It was as if the birds knew January was over and spring was on its way when we rode across the fields earlier this week. As the heavy rain clouds rolled away there came a peep of blue sky accompanied by the hearty sound of Blackbirds and a Robin to cheer us on our ride.
The sound of birdsong has come as a welcome relief after what I can only describe as a near silent January with not a chirp to be heard across the farm. As if to bolster spring fever Tris spotted a pair of goldcrests - the smallest bird in the UK - nesting in one of the Nordmann Fir trees my brother planted a few years ago at the bottom of the garden.
The lighter mornings have helped lift the mood around the yard. The horses sense a shift in the seasons before we do. It adds a bounce to their steps and although they have been running well since Christmas everyone’s mood was elevated no end by a welcome winner at Wetherby last week.
It was one of our old stable favourites Houndscourt who got his head in front again. His brave front running victory in the three-mile hurdle race was down to jockey Henry Brooke who always fills his mounts full of confidence. It was just the ride Sherbet needed (his stable name was chosen by my son Felix). The ten-year-old was winning his fourth race for us in two-and-a-half years but this was his first win carrying Jack Berry’s well-known white, blue and red colours. Jack is the Injured Jockeys vice president and for both myself and Henry carrying those colours into the winners enclosure was a poignant occasion.
Our jockey had spent many weeks recuperating at The Jack Berry House in Malton following a heavy fall at Hexham in October which left him with nine broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a broken collarbone. Henry was put in an induced coma whilst fluid was removed from his lung and managed to give everyone quite a fright for 24 hours until he was finally woken up. Despite such serious injuries, he was back racing seven weeks later. Such a speedy recovery he puts firmly at the feet of the Jack Berry house staff.
Jack and his wife Joe are part owners in Sherbet along with other shareholders, who take the good days with the bad, and together make up the Berry Syndicate. It was rewarding for them all to watch their horse win at a favourite local course.
Henry came in a few days later to ride out for me. Quite a feat in itself. Mr Brooke does not often frequent West Yorkshire unless he’s heading to the races. I suspect he’s aware there could be a few more winners to follow up Sherbet’s soon. The 26-year-old has been flying high since his return. As I write this he has just ridden seven winners in as many days including a treble at Sedgefield on Sunday. Despite missing two months of the season he has already had 39 winners and holds a 14 per cent strike rate of rides to wins, his highest yet. He is tentatively looking forward to riding Highland Lodge in the Grand National for Jimmy Moffatt in April.
Jump jockeys are unbelievably strong, talented creatures. They do not get the credit they so rightly deserve. It takes a certain depth of character to rise from one painful fall after another, live on a permanent diet and still exude every ounce of strength and confidence their body can muster to get horses to believe they are the best in the race.