THEY say that racehorse ownership is a mug’s game.
Well, I’m the mug then, as I agreed just over two years ago to back trainer Mick Appleby at the Sales in Newmarket and buy a four-year-old called King Of Stars.
He’d failed to win any of his eight races for Joseph O’Brien in Ireland, but Mick felt he could ‘turn him inside out’.
Things didn’t get off to the best of starts when the horse fell out the back of the TV at Newcastle on his debut, but that was all soon forgotten as he won five for us in that first eye-opening season.
The genius that is Mick Appleby had stuck to his turning inside out promise.
It’s been a tougher last 12 months for ‘Joseph’ (nicknamed after his former handler) as he hasn’t been able to register a win in 15 starts.
That doesn’t tell the full story though as he has finished runner-up on three big occasions throughout the summer.
He has taken me to days I could only ever dream of going as an owner, and for that I will always be grateful to Mick and his partner Johnny (who rides Joseph at home every day).
The more you race a horse, the more you learn about him.
What we now know about Joseph is that he loves five furlongs (1000m), the fastest ground possible and a flat track.
That’s why the possibility of travelling him to a warmer climate over the winter looked a very sensible option.
Step forward the Bahrain Turf Series which consists of 10 races, several of which are over five furlongs on a rapid flat turf track.
Hopefully our sweet spot. It was a no-brainer.
After a few conversations with the super helpful Ed Veale at the Bahrain Turf Club, the idea soon became a reality.
Joseph and Johnny were soon packing their suitcases and heading out to Bahrain ahead of his first assignment last Friday.
The pair travelled over well, and both seemed happy with their accommodation on arrival.
Johnny was thrilled with the apartment provided and Joseph appeared chuffed to bits with his stabling.
Judging whether a horse is happy or not isn’t easy (unless you are a horse whisperer).
You can judge that only by whether they eat and drink well, and Joseph ticked both boxes on that front.
Regular WhatsApp messages appeared to show both horse and handler’s well-being and I have shared a few of those on Twitter.
So, with his first race in Bahrain set for last Friday I flew out on Thursday lunchtime from Heathrow for a 24-hour once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Middle East.
Landing close to midnight local time, I was stunned by the cleanliness of the marble-floored airport.
A short 20-minute car journey took me to the stunning Ritz Carlton Bahrain lit up in glittering fairy lights.
After a good night’s sleep and terrific breakfast, I decided to explore the hotel grounds.
I walked to the beach and decided to go for a dip, despite the fact that it was windy, and the sun was behind a blanket of cloud.
The water was lovely and warm, I’m not sure why I was expecting it to be cold.
I then got a message from trainer Jamie Osborne to see if I fancied a coffee before travelling to the racecourse.
He too had a runner on the card and his daughter Saffie had just flown in from Dubai to ride Joseph for the first time.
Jamie is great fun and his sense of humour made me chuckle throughout the trip.
Saffie soon joined us and the three of us headed by car to the racecourse set literally in the middle of nowhere.
I didn’t want to bore on too much (but probably did) about riding instructions to Saffie, who FaceTimed her currently Japan-based jockey boyfriend David Egan en route.
Like her father she is tremendous company and unbelievably tough.
We arrived on track and bumped into Candida Baker, with her daughter Tallulah and sister-in-law Muffy.
They had two runners on the card including Get It, up against us, and Lucander in the race before.
Candida trains with her husband George, who was holding the fort back at home, and they have recently set up a training operation locally.
Our date with destiny was fast approaching, but before that we had the first of the 10 Bahrain Turf Series races over a mile and a quarter.
There were plenty of European raiders and it was won in breathtaking fashion by the Baker’s Lucander who bolted up on his first start for the stable.
If you remember the film the Fabulous Baker Boys, well this was more the Fabulous Baker Girls with the three of them literally jumping for joy.
It was now our turn – Joseph’s date with destiny.
He was his usual boisterous self pre-race, and I watched from the stands with Mick and Johnny as he shuffled his way slowly to post.
The stage was set. One more to load. Then all in.
The gates flew open, and we watched and waited for Joseph to show his blistering early speed.
He was fast into stride, but others were faster and after around 400m we were in front on our side, but it was clear those of the 18 runners drawn furthest from the stands were ahead.
We were in trouble. The three or four away from us were clear and Joseph had nothing more to give.
We eventually finished second in our group and seventh overall behind another British-trained runner in Nomadic Empire.
Saffie felt he just didn’t fire, while Mick and Johnny felt the travel may just have taken a little more out of him than we had hoped.
Anyway, he’ll stay out in Bahrain for the big sprint on Friday 13th January.
Friday 13th… unlucky for some, hopefully not us.
We returned to the hotel and celebrated over dinner with team Baker.
I left Bahrain at 2am returning to frost-bitten England at 7am on Sunday morning.
It was a magic 24 hours and we’ll be back.
Joseph will bounce back… it’s what Mick Appleby does.