Someone I know from a racing forum of which I am a member is feeling very pleased with himself right now (and with good reason) following this weekend’s Dewhurst. This is because he had an ante post bet some months back on Native River at 33/1 to enjoy classic glory in 2022. Personally, I’ve never enjoyed much ante post success down the years, though with one notable exception.
Everyone who follows the Sport Of Kings has a favourite racehorse that wins its way into ones affections and I am no exception. In my case this horse was Alderbrook, a grand bay of a horse who died in 2008 at the grand old age of nineteen. While there were better horses running on the flat in the early nineties and some better hurdlers around too, there weren’t many. For me, Alderbrook possessed all the attributes a thoroughbred racehorse should have; courage, bravery, toughness and above all, a big, big heart. There was also something of the unconventional about him that appealed to me too. Unraced at three, he began his career on the all weather surface at Southwell where he finished unplaced. It took him another four races until he recorded his first win, in a grade six handicap at Goodwood partnered by Paul Eddery. Had Alderbrook been a classmate of mine at school and not a racehorse he would have been labelled a late developer, because in stark contrast to his humble beginnings, within two years he had won the Group Two Prix Dollar at Longchamp on Arc Day.
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Two years on, his owner Ernie Pick decided he wanted Alderbrook retrained as a hurdler. Some within racing thought he was mad, Alderbrook himself among them probably, but Ernie Pick was adamant. In order to help Alderbrook with this change of code he was assigned a guru; not a spiritual guru but a jumps one, Yogi Breisner, who set about helping Alderbrook to jump his hurdles cleanly and fluently. This was soon something he was able to not just do, but to do at high speed; and when he didn’t clear a hurdle neatly he just ploughed right through it and kept running to the next one unperturbed. Alderbrook was tough as nails and stubborn too. If Alderbrook had been a singer he would have been Sinatra because he always did things his way. Satisfied with his hurdling, his trainer Kim Bailey entered him for The 1995 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. From a betting perspective my money always felt safe when I invested it on Alderbrook. As a winner of fifteen of his thirty races, he was one of those rare racehorses that I was able to bet on with my heart as well as with my head.
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Around this time I was a hard up student studying photography in Nottingham. Despite working part-time at William Hill in order to support myself, my meagre grant was always running low. One cold afternoon in January, I found myself in a betting shop off Market Square, where I read an article in the Racing Post with the headline Why a novice hurdler (which Alderbrook was) will never win The Champion Hurdle. Paradoxically, elsewhere in the paper it was reported that stable staff at Kim Bailey’s Yard had started backing Alderbrook at fancy odds in the festival ante post lists. Before reading these news items, I’d come in to invest the crumpled up tenner in my sweaty palm on that day’s racing; but in a rare moment of wisdom I placed two pounds each way on Alderbrook at 33/1 to win The Champion Hurdle. I collected my betting slip, thanked the cashier and went for a pint in the pub next door. Twenty minutes later I returned to the betting shop and placed another two pounds each way at the same odds, before returning home to my digs.
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As many of you will no doubt remember come the big day in March, Alderbrook slammed the Champion Hurdle field by five lengths under a brilliant ride from Norman Williamson, at a fraction of the odds I’d backed him at. In winning, Alderbrook showed all of his best attributes simultaneously in the nine minutes it took for him to win the race; every ounce of his courage, bravery and toughness and above all, all of his big, big heart. In doing so he provided Norman Williamson with his first festival winner, repaid Ernie Pick’s faith in him several times over and made Kim Bailey a Champion Hurdle winning trainer for the first time in his career. Meanwhile in a betting shop in Nottingham, Alderbrook became a friend for life, his famous triumph that afternoon on Cleve Hill enabling me to avoid an awkward meeting with my bank manager before the Easter break.
Do you have a story of an ante post bet that paid off? Or perhaps a painful near miss? If so, it would be great to read about it in the comments box below.
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