Emma Lavelle took Casino Markets to the USA - a good experience for future sorties
It is a long and expensive journey to take a horse from Britain to the USA for a race, but it can pay big dividends. Late last month, Ogbourne Maizey trainer Emma Lavelle took Casino Markets - a nine year-old brown gelding - to race at Saratoga in New York State.
Her American owners - Mighty Acorn Stables - were in New York, so making the trip with Emma were jockey Leighton Aspell and travelling head girl Laura Scrivener.
Saratoga is big-scale racing with a crowd capacity of 50,000. It has three tracks: a main dirt track of nine furlongs, a one mile turf track and an inner turf track of seven furlongs.
Casino Markets was entered in the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Hurdle) - a Grade 1 race on the inner turf track for four year-olds and up. The winner would take away the equivalent of £73,170 and the sixth horse home would take £3,658 - about as much as winners at many UK jump meetings.
Ten went to post and Casino Markets came home in eighth place. The problem for Casino Markets was the state of the ground. "It was," says Emma Lavelle, "very, very, very quick." Though officially it was merely 'Firm'!
It was certainly too firm for Casino Markets to capitalise on the place Leighton Aspell had put him in coming to the last hurdle: "He travelled really well and was coming up strongly on the outside - but he was feeling the ground."
In addition they had taken out the final hurdle, giving the horses a three furlong flat run home: "For that kind of race you need a flat horse that jumps rather than a jump horse that stays."
The race was won by Diplomat - coming home three lengths ahead of Modem (formerly trained by Jessica Harrington.)
Emma Lavelle is by no means downhearted: "It was a fantastic experience and a great learning experience - it whets our appetite for more, but it has to be with the right horse."
The bureaucracy to get horse and team to the start was quite complex, but once mastered will be simpler next time. Lavelle had to register as a licensed trainer in the USA - and that lasts a year.
Casino Markets is still in the USA - now moved from his quarantine barn to a local trainer, which means that Laura Scrivener can come home: "We need her here!"
Casino Markets had to have a vaccination to come out of quarantine - and this in turn needs thirty days post-vaccination clearance before he can come home to Britain.
Lavelle expects he will go for Aintree's Topham Chase next April - with a warm-up race along the way.
The cost of the venture? About £30,000. And that could be mostly recouped by getting a good place in a race like the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap: "It's a reasonable gamble - but with that kind of racing you have to know which horse fits the bill."
Those old enough to have been hooked on Carly Simon's seventies songs will remember the line "I hear you went up to Saratoga and your horse, naturally, won" - not this time, but next time will be different...
You can watch the whole race here.