Sunday, July 8, 2007

Well done, Wanda!

The main reason that I’m sitting in Canterbury, New Zealand, shivering somewhere between a log fire, an electric blanket and a hot water bottle, rather than Tikeibank-ing through the sun-struck Pacific islands, is Wanda.
And, yes, Wanda is – as you may have guessed -- a horse. A three year-old brown (officially) filly by Wrestle out of Gwen, bred and owned by K F Gänzl and B D Collins, and trained at Motukarara, Bank’s Peninsula, by Murray Edmonds. When she gets to the races it will be under the name of ‘Sabre Song’.
She isn’t at the races yet, for she’s only a young thing, and we’ve been bringing her along slowly. At the end of last year, she went to the public workouts a couple of times, and she showed enough talent to be sent straight away to the qualifying trials. There, in spite of a bit of inexperienced stargazing, she duly cracked the required time limit, and then came home to Gerolstein to rest on her baby laurels, and grow bigger, taller, stronger and older, before being launched on the world of real racing.
Now, half a year later, the last stage of her preparation is underway. While I have been trotting the globe, Wanda has been trotting towards what we hope will be a career on the racetrack, with the month of July scheduled to be the final and public part of her readying. I had to be here to see it, freezing or not.
Her first appearance at the workouts, this time round, underwent a bit of re-scheduling, as various meetings were abandoned because of bad weather, but last night my phone rang, and the news came. Today was the day. So, at 11am, I and ‘Red Ted’ (my Suzuki Alto) crawled forth on to the still frosty roads and set out on the hour’s journey to Motukarara racecourse.
Wanda has definitely grown. She is, nowadays, almost an ordinarily sized horse, far from the tiny yearling that one horseman christened ‘the eggbeater’ because she would, he thought, have to take two strides to other horses’ one, just to keep up. And she’s got a nice attitude, too – keen and jaunty – and she evidently enjoys running. Well, it all helps!
There were just four starters in her heat. One was an unqualified newcomer, but the other two were more or less experienced racehorses. ‘Nowhere To Go’ has had 24 races and finished in the money on several occasions; ‘Leggiero Del’ has had half a dozen starts and shown some promise.
Both the racehorses went away splendidly, and my heart sank as the commentator called Wanda as having galloped. Something she has never done before. But it wasn’t disaster. She’d just been a bit eager to get going, and thrown in an initial couple of unkosher steps. They cost her five lengths, but she quickly made up the lost ground and tucked in behind the two leaders, as they all ploughed their way through the first lap on the heavy grit of the sodden racetrack. But things didn’t stay that way. As the little field came down the straight for the first time, Murray popped Wanda off the fence, moved her briskly into the lead, and there she stayed. Into the final run home, and, not unexpectedly, ‘Nowhere to Go’ came at our girl, down the passing lane. It looked a certainty that, having worked a bit, she would be run down. But Wanda wasn’t having that. She refused to let the older mare past, and hung on to win by someth8ing like a head with ‘Leggiero Del’ a couple of lengths away third. What a brave wee girl.
OK, so the time – thanks to the heavy track – wasn’t so smart, and the horses which she beat are undoubtedly not champions, but for a first up effort – well, I was pleased, Murray seemed pleased, and several professional horsemen around me obviously thought she was all right. So did Wanda. Having already captured the imagination of the commentator by her size and her guts, she caused a fair bit of amusement as she stalked proudly back looking as if she thought she had just won the Derby.
Well, you can only win. And she’d done it.
So, since she seems to have got the gist of what’s needed, she will go next week to the official trials. One step up from workouts and probably several steps up in quantity and/or quality. If she can do well there, then her debut as a racehorse may not be far away.
Well done, Wanda!

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