Monday 26th December, 4.50am.
I still have ten minutes before my alarm goes off, usually ten more minutes of sleep represents a golden time. Ten more minutes, what joy. Well not this day.
I’m generally pretty good in the mornings. Excited to get up and go at the day, but I would suggest for the first 20 minutes I could be a little groggy. Not today, it is just before 5am on this Monday morning and already my stomach is churning.
I have of course felt nerves many, many times, but not like this – these nerves are different.
I have now looked through this particular race roughly 386 times and again checked if anything has been backed overnight. I think I’ll probably just get up.
Packing a bag for the races and getting myself organised at Paul’s yard was a daily occurrence of course but going racing again, this time for myself, feels like something I’ve never done before. Today I am going racing with a runner of my own.
I get into work to be met by Graham, my invaluable head lad, who both thankfully and unsurprisingly is a lot calmer than me.
We go through the board, discuss what all the horses are doing that morning and if he has had a nice Christmas Day. After checking for the 13th time that morning that Graham is happy with Seelotmorebusiness we head out to the yard.
“I don’t know why you’re worried Harry, you’ve done all you can, and he’s fit and ready to go. He’ll win,” states Graham.
Graham, I don’t need that at this stage. I muck out my couple of horses before Rupert and I head out for first lot.
First lot is a plan I believe the lads have come up with this day so that they can prepare ‘Sid’ (Seelotmorebusiness), the lorry and the kit without me “getting in the bloody way and annoying them”.
I arrive back in from my first lot to a very prepared Joe, Graham and Ryan who have the whole job ready and, before I can annoy them about anything, we are on the way to Huntingdon.
This is really happening.
Happily, Seelotmorebusiness did not share my nerves and travelled to Huntingdon like the professional that he is. It had been some time since I travelled to the races in the lorry and, looking back on it, I’m not certain I needed to tell Joe to slow down as we approached every roundabout. Better to be safe though hey?
I thought first thing the nerves were bad, but as we got to Huntingdon it is fair to say I’m feeling a good deal more anxious.
I found it intriguing that for many years I had dreamt of this moment and now here, three hours before the race, and I was not wanting it to happen.
We unloaded Sid from the lorry and he was still taking it all in his stride with his ears pricked. Trot up passed and legs washed, Joe, rather like my boss as opposed to the other way round, ordered me to p**s off and stop annoying him and that he’d meet me in the paddock.
Without question the next two hours were the worst, the waiting was pretty much unbearable.
I just wanted it to be time, time to see if it had all worked and if Sid was as well as I thought he was.
A good course walk with Dad and Mark (Amy’s partner and the calmest man in the party) made me feel a good bit better.
Dad and I reminisced on the fact that for my first pony race he walked the course, the same for my first as amateur, conditional, first and only winner in a point to point and now here we were.
Huntingdon had extremely kindly invited my family and I into the director’s box to have some lunch so, whilst I paced around, Mum and Dad, Amy and Mark enjoyed some lunch.
After what felt an eternity, the third race finished and now, thank goodness, it was our time.
All of a sudden I felt calmer, time to do my job, I knew all this bit off by heart.
Amy and I wandered to get Paul’s saddle and head to the parade ring to saddle Seelotmorebusiness and I felt good now, excited.
Joe had turned Sid out fantastically well and I was delighted with how fit he looked. All business now.
Ed Bailey and I saddled him with the odd smirk between one another confirming we were both finding this as cool as we had hoped.
Then the saddle was on, Mum had given him a pat on the head and wished him luck. Dad had checked his over girth, a joke only he will get, and now all we need is Paul.
One of the many things I like about Paul is his calmness, so it was no surprise that, when he came to greet the small army in the paddock which were waiting for him, he was a picture of serenity.
He spoke to Mum and Dad and explained to them that lots of jocks wanted to race “handy” but no one in particular wanted to make the running.
We concluded that he ought to do it himself, control the race and keep things simple. The bell went, I legged Paul up, wished him a safe trip and then that was it. I really could do no more now.
I thought to myself this horse is fit, he’s really well, Paul knows what he is doing, just trust in the process.
For some time before my first runner, I told myself that I was going to stand dead still and just watch. Paul lined him up at the front of the pack and off they galloped to the first. My nerves were still present but I was happy, Paul and Sid were where they wanted to be, now go do your job lads.
For the vast majority of the race, I was the calmest I’d be all day. The two of them got into the most perfect rhythm and, from early on, my confidence was growing.
Paul controlled the race perfectly and, as he said he’d do, started to stretch the race from down the back straight being careful not to overcommit. You’ve got to be patient in front.
The redoubtable duo winged three out and now my heart is genuinely about to beat out of my chest, my feet are still planted in the one spot, but it is getting harder to stay still.
They ping the second last and are now clear, this is job done. A little flick behind the saddle and Sid changes legs, he now really rolling to the last.
“For f**k sake Sid please jump this hurdle,” I say out loud. I needn’t have worried, this is Seelotmorebusiness’ day. Six strides out Paul spots a good stride, asks him forward and he pings the last before all hell breaks loose!
That was the last stride of the race I watched. He was not getting beat from there. I knew that my family and all my friends that had travelled to Huntingdon were watching about 20 metres behind me and doing their level best to take the roof off the place.
The first person to greet/jump on me was Tom Brown, one of my best mates, who quite literally was strangling me, shouting things I cannot repeat in my blog.
Then Amy, then Mum then some others. I think. This is a feeling I cannot describe. Joy like never before, relief, excitement . . . absolutely every positive emotion known to man.
We all make our way back to the winner’s enclosure where Mark (still the calmest man on course) fist bumps me. “Nice work mate, make sure you enjoy it.”
This, at a time where I can hardly speak with excitement, is very good advice. Enjoy this, Christ knows when it will happen again.
Enjoy it I did do. Sid got an amazing reception as he came back and that five minutes in the winner’s enclosure was a time I will always cherish.
This is my first runner as a trainer and he’s gone and won for Mum and Dad; events like this just do not happen.
The next few hours were a complete blur of excitement and drinking to be honest which, as it transpires, can make you quite drunk quite quickly if you’ve got an empty stomach.
Joe drives Sid and I home and we all head to The Retreat, a hotel not far from us.
All my nearest and dearest are there including the Panes family our closest family friends who surprise me, and the evening is wonderful.
It ends with Ed Bailey and I sat there drinking red wine chatting about the day and wishing this thing would never end.
Because I really do wish that day never ended. I have talked about it a lot since, thought about it a lot since and I still cannot make sense of what it all meant to me. Put simply however it was without question the best day of my life so far. It will take some topping too.
Since then, I have had some more runners and been delighted with them with Fourofakind and Game Winner both running excellent races in defeat to finish runner-up.
It has been so exciting having runners and I am absolutely loving it.
I apologise for the blog just detailing about this one particular day, but for those that have read my blog for a long time you will know what this day meant so I wanted to share it.
We travel to Ffos Las, Ludlow and Wincanton for the rest of this week so hopefully we will have some luck.
Until we chat again.