The tale of the Artic Fox

Wading through fields of white, cold and alone, I stumble into an artic fox. At first he is not so friendly but over time I get to know him, learn to love him, his adventurous nature and even his obscure little quirks. Then one night, a ferocious blizzard rolls in, just for a second I lose sight of his fuzzy little snout and glowing beady eyes – he is gone, maybe forever. In the morning, the sun still rises, it is calm and quiet, just flat open fields of whiteness again. I start wading, today I hope to meet a fluffy white polar bear and share a beer, and just maybe the artic fox will be with him.

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Luck, pucks and more coffee

What was it Christopher Isherwood once wrote ‘Life is not so bad if you have plenty of luck and a good physique…’ — I tend to be rather fond of those sentiments.

The past two weeks have involved many early morning runs, most through some of Buckinghamshire’s beautiful countryside surroundings; I have run through fields of green, along the banks of the River Ouse, and even through an enchanted forest (pictures attached). The thing with running I tend to find, is a routine helps enormously, it’s certainly what helps you stay motivated to run regularly — that is the good physique part covered anyway, but what of the luck?

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Do you make your own luck or does luck find you? Being in a particular place at a particular time, all has intertwined connections with various degrees of luck — a philosophical point of view, maybe, but an interesting interpretation nonetheless.

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This week — apart from the fitness regime — has consisted of: starting a new job (and quiting on the same day), getting the brief for my new media role with MK Lightening, and resolving some accommodation issues. It has been busy and tiring, but I am at least in a better, more comfortable place for my studies going forward.

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I am also trying to find the time to finish the Christopher Isherwood novel Lions and Shadows, it is difficult to find any extra reading time whilst studying, but I am at least making progress. While the coffee is still prevalent too of course — currently I am drinking an Ethiopian fair trade blend.

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New beginnings, outlooks and coffee

Ok, so I’ve threatened to do another small journal type post for a long time now, so here it goes…

My first few weeks have consisted of meeting new people, reading, lectures, tutorials and copious amounts of COFFEE!

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I travelled down from Wirral in North West England to my new home with much excitement and equal amounts of trepidation. However, those feelings dispersed fairly quickly and eased further once I had gained more familiarity with my new surroundings.

The University is located in the scenic market town of Buckingham in the heart of the English countryside, it’s not comparable in any way to Stavanger or Tbilisi, it is something altogether different — an unassuming place nestled in its own serenity. I am thrilled with its proximity to London, I can travel to the centre of the capital in just over one hour, while Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon are all on my to do list.

So far, things are good. Life is interesting again. I’m writing more frequently, learning with each passing day, and observing life/people with a more creative understanding — a crucial characteristic for any writer.

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Will it be a blonde Eclipse at Sandown 

Blonde Me got up late on to beat John Gosden’s well-bred favourite The Black Princess in the Middleton at York, and in the process added another impressive group race victory to her form — that was her latest outing in May. The daughter of Tamayuz so rarely runs a bad race and even with these below par efforts usually the ground has not been in her favour. I’m of the opinion she isn’t suited by really soft (almost heavy) conditions, so you can draw a line through those efforts. She is a Mare who gives and gives in her races, and right now she seems to be in the form of her life. And at five-years-old, this coming Saturday at Sandown she will face the biggest test of her credentials so far — the group one Coral Eclise.

In a race likely to contain: Jack Hobbs, Cliffs Of Moher, Barney Roy and Eminent, it clearly wont be a walk in the park for Andrew Balding’s talented mare — but can Blonde Me compete with these elite thoroughbreds at the Surrey venue?

Previously, she has performed impressively at Sandown, with form figures from three runs reading: first, second and second. While the trip should be fine too, she has only raced beyond one mile on four occasions, the negative slant on that of course is she has only won one of those four races. However, I like to see things from a positive perspective because in my eyes she finishes her races so well, but one mile two furlongs is likely her optimum racing distance. The ground shouldn’t be an issue either — currently good at Sandown — she has the flexibility in a number of underfoot conditions, however, she wouldn’t want it too fast or really soft.

And despite so many positives Blonde Me will be a big price at Sandown, although I’m not a betting man or self proclaimed ‘tipster’ I write for the love of horses, the sport itself, and because of my passion for writing; I will be watching on Saturday, with hope and trepidation, and when the clock ticks 3.35 and Blonde Me bursts from the starting stalls, she will have certainly earned the right to be racing side by side this great generation of three-year-olds who make up part of this years Eclipse.

Why you can count on Count Octave

Royal Ascot is in full swing, however, unfortunately we have not seen as many Andrew Balding runners as we might have expected thus far. The Park House Stables team have been forced to withdraw a number of entries in the run up and during the week itself. The high temperatures across the country leading to the quickening ground that made the decisions to take out high class performers like Horseplay and Here Comes When rudimentary ones – while they will have other races to target beyond Ascot. Intriguingly, one runner who does remain is the talented Count Octave.

The three-year-old by Frankel is entered in the Queen’s Vase today, where Oisin Murphy will take the ride. Owned by Qatar racing, the colt has made a promising start to his racing career, from a workmanlike debut run at Goodwood last Autumn, to an impressive first win in March at Wolverhampton on the all-weather; that day he beat the useful looking Utopian Dream, the John Gosden trained three-year-old went on to win next time out.


In addition Count Octave’s form became even more interesting with his last appearance, at Chester. His run in the group 3 Chester Vase was most notable for two reasons:

Firstly, looking at the form of that race, Venice Beach won, however, did not run up to form next time out in the Derby – finishing a dissapointing 12th at Epsom, he clearly didn’t give his running that day. Therefore the most interesting aspect to take form the Chester Vase form is the colt who finished second: Wings Of Eagles, who of course went on to win the Derby!

Secondly, solely looking at Count Octave’s run at Chester, which reads quite hopeful. The inexperienced three-year-old got taken a back early, David Probert wanting to find cover to settle the still fairly green colt. Next he got outpaced two furlongs out, before keeping on encouragingly to finish a two and three-quarter length fifth – prompting me to produce my pen and notebook for some more scribbles next to Count Octave’s name.

The Chester race was over one mile and four furlongs, in Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot he will tackle one mile and six furlongs for the first time — which ought to suit him well. Oisin Murphy will ride him, while he should cope adequately with the likely fast underfoot conditions too. This all gives me hope that Count Octave could be something quite special, given more time and experience, while his run at Ascot today is just another step on that journey.

Andrew Balding: Four runners to follow at Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot is the jewel in the crown of the British racing calendar and one which is eagerly anticipated each year by trainers, jockeys, owners and fans alike. So with the Royal meeting less than a week away, I thought it might be a good opportunity (and rather fun) to write a little about Andrew Balding’s top hopes for the prestigious meeting. So, what can we expect from Park House Stables’ potential runners at the nearby Berkshire venue?
Here Comes When, the seven-year-old gelding by Danehill Dancer won on his seasonal debut — the Hambleton Listed Handicap at York — in great style. The Royal Hunt Cup at the Royal meeting was identified as the gelding’s next target. He has a strong preference for softer conditions, so wouldn’t want things too quick at Ascot. He will also have to overcome being near the top of the weights in the Heritage, racing off an official rating of 110.

Wednesday, 21 June 5.00 — Royal Hunt Cup (Heritage Handicap)

 

Horseplay’s last appearance was the dramatic race that was the Investec Oaks and the filly still managed to plug on for fourth as the field finished pretty strung out. Before the fillies Classic she had done little wrong; winning her maiden impressively at Nottingham last season before bravely landing the Pretty Polly at Newmarket on her seasonal debut this term. This gives us all the ingredients of her planned appearance at Royal Ascot a definite air of intrigue.

Thursday, 22 June 3.40 — Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2)

 

Count Octave, the three-year-old by Frankel, is a colt that holds huge potential this season. Those who watched his run in the Chester Vase last time, will have noted the race for it competitive nature; that race produced this year’s rather surprising Investec Derby winner — Wings Of Eagles (second). At Chester, Andrew Balding’s colt was only three and three-quarter lengths back in fifth, he seemed outpaced two furlongs out, before keeping on in the straight. This all makes positive reading for his expected Royal Ascot appearance.

Friday, 23 June or 24 Saturday — King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2) or Queen’s Vase (Group 2) 

 

Duretto was a little unlucky at Chester in the Ormonde, finishing a staying on three-quarter length third, behind US Army Ranger in second and John Gosden’s eventual winner Western Hymn — not the worst form to have on your racing CV. The Manduro five-year-old is a consistent type and seems to be getting better with age and this season we may see the very best of him as he hits unprecedented new heights.

Saturday, 24 June — Hardwicke Stakes (Group 2)

 

Casual Look: A Classic tale

Casual Look, Andrew Balding’s most successful filly in his impressive training career to date. The American bred seventeen-year-old is currently enjoying a happy retirement, after a racing career that ended in 2003. She went on to foal five horses in total, albeit without any of the quintet making too much of an impact in the world of racing – Casual Smile was the exception and the only one to achieve ‘black type form’, winning a group 3 for trainer Chad C Brown in America.

Casual Look made her debut as a two-year-old at Ascot over six furlongs in July 2002. Initially, she was very green and inexperienced, giving some trouble when entering the stalls on her debut. In the race itself, she started slowly, was far too keen, before settling a little better, and then finally staying on to finish a five lengths third to Ed Dunlop’s Nasij. Martin Dwyer rode her that day and it was a partnership that was to last and flourish (mostly) for ten or her eleven racecourse appearances.

That early promise at Ascot continued, and was even more evident on her next outing at Salisbury in August. This time over seven furlongs, she appeared to show a lack of experience at the finish; upon hitting the front one furlong from the winning post, she could only stay on the one pace, maybe thinking she had done all she needed to do by hitting the front and then, seemingly, taking things easy close home.

Next up, in September, she made the short journey to Bath. Here, she traveled like a dream and won very easily by eight lengths. This performance seemed to signify that she was learning but foremost, that she had ability; this prompted owner and trainer to run her in the group one Fillies Mile at Ascot, twelve days later. Trainer and connections were not to be disappointed, as the 2-year-old daughter of Red Ransom ran a blinder to finish second behind James Fanshawe’s talented Soviet Song – and we all know how good she was.

Casual Look finished her opening season at Newmarket, running in the group two Rockfel Stakes. She again ran with plenty of credit, finishing second behind Roger Charlton’s Luvah Girl, who made all to win. It was a solid debut season from Andrew Balding’s promising filly, and left much excitement for the following year.

However, she was given a tough task in her first race of 2003 – the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. Despite this, she was not disgraced, finishing sixth, and was even a little unlucky in running; denied a clear run at one point, before running on encouragingly inside the final furlong. Following on from that run in the Guineas, people – most notably the bookmakers – started to take the Andrew Balding filly seriously. Next up, the Oaks at Epsom in June, was identified as the target.

At Epsom she traveled beautifully, settled nicely in the pack for the much of the race; it was a far cry from the inexperience of those early runs of her career. Everything seemed to fall just right for her this day, and Martin Dwyer sat mostly motionless onboard her until the exit of Tattenham Corner. On the swing into the straight gaps opened up for her and Dwyer began to get more vigorous in the yellow and green silks of owner William Stamps Farish III. At the two furlong marker she was angled to the outside and given further urgings for even more effort. Meanwhile, the Aiden O’Brien filly, Yesterday – the favourite – was tracking in behind, patiently waiting for a clear run. However, Casual Look was not for catching, and Dwyer rode the perfect race to win the prestigious British Classic.


A section of the media talked endlessly about how unlucky Yesterday had been, but if you watch the race again, Casual Look certainly didn’t appear like she was stopping come the finish line. Maybe if Yesterday had got a clearer, smoother passage, the outcome might have been tighter, but on this day, it was Andrew Balding’s talented filly that prevailed.

The day will also be remembered for the emotional scenes post race, most noticeably between Andrew and his sister Clare – Clare Balding was the presenter for BBC racing at the time – and by clinching his first Classic as a trainer, it all added to this special day for the Balding family.


Casual Look, unfortunately, for the remainder of her racing career never exceeded those exploits on Epsom downs in June. She was tried in the Irish Oaks in July, but could only achieve a third place finish – interestingly, Yesterday, finished behind her on that occasion too (two lengths back in fourth). Subsequent disappointments followed: in the Yorkshire Oaks (finishing seventh of the eight runners) and a below par effort in France in the group one Prix Vermeille Fouquet’s Barriere (finishing eighth of the eleven runner field) – Yesterday, finally finishing in front of her and a head second to the Godolpin winner: Mezzo Soprano.

In my eyes, Casual Look did bow out on a high, albeit not a fairytale goodbye. She took her chance in Keenland, America, in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup; a grade one race for three-year-old fillies over one mile and one furlong. She was well towards the rear, held up, before making swift headway and finishing strongly but ultimately too late and a little unlucky not to win on what was to be her final appearance of a very memorable racing life.

Viking FK – Rosenborg BK

IMG_3882.JPG20.00 Monday 17th April 2017 
Venue: Viking Stadion, Stavanger.
 
Competition: Eliteserien, game round 4.

Viking went into this game in the worst possible shape: bottom, after a series of nightmare results from their first three Eliteserien games of 2017. However, in complete contrast, Rosenborg had secured three wins from their opening games and sat second in the table.

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The team from Trondheim dominated the first half; they looked stronger, fitter and more talented than their Stavanger counterparts. And their dominance was rewarded as early as the 9th minute, when the talented wide man Pål Andre Helland got in behind the Viking left back, Haugen, before clinically dispatching the ball past Austbø from inside the area. The first half continued much in the same pattern, and Rosenborg went close on a number of occasions, both Helland and Bendtner having the best chances to double their lead.

Nicolas Bendtner ambled about up top for Rosenborg, only occasionally showing rare glimpses of his skill and ability that he still possesses. While Mike Jensen ran things in the middle for the industrious Trondheim men, constantly channeling the ball out wide for Helland to do his thing; meanwhile Viking struggled to contain him and often affording him too much space – in truth they were petrified of him.

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The second half was much better for Viking, but particularly the last twenty minutes. They came alive, battled and went in desperate search of the equaliser; and they thought they had found it, only for it to be wrongly ruled out by the Assistant — Viking players and fans protested angrily. Shortly after that, André Hansen made several import saves for Rosenborg, most noticeably one that he athletically tipped onto the post before pouncing on the loose ball. Viking’s huffing and puffing continued right up to the final whistle but to no avail. This fourth defeat in a row confined them to more Elitesiren misery and piled early pressure on their new manager: Ian Burchnall. While for Rosenborg, it propelled them back into first place and they appear be looking more and more like champions by the game (even this early in the season).

(Full Time) Viking FK 0-1 Rosenborg BK 

9’ Pål Andre Helland.

Attendance: 6,804

Viking FK: Austbø [GK], Mets, Ledger, Haugen, Kronberg, Danielsen [C], Ernemann, Adegbenro (76’ Michalsen), Ryerson, Bytyqi (83’ Bringaker), Appiah.

Rosenborg BK: Hansen [GK], Reniniussen, Skjelvik, Hedenstad, Gersbach, Konradsen, Jensen [C], Midtjsø, Jevtovic (66’ Vilh’on), Helland (90′ Bjørdal), Bendtner.

Flat Jockeys Championship: The contenders

The Lincoln handicap at Doncaster, always a great time of year for the flat racing enthusiasts amongst us. And a time that of course signifies the start of the flat season each year. In 2016, it was a battle between only two riders for much of the campaign: Sylvester de Sousa and Jim Crowley. Listed below are the five main contenders for this year’s championship, before finally, one jockey to follow, one that, perhaps, could creep into the top five placings. Ok, so on with the shortlist…

img_0485Sylvester de Sousa finished runner up last season behind Jim Crowley, but although he missed out on the top spot he still amassed an impressive tally — 132 winners from 759 rides, with a strike-rate of 17%. This season, the Brazilian will be looking to go one better, and with his strong style of riding, few would be surprised to see him crowned top jockey for a second time — a title he won back in 2015. Predicted placing: 3rd.

img_0487Paul Hanagan the 36-year-old from Cheshire, is another jockey with leading claims. Hannigan won the championship in 2010 and 2011, and his return to his former retainer, Richard Fahey, could give him all the ammunition he will need to secure his third title. Predicted placing: 2nd.

img_0486Jim Crowley, last year’s champion jockey will again be at the forefront of many betting markets as his bids to defend his crown. His newly formed association with leading owner Hamdan al-Maktoum will surely only enhance his chances and with this opportunity he will get to ride some of the very best bred horses around. If he can pick up a high majority of other rides alongside this connection, then there is no reason why he can’t compete again. Predicted placing: 5th.

img_0488Andrea Atzeni, the man giving Frankie Dettori a challenge for leading Italian jockey in the UK, amassing 88 winners in 2016 alone. A strongly built rider who has made some good partnerships in recent years, not least with the great Postponed, and further such combinations this season could boost his tally and see him secure a place in the top five once again. Predicted placing: 4th.

img_0484Ryan Moore, the most talented flat jockey we have seen since the days of Kieran Fallon’s domination of the flat racing scene from 1997 to 2003. Moore has won the title on three separate occasions, first in 2006, then back-to-back in 2008 and 2009. He is the complete horseman, and despite his boyish frame, he seems to get the best out of almost every horse he rides. And if he continues to take rides outside of his Ballydoyle obligations and maybe finding himself near the top around August time, then he could well push on and win title number four. Predicted placing: 1st.

An outsider…

Horse Racing Jebel Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates 20th Febrary 2015Oisin Murphy, the talented Irishman is not considered a contender for this year’s championship, but he does have a great outside chance to sneak into the top five. He will get many rides from Andrew Balding this term, and he will be looking to build on his total of 83 winners in 2016. This gifted young rider could well be a future champion in the making.

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