Robin Oakley

The turf | 28 March 2009

Rancorous radical

East Ilsley is the ideal English village, with a pub, a church and a village duckpond, where moorhens pick their spinsterly way across the mud fringes. Blackbirds trill a welcome from the mellow brick walls. Round the corner, past the allotments is Summerdown Stables, where a feisty two-year-old colt is banging hell out of the horsewalker as a second lot prepares for exercise and grooms empty mucking-out buckets into a trailer.

The tidy yard with its brick arch and traditional stable clock is particularly friendly. There wasn’t a mucker-out or work rider from Ukraine or Swindon, Poland or Pakistan who didn’t offer a smile and a cheery good morning as the spring sun shone on the swaying daffodils. Soon trainer Hughie Morrison was there in flat cap, green windcheater and frayed jeans giving instructions to the clattering circle of some 30 work riders, the prettiest of them bending to give her horse a hug and kiss any local swain would envy.

Striding with the trainer across the ancient springy turf of the Berkshire Downs (Hughie gets to use Peter Cundell’s wonderfully mature grass in return for making his own all-weather gallops available) and watching some of the new season’s hopes in gentle action it felt like English heaven. He agreed, though not without the realist in him caveating, ‘Next week when it is pissing with rain, half of them are coughing and someone ends up in hospital it might not be quite such fun.’

On the gallops and in the yard there was plenty to enjoy, not least a strong-looking Bahamian Bounty two-year-old which still needs a part-owner. Bethlehem, an Oratorio colt with potential, probably won’t run until the autumn and Formulation, a big Danehill Dancer colt who really stands over some ground, will probably take time, too.

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