Bay of Freedom runs at Wexford tomorrow in a race that will determine his future. He has been running disappointingly but, at least, this will be the first time he has had soft ground all season (except for Listowel when we decided to put blinkers on him). It is a ‘Veteran’s chase which means any horse who is 10 or older is entitled to run. It’s back in trip for him ( 2 ½ miles) but we are at his favourite track so the distance shouldn’t be an issue. We’ve always considered him a stayer but the reality is that he has never won at more than 2 ¾ miles and we think the shorter trip should not be an issue.
He will be a rank outsider but 18 months ago he would have been favourite for this race; which shows two things:
1) How much can change in 18 months, and
2) How owners can clutch at any straw
After his last run at Punchestown (when he ran much worse than at Cheltenham the time before) we sent him for a thorough check-up to a different vet: the well-regarded Gerry Kelly. After extensive testing and x-rays he could find only one thing, but that was a potentially big thing; extreme pain in his stifle on his left hind leg. Gerry said that he could lean on him and the horse would almost fall over; he administered a nerve block just to confirm things and then a cortisone injection to block much of the pain. Sometimes this alone can be enough with stifle injuries and, at least, it has meant we have been able to train him the last few weeks and he can run on Sunday. The injection has a withdrawal period of 28 days which means that you can’t run within 28 days of it being administered; Sunday will be day 30!
Realistically, this really could be his last race if he fails to put in a performance and we have had some tentative conversations about post-racing life. It’s like golf; you can be playing terribly but only need that one good shot to inspire you to come back; with Bay of Freedom, we just need that one good run, that one good excuse to keep coming back for more.
I was in Cheltenham with John and Bernard this week and we had dinner with Peter and Ber on Wednesday night. My first (somewhat loaded) question to Peter was “who is going to ride Bay of Freedom in his last race?”. Ber nodded knowingly but Peter asked “why do you say last race?” You see, the problem is that Bay of Freedom is in great form at home and is training great and we know/believe/think/hope/imagine/dream that he still retains all of ability. My biggest fear, and increasing belief, is that he does, indeed, retain his ability but that his head is in the wrong place and, if true, we have no way of managing that.
The jockey question was equally difficult to answer. There’s a meeting at Limerick tomorrow so that was always to make some jockeys unavailable and we knew, with Westerner Point a likely runner, that would make Philip Enright (who rode him at Punchestown) unavailable. Having no idea who would be available, I left it with Peter to sort out and to let me know. 24 hours later the online HRI site was showing Sean Flanagan as the jockey and I was very happy with that and it stayed that way until after 10am on Friday when the declarations were made. However, we had been here before and, with jockeys not needing to be confirmed until noon, there was always the potential for a change. Sure enough, by 11am, we had no jockey booked and a quick perusal of jockey bookings at Limerick revealed that Sean Flanagan had been required by Noel Meade to ride at Limerick. Peter called at 11.30 and said that Donagh Meyler was available and was I ok with that?; I certainly was and we booked him with 25 minutes to spare (a lifetime in Peter’s world)
If it is his last race then it couldn’t be happening at a better course. Without exception, we have been treated better at Wexford than at any other course and I am delighted we have found an excuse to go back there. I will always remember when Bernard, John and I went (on a day when Bay of Freedom was not running) Mary had reserved a table for us in the main stand. Well..she had meant to reserve a table but had forgotten. Not a bother, the door to the bar was still locked so there was still time. Mary said to “just wait here” (in the Secretary’s office) and so we did; not having a clue what her brilliant idea would be. We did hear a printer going and then Mary handed us a piece of A4 paper with “Reserved for Paul Leech” written on it. She told us to go to the stand (which was, by now, being unlocked) and stick it on any table we fancied. Amazingly, it worked, people moved out of the way immediately and I have been carrying it around with me ever since. (In case, you’re wondering, it failed miserably at Cheltenham last week).
Tomorrow’s a big day and I hope that he runs really well, enjoys it, comes back safe and that there is no decision to be made by 4.10pm tomorrow; except where his next race will be.
I will be driving down from the Airport tomorrow morning and then am staying next to the Curragh tomorrow night; the reason being that I will be able to watch my new horse gallop on Monday morning. Yes, that is right: I have not learned my lesson from Bay of Freedom and so am now the proud owner of a French-bred four year-old. The story of how he was bought by mistake and why we are changing his name will be subjects for future blogs. Let’s hope those stories are delayed as long as possible!