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A Short Blog From Sainte Bastien by Lissa Oliver

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Lissa Oliver

Hi, everyone, you’ll notice here that I’m not one for blogs. But I do have to do all the writing for the characters in my novels. They can’t make a move without me having to write about it! So I thought I’d turn the tables and call in a favour. Now it’s THEIR turn to do the writing and I’ve assigned the people at the Sainte Bastien stables, from my thriller of that name, to produce a weekly blog. I can’t really see them keeping it up, so make the most of this one!

Nick Marchant’s blog

A blog? For the yard’s website? Why not, we already have Face Twit and videos of the horses, shooting off down the mobile phone straight from the gallops! As if I haven’t enough to keep bloody track of! I love horses, my life revolves around them, but there are two things I detest about the ruddy things – their owners and all this bloody nonsense!

I’m a racehorse trainer. My father was a trainer. My grandfather and great-grandfather were trainers. The yard I’m stood in now, Sainte Bastien, was named after my great-grandfather’s first Derby winner. She paid for it. Sainte Bastien, that is, not my great-grandfather. Well, Grandfather paid for it, of course, from the proceeds of the horse, but you get my point. It’s in the blood.

This week, we’ve notched up a good few winners, some Black Type, too, the races that count. The important races are printed in big bold type, Black Type. They talk about bloody jargon driving new punters away, but it couldn’t be any ruddy simpler. This game’s all about keeping it simple. Horses don’t like fuss. They like routine, thrive on it, much like myself.
They’re like my kids. 150 horses in the yard at any one time, every one of them an individual. It’s about getting to know them. You can’t tell them what to do, you have to ask gently and encourage them to want what you want. You can’t use force, you can’t reprimand them. Gently, gently, all the way.

Not like the bloody lads! Not allowed to call them that these days, some bloody politically correct term, staff or grooms or what-have-you. Male, female, young or old, they’re lads; always were, always will be. We’re like one big family, we shout and curse at each other, but we look out for our own. That said, if one of them ever dared shout or curse at me they’d be out on their ear quicker than I could aim a boot at them!

Life’s bloody hard and you have to learn to get on with it. It’s easier with horses in your life, even if it is the ruddy things who cause the hardship in the first place. But they’ve served me well. Put us all through the same school, generations of Marchants.

There’s more than history in this place, more than ghosts. I don’t believe in all that ruddy nonsense, but their memories are here, keeping them all alive. I wouldn’t like to see them lost. The next generation? Well, the least said of him the better. It’s like every other bloody thing around here – all left to me to see it gets done! But what else would I be doing, eh?

Kym Hughes’ blog

It’s my turn this week to update the Sainte Bastien blog and this is just one more reminder why it’s so great to be part of such a fantastic team. I didn’t even know what a blog was last year and no one would have asked me for one. You strive all your life for success and us jockeys are more competitive than most, so to finally make it is a dream come true.

I felt bad for Mark having to retire so unexpectedly, but I never dreamed I’d be offered the job and I’m definitely going to make all those doubters eat their words. Riding as a freelance, I was in different yards and never really part of a team. I did have one main stable, but it was so much smaller, just 30 horses and 10 staff. Coming here, there are 50 of us minding 150 horses and it’s great to get feedback from the team of staff. It helps to know about the individual horses before you ride them in a race, they’re all different with different personalities, and the lads and Mark have been a huge help.

I’d only ridden two winners at the highest level up ’til now, but I’m sitting on Classic stars every morning here at Sainte Bastien and looking forward to my first Classic win. Maple Leaf is my favourite horse and the best I’ve ever sat on. He was Mark’s cast-off last year, when I got to ride him, but we surprised everyone and won, beating Mark on the stable’s number one. I never thought then Maple’ would become my permanent ride.

To have such great horses and to be part of such a great team, it’s a dream come true and I’m determined not to mess up. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, but everyone’s so supportive and helpful. The Guv’nor, Mr Marchant, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but I’m riding at my best. A good horse makes a good jockey. They have the power and ability to get you out of holes and they give you confidence. Maple’, he’s given me that shot at greatness. There are jockeys who’d give their eyeteeth to get a horse like him.

We’ve a great season ahead of us, me, Maple’ and the whole team here at Sainte Bastien. So keep tuning in to the blogs!

Mark Ashton’s Blog

I know I had a bit of an embarrassing blip, but on the whole retirement’s good. More time to spend with the wife and kids. That puppy I’d always promised them. And I’ve been getting a load done round the house. Yeah, life’s pretty good. It’s not what I would’ve wanted, no one plans to retire at 30. As a jockey, you know it’s coming. 45 or 50 tops, if injury doesn’t get you first. So it’s a bit of a kick in the guts this soon, ’specially as Kym’s a good five years older than me. He’s my replacement. Seeing him with my job, that sucks, I can tell you.

I miss it, of course. That rush. That adrenalin kick. Unless you’ve experienced it, you’ve no idea the rush you get, riding a racehorse at 45 miles an hour. Nothing compares. Not pissing about on ponies. Not even doing half-speeds on racehorses on the gallops of a morning. That’s all I’m allowed since my back went. Shoved up on the quieter ones, out of sympathy, while everyone else gets to notch it up a gear on the good ones. It hurts, I don’t mind saying. And it’s not my back I’m talking about.

But, really, life’s good right now. Just hanging out with Kerry and the kids. I missed out on that, riding. You’d be out on the gallops by seven in the morning and not home from the races ’til seven at the earliest, in bed by ten, seven days a week. So I’m just making the most of it now, chilling out a bit ’til I find my feet.

Life’s good. You just need reminding sometimes, that’s all.

Dominic Marchant’s blog

I’ve been told to write a blog. It isn’t enough merely to ride well, one has also to smile prettily for cameras and produce blogs. I’m aware many brand me sullen, but I merely have the courtesy to think before I speak and don’t waste my time or breath on unnecessary words. I’m seventeen and I’m a jockey. If you have any interest then you’ll already know what that entails and be aware of my name. If you have no interest, you will stop reading. Either way, I appear to be wasting my time.

I’m told I must write of my daily routine. I’m in the yard by 6am, preparing the horses in my care for exercise. As an apprentice, I still have three horses to look after. As a senior rider I’ll be spared that chore. Unlike my colleagues I try not to form attachments; horses have a habit of breaking hearts. I ride four or five pieces of work on the gallops for the trainer who owns my indentures. If I’m lucky, I’ll be asked to ride additional horses for other trainers, in the hope of getting a ride in a race. I desperately need more rides, on better horses.

I finish riding mid-morning, then muck out and clean tack. See the horses are bedded down comfortably in their box, or turned out in a paddock. Hopefully go to the races and get one or two race rides. Home by the evening, in bed by ten. Kill time in between by taking my mind off not eating. Maybe spend a couple of hours in the sauna. If I have eaten, then there’s no maybe about it. There’s more, of course, but you won’t want to hear it, any more than I wish to share it. I’m nearly six foot and weigh less than eight stone. Draw your own conclusions.

Why do I put myself through that? Ambition, desire, need. Recognition. Respect. I got off ponies at nine and up onto my father’s racehorses. There’s no going back after that. And nothing beyond that. Life is a battle, on the racecourse, on the scales, and I need to win, at all costs.

Email from David Churchill:

Hi, Nick,
Attached is that blog you asked me for.
Dominic’s settling in well. It was no bother, taking him early. Angela and I are happy to have him here. I know he’s had his problems, but I can’t really describe him as anything but polite and well-mannered and a good little worker out in the yard. He’s an asset as a work rider and as far as stable jockey material, you won’t be getting him back so easily!
Whatever your worries and concerns, can I just reassure you it’s all behind him now, from what Angela and I can see. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s making friends in the yard, but he’s certainly not making enemies.
We know from our own experience boys can be a handful at times, but a break away from home is doing him the world of good and I hope it’s doing you some good, too. You’ve not had it easy, running the yard and bringing him up on your own and we appreciate that.
You know we’re always here for you.

(c) Lissa Oliver

About Sainte Basiten – grab your copy here!

The Berkshire racing stable, Sainte Bastien, has been in the Marchant family for generations, a bastion of old-fashioned values and integrity, but the next in line now jeopardises the family name as misfortune dogs the stable. Jockey Mark Ashton is forced into early retirement by injury and suffers a spectacular mental breakdown.

Replacement, Kym Hughes, had dreamed of a top position during twenty years of mediocrity. He had the talent, but never the breaks. At 34, the break finally comes, but at Ashton’s expense. Kym wonders if benefiting from a colleague’s misfortune has invoked a curse, as he now suffers nothing but ill luck and Nick Marchant isn’t noted for his patience.

Champion trainer Nick Marchant has his own troubles. The sudden retirement of Ashton left him high and dry at the start of the Flat racing season and replacement Hughes seems to be cursed. Nick can’t help but feel a little guilty at not showing Ashton the sympathy deserved, but sympathy isn’t his finer trait. The early death of his young wife taught him to be hard and his horses have become his only focus since. No coincidence that he became Champion Trainer the year after her death.

As if not enough, he was left to rear the wayward Dominic alone and now that his son has reached legal independence Nick dreads what the future may hold. Despite every effort to be the model parent he knows Dominic is amoral and hides a dark secret. Nick will inevitably be held responsible for anything Dominic does. Is it possible that his vengeful and jealous son is responsible for the stable’s run of misfortune?

More than parental problems dog teenage apprentice jockey Dominic, who is battling the scales, his late mother bequeathing him nothing more than her catwalk height. Weight is the least of his worries. Race riding is his only respite and the severe wasting is slowly and painfully killing him, but it was a choice he gladly made. His father isn’t the only one who daily cries to heaven that it should have been Dominic and not her… Unaware that their personal demons are forging stronger links than their racecourse ties, their lives become intertwined in a treacherous web of envy, obsession and danger.

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