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30th October 2011

Report by Alan Brown

Alan Brown with Bakst

For many years I have harboured a desire to enter the Marathon and this year everything worked in such a way that I felt the time was right, even to the extent that I was able to concentrate on the fast training work that is the peculiar requirement of the Marathon, having missed the Red Dragon as my crew was ill.

The Marathon is in part an endurance race and in part an elongated track race; despite it’s relatively short distance of 26.25 miles it is extremely arduous for the horse because of the speed at which it is run. My average speed was over 26kph. To prepare I concentrated on fast hill work, going to Broxton Old Hall Gallops twice a week with occasional trips to work in the South Shropshire hills. I was fairly sure my horse Bakst was fit enough though I had my normal misgivings as the race day came nearer.

This year the race was on 30th October and the venue at Larkhill racecourse was damp and drizzly. There were 22 entries but only 19 started so far as I can tell. The race starts with almost a full circuit of the race course before going off onto Salisbury Plain and I had been warned that the pace away from the start would be fast; despite the warning I was taken by surprise by the front group of about 10 horses bolting flat out all the way around the racecourse, which would have been about 1 mile. I had to take a quick decision as to whether I went with the leading group or let them go. I chose to let them go because I considered that they could not possibly maintain that speed for the entire 26.25 miles. Furthermore, there is a vet gate at the halfway stage where the normal ER veterinary inspection takes place and I considered that the leading group were going to take some time to present because of elevated heart rate.

When I completed the first loop I was in about 11th place and about 10 minutes behind the leader, but presented straight away with a heart rate of 46. I started the second loop in 5th place only 2 minutes behind the first horse out. At this stage it was beginning to cross my mind that winning was a possibility as the distance between the first five horses was not great. I was on a relatively fresh horse whilst those ahead of me had used up a lot of energy racing on the first loop. As I was just overtaking the 4th horse at a point about 2 miles into the second loop I was amazed to be overtaken in turn by a horse at full gallop; I realised this was the horse (number 4) that had led from the start. I let it pass but my race plan changed yet again from a gradual approach to catching the 1st three to keeping this fast horse in sight. I maintained a distance of about 100 yards behind number 4 until, at almost the half way stage of the second loop, number 4 had caught the leading three. I decided to close with them and, after a short time, Bakst pulled past them. Only number 9 responded. It was then a question of which horse had the stamina and, as Bakst was by far the fresher, I decided to pile on the pressure. Gradually we pulled a little ahead, galloping at quite a pace and by the time we were nearing the racecourse, with a circuit of the course to go, Bakst was about 100 yards ahead. As we entered the course I gave him a little rein and he responded immediately into a full gallop. I was continually looking behind for danger but could see no other horse. My immediate reaction was to question whether I had gone the wrong way (which would not be unusual); I quickly discounted that possibility and Bakst continued his relentless gallop to the finish where the large crowd cheered us in. Pulling him up was not easy and I had a vision of doing a further circuit, which would not have been beneficial because of the final vetting within 20 minutes after crossing the line. Fortunately he eventually came to a halt and I was able to leave the track.

I have truly never received such adulation and congratulation as then occurred for the next couple of hours. It was my “fifteen minutes of fame”. Of course it was not me that had done the work (though I was pretty tired) but Bakst. I was delighted that his breeder, Finn Guinness of the Biddesdon Stud was in the crowd We were able to have a long chat over lunch and a glass of wine and I was touched at how obviously very pleased he was at the success of one of his horses even though he has experienced far greater successes, including those of the great eventer Tamarillo who was bred at Biddesdon.

This was a day that I will long remember, not least for my wife’s question of when was I going to find time to clean all the silver!

If anyone reading this feels compelled to have a go at the Marathon I enthusiastically encourage them to experience the excitement of the day. My only caveat is that you need a very fit and fast horse.

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