October 15, 2020 at 08:41 #1506112apracingParticipant
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In 1965, a Herefordshire farmer called Tom Price bought a broken down, ex point to point mare for £25 at Ludlow Market. He then risked another £10 to have her covered by a stallion called All Red. The resulting foal was named Red Dove and she became the foundation mare of a remarkable family, a positive flock of Doves.
The most famous of them was her grand-daughter, Flakey Dove, winner of the 1994 Champion Hurdle, but this tale is about a cousin of hers. Grey Dove was a daughter of Red Dove, who raced in the 70’s – she was a tough mare that raced twenty times over hurdles in the 1975/76 season, and the same again the following season. She continued racing up to the age of ten before being retired to the paddocks in 1980. Six years later, she was sent to the St Leger winner, Julio Mariner, and in 1987, that mating produced a grey colt foal.
The training operation on the farm had grown, and was now under the control of Tom’s grandson, Richard Price. Their policy, as I remember it, was to keep and race the filly foals, but to sell the colt foals. So at some point, the grey, now a gelding, arrived in the yard of Philip Hobbs, where his name was registered as Dextra Dove – the prefix explained by the fact that he was owned by Dextra Lighting Systems. He made his debut in a 2M novice hurdle at Newbury in November 1991, finishing strongly to take sixth place after being well behind for most of the race. He was ridden that afternoon by Simon Earle, who would be a constant throughout the career of Dextra Dove, first as jockey, then as trainer. A circumstance explained by the fact that the owner of Dextra Lighting Systems was his brother-in-law!
Dextra Dove showed the benefit of that experience with a win in a novice hurdle at Warwick in December, followed by a good third under a penalty at Windsor, a race won by the very useful Baydon Star. Those three runs earned him a hurdle handicap mark of 100, an indication of how different the system was thirty years ago – the same form now would certainly result in a rating of at least 115 and probably closer to 120. For his handicap debut, he was tried over 2M 5F at Sandown, but faded after looking a threat at the second last.
This was the year that I started out as a full time punter, but I missed those three runs as I had opted for Newbury rather than Warwick, Ludlow over Windsor and Taunton over Sandown. And I’d still been a working man when he made his debut midweek at Newbury. So the first time I saw him in the flesh was at Wincanton on a Friday afternoon, two weeks after the Cheltenham festival. He was back at 2M and he must have made an impression on me, as my diary records a bet at 9/1 and he justified that support by half a length in a driving finish. My appreciation for the family increased the following day at Ascot, when Flakey Dove also helped recoup my heavy festival losses!
Dextra Dove didn’t run again in the 1991/92 season, but after two runs in the autumn of 1992, he had a five month break before returning to Wincanton in late March to repeat his win of the previous year. That was followed by a win at Chepstow on Easter Monday, showing his indifference to ground conditions, as it was firm at Wincanton and soft at Chepstow. Four more runs over hurdles from his new mark of 116, produced three seconds and a fourth before the end of the season. During the summer of 1993, he was moved to the stable of Robert Alner, a move I think was down to Simon Earle taking a job with Alner as part of his preparation for setting up as a trainer himself.
Alner switched Dextra Dove to fences and he ran in four novice chases that autumn, winning the last of them at Wincanton after being placed in the other three. The handicapper gave him an initial chase mark of 96! Six more runs in handicap chases that season produced four wins at distances from 2M to 2M 3F, as his mark rose to 115. He could be forgiven the defeats as he was trying to beat a future Champion Chase winner in Martha’s Son (then rated 107) over 2M at Huntingdon and another progressive youngster running up a sequence in Around The Horn at Folkestone.
In the first half of the 1994/95 season, he won four more handicaps over 2M 3F, but was beaten twice over 2M, giving his worst ever performance at Chepstow in November, when he was pulled up after being totally outpaced. That was the last time he was asked to run over the minimum trip and after a 30L success at Fontwell in late December (he was put 3lbs for that!) in a race that only two finished, he had a break. Whether that was down to an injury, or the fact that he now changed trainer again, being taken over by Simon Earle, I don’t know.
He reappeared at Worcester in June, ridden and trained by Earle this time, and won under 12 stone, giving a typical Dextra Dove performance, headed before the last but battling back to win by a length. That was the last time Earle rode him and the job was mainly shared between Brendan Powell and Chris Maude thereafter. Resuming in October, he took advantage of small fields in a dry autumn to rack up three more wins, two at Cheltenham either side one at Sandown. The last of those was his first attempt at 3M and he showed that stamina wasn’t an issue with the form book comment ‘stayed on strongly run-in’. All three of those wins were achieved from a mark of 131, the handicapper declining to raise it for the first two races in which only three ran.
The second win at Cheltenham in November, meant that Dextra Dove had scored seven consecutive wins over fences, three in late 1994 for Alner, and all four runs in 1995 for Earle. With his mark now raised to 137, he was forced to take on bigger, better races, starting with the Mandarin Handicap Chase at Newbury in February 1996. He started 9/2 favourite in a field that included four Cheltenham festival winners, most of them now veterans, and for the only time in his 45 race career, he was involved in a photo finish. You can watch that race here:
Next stop was the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster, where he came down early, his only fall in 32 runs over fences. That was it for the 1995/96 season, and when he returned in November, it was in no less a race than the Hennessy Gold Cup. He finished fifth, which sounds good, but there were only eleven runners on good ground, not the sort of race we see for that contest nowadays. He was then pulled up in a valuable handicap at Ascot just before Xmas – perhaps he didn’t like Ascot, perhaps he didn’t like Graham Bradley, who hadn’t ridden him before and didn’t ride him again.
He started 1997 with a drop into calmer waters, winning a standard 0-140 chase at Kempton, left with only the faint hearted Philips Woody to beat after the favourite fell three out. Quite how he qualified for a 0-140 when his mark is shown as 144, I don’t know, but perhaps it says we shouldn’t put too much trust in the ratings provided by the Post database from that era. He followed up by winning the Agfa Diamond Chase at Sandown a fortnight later, a success that owed much to the four horses offered at shorter odds than him in a six runner field, all failing to complete. You can see the final circuit of that race here:
That was his last success, and in prize money terms, by far his most significant. He ran six more times, including a tilt at the 1997 Grand National, and his last appearance was in the Jim Ford Challenge Cup at his local track, Wincanton, in February 1998. At eleven years of age, he was no match for the younger horses like Go Ballistic and Strong Promise at the weights.
Over a six year career, Dextra Dove won nineteen races, seventeen of them handicaps, a feat that would be impossible in the new era introduced by Phil Smith. I can envisage him self combusting if one of his team had allowed a horse to win three times off the same handicap mark. He was never a star, never a flashy individual – he wasn’t a flamboyant jumper, he didn’t travel through his races on the bridle and many of his wins came about because he kept going when his rivals cried enough. A grinder rather than a quickener, but you knew for sure if you backed him, that you’d almost always get a run for your money.
The way the system operates now, it’s only the superstar Grade 1 horses (e.g Kauto Star, Big Bucks) that can retire with that many wins to their name. If there’s been another NH horse that won seventeen handicaps since Dextra Dove, I’ve either failed to notice, or forgotten them.October 15, 2020 at 10:57 #1506121Ex RubyLightParticipant
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A very nice read as usual, AP.
Talking about handicap marks: Hunt Ball won seven out of eight handicaps in the 2011/12 season with an initial mark of 69!!!! at Folkestone and finishing at 154 after his third place G1 Betfred Bowl at Aintree.
It will be tough to name one that came even close to winning seventeen handicaps in his career. Though Cumbrian Challenge won a total of 15 chases in his career with 12 of them being handicaps.October 15, 2020 at 20:02 #1506168moehatParticipant
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I know I’ve mentioned this before but I have, on video, a BBC documentary about Grey Dove. It doesn’t appear to be on utube or anywhere and I’d love to share it with people but I don’t know how to go about it or whether I’d be breaking any rules.October 15, 2020 at 21:37 #1506183apracingParticipant
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Is that a BBC program called ‘Living On The Land’, a 50 minute documentary about the Price family first shown in 1978 – it has Deryck GUyler as the narrator.
Or is it a later show dating from around 1992?
I found the program details for the 1978 program in the BBC Genome:
Living on the Land
The first of ten programmes Gordon Price and his Inherited Horse
Until middle age Gordon Price had lived the quiet and blameless life of a Hereford farmer. Then his father died and left him a wild young horse which Gordon, at risk to life and limb and with unspoken hopes of sudden fortune, broke in, trained and entered for a race. A top jockey was engaged but unfortunately finished so late that he had time to speak only a brief sentence. ‘She’s useless,’ he said.
But, as things turned out, that was not quite the end of the story, Narrator DERYCK GUYLER
Research JEAN THOMPSON
Photography ARTHUR SMITH Sound JACK WILSON
Film editor PETER GIBBS
Written and produced, by DON HAWORTH BBC ManchesterOctober 15, 2020 at 21:47 #1506187Venture to CognacModerator
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Good stuff apOctober 15, 2020 at 23:51 #1506200KifillParticipant
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The Dextra Lighting company’s vans still ply the A36 between Bath and Frome on a regular basis, and each time I see them I remember this horse. Enjoyed this – thanks!October 16, 2020 at 00:11 #1506204TankParticipant
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Cheers AP. What a memory lane you have and always a pleasure to stroll down it on here.October 17, 2020 at 16:48 #1506522moehatParticipant
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It must be the later documentary I’ve got as it was round the time when I’d got back into racing. I did watch it a while back but I’m always worried I’ll damage the tape. I did buy a recorder that recorded tapes onto discs but never worked out how to use it. It’s followed by another documentary on Rosko Harvey…I need to check. Was going to get someone to copy it for me but lockdown put a stop to my plans.
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