Magazine article The Spectator

Going Swimmingly

Magazine article The Spectator

Going Swimmingly

Article excerpt

At 6.45 a.m. coming down the hill into Lambourn you see the early morning lights studded across the Valley of the Racehorse like dew-drops glinting on a spider's web. Whey-faced stable lads were struggling into puffer jackets to keep out the damp, work riders standing in clusters beside their cars tapping whips against their boots. In the high street newsagent, stable secretaries were coming in out of the dark to pick up their papers: `Two Sporting Life, two Racing Posts and a Telegraph.' Lambourn is not exactly New Labour yet. A turn past the smart red brick of Peter Walwyn's new yard and I was in Baydon Road at Roger Curtis's Delamere House stables.

It is a lucky yard, the only one in Lambourn which has been home to two Derby winners, and you could call Roger Curtis a lucky man too. Last year he nearly died of meningitis, but there was no denying the energy as he rushed about the yard in jeans and green wellies briefing the vet about one horse, stopping to check the legs of another, Don't leave the nest. The novice chaser had won a race at Exeter the day before and the stable had scored a double with the experienced Hillwalk at Cheltenham. Since the 26-box trainer isn't quite yet a household name, they had been allowed to start at 8-1 and 14-1 respectively and the owner and a few other stable connections had backed them singly and in doubles.

There was a leg up for stable jockey Derrick Morris, the conditional Jason Parkhouse and for pretty stable lass Kerry Blundell. Just a few weeks in the yard since doing her training at the Northern Racing College, she'd been sent to the races for the first time the day before with the old trusty Hillwalk and had not only made it to the winner's enclosure but taken the 50 prize for the best turned-out horse as well.

Something of a Leonard Rossiter lookalike without the lugubriousness, Roger Curtis has a compelling enthusiasm for the game, an eye for detail and a wry humour about his charges. Hillwalk, he says, needs good ground and warm weather. In the cold the condition simply drops off him. Equity Player has real ability `but saves most of it for himself. One horse is known as Roland in the yard `because his previous stable reckon he's a rat'.

The promising Stepaside Boy, who ran out in a couple of point to points and creamed the opposition in a couple more, takes all the work they can give him and still comes back overweight. `Some horses would disappear doing the work he's doing.' So they've been swimming him in Peter Walwyn's pool. …

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