TALES OF THE TURF – Alderbrook: By Jon Franklin

Everyone has a favourite racehorse that wins it’s way into ones affections during a lifetime of following the sport of kings and in my case this horse was Alderbrook, a grand bay coloured horse, who died in 2008 at the grand old age of nineteen. Whilst there were better horses running on the flat in his time and some better hurdlers around too, there weren’t many. For me, Alderbrook possessed all the attributes that I think a thoroughbred racehorse should have: courage, bravery, toughness and above all, a big heart. There was also something of the unconventional about Alderbrook that appealed to me too; unraced at three, he started his career in modest company, on the all weather surface at Southwell where he finished unplaced. It took him another four races until he recorded his first win, a grade six handicap at Goodwood partnered by Paul Eddery. Had Alderbrook been a classmate of mine at school and not a racehorse, the teachers would have referred to him as a late developer, because, in stark contrast to these humble beginnings, within two years he had won The Group 2 Prix Dollar at Longchamp. Two years on, aged six, his maverick owner Ernie Pick then decided that he wanted Alderbrook retrained as a hurdler. Many within racing thought that Ernie Pick was mad, Alderbrook himself probably among them. But Ernie Pick was adamant that this was the right path for his pride and joy. In order to help Alderbrook with this career change, he was assigned a special guru. Not a spiritual guru you understand, but a jumps guru, a man called Yogi Breisner, who was employed to help Alderbrook to jump hurdles. After a lot of practice, this is something that Alderbrook was soon not just able to do but to do at high speed. Well, usually. When Alderbrook didn’t clear a hurdle neatly, he would just plough right through it and carry on running towards the next one unpeturbed. As I say, he was tough. Tough and stubborn too. If Alderbrook had been a singer, he’d have been Frank Sinatra b

TALES OF THE TURF – Alderbrook: By Jon Franklin

Everyone has a favourite racehorse that wins it’s way into ones affections during a lifetime of following the sport of kings and in my case this horse was Alderbrook, a grand bay coloured horse, who died in 2008 at the grand old age of nineteen. Whilst there were better horses running on the flat in his time and some better hurdlers around too, there weren’t many. For me, Alderbrook possessed all the attributes that I think a thoroughbred racehorse should have: courage, bravery, toughness and above all, a big heart. There was also something of the unconventional about Alderbrook that appealed to me too; unraced at three, he started his career in modest company, on the all weather surface at Southwell where he finished unplaced. It took him another four races until he recorded his first win, a grade six handicap at Goodwood partnered by Paul Eddery. Had Alderbrook been a classmate of mine at school and not a racehorse, the teachers would have referred to him as a late developer, because, in stark contrast to these humble beginnings, within two years he had won The Group 2 Prix Dollar at Longchamp. Two years on, aged six, his maverick owner Ernie Pick then decided that he wanted Alderbrook retrained as a hurdler. Many within racing thought that Ernie Pick was mad, Alderbrook himself probably among them. But Ernie Pick was adamant that this was the right path for his pride and joy. In order to help Alderbrook with this career change, he was assigned a special guru. Not a spiritual guru you understand, but a jumps guru, a man called Yogi Breisner, who was employed to help Alderbrook to jump hurdles. After a lot of practice, this is something that Alderbrook was soon not just able to do but to do at high speed. Well, usually. When Alderbrook didn’t clear a hurdle neatly, he would just plough right through it and carry on running towards the next one unpeturbed. As I say, he was tough. Tough and stubborn too. If Alderbrook had been a singer, he’d have been Frank Sinatra because Alderbrook always did it his way. Eventually, satisfied that his hurdling would hold up, his trainer Kim Bailey and owner Ernie Pick decided to enter him for The Grade 1 Champion Hurdle at The 1995 Cheltenham Festival. Neither of them believed in doing things in half measures.

* * * * *

From a betting point of view, my money always felt safe when it was invested on Alderbrook and as a winner of fifteen of his thirty starts under rules, he was one of those rare racehorses that I was able to bet on with my heart as much as with my head. However, A novice hurdler will never win The Champion Hurdle! That’s what all the experts said, as I read The Racing Post in Ladbrokes one day, around two months before the big race. Well, that isn’t what Alderbrook’s owner Ernie Pick believed. The Racing Post also reported that the stable staff at Kim Bailey’s yard had started betting on Alderbrook to win the Champion Hurdle in the ante post lists at fancy double figure odds. Around this time, I was a hard up student at Nottingham Trent University studying for a degree in photography. Despite having a part time job to help support myself, my meagre grant was already running low. I had been about to invest the crumpled up tenner in my sweaty palm on that day’s racing. In a rare moment of wisdom however – I wasn’t a great forward planner then and still aren’t really today – I strode up to the counter and placed two pounds each way on Alderbrook instead at 33/1 to win The Champion Hurdle. I collected my betting slip, thanked the cashier and went for a pint in a pub across the road. Twenty minutes later, having been unable to think about anything else since, I returned to Ladbrokes and placed another two pounds each way at 33/1 before returning home to my student digs.

* * * * *

Come the big day, Alderbrook slammed the Champion Hurdle field by five lengths under a brilliant ride by his jockey Stormin’ NormanWilliamson, at a fraction of the odds I backed him at. As you can imagine, I was absolutely ecstatic. In winning The Champion Hurdle, Alderbrook showed all of his best attributes simultaneously, inside the nine minutes it took him to win the race; all of his courage, all of his bravery, all of his toughness and, above all, the whole of his big, big heart. He brought nothing but joy to those close to him that afternoon; he provided Norman Williamson, his jockey, with his first ever Cheltenham Festival winner; he made Ernie Pick feel vilified that he had made the correct decision by sending him hurdling when everyone else thought he was crazy and he made Kim Bailey a Champion Hurdle winning trainer for the first time in his career. As for me, well, Alderbrook became a friend for life. The161 pounds’ winnings that I collected from my two two pound each way bets went along way twenty-one years ago. I used the money to keep my landlord at bay, paid off a couple of small debts, bought some photographic paper and chemicals, had a good night at my local pub and lived off what was left until the end of term and therefore avoided a tricky meeting with my bank manager about the possibility of extending my overdraft until the end of term.

 

By Jon FranklinC


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