Friday, 30 August 2013

Racehorse World - when coming second is a winner

It's the first race of the season and Geez Louise, how exciting to be at Moonee Valley...

...we rather like it here!
Moonee Valley Racing Club is one of four Melbourne metropolitan racetracks. (Woo hoo pinching ourselves! The aim was to have a share in a horse that could run in the city. Here we are rocking up to our third Melbourne racecourse, having watched our Little Miss Hussy win as a two year old at Sandown and Caulfield.)

We arrive to be waved into an owners car parking space in the middle of the course. From here, it's a short totter, for those in heels, up a surprisingly grand entrance, lined with huge galloping winners into Members. I mean let's be honest Valley (as the locals call it) does not have the cachet as Flemington or Caulfield, but we love how easy everything is here, plus the staff are super friendly...

The lady at the Raceday Office tells us,
'Oh yes, we already have quite a few owners for your horse...
Here are your passes to the Owners and Trainers bar - access is valid all day'
We're liking this! As we have found out at other racetracks, winner or no winner, once they're off and racing towards the starting stalls of the next race, you get kicked out moved politely on, to clear the room for owners in the next race. Yes Moonee Valley Racing Club, with it's 'you're welcome to stay all-day' attitude, has a lot going for it!
If you remember a few months ago, we were in the stands to see Black Caviar with her unbeaten record, win her twenty-fourth race. It was an incredible sell out race night, and a party-like celebration to wave a Victorian adieu to one of the best race-horses ever. It may well have been Moonee Valley's finest occasion. A sea of salmon and black, bands playing, crowds roaring and you couldn't swing a cat, let alone carry a celebratory glass of Moët without sploshing it everywhere...
Well, it was a whole different occasion for our lass who was running in the first race of the day at the weekend. Let's just say we weren't exactly fighting with the crowds...

Everywhere we go, the very attentive Moonee Valley staff greet us with a cheery "Good Luck!"
Shall we put in a special request, only to race at Moonee Valley?!
I suggest, unhelpfully, it seems.... judging by the frown I receive on return. Oops
I know, I know, we've already got our money on the nose for what we are hoping will be a good day out for our lass who has previously qualified for the Caulfield Thousand Guineas in October, and wow, if we ever get to run at Flemington, that would be an Aussie bucket-list dream come true...
Thinking of racetracks around the world, Flemington would be our Hong Kong Happy Valley, or in the UK, our Cheltenham Festival moment...
Don't you laugh at the way I manage to slip into the we, of 'if we ever get to run.' If you are ever fortunate enough to be a bit-part racehorse owner like us, it is as if you are actually running the race yourself. I would like to put a heart rate monitor on the owners as the race is on, I swear they would score more highly than the horse does!
Anyway let's not get ahead of ourselves, there is a 1200m race that needs to be tackled first ...

We trot off to find our Little Miss Hussy and find her looking like an old pro in stall number 42 next to the horses urinal... Umm I wonder what stall Black Caviar got? We obviously have some way to go to get into the posh boxes - or maybe the box next to the loos is the pick of the ground?!!!

A few last minute beauty preparations from a bevy of strappers and our trainer Michael Kent, who with his usual hands-on manner, is all style, dressed in a suit and tie brushing out the horses tail, and makes final adjustments to a rather snazzy red saddle. Doesn't she look a picture with her matching red girth and red reins? Very flash! Nice to see she has a new frock to wear for her first outing as a three year old!

Michael comes over for a chat. 'Yep, going well' There are a few reminders aimed at managing owners expectations. ...first race back after the spell...good experience... against quality opposition... We know, we know, somehow, our wee lass is racing against one of the best three year old fillys in the country. (More pinching, and remembering last year with another horse driving all over the state and even up against unknowns, never finding success...)
Yep all eyes are on the favourite and star-in-the-making Gregors, who has an even bigger cheer squad than our lass! She does look all class. Her owners admire her confidently, as she parades around the ring. Got to admit it, she appears every inch the cool favourite, with the potential to live up to the racing commentators prediction of finding the Mitchelton Wines Plate Open 1200m race "a breeze".
So back to our lass marching round the warm up ring, looking resplendent with her pricked ears, her 'don't mess with me attitude' and on her toes 'I'm ready' approach to life. The form guide says she "showed a stack of promise last run and should run second'

With the mighty fine jockey Craig Williams on board we know, baring unforeseen events, she will be given the best possible run... She has drawn Barrier One (not the best), and has an extra 1.5kg's of handicap weight compared with the other runners, courtesy of her previous listed race win, Moonee Valley has the shortest finishing straight in Australia. Oh gosh excuses, excuses and it's butterflies all-round...
And then before we know it, they're off and racing...and it's all over in a jiffy - well just over a minute.
She does exactly what was expected of her and thunders in a very pleasing second. Everyone cheers. We dash back into the Owners Bar to watch, re-watch and then watch again, and again, and again, the replay on the telly. Overall verdict: "good job."
Now can I pass anyone a sandwich, or get you a drink? Thank you so much to the Moonee Valley Racing Club, we made good use of your all-day access to the Owners facilities.
The next day there is a massive photo of the winner in the Herald Sun and our lass sneaks her nose in the photo - how cool is that to see our girl in the Sunday papers whilst munching on our cornflakes?

We get a message from the stable she has pulled up fit and well, eaten a fine meal, and enjoyed a lazy Sunday with a quick swim. She's happy, the Stable's happy, we're all happy. We're on track...
Give the lass a carrot, that's not a bad day in the office...
Next Race in three or four this space!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Happy Blue Melbourne Monday

Smiling Sally

A happy Blue (Melbourne) Monday to everyone...

Happy Blue skies on Monday
It's a beautiful (Spring is just around the corner) day here in Melbourne, 19 degrees Celsius with a bright blue sky. Having lived through many grey days in Brussels and many hazy, polluted days in Hong Kong, I don't think I will ever tire of the light Down Under. Everything looks better against a backdrop of blue skies, don't you think?

Little Wandering Wren loves travel
If you have just landed on my blog, you will find I love to travel. We have spent the last twenty years enjoying life as an expat in Europe, Australia and Asia. For now we are enjoying being in Australia as locals, I have my Aussie citizenship to prove it!
An Aussie life of course involves the beach! Here is one of my favourite blue beach photos from our recent trip to Queensland..

Little Wandering Wren in Queensland
Last year I travelled for 100 days. My blog was started to share my trip with family and friends. With the need to travel light, I took my only an IPad and my IPhone. Blogging on an Ipad was a steep learning curve for me as these earlier blogs show... In fact I hesitate to direct you back to those olden days, but in the spirit of sharing, here goes!

One of the best things about the IPad was the instant ability to share photos on the big screen. I was often stopped by children asking to have their photos taken, such as the day I visited the Sanji Corn village in the foothills of the Himalayas in India.

Another day I was showing our driver a photo I had taken of his Mother which I was proud of. This lady below insisted that I took her photo, and then show it to her! The IPad became a great ice breaker.

Indian Lady in Blue
My blog is about the things I see and enjoy whilst out and about often with the scruffy poodle. whether on our travels or family life with three teenagers back in Melbourne. In the past few weeks, we have covered sports (the whole family is big into soccer and Melbourne is still on a high from Liverpool FC's visit), Melbourne Art, I even had a go at recipes which is way, way outside my comfort zone. In fact to be honest if you are looking for great ideas on the culinary front hmmm maybe keep looking! But I cover whatever, whenever takes my fancy and a whole lot more...

A sports mad family
One thing we are not blue about is our tiny share in a racehorse who has been doing rather well recently. She runs in the Blue colours of Michael Kent and was second in her first race as a three year old on Saturday - whoo hoo!!! Another blog in progress on this one :)

Little Miss Hussy our favourite horse!
Thank you for stopping by. I look forward to visiting you at your blog soon and to sharing other blue things in weeks to come.

Click here to view all participants of Blue Monday

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Brighten your day with Lemon Curd & No bake Lemon Tart

Lemon curd,  is called Lemon Spread or Lemon Butter in Australia
A real Aussie variant is Passionfruit Butter with, you've guessed it Passionfruits!

However we are not that in love with Passionfruits

so we stick to  our British family recipe handed down by my Mum...delicious on crumpets.

Fresh lemons from the garden
We're not that much into cooking in our house. Eating yes, that's a completely different thing.
We don't have an allotment or a veggie patch in the garden, but we can boast of an abundance of lemons!
My neighbour told me we have the street's gin and tonic (lemon) trees, the previous owners were always very hospitable and generous handing out lemons to the whole street.
Gin and tonic is not so much in vogue now and with our ever increasing bounty, Lemon Curd production is in full swing...
Gently melt the sugar, butter & lemons
Last weekend the Lemon Curd became a no cook Lemon Pie, when we were entertaining new neighbours to the street. Here is the recipe that everyone asked for - come round and help yourself to lemons!

Grannie's Lemon Curd

170 gms (1 cup) sugar
2 Eggs
2 large lemons
110gms (1/2 cup) butter or luxury margarine
Grate the rind carefully, removing just the yellow area
Squeeze juice from the fruit
Put all ingredients, except eggs into double saucepan, or basin of hot water and cook
Stirring from time to time until butter and sugar have melted.
Add the well beaten eggs and continue cooking until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon
Warm jars in the oven
Pour into hot jars and seal.
Choose your prettiest Jam Jars

Rustic no bake Lemon Pie

225g (3 cups) crushed Digestive biscuits
150g (2/3 cup) melted butter
Pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg to taste
Jar of lemon curd
Melt butter into crushed digestive biscuits, cinnamon and nutmeg
Press firmly into the base of a pie dish and refrigerate for one hour
Add lemon curd and refrigerate overnight
Dust with icing sugar and serve!
Emlin's Lemon Tart
Perfect with Australian Afternoon Tea and Scones!
Apparently it will last up to two weeks in the fridge (if you are lucky)
And the best bit of all about the Lemon Curd and the Lemon Tart is that it's not me that makes it!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Cranbourne Barrier Trial - no trial, no barrier for Little Miss Hussy

It's shoes on, let's go!

 As our Little Miss Hussey returns to work for the first Barrier Trial since her recent hols...

Following her last run at Morphettville, our Miss Hussy has been on her hols. It was always going to be just a quick spell enjoying some rich grazing, winter sun on her back, and a well earned rest. Time and preparation for the Caulfield Spring Racing Carnival doesn't allow for any more than a three week break at this stage. Our lass has a big schedule ahead of her, but if all goes to plan, she'll get a longer break over the summer months before the autumn racing season.
Barrier Trial at Cranbourne Training Complex
There is no doubt we are an extremely keen and interested group of owners. There can't be many other horses present with such a big fan club at a barrier trial. Today we have come from all over Melbourne, to catch up on her news, to see how she has developed over winter and to watch her in action... For less than a minute, blink, and you've missed it.
A barrier trial is a chance to see how a horse goes under race conditions. The trainer gets the opportunity to measure progress. Or as in our filly's case, how she is going on her return to work. For the newbies out there, the trainer sees how they cope with the starting stalls, other horses, loud speakers etc. It is in effect a training exercise, and a welcome chance for our girl to let off a bit of steam.
Never the quietest one in the yard, our Miss Hussy has more than her fair share of attitude Yep, apparently she has a little bit of B..i..t..c..h in her, which is a horse racing technical term, and a good thing. Of course that's not how her loving owners describe her, we call her all heart, ready to go the extra mile...
We notice her strapper has her arm in a sling, after surgery on her finger following an eventful trip out a few days ago. She tells us she is desperate to be passed fit to return to work in time for the next scheduled race. It is testament to the respect and admiration that many feel about the horse, that her strapper, on sick leave, has chosen to come and watch today's events.
It's a huge morning at Cranbourne Training Complex and the car park is packed with racing floats from all over Victoria. The stalls are crowded and the extent of the opposition hits home, as we realise that there are more than 200 other horses all keen and hopeful to win some big races...
The Car park is full...
There are 21 barrier trials scheduled, mostly for three year olds, Horse after horse trots past on the way to the track. For many of these racehorses this will be their first experience under race conditions. Only the most developed horses get to race as two year olds. So it is not surprising to see horses well on their toes, and even the odd one going sideways as fast as they seem to be going forwards!
Off to the Barrier Trail
The mornings events are televised and we pack into the cafe with its two large TV screens, with the other trainers, owners and jockeys all keen to see the action. It's a different world, and a different language. The walls are plastered with adverts for horse clipping, equine salt therapy, agistment, floats for sale...
We order coffees. 'Any chance of skinny milk', I ask? 'No probs' is the reply with a nod of the head towards tables of wafer-thin looking Jockeys...Yep with 94% of the people here are on diets, silly me, of course they have skinny milk!

A quick walk around the stables sees the horses in their various stages of final preparation. There are horses having their coats groomed and hooves painted, jockey silks with their bright colours hang waiting to be worn, bridles are polished with their shiny bits gleaming, and tiny weeny jockey saddles ready for action...
Mick Kent's yard is next door and his horses do not need to come in a trailer, they just walk across. We go in search of our lass but she's probably still at home having her toes painted!

And then before we know it, race seven is on and we see her in the distance cantering off to the starting stalls like the three year old pro that she is. Race six horses return, all pricked ears and flaring nostrils. The experienced owners jump in their cars, in their own race against time, to get to a good vantage point to watch the trial with their own eyes.

For those of us more visually challenged, or who like the close ups and replays on the telly, we cram back into the TV room to watch as the horses are loaded into the starting stalls. The commentator calls 'the horses are ready, but there's no sign of the Starter...' Well that's a problem...
Returning from the Barrier Trial

All sorted and they're off, Our Little Miss Hussey gets away well and storms home an easy half length ahead of the pack covering 800m in 49.87 seconds. An averagely good performance. It's not the point to win, but she does - nice we like it!

A quiet fist pump moment and a nod of silent congratulatory approval is exchanged between the owners. This is so not the moment to leap up with a bellowing Yes! No one mentions she's the most experienced horse out there, that the majority of horses finished with their noses firmly pressed into their chests. Or to wondered how many other Jockeys have had the same instructions 'don't push her.' We're proud and yep she's looking good.

We rush over to hear what Champion Jockey Glen Boss has to say. He's the same Jockey that rode her to victory at Caulfield and has spoken highly of her in the past 'oozes quality, very efficient action...' She is led away. 'She's hardly puffed' one of the owners remarks. Michael Kent comes over for a quick word and confirms if all continues to go according to plan she run in the next two weeks at Moonee Valley.
That's the girl - Welcome back!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Our Australian Winter Garden...

We are in the midst of winter.
Look around...
You will not see many signs of life...
The Last Rose of Summer has long gone...

It has been a strange winter.
The other week Melbourne had the hottest July day on record, then the coldest weekend in 13 years!
The garden doesn't really know whether it is coming or going...
Some plants are optimistically showing signs of budding,
Others are steadfastly ignoring the freak warm weather.
All have enjoyed the extra rain!
A purple native hibiscus
We have always been attracted to houses with well loved gardens. Those gardens where it takes a whole year to really get to know what's there. Each season bringing new surprises, as a previously unspotted plant burst into life. Our Melbourne garden, has been well cherished over the years, it is one of the great joys of the house. If you hunt around hard enough there is always something interesting to admire, even in winter!

We have a brilliant gardener, our Florence Nightingale who tends our plants with love and care. She designed us a woodland garden to replace a sick front lawn. The old lawn had struggled from a lack of water during the recent Melbourne drought (1997 - 2009) and from being under the Silver Birch trees.

To make the garden our own, we have added a few Asian touches, which remind us of our travels and previous life. These posts above are Indonesian fence posts. I wanted some Asian interest for the front garden, without being as obvious as a Buddha, the fence post fitted the woodland theme perfectly.

We inherited a small army of terracotta warriors at the beach house, which by chance match the life-size warrior we'd bought back from Xian, China. Our warriors are on duty dotted through out the garden, my version of the garden gnome!

Because of the China influence, I also have a love of Bamboo, all things red and can you see the mirrors?
Mutt & friend
I love mirrors in gardens, our garden is pretty small, so I love the extra feeling of space that mirrors can create...
Mirrors, reflect and open up the garden
We have a few other treasures which I will save for spring! Despite the deluge of rain this week, we are hoping that spring is on it's way. There are some tiny buds appearing...
The lemon trees are doing well, Tim's lemon curd production is in full swing, and this weekend we even have a lemon tart on the menu!
It's a bumper lemon crop this year!
We do have a problem with a few pests! One is the gall wasp which is ferociously attacking the established lemons, but more importantly is wreaking serious havoc in the newly planted lime tree...
Our other problem are the possums which take great delight at eating our various shoots and are especially partial to the camellia hedge. Possums are protected animals here in Victoria, so there is not a lot that we can do. We have tried everything as a deterrent from installing a large plastic owl with solar eyes, to the current system of wire netting... Our Possums are not at all concerned by any attempt we have made to stop them having a good feast.
Mutt will go banana's if he finds a possum, or worse still, two in the bushes. They are not even especially worried by his barking, and always keep themselves just high enough to be out of harms way...Such cute looking animals, but boy do they sadly eat a lot!
Wire netting over Camellia's in an attempt to stop possums
This last photo is of the front verandah which later in the year will be covered, when the wysteria goes wild. The white roses look a tad sad at the moment, but hopefully they are resting now for another blooming good year!
The porch is pretty bare at this time of year

What do you love about your garden? Do you have anything wacky like warriors and mirrors? Do let me know, I'd love to hear from you!