Day At The Track

The sun shines on Appleby and Team Laidler

01:50 AM 02 Jun 2018 NZST
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Springhill Ruby, harness racing Jack Swagger, Harness racing Harness racing Harness racing
Springhill Ruby & William 'Rocker' Laidler heading the field on their way to victory in their heat on Sunday (before going on to win the final)
Elizabeth O'Neil photo
Jack Swagger with William Greenhorn in the bike turning off the last bend and heading to victory in the final on Monday
Sarah Thomas photo
Jack Swagger with breeder Joyce Greenhorn and driver William Greenhorn after their heat win on Monday
Sarah Thomas photo
Connections of Jack Swagger after winning his heat on Monday
Elizabeth O'Neil photo
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Harness racing fans could not have asked for better weather as they descended on Holme Farm, Appleby-in-Westmorland in the heart of Cumbria for two days of quality racing, featuring three Group events on Sunday 27th and Monday 28th May.

And last season's champion trainer and driver duo Alexis and William 'Rocker' Laidler couldn't have asked for much more either as their stable notched up 9 wins from the 21 races across the festival, along with a bit of help from Scotland's leading driver, William Greenhorn.

Blackwell Tiana, a winner two weeks earlier at Tregaron, dug deep in the stretch to hold off Royal Mint Howard (Grant Cullen) to record their first win of the meeting in the third of the four heats for the Group 2 Appleby Spring Sunday Final. More success followed immediately in the fourth heat, when Springhill Ruby made easy work of her competitors to finish up a 5 length winner in the top heat.

It was to be three on the bounce as Rocker guided the impressive French trotter, Valseur Du Cygne, to an effortless win in the Gold Aged Le Trot. Afterwards during the interview, trainer Alexis strongly suggested that this horse could be exported to Canada to race before the season is out.

The stable then recorded a training 1-2 in the maiden and novice event as William Greenhorn and Bobby Camden pipped Rocker and Laneside Layla on the line. The three-year-old son of Art Professor looks to be improving with every start having notched up his first career win on his third attempt.

With three runners in the final, Rocker opted for betting favourite Springhill Ruby with William Greenhorn partnering Springhill Calaburn (runner up in heat 2) and co-owner Jonjo McMeekin taking the reins behind Blackwell Tiana.

Springhill Ruby gave connections a scare when faltering on the first lap and losing ground after breaking, however in similar style to her win at Tregaron earlier in the month, she overtook the field to battle it out in the stretch with Springhill Catch (Grant Cullen), Blackwell Tiana (Jonjo McMeekin) and Royal Mint Howard (James Haythornthwaite), eventually getting up to record victory by half a length for the Stewart family.

On day two, the stable's first win on the card came again in the third of the four heats, this time for the Group 1 Appleby Whit Monday Spring Races Final. And it was William Greenhorn who landed the win with Jack Swagger, a horse he and his wife Joyce bred but later sold to 2017 Leading Owners Raymond & Frank Huschka.

Not content on finishing in the placings, Rocker made his debut in the winner's circle a couple of races later with their homebred Merrington Movinup, an impressive winner of heat and final at Tregaron in aged company who returned to the 3YO ranks and dominated the colts and fillies mixed event.

The wins came in quick succession for Rocker as he partnered another homebred Merrington Doublel for owner/trainer Brian Liddle in the first of the maiden and novice combined races, before having to do it the hard way with Rhyds Sapphire in the second division when the pair battled it out in the stretch with long-time leader Hawthorns Henry (Leo Arnett) to get up by three parts of a length.

Once again, Alexis Laidler fielded multiple runners in the final, with Rocker partnering Frankie Camden (runner up in heat 2) and William Greenhorn retaining the drive on Jack Swagger. When the latter sprinted clear for an impressive victory in his heat, Greenhorn had been clearly delighted to see the horse back to, if not surpassing, his best, although by his own admission if defeat came in the final then connections would happily accept the sole victory on the day from a horse who has suffered many issues in his career.

It was not to be the case however, as Jack Swagger kicked clear down the back straight on the last lap and was clearly not for catching as his driver roared him home to a comfortable and emotional victory for everyone concerned. Afterwards, Alexis [Laidler] was overcome with emotion during her interview as it has been an established fact that not that long ago it seemed as though Jack Swagger, or 'Maxi' as he is affectionately known, might never race again. However, perseverance, dedication and ultimately faith in the horse brought him back to the track and on this day, he repaid all of those associated with him.

With 9 training wins for Alexis, including all three Group races, and 7 driving wins for Rocker, it seems they are once again leading the way in British harness racing.

That said, there were 12 other winners across the weekend outwith the stable. Richard Haythornthwaite opened proceedings on Sunday when guiding the Swinbank's Ceiron JD to victory in the novice pace. He returned to the winner's circle later in the day with the 4YO French Trotter Emirat Du Levant, a horse he described as 'the further he goes, the better he goes', when winning the Le Trot 4YO Gold Division.

The following day he took out the second heat of the major handicap aboard Ghengis Pride who was a impressive 3 length winner. Brother James added further wins to trainer (and mother) Teresa's tally on Monday, taking the first race on the card with maiden winner Borntorun who showed potential at Tregaron, and then bringing Teresa and owners Claire & Shane Fletcher to tears when winning the top heat with Sports Trick, another horse who has overcome adversity to return to racing.

A catch drive for trainer John Gill on board Imperial Deal gave James his driving treble on the day when leading from start to finish in the first two-year-old event of the racing season, a race in which Gill fielded four of the six starters and landed a training 1-2-3-4.

The Scottish travelled south for the meeting with high hopes and were pleased to land the spoils in a few of the races, with the first Scottish victory coming by way of the Hamish Muirhead-trained Dynaramic, driven by Hugh Menzies in a photo finish with Western Lover (Peter Jackson) in the first heat on Sunday.

Menzies was confident he had gotten up in the shadow of the line during his post-race interview, despite the lengthy wait for the official result. The second heat also went to Scotland, as Grant Cullen steered Springhill Catch to victory. The duo later took the runner up spot in the final. Cullen returned to the winner's circle on Monday when partnering ante-post favourite Live In Star to a popular victory. The 5-year-old son of Doonbeg was a heat and final winner at Corbiewood a week earlier and came to the meeting in good form, however ultimately could not hold off Jack Swagger in the final later that day.

The Silver Aged Le Trot race was won by a newly-imported French trotter, Amazing, owned and trained by the Ali family and driven by Jason Ali. Jason later admitted they didn't know how good the horse was prior to his debut on British soil having previously raced at Wolvega (Holland) but he may prove an interesting addition to this division as the season progresses.

The Le Trot 4YO Silver Division was won by Mike Evans with Etoile De Villodon, making this the horse's second win from nine starts since arriving in the UK last summer.

Racing returns to Appleby for the New Fair meeting on Sunday 3rd June.

by Sarah Thomas, for Harnesslink

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