Over the stable door: Surprise performance means Rolo is lined up for the big one

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SOME OF the new horses will get their first run for us in the coming weeks. It is an exciting but nerve-racking time.

There’s only so much I can learn from them on the gallops at home, things can all change on the racecourse. Some are high in the ratings which means racing at a grade they may struggle to be competitive at. It will take a few runs before their mark drops enough to win so the owners need to be patient.

One new recruit is Rolo, a strapping nine-year-old chaser with a ground devouring stride which has won him many races. His consistent results left him confined to the better class of races. As an older horse he needed a change before he became disheartened.

I took him and a few others to a cross country course last month for a change of routine. The course had an assortment of tricky obstacles - ditches, banks, drops and obstacles most racehorses would find awkward.

Rolo set off like a three-star eventer, neatly popping over whatever he was aimed at. He even coped with bounces and water drops to our amazement. It was the last thing I’d expected. My mind was buzzing as I drove the wagon home.

My head was stuck in race calendars that evening until the early hours, checking dates, meetings and ratings until an idea fell into place. My strategy to use Rolo’s talent was to aim him at cross country chases held at high-profile courses; a series which climaxes at the world’s most prestigious National Hunt meeting, the Cheltenham Festival in March. The owners were understandably excited.

Now Rolo is gearing up for his first big test over the banks and hedges at the November Cheltenham meeting. It will be his rehearsal race.

My little brown Patterdale bitch is growing fast. She has an independent character, loves ferreting in the brambles and has grown a furry beard - the canine equivalent of David Bellamy. The boisterous pup loves being a ‘yard’ dog and when I feed the horses every night she’s my shadow, still unsure of what lurks in the darkness. In the afternoon Baffle collapses into an unconscious slumber in front of the log burner like an old farmer, her snores can be heard outside.

I can’t wait until teething is over. With molars like pincers she’s moved on from chewing TV cables to my kitchen table, the skirting boards, anything with a zip, Felix’s underpants and my boyfriend’s smelly trainers.

Yesterday Tris shut her in the utility room whilst he cooked dinner. “No!” I yelped when I noticed the closed door. “She chews all the shoes!”

“Chill out,” he sighed. “She’s only been in there a minute.”

Failing to pacify my panic he swung the door open to see the innocent brown face. A shoe lace hung from her mouth.

I extracted my handmade Argentinian Polo boot from under her feet as she stared back at me with questioning eyes. A front buckle was missing, the sturdy leather straps at either side were gnawed off, one dangled precariously by a single thread as I held it aloft. The boots had been a treat to myself, two years of saving hard.

My indulgent self-pity was broken with a shriek. Tris moaned crossly, holding what resembled a worn out pensioner’s slipper: “Your naughty dog has chewed my favourite slippers.”