Tom Symonds’ racing blog: meet the Dason Court team

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  • I currently feel that we are in a constant state of dress rehersal – lots of practising for the real event. In As You Like It, William Shakespeare stated “All the world’s a stage; the men and women merely players”, which reduces our short, and thus important, time on this earth to theatrics!

    As we continue to ready the horses for their “first night performances”, each and every member of the team works hard to get the best out of each horse prior to their races. This is where your team becomes invaluable.

    Our administrative officer is Elsa Buckler. Elsa understands a trainer’s habits as she is the daughter of Dorset trainer Bob Buckler. Elsa re-exchanged urban for rural life, having left London and the slightly larger Niarchos Family office, to join us in July. Elsa, Aidan (Border terrier) and I co-habit Dason Court Cottage, so it provides a great working environment!

    Mark White is our head lad and, not unlike his namesake in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Mark came from Richard Phillips’ yard, having spent 14 years with David Nicholson. His experience is invaluable and knowledge extensive. Although a man of few words, he is reliable and also a very talented rider too. He used to ride a very popular grey horse at Jackdaws Castle called Relkeel. As you will come to learn, a few members of our staff have been associated with current and former equine stars – let us hope it remains so.

    The team in Ivy Cottage

    We have a cottage on the farm that houses three thoroughly diligent members of the team. Like all of us, they have their idiosyncrasies. James Nixon is a non-drinking 19-year-old Scouser (unusual?) who I met at Seven Barrows. He is a talented rider on the cusp of launching his point-to-point career. Sometimes his love of sleep can get in the way of his work, but his easy-going outlook on life is always refreshing. He used to ride out the 2011 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner Bobs Worth everyday and look after the horse – Mossley – that finished second in that race, so he has his own high standards to live up to.

    He and Mark are boys in a sea of girls and, although they remind me of this, James seems to think that most girls swarm around him like bees to a honey pot.

    Kat Sowa is another Nicky Henderson ex-pat who finds nothing too much trouble and is always smiling. She left Seven Barrows midway through last season but always promised to join us here. Owner Michael Buckley had requested that she look after his horse Spirit Son, which she did (as well as Oscar Whisky), and was sad that she left him but then delighted that she now looks after his horse here, Mirific. My problems here are quite obvious – these people have already experienced racing’s creme de la creme!

    Lorna and the Cornish pasty

    Lorna Brooke is a young lady who I met at St Richards’ Preparatory School – not the usual place to find staff but if they have passed through that academy at some point, they will be most reliable, I can assure you! Lorna came to us from Henry Daly having worked for Richard Lee and Fran §ois Doumen. She is a very accomplished point-to-point and bicycle rider. She and her friend Jane Williams recently completed the John O’Groats to Lands End challenge in aid of their injured friend Isabel Tompsett.

    She also keeps her pointers in the unlicensed part of the yard, which suits well but means she does everything on the run. I recently saw her devouring a Cornish pasty (made by my Mum and highly recommended) on horseback, but she assured me that it was easier than a bowl of cereal!

    Lorna also bought with her an owner as her mum – Sue Brooke – has joined the Mumbo Jumbo syndicate that is run by my mum, Jane. This motley crew (lots of girls!) lease a very promising full sister to Amaretto Rose called Liqueur Rose. That was the starting team of grafters that live in Ivy Cottage – oh to be a fly on the wall.

    Three more stars

    As the number of horses has risen, so has the number of staff. Isabel Davies came from Chris Wall’s Induna Stables in Newmarket. She recently came to Herefordshire as her boyfriend is doing a farriers’ course in Hereford. It is always reassuring when you phone a prospective member of staff’s former employer for a reference and they show much remorse in losing them. His loss is my gain as Izzy has been a good addition to the yard and is a very competent rider.
    Vicky Cole came to ride out the same day as Izzy and is Herefordshire born and bred. She had worked with hunters and pointers previously and has settled into her job well.

    The extended team goes on and on. Everyone has been a great help to get the place looking great. Darron Perkins only came to put a bathroom and kitchen into my house in May but ended up restoring the entire place. His attention to detail, covering of all eventualities, tireless work ethic and wicked sense of humour means that he has been the highlight of summer 2011.

    Don’t forget my sister…

    Niki Sturgis and Lydia Symonds (sister) have also helped but mostly in painting the yard (not red but as good as). Indeed, you can’t choose your family but I am glad that I have been stuck with Lydia. A humorous, knowledgeable, helpful and argumentative girl with a passion for sport. A blog written by her would probably be more interesting!

    As you can see, a lot of people have put a lot of time into helping me start up. I am and will be eternally grateful for their time. Even Greg Hodder and Alan Lloyd have been taking a keen interest in the yard in their rare time off from all things shooting. Again, they have been so helpful and it is amazing to think in their limited knowledge of racing sometimes they come up with the best suggestions – something to bear in mind perhaps!

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