My Race Days
From Copenhagen to Cheltenham; Ascot to the Arctic; tales of Yuletide, Sun Horses, Trolls and reindeer; The Thing and secrets in the ice
Well if I can sew all that into a coherent blog entry I deserve a medal! But that is what I am going to attempt because the last month that has been the mad life I have had! From modelling in a fashion show; to researching Northern tales of horses, trolls, reindeer and Santas; to helping unlock secrets buried in Arctic ice cores at the University in Copenhagen; to some fantastic days racing at Cheltenham and Ascot; to some scary movies. Then I have to get my Fashion round up , Perambulators, Icelandic horses and Denman and Kauto in! And all set appropriately at Christmas time! And a surprise that links Sami reindeer to Kauto Star that I bet very few of you are aware of!!!
Well I didn’t think I’d get much racing in this last month or so but I managed to get back from two weeks working in minus twenty temperatures in the ice freezer in Denmark to get two days of Cheltenham in; followed by a great day at Ascot courtesy of the Halsall family to watch their horse Hazy Tom run at Ascot.
I had wondered about racing in Copenhagen but their season had just finished. My fellow ‘Voice’ Amy Weaver had trained a winner and a third on a raid to Copenhagen in the summer; you can read her blog about it here:
So it’s a little ironic that Amy and now myself should be raiders on Dane soil; when it is they who have the reputation as the Viking raiders! Appropriately the night I left for Denmark my partner bought a movie to get me in the mood; and it certainly did! A blood soaked, scary movie featuring Gerard Butler about the hero Beowulf who comes to the rescue of the Danes and his subsequent battle with the Troll Grendel :
But for horse lovers; the real stars of the movie are the Icelandic horses they ride. I have visited Iceland many times where the movie is actually filmed; and Icelandic horses and ponies are really beautiful and feisty. What is special about them is they have an extra gait (stride) to other horses! Much of the action takes place around this waterfall, the black sand beaches, and the haunting landscape which I love:
Arriving in Denmark on the run up to Christmas is really special. The Danes LOVE Christmas. After all; they invented it. Later Christianity absorbed it into the current festive occasion; but its origins are with the Norsemen and pagans before them. Holly, Christmas Trees, Santa Claus and reindeer, the 12 days of Christmas, Yuletide, the singing and toasting and feasting, and the ‘frigging’ under the mistletoe (Frigg was Odin’s wife) and even the date of 25th December have more to do with the Viking midwinter festivities than they do with the birth of a carpernter’s son in the Middle East in late spring. So to be in the land of Christmas was very special at this time of year! Of course I was there to work; and each day spent 7 or so hours in extreme cold working with ice cores. This is what they look like and the ice I was working with was up to 30,000 years old. Here you can see me cutting a sample to test:
Where the cores are stored had a strangely familiar atmosphere; and I did half expect James Arness lumbering toward me. He played the original ‘Thing’ in the 1950’s movie; and it’s very atmospheric and spooky. Those more familiar with James Carpenter’s version will be delighted with the new prequel out this month which I was able to see on my return from Copenhagen. It is set in 1982 at the Norwegian Antarctic base from where the helicopter shooting at the husky; which opens the Carpenter version. Worse still I think I made my partner David a little nervous after the movie as I came back from working, sometimes alone, with ancient ice ....and I have no fillings in my teeth! You’ll have to see the movie to understand!!!
What terrifies me at the Cinema these days however is the cost. While I love cinema; to think two of you with admission, a hot dog, popcorn, ice cream and coke is going to cost £50; I must say it’s bad value next to the Races. Admission to the average race meeting is not much more than cinema admission and children under 16 go free. And when there; a glass of champagne and a sea food platter will be less than the poor quality cinema fayre.
Back to Copenhagen. Our team managed to have a day off to visit Copenhagen museum and I was enthralled by the exhibits. There were ancient peat bog bodies, hunting paraphernalia and horse aretfacts galore. I was particularly taken by the fact that this Bronze Age culture that predated the Vikings by some 1-2000 years had such a sophisticated culture and created beautiful artefacts; and the horse was central to it.
The story of the Sun Horse and how it brought the sun up every day indicates how important horses were in this lost religion and culture. Hard to imagine this culture and their beautiful craftwork predated the Vikings by all that time. 3000 BP . I tried to imagine how these people lived and their horses; and how their seafaring and horsemanship would eventually lead to the Viking culture. Historians are constantly re-evaluating the Vikings. They were so much more than the brutish raiders we imagine. They opened trade with the Inuit and Sami to the North; discovered the Americas hundreds of years before Columbus; had farms in Greenland during the medieval warm period; and established the first proper law in Britain: Danelaw. To think that all those years before the Danes already had a culture that fashioned these wonderful horse artefacts was incredible. One can imagine the sun low in the northern winter skies; with horses silhouetted and steaming up against it and how that gave rise to the stories of the Sun Horse. Take a look at my picture from Cheltenham taken on my return from Denmark:
While in Copenhagen I was interested to learn how the original story of Father Christmas is based on Odin, the Norse God. His long white hair and beard and hooded cloak; and the character he adopted in December (‘Jultid’) where he would visit poor homesteads and leave gifts, is the obvious source of the story. In Iceland it’s a little different. They have 13 rather more mischievous ‘Santas’; the children of Trolls : 13 mischievous Christmas Lads. Each having its own personality... including the Peeping Tom, Door licker, Sausage swiper, and Gully Gawk!!! So watch out for them lurking around!!!! Talking of amusing baker’s dozens you may wish to take a look at my partner David’s new card for the Injured Jockey’s Fund. It’s called the Dirty Dozen because it features 12 mud spattered jockeys in the weighing room and a clean Tony McCoy because he’s led all the way so no kickback!
Needless to say a few of you may be getting those as Xmas cards in the post – they’ve had to do a re-run already!
Well I got roped into a festive day with my Danish colleagues making xmas decorations but there was plenty of good food and drink too; here are some of the traditional decorations I made; and the beautiful Tivoli market in Copenhagen done out on a Russian theme:
Well I returned from Copenhagen on a very bumpy flight just to get back in time for two days racing at Cheltenham. There were plenty of thrills and bumps during the races there too – especially during the cross country when the Kim Bailey-trained (Chris Leigh owned) Wedger Pardy ridden by Jacquie Coward led six of the other runners onto the wrong course toward the end - a pile up into the rail followed. Balthazar King and Richard Johnson desperately tried to steer back on course and came to grief. With seven of the runners taking the wrong course the popular multiple winning veteran of the cross country Garde Champeter in JP McManus’ second colours won to great applause.
In the early morning at the course one could watch the horses to be sold at the auctions in the evening ‘breeze up’ on the gallop; which I always enjoy, with the chance of spotting a future winner perhaps?
Other highlights of the meeting included a very moving, apt and popular winner in Astracad; who won the Jenny Mould memorial. Husband Raymond owns Astracad and trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies expressed gratitude to Jenny who sadly died in 2000; but was a huge supporter of Nigel and racing in general.
A shock also came on the saturday when the odds on favourite Hinterland was defeated by Tom George’s Baby Mix at 14/1 but it seemed plenty of locals were in on the coup!
There was another popular winner next on the day that the heroic Denman was to be retired. Fans didn’t have to wait long to see his colours romp home in emphatic style in the form of ‘Join Together’: the next Denman? He was a good price at 3/1 and it inspired a good trickle of sales of David’s print of Denman and Kauto aptly called ‘Together’. Paul Nicholls the trainer bought the original oil from David. Kauto Star of course gained revenge on Long Run a few weeks ago when he had been written off by some as the old guard; and now the two re-oppose on Boxing Day at Kempton. I wonder if they will be indeed all ‘following yonder star’ once more. It used to be said when I was young that Boxing Day should be renamed Desert Orchid day. Now Boxing Day is all about Kauto Star. Enjoy Kauto and Denman; they are what National Hunt Racing is all about and why it’s so popular:
I backed Divers in the big Spinal Research Handicap Chase who unseated his rider; and the race was won by Quantativeasing with my old friend I’msingingtheblues coming in a good 4th at 25/1 – I just had a couple of pounds each way.
Well we certainly had a good celebration and a relax in the evening after a good bet on Join Together; and Caroline with whom we were staying supplied the champagne and the terriers!
FASHION ROUND UP
While at Cheltenham I stopped by Graham McCartney’s millinery stand. I won the Fashion Award at the Cheltenham festival this year wearing one of Graham’s beautiful hats and always have a look at the new designs he has:
I got the one I am wearing to match my latest outfit which was from another of the Cheltenham trade stands; ‘The Flying Fox’. They feature exclusive designs by Edinburgh fashion designer Joey D; whose designs I adore and are very suitable for racing. In addition it’s all recycled materials so very eco friendly; beautiful tweeds and leather. I did some ‘lookbook’ shots for the blog showing some ideas about teaming natural palette of the tweed with varied shades of brown.
The boots I got from Schuh and were half price in their pre Xmas reduction; so at £65 for beautiful just over knee leather boots, they were a bargain. I looked at the possibilities of teaming the outfit with various items: it’s always an idea to do this before deciding what to wear for a complete look to see what goes well. Being a geographer I like to use world produce in my looks; I think it important when travelling particularly to remote regions to buy locally produced fashions and crafts. What is nice about many of the stalls at Cheltenham is they too have source produce from such regions: there are stalls selling leather and alpaca shawls from South America for example. In the pics here I have teamed the Joey D kilt and bag (which have a steampunk look), with a vintage leather jacket, a fox fur from the Sami peoples of Northern Scandinavia, and Argentinian leather bag produced by Amerindians at La Boca market in Buenos Airies; and a men’s belt of the type crafted for polo players by the Argentinian stall at Cheltenham.
While shopping in Copenhagen I was very pleased to see produce from the Inuit and Sami on their markets. Greenland of course belonged to Denmark until recently and they traded with both cultures since Viking times. So I was pleased to support the lifestyles of these peoples who protect the wilderness by buying some reindeer produce. I bought a Sami reindeer hat and some Inuit reindeer antlers; the hats I think will be great for stable staff on freezing cold mornings. Working in sub zero conditions it is essential to have natural fibres in your wardrobe. I was able to work for prolonged periods in minus twenty thanks to some fur, pure merino wool undergarments, and goose down filled jacket and trousers. The merino top – and leggings are from Icebreaker and standard issue for arctic exploration. The leggings aren’t quite as skin tight as ones with lycra in but the latter are useless on a cold day at the races; let alone the arctic.
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without reindeer; and they are hugely important economically to the peoples of the frozen North from The Inuit and Cree of Greenland and Canada, to the Sami and the 300 plus tribes of Siberia. Because of their way of life and reindeer herding, trade in the furs is of huge importance to conservation. Without this income alternative economic practices like logging and oil exploitation would ruin the boreal forest and arctic. It was nice to see some in Copenhagen:
For a glimpse into the way of life of the Sami and their vast reindeer herds have a look at the wonderful images by Bryan and Cherry Alexander; the leading arctic photographers, here:
While I know I will not get my expenses paid by the BHA for this trip; I am determined to go and see the reindeer ‘Grand National’ at Easter at....aptly...KAUTOKeino in Norway!!! Yes ... Sami reindeer racing!!!!
So once and for all I can confirm that while we all call him ‘Kayto’, he is named after this Norwegian Sami region that stages the reindeer racing and it’s pronounced ‘Kaughto’.
Perhaps when we get racecourses frozen we could look at inviting the Sami over to do this!!! They have appeared at St. Moritz racecourse in Switzerland for demonstration races. Kempton should be in on this for a christmas photo shoot with Kauto Star!
Before Christmas we wanted a day’s shopping in London. I love Camden Lock and Portobello and wanted a good look around for unusual gifts on my student budget. Camden Stables market is also a wonderful place for the horse lover as it has lots of beautiful statues of horses; including colossal heads. The stables used to be home to the horses that pulled the canal barges; and now they are honoured here. The shopping too is great and the Stables have the only shop in the UK selling the Spanish designer Octavio Vera’s surreal shoes. Look for their shop in the Stables and ask for ‘Frog’ - a charming man with a yellow mohawk - who used to be a roadie for some well known punk bands!
Now these aren’t shoes you could wear winter racing; but would definitely be worth suffering in for a fashion statement at Royal Ascot or for a Racing Ball. So it was I tried on their Alien inspired ‘Ripley’ heels and David bought me them for Christmas!! Incidentally; did anyone know that in France Kauto Star was also called ET? The extra terrestrial? Because he was so good he must have come from outer space! So two sci-fi references are also appropriate in my blog!!!
Back to fashion; and I was enthralled by some of the Danish fashions. Helena Christensen’s mother has a vintage/dress agency in Copenhagen called Yo Yo http://www.oresundsregionen.dk/en/company/401/yo-yo-second-hand-shop/index.aspx
And I also spotted these wonderful dresses and jackets in a store in Copenhagen – the window display inspired by icicles. Ivan Grundahl is one of Scandinavia’s top designers and I like the way he teams crazy muslin hats and dresses with tailored jackets and furs. http://www.copenhagenfashionweek.com/17733.125/Ivan%20Grundahl
Earlier in the month I modelled for a small charity fashion show myself for Kiss boutique on the Mumbles; at which designer Gill Harvey also showed her knitwear. People may be familiar with Gill for her After Six and Medici labels. Here are Gill and I at the show; and a couple of outfits from Kiss I really loved. The black pants with diabolo design in velvet teamed with the swing black and orange coat I thought very jockey colours inspired; and ideal outfit for winter racing. The brocade coat is by Bandolera; http://www.bandolera.nl/ also at Kiss. I will be modelling for Gil at a big London fashion Show in the Spring; and I hope to get her to the races sometimes; so will keep you informed!
For some other hat designers I would like to highlight the amazing Irish milliner Edel Ramberg from Galway. Her designs are on show at Harvey Nicholls in Dublin; but she also has a facebook page so check here out direct. Then there is Suzanne Oliver; who does a beautiful hand blocked cloche hat for winter with interchangeable bands/accessories; and I love the Sinamay with vintage violet feathers too.
Then I see Sally Harper-Kenn has done a fabulous red felt trilby with leopard print band – love it!
Back to London; and it was great to be able to have a day’s shopping one day and a day’s racing another! So I jumped at the chance of accompanying David in delivering a painting for Ben Halsall, son of Alan, to Ascot. Their horse Hazy Tom was hot favourite and was unbeaten in 5 races; and they had asked us to join them; giving us owner’s badges for the day. A bitterly cold day at Ascot but the weather stayed fine despite snowing on the coach ride up. And exceptional racing! Alan Halsall will be known to many of you through his exceptional British Company Silver Cross; the perambulator company with so much heritage.
Yes the beautiful prams!
Well Alan has had some good horses over the years including Longshanks and Songe; but Hazy Tom is top class and has some of the best novice hurdle form of the year so far. So this was an exciting occasion. Both Hazy Tom and Molotof were beautiful horses and looked to me in peak condition.
Well it was a great race but the verdict was Hazy Tom wasn’t too keen on the ground while Molotof from the Henderson yard relished it. However; after apparently struggling in the ground he may have got used to it because toward the finish he regained third position and was finishing fastest of all. So while Alan and Charlie Longsdon his trainer were a little disappointed, I think they can take heart that at Cheltenham on good ground come the festival he should be thereabouts. I will be screaming him on at the finish come March!
We ate lovely sandwiches (complimentary) in the owners and trainer’s bar at Ascot and plenty of tea and coffee to warm us while studying for the next races. One of my favourite horses was running that day but while the racing press were talking about other horses in the race; thankfully I saw Simon Nott who agreed Zaynar had a good chance. So I backed him; and James Reveley rode a great race on him to win by a street! So that was my ‘white christmas’ and it helped toward my Christmas shopping! And a few cocktails (though not the Molotov kind!) at Beach Blanket Babylon in Notting Hill that evening!
I had also seen Milton Harris earlier and he was saddling the Martin Keighley runner ‘All for Free’. So should have backed him really but didn’t; but it was nice to see the excited owners ‘The Jesters Partnership’ after the race.
Hadrian’s Approach had taken the first race for the Henderson yard in a ding dong battle with the Hobbs’ Fighting Flynn:
For the big handicap of the day we picked out the two Pipe trained horses; but Our Father was a bit short in the betting so we did Paraya at 20/1; who ran a great race to finish 4th so we had it each way! So the white Xmas continued with THREE grey winners and one grey placed!
What a lovely but busy day...and month ...despite seemingly being confined to arctic conditions the whole time it seemed all very festive.
And so I wish you all a very Happy ‘Yuletide’ ; and see you at The Welsh Grand National on the 27th and Cheltenham New Year’s Day, weather permitting!!!! Wrap up warm!!!
About Eliza Cook
Hi! I'm Eliza. I am a Geographer by profession, and am currently studying for a PhD in Geography at Swansea University. I will be investigating ice core records from Greenland pretty soon. But you don't want to hear about those.
On top of this, during a year out, I fell into working as an in-house model for Agent Provocateur. Strange but true! This experience heightened my appreciation of fashion - especially the eclectic and eccentric fashions of the races.
I've been a racing fan for two years. I love all racing, but a day at the jumps is where I really feel the most excitement. Having grown up in Gloucestershire, with two great racecourses on the doorstep - Cheltenham and Chepstow - it is a wonder that I didn't find racing sooner.
I've been privileged to be a part of some of the 'behind the scenes' elements of racing, from photographing frosty morning breeze-ups to attending the post Cheltenham Festival jockeys' celebration in the Weighing Room!
I am thrilled to be a 'Voice of the Races'. To me, the most striking feature of racing is the accessibility of participants - and the fact that everybody attending has a part to play. A day at the races has it all; wonderful horses, spectacle and fashion, in an adrenaline soaked atmosphere where people from all walks of life come together in mutual appreciation of the sport.
I can't wait to tell you all about my experiences at the races, the people I meet and the adventures I have, as well as the fashions I encounter and the stories I uncover.
I hope you enjoy it!
- 08.11.12 Cheltenham showcase 2012 ; A Fashion shoot, vintage fashion and fond Farewells; Sleek Bodies, Dark Lovers and a bit of Bondage.
- 15.10.12 Dubai International Arabian Raceday Newbury 2012 : the Pure Bred in Legend and Reality and a meeting of cultures
- 26.09.12 Fashion Pad : Racing, Rock n Roll and Retro; Barbours , Belstaffs and Burberrys , Biker Chic and Black Leather; and an addiction to Muck and Speed!
- 29.08.12 Friends at Fontwell Park: Number 6 and a figure of 8; Vintage Fashion & Fab history; Flying leaps, cricket & music...From The Jam and more!
- 29.08.12 After the first race; Fontwell
- 30.07.12 Eliza’s Log: back from a remote Arctic scientific research station; a suitably International blog; and some movies, art, fashion and music
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What would you say your favorite thing to do in the entire world would be?