3.6 (Fontwell the same day got away with being a touch below than even that!) so conditions were hardly easy to negotiate. He annoying hit one of his flat spots on the far side of the track, but then tried to rally back into it. The final outcome was fourth, having teased that he might make the frame. Next day saw a couple head off to Fakenham, where soft, heavy places still equated to 5.6 on the going stick, and thus tough races for the horses. DEVIOUS DICKS DAME looked like the winner three out, having got the oppo all in varied degrees of difficulty, but she had been her usual headstrong self and dropped away in the final quarter of a mile as that effort took a big toll. For CAGLIOSTRO, things went just the opposite. He noodled round confidently and those against him did all sorts of things to hamper their own chance. The threat of inheriting a great result was always there but in end the effect of a year off forced him back to third, but he will come on a bundle for the run. Next stop for us is Market Rasen on Sunday, for Devious Dicks Dame, the traditional Plumpton curtain raiser for the Cheltenham Festival has a race for her.
9/2/21: It has been hard to find somewhere to run in recent days but we were given an extra chance with a good race for BEAUFORT WEST to make his stable debut when Sandown switched to an all chase card on Saturday. And it went very pleasingly. So much so that thoughts of success were being entertained between the last couple of fences, only for the winner to slightly outstay him on the run-in. At the same time we managed to get all the horses out for a serious piece of work before the snow came, so we have a bunch of ready horses whose ideal races keep being wiped out. If anyone wonders what the process is in these conditions, first you make an entry for the horse. Then you do it again a day or two later with a sense of deja vu, and by the end of the week and a couple more entries for that same horse, it becomes hard to differentiate between real life and the most dystopian "to do" list imaginable. But you know if you miss one single entry, that meeting will miraculously be neither frozen or waterlogged, so have to carry on regardless.
28/1/21: A dud of a voyage to Fakenham, as torrential overnight rain meant we got the sort of heavy ground we went there to avoid. The course had moved the rails and done various things to alleviate the conditions, but for the chasers there is only one approach into the obstacles and they proved difficult to jump out of for everyone. By way of consolation GLORIOUS BORU and MONTY'S AWARD won best turned out. There will be other days...even ones where O'RAHILLY does not manage to completely dodge the camera.
25/1/21: As January began very emotionally, so it began to end. MR JACK, one of the heroes of the 3rd January, doubled up on Plumpton's final meeting of the month, the day after Zoe's funeral. It was hard work in the last race of the card on very slowly thawing, and thus horrendously tacky, ground. However he knuckled down very well after the second last, and won emphatically. CLONDAW ROBIN got a place on the same card, teasing that he might be due for better only to run out of steam between the final two obstacles. A good effort nonetheless. We had also sent two of the equine veterans for a day out in the north on Saturday. Haydock gave us a preview of the nail biting "will they race, won't they race, is that the clerk of the course fleeing in disguise using a fast car" tension that Plumpton provided on Monday but the horses did not seem to care. RUACANA did not run at all badly in a tough race and FINNEGAN'S GARDEN put up a really good show, in touch with the leaders to three out then rallying and almost pinching third.
20/1/21: We had a couple of runners at Newbury today, part of an adventure that needs to be described in stages. At the time of declaration, it was apparent that BLARNEY BATELEUR was in a hot race, so we were looking for a good performance and were just hopeful that a sound result would follow. BROWN BULLET had not been crucified by the handicapper, so being really competitive was the target. However the elephant in the room was the weather forecast - all Shakespearean fair is foul and foul is fair stuff. Alas, unlike much of Macbeth, Storm Christophe was all too real and conditions on the blasted heath at Newbury were far too heavy for both mares. Blarney Bateleur had the first stab and after struggling a little early on, she made some nice progress half a mile out, only not to be able to finish her effort off. For Brown Bullet it was more or less the same story, although three hurdles out she did sneak into a dangerous looking fifth before the challenge caught her up. In the conditions, both showed more spark than feared, so it was solid day out.
3/1/21: Obviously it was overshadowed by news from home, but our two runners at Plumpton on the day both battled on stridently for their initial professional wins - BROWN BULLET for some stable stalwarts and MR JACK on his Shovelstrode debut. Tremendous by the horse and by James Best and James Davies in the saddle.
31/12/20: No winners to close out the year, unfortunately. At Newbury, OUR DOTS BABY ran really well until a mistake three out stopped her challenge for a place, BLARNEY BATELEUR gave it a good shot in a strong race until inexperience told and FINNEGAN'S GARDEN is simply in really tough company thanks to his rating. Today the frost coming out of the ground (inspection needed for racing to go ahead) made the ground too yuk'n'orrible for the two runners. Page managed to kid QUEEN AMONG KINGS that it would improve until after a lap the horse twigged that he had seen all that Warwick had to offer. GLORIOUS BORU tumbled it a bit earlier. We did get a best turned out on both days. A couple of pics to the right, more on the Facebook page.
24/12/20: A quick round-up of the final runners before Christmas, all in chases at Huntingdon. WATAR ALLSTAR was third, which on paper was not a bad result, but rounding the home turn he looked to be going best of all, so there was just a tinge of what might have been left at the end. In the same race, BRANDY CROSS made his chase debut and completed. There were no problems of his own making but was it entirely necessary for every opponent who was about to make a jumping mistake to move across to right in front of him just before they did it? DYLANSEOGHAN was the final runner but he could not repeat his Leicester heroics - the hill to the finish there is more appreciated than ever, in hindsight.
16/12/20: What a manic day at Plumpton. We had nine entries, declared them all, had one balloted out, and then had to withdraw another due to rain adding to going that was already borderline for him. It was still all hands to the pump and has yielded probably the longest ever entry on the News page. Record breaking time all around. We did not have a winner, which was a shame, as there were possibles to achieve that, and a couple of our elder inmates decided that they were not really bothered about yomping around Plumpton in that mud (we will not condone their attitude by naming them!), but did leave five to perform encouragingly. The most amazing one was MON PETIT CHERI, who finished second in a novice hurdle at 200/1. She had a grand ride from Lilly Pinchin and really excelled herself - now we just need to nag the handicapper about giving her a realistic mark on the back of it. BROWN BULLET (100/1) was fourth in the same race, threatening hard for a place but not quite finishing off as strongly in conditions softer than she would prefer. After that O'RAHILLY picked up fourth in the handicap hurdle and IMPULSIVE LEADER managed her best result since her Irish pointing days with second place over fences. We might even dare say that she is creeping up on a success, but would never say it in her earshot as she would then go backwards out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Finally HONEST OSCAR made her Shovelstrode debut in a very hot mares' bumper and was third.The race was chock full of horses from stables that win a lot of bumpers yet on the final bend she threatened that she might win. Lack of a recent race foiled that but it was a great opener all the same. It seems that all we need to do is find local meeting that is wet an' 'orrible the day before, then chuck all the mares at it - Devious Dicks Dame was the victim of the ballot, so we could have had five there. Check out our Facebook page, Shovelstrode Racing Stables for additional pictures from the day. Wednesday was much more sane with FINNEGAN'S GARDEN a solo traveller to Newbury. He must have been very happy to have had the yard almost to himself on Monday. The standard was up to the best he has contested but a good third was brought home. Finally, keep the eyes peeled in the coming days because we still have a bucketload of entries before Christmas. Unfortunately they seem to be in races that everyone else wants to take part in, so how many get to appear remains to be seen.
7/12/20: The only runners this week will be the pair that went to Plumpton on Monday. BLARNEY BATELEUR FINALLY avoided the minor injuries for long enough to make her debut for us, and after such a long lay-off she gave a really good first shot at hurdling. Lack of a run caught up with her late on, but it was an encouraging start - like getting to open door 24 on an advent calendar two weeks early. Later on, MON PETIT CHERI had her second hurdling appearance and unfortunately bumped into much better opposition than normally turns up at Plumpton.
3/12/20: And now a travelogue for Leicester. Be warned! Leicester sucks you into thinking it is Lovely Leicester, but then comes back with a sting, like Lionfish Leicester. And we had Lingfield a couple of days earlier, where we went with a justified vibe of optimism and came away with three places. Essentially, tracks whose name begin with an L are there to get at you mentally. Taking them in alphabetical order - BROWN BETTY hated the mud at Lingfield but made no daft mistakes and got round. Then CLONDAW ROBIN ran a cracker to be a close second - he looked as if he had made a decisive move three out, only to be just outstayed by the winner. A set up for another FINNEGAN'S GARDEN win? Not this week. He ran really well and only lost by a couple of lengths in third, but just could not pick off a couple of classy opponents despite having fought his way into a good position to try. Finally RUACANA went back for another stab at the flat jockeys' hurdle but could only add a third place. He could have been a little more cooperative early in the race but it was his seasonal debut so progress is on the cards. Then came Leicester. First out was GLORIOUS BORU, who unseated after getting in too close to the third last. Only four were left in it at the time, and he and the winner were travelling the best, so it might have been a victory that got away. Next out were IMPULSIVE LEADER and PETE'S CHOICE. When we declared, the chase going was good. When post time arrived it was soft. Neither liked it. Pete's Choice had a sulk about such an horrific infringement of his personal rights, whereas Impulsive Leader struggled on and made a rally from the second last, losing by a dozen lengths. The day closed in inevitable fashion for QUEEN AMONG KINGS. Page made a bold bid for home with more than half a lap to go, and Queen Among Kings hammered away gamely up the hill in the mud, getting all of the oppo under pressure. She was only headed at the last and finished fourth. A very encouraging effort in defeat. As for the pics to the right, apologies for not overcoming the wet and gloom from a photographic point of view. They look better in the thumbnails.
30/11/20: A good start to a busy week, although anarchy threatened early on. We took two to Leicester (as opposed to tango, which would be absurd with a horse, the leg count implies a minimum of three to tango) but due to shortage of alternatives had to have them both in the same race. Early on WATAR ALLSTAR was up with the pace but had to pull up after a stirrup leather broke. Instead of being intimidated by the omen, GUSTAV raised his game (apart from the bit when he was outpaced around the home turn) and powered up the hill for his first win since he unretired. It was a very determined display, which was certainly possible after his mostly good go at Stratford earlier in the month. Well done Gustav!
16/11/20: Well that has been an eventful couple of days. After 'interesting' events at Fontwell, we had a more productive day out at Plumpton.The highlight was the first win for DEVIOUS DICKS DAME, making the running and clinging on by a neck under a super effort from James Davies in the plate. She is still quite a way from being an easy ride, but this is clearly the way to make her functional. Later on the card, DYLANSEOGHAN repeated his 2019 second place in the three and half mile chase and BRANDY CROSS had a neat comeback from eleven months off, plus quite possibly did not stay the two and a half miles - we will look for something shorter next. Stepping back twenty-four hours, what can we say about Fontwell? As reported in the press, the jockeys' view of what was going on was badly impaired by the gloom and rain, and it probably did not help that the injured horse was well over to one side of the track, off of the natural line of sight. Page said that she realised as they passed the hurdle that it should have been jumped, so she looked after QUEEN AMONG KINGS as there was no point in riding out a finish. However, being tucked into the middle of the pack, had she tried to go over the flight, a couple of other horses would have had to have been dangerously barged out of the way, so there was no ideal option at that moment in time. Ultimately the problem was just one of those things, although there is a lesson to be learned about scheduling the last race to be too late in the afternoon for this time of year.
10/11/20: Three runners at Lingfield, all having their first run of the season.After that we have a pause for breath before Fontwell and Plumpton from Sunday. First up was O'RAHILLY, who was seventh. He tried hard but Cillin Leonard reported that the horse simply needed the run more than we hoped, so it was useful exercise. Then we had two in the final race, a two mile chase. Pete and Harry combined had not managed to disrupt Desque De L'Isle last time, so for the second round we pitched in the strategic reserve of CLONDAW ROBIN and IMPULSIVE LEADER. Coming down the hill it looked as if Robin may have vengeance in mind (on his stablemates' behalf) but in the home straight he came to the end of his tether and had to settle for third - the theme of the last few days. Impulsive Leader's run was all about getting her match ready whilst training her mentality - something that has got in her way in the past. She managed fourth without any form of meltdown, so it was a step in the right direction.
8/11/20: Thanks in part to a replacement meeting at Stratford to replace the Lingfield replacement meeting, we were able to have a lot of runners towards the end of the week, and the trainer deciding to break her collarbone in order to avoid driving to Huntingdon was rendered irrelevant as all the possible Huntingdon runners had replacement races elsewhere. Where were we? Peak results of the week were at Stratford where SCRUTINISE took third despite being lumbered with top weight (results of 123 this season get the Ted Rogers mirror image seal of approval) and WATAR ALLSTAR also finished in third - in the tougher division of the novices' handicap chase he stayed on really well after having turned for home out of the places. The tight bends did not bring out the best in a such a big horse. PETE'S CHOICE and GUSTAV also ran there, the latter managing to make it beyond the first fence! Not only that but he may even have nosed ahead three from home to raise the excitement level before lack of a proper race this autumn caught him out. At Fontwell FINNEGAN'S GARDEN ran really well on his comeback, having every chance until outsprinted from a point approaching the last fence. Unfortunately BROWN BULLET pulled hard and took too much inspiration from recent Gustav on her hurdling debut.
2/11/20: Well that was a salutary lesson in over-optimism! On Wednesday we were due a quiet break from runners over the weekend. Then an additional Lingfield meeting was scheduled, framed with some races that we thought we could have a serious shot at. Almost inevitably it lashed down with rain and on Sunday morning, the much needed extra Lingfield meeting was a goner. Next stop was Plumpton on Monday, but that was attended with lesser expectations. Although lack of a recent run eventually knocked her back quickly, DEVIOUS DICK'S DAME seemed to take well to front running, even if local rival MON PETITE CHERI eventually beat her by half a length. BROTHER BENNETT took another step forward in building up to his traditional gradual peak with fourth and QUEEN AMONG KINGS ran above expectation until lack of match practice caught up with her two hurdles out. And now we come to GUSTAV. Having never fallen in his life before this autumn, he has now failed to get beyond fence number one in the two and a half mile chase at consecutive Plumpton meetings. A stern finger wagging lecture is coming his way.
30/10/20: We have a busy week ahead, especially with some appealing races at the additional Lingfield jumps meeting on Sunday. The horses made an encouraging start to it. SCRUTINISE went back to Stratford but ran into a horse that the betting market correctly expected to be a handicap good thing. He tried hard and got second place, well clear of the rest. A day later GLORIOUS BORU was beaten only three lengths at Uttoxeter. He just needs to dig out a tiny bit extra to be winning soon.
22/10/20: A few more runners have made their seasonal debut. Not all have gone to plan (referring to you GUSTAV!) but some very satisfactory returns have occurred. Pride of place goes to BROWN BULLET, who defied odds of 80/1 to finish third in a bumper at Fontwell. The race was too short for her, but there was nothing more suitable coming up, so we took a chance and were delighted with her effort. There will be no loitering around bumpering - next stop for Brown Bullet will be hurdles. On the same day BROTHER BENNETT ended up fourth on his seasonal return. It was an oddly manic event and he at one stage looked likely to dig out third, but lack of fitness found him out on the run-in A day later we had a couple in the two mile novices' handicap chase at Lingfield. Neither made the frame but both jumped well and got through unscathed on what was a comeback from injury in both cases.Honours went to HARRY HAZARD whose fifth was two places in front of PETE'S CHOICE. A longer race will suit them both.
18/10/20: The season started with a bang for us as SCRUTINISE made a winning return in the finale at Stratford. Page got a good tune out of him in the closing stages and his final lunge was enough to get home by a neck. A well judged ride on a horse that needs one! The other two runners did not quite have things go their way, especially GLORIOUS BORU, who added one untimely mistake into his race just as the pace was picking up. DYLANSEOGHAN found the ground a bit too quick and looked after himself on it. He is old enough to have earned it!
16/9/20: After an enforced early break we were hoping to get the horses out a bit earlier, but so far the dry weather is in the way - Plumpton this Sunday is a little bit on the quick side for any of ours. However, we have consoled ourselves by picking up a couple of horses at the Doncaster sales. The first to mention is MONTY'S AWARD, a 125-rated chaser who won as recently as August. He has trained up a bit light but should be built up quickly. See the Ownership page for syndication details. He was expected to go for a bit more, but probably suffered by being lot 292 and thus everyone who was afraid of vampires had already left the sales before dark. Also cheaper than expected was DREAM DU GRAND VAL. He was an unhappy camper at Nicky Henderson's and though he had a rebuilding stint at Sue Smith's, Trevor Hemmings decided to sell up before Dream Du Grand Val got to run for her. At present we will not syndicate him until we have proven that he is back in the right mental state for racing, but his 135 hurdle rating suggests it will be well worth the effort.