Over the stable door: Blood on the course and more spilt after the races as fists fly

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I AM recruiting new staff at present. Suitable equine jobs must be few and far between judging by the number of applicants applying for the position. Looks like a busy week interviewing.

Tomorrow, we finally christen the new point-to-point course at Ripon. With both the West of Yore and Bramham meetings abandoned last year because of the weather, it will be a relief for everyone when the starter’s flag falls at the Bramham and Badsworth event.

The setting was formerly home to racehorse trainer and vet Peter Calver, who trained many winners during his 20 years based at Whitcliffe Lane. Peter, who died in 2002, rode as an amateur during his younger days. In the late 1950s, he purchased a youngster, he called Highland Wedding, for £185. The pair were victorious in six point-to-points.

Some years later, when Peter met his future wife, ‘Tot’, (while playing the saxophone at the local pub to supplement his veterinary wages) the decision was made to sell Highland Wedding to raise some capital for his pending marriage.

Toby Balding offered him for £5,000, and Highland Wedding went on to win the Grand National in 1969, establishing the two trainers as lifelong friends.

Peter relinquished his licence in 1999 but his veterinary work continued. Today, bloodstock agents and trainers are still hugely influenced by the findings of his ground-breaking studies on injuries to racehorses before his premature death, at 68.

It was like the re-enactment of Agincourt at the Hurworth meeting last Saturday. Human casualties were strewn like rubbish round a bin in some races – and not all were jockeys.

First to see the doctor was an owner who got kicked in the paddock before the first race when tightening a girth. Five minutes later, a mounted hunt member, on duty to collect loose horses, was bucked off when her cob decided it would prefer to follow the field.

There was carnage as five jockeys fell at one particular fence in the first two races, resulting in two smashed collarbones and a broken nose. It was a small, plain fence which the horses tended to run through rather than jump properly. Bigger, stiffer fences may look daunting, but horses respect them and make an effort to jump accurately.

Unfortunately, re-stuffing birch fences is a pricey undertaking for any hunt, costing £700-800 per fence. A course inspector checks the height of fences before a race meeting, regulation height being 4ft 7in to 4ft 11in. As birch drops a few inches throughout the year, fences are re-stuffed every three to four years so, at the latter end of that period, we get smaller, softer obstacles.

I had a lucky escape in the ladies’ race when my mount somersaulted on top of me. I walked away unscathed (although feeling like I’d been pulverised by a steamroller next day) and was pleased to see Tina Jackson winning aboard her 10-1 shot, Rimsky. Ladies won four of the six races open to them, so well done to Jo Mason, Kate Lackenby, Pip Tutty and Tina for flying the flag.

Blood was even being shed in the bar with some old-fashioned entertainment distracting the crowd. News of a cheating girlfriend caused fists to fly, resulting in black eyes and burst noses among sparring boyfriends.

The St John’s Ambulance crew left more than a few calories lighter after their busy day looking after all of us.

Mick Easterby came back with empty pockets after his trip to the Cheltenham Festival. Rarely does the shrewd trainer lose sight of his money, but some pickpocket got their hands on the Easterby dough before it got to the bookies, quietly lifting it out of his back pocket.

However, Mick was more upset about losing a collection of important telephone numbers he’d gathered while doing his rounds of the Cheltenham boxes.

I wouldn’t like to be in the thief’s shoes if Mr Easterby ever finds out his identity.

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