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Saturday, 6 October 2012

Swiss Art gets me out of jail in the last.


Next week’s not going to be like this. York Tuesday, Harrogate Thursday, Hexham yesterday…. And I’m squeezing this in before we nip off to York again to celebrate my younger daughter’s 30th.

Before I catch up on A Day At The Races (yesterday), I want to mention an anniversary. It’s a year ago today that I got back from my six-month stay in Nebraska. Seems like an eternity. On Thursday, as if to mark the event, I finally got a payment from amazon for sales of The Red House On The Niobrara. Not a lot - and they whacked me for something in the region of 30% tax. How do I get that back, I wonder? And I just know that if I dare put the cheque (it’s in $US) through my bank here they will want their slice. (Yep, they too have habits to feed….) So maybe I’ll post it back to Nebraska and the account I opened there some six months ago. At least, I believe I opened it there. Twice they’ve told me that a card and cheque-book were on their way to me; neither time have they arrived.  Time to phone them, I guess.

Still… a year on. And this very morning I received a cheering message on Facebook from a fellow on Omaha who’s read the book and says… well, here’s what he says:

Just finished a great book about a British man's love and interest for our Nebraska Sandhills called "The Red House on the Niobrara." Author Alan Wilkinson spends spring, summer and fall at a ranch south of Merriman and survives the vagaries of weather and insects to write about it. A great read for anyone who appreciates our Sandhills...America's Outback. The fact that he is researching the writings and life of my favorite author, Mari Sandoz, made it an extra good read. Check it out!

Publishing one’s own work as an e-book is a risky venture. But all I ever wanted of this was for people to read what I had to say about a remarkable experience in a unique landscape amongst some fascinating people - and that’s happening. Week by week the odd copy or two are being bought. That’s got to be good enough for me just now.


Okay, a day out with my pals Alan and Barbara (above). They know that when I go to the races they won’t see a lot of me. Much as I’m taking in the experience and surroundings - and working out what to back and why - I’m also keeping an eye on the various other meetings  around the country. And it’s hard work if you’re going to take it seriously. I like, as Al says, to ‘get involved’. Yesterday’s returns, such as they were, were mostly gleaned from winners I found at Fontwell and Ascot rather than at our meeting.

In the first four races at Hexham I had not a sniff of a winner. One fell, one tailed off, two others turned out to be donkeys, one of which was beaten by a 66/1 shot.

However, for the fifth I’d picked out Dottie’s Dilemma while studying the form on the train heading north. (I must’ve ben thinking of my friends Dottie & Keevin in Ainsworth, Nebraska.) It was supposed to go off to 6/1, but had shortened to 2/1. You could see why. Here he is, about to cross the line and well in the lead. Money in my pocket.


In the sixth I backed Bills Grey at what we like to call a working man’s price. It led all the way, but was overtaken by the favourite about half a furlong out. He’s the… well, he has to be the grey hoss, doesn’t he?


Then the finale. At this stage I was well down on the day, but I took a bit of a risk on Swiss Art. Okay, a huge risk. Had to, really, because when we had lunch in the pub in town we’d been chatting with two lads from Coventry who were part owners - and, as owners tend to, they ‘talked him up’. To my huge relief, their horse went into the lead early on, shrugged off every challenger and ran home a long way clear. Twenty lengths, according to this morning’s paper.


Racing is never a cheap day out. It can be horribly expensive. To come home having had a few beers, a steak dinner, admission to the course, and only a few quid down on where you started - I’d say that was a success.

Breakfast. Days like yesterday give a man an appetite.