Toby Coles’ racing diary: a winner and a close second

Last Wednesday was a day spent in preparation for a very busy Thursday. We had two runners at two different courses 132 miles apart! But before that mammoth day I had a look at Hascombe Stud’s yearlings; a truly enviable bunch that, once again, I could only wish for.

Thursday started at an ungodly hour when not even the milkman was stirring. My alarm got me out of bed at 3am to begin mucking out before riding Cotton King (pictured), who ran that night. I picked up the little lorry that I hire at about 6.30am and set off for Pontefract with Littlemisssunshine in the back.

149 miles north up the A1 and we arrived in good time. On taking the colours over to the weighing room I glanced at the course which I hadn’t seen since I was working for Sir Mark Prescott five years ago and my heart sank: I remembered the course being steep, but not like Mount Everest. This was going to be one hell of a climb for my stable star. I had thrown her in the deep end, she had gone up in class, and now had to cope with a mountain, and there was rain on the horizon. This was one thing she could not have coped with — “sunshine” can’t deal with the rain! Thankfully it held off.

My mother and Littlemisssunshine’s co-owner had both come to watch her take her chance. Pontefract is a lovely course — well, for those who watch their horses there. For those who are looking after them it is not such fun — the stable yard is over the summit of “Mount Everest”.

On our walk from the stables to the racecourse Littlemisssunshine took great exception to having to walk across the well-used fairway of the local golf course. When we did eventually make it to the parade ring she was like an untamed lion, dragging me around as though I was not even there. Sophie Doyle, who rode her, did a great job; with Littlemisssunshine the race can be lost going to the start. Sophie rode her to the start beautifully, and even better on the way home. She came second, beaten just half a length by Kieren Fallon, who was on fire that day, riding a three-timer. Damn him! After we had run and Littlemisssunshine had cooled down I took my car that my mother had driven up, and in return she drove the filly back to Newmarket.

On to Wolverhampton — with a happy ending

The journey from Pontefract to Wolverhampton was not so much fun; the weather that had so kindly held off was now making up for it. The heavens opened, and in turn, as seems common, every motorway was closed from Land’s End to John O Groats!

Wolverhampton on a Thursday night in the rain: everyone’s dream night out… I met Sammy there at about 7.30pm. She had got there with Cotton King a couple of hours earlier. Cotton King, who had been subject to a little gamble on the morning line, was in fine fettle, but now friendless in the betting market. I do not gamble, as I could not take the added pressure and do not want to end up in the poor house.

I was shaking like a leaf before the race, and could barely watch as Cotton King was put into the stalls by Gary Witheford. I had given jockey Tom McLaughlin just one order — win. Throw the kitchen sink at him if you have to, just win!

Going past the stable yard Cotton King thought his job was done, but after a quick reminder he was back on his game. He came six horses wide on the last turn as he made his move for the front. After changing his leads, he got into top gear and won by a neck. Naturally I was ecstatic, Sammy was on cloud nine, and well, his owner, the wonderful Mrs Hamilton — who sadly was not able to be there — was probably in disbelief. We had bought Cotton King to help the family (Mrs ‘H’ owns a half-sister to him by Pivotal.)

The amazing feeling was brought down to the ground with a bump as I was called to see the stewards to explain the “huge” improvement in performance. Thankfully I had worked for the Master of Heath House (Sir Mark), who wrote the book on how to deal with the stewards. The book states…read it yourself! On leaving the stewards’ room, their parting quip was: “Don’t forget we know who you have worked for!”

The journey home did not seem that far when flying in the heights of the Gods, it is these moments that we all live for.

Back to reality

Friday jumped upon us without any warning. I was due at my parents’ home to see the two horses that are turned out there after the morning’s work. On my arrival I was accosted by the local barber, my note to self — getting my hair cut — had been forgotten. I came out looking as though I had lost a bad fight with the council lawn mower, but the parents were pleased, so some level of appeasement is good I suppose!

I went on to Castle View Stud to pick up Eastern Chariot. Saturday saw Melody Belle’s and Dear Maurice’s last strong gallop before they run. Both went strongly, Melody Belle was due to run in a hot maiden on Wednesday but in the end I decided to postpone it, and Dear Maurice will run over a rather short six furlongs on Friday.

At the end of the morning I drove north east to just the other side of Shadwell Stud in Norfolk to see a possible new owner’s foals and yearlings, all of which were extremely nice and well handled. It was a small operation, given a huge amount of time and love.

Sunday was slightly easier than we had previously known; most of the horses were just walked out and given a pick of grass. It was not the nicest of days weather-wise. I had a luncheon invitation to some friends nearby, which I gladly accepted — a good meal is quite rare due to time restraints, but Sunday’s meal was superb, fit for a king. I think it took me a good 20 minutes to get up from my seat as I had eaten so much. I now know what King John felt like just before he died of over-indulgence. Very fat!

Monday passed without any trouble, and on Tuesday Cotton King rose just three pounds in the weights for his win last Thursday night and Littlemisssunshine remained. The handicapper can be nice — it is just trying to convince him to be nice more often.