Hope abounds at Ashgill despite Almaty Express retirement

Gazette & Herald: Almaty Express winning at Wolverhampton for Middleham trainer John Weymes Almaty Express winning at Wolverhampton for Middleham trainer John Weymes

HOW do you replace the horse of a lifetime?

Almaty Express may not have tasted Epsom glory, or surged to victory down the long straight at York, but for his Middleham trainer John Weymes he was a hero.

A veteran of 143 starts, he won 21 times for the Ashgill Stables handler at tracks like Catterick, Wolverhampton and Hamilton.

The 12-year-old was a colossus of the all-weather, winning 18 times at Dunstall Park alone, in a track career that lasted a decade.

But all of that is now over.

A heart murmur has forced Almaty Express, twice shortlisted for categories at the Racehorse Owners Association, into retirement.

For a trainer who had seven Flat victories in 2013, two of which came from his durable warrior, it is a grievous loss.

So what do yo do?

"It's very difficult, I suppose," said Weymes. "His retirement came a bit quickly, it was a bit of a surprise. He's part of the furniture. You knew where you were every year with him. He'd lose a bit of form and you could see him coming back.

"That was especially in the early days. He'd have no form at all and his jockey Darryll Holland would appear on him and he would go and win.

"It was a shame. He struck into himself last October and he missed most of the winter through an injury which was quite severe to his tendon.

"We worked away with the racing idea of Wolverhampton and he was great. The vet just checked him and wouldn't let us run him because of his heart.

"It was a bit upsetting. He ran first time out as a three-year-old at Catterick in a seller and I had gone to look at another horse.

"Martin Todhunter his trainer and the owner, Peter Airey, who I am good friends with said 'come in the paddock and have a look at him'.

"Kirsty (Weymes' wife) liked the horse and he reminded her of a good horse we'd had previously, after the race we said we would take him home and see if we could find some owners.

"We did and the rest is history."

Almaty Express was the centre of attention at the recent Middleham Stables Open Day - the subject of numerous parades as eager racegoers flocked into Weymes' yard to pay tribute to his stellar career.

But, from a racing point of view, he is now the past. Retirement in calmer pastures awaits and Weymes has to move on. There is a lot of optimism around his yard, though.

He has a two-year-old whom you might not see on the track for a few months - so fresh she is un-named.

She has a pedigree to die for, though, and, most importantly, she is bringing hope to Tupgill.

"She might be quite good," admits a cautious Weymes. "We haven't rushed her. She's in a big sales race at The Curragh in August or September time and she's not named yet.

"She's an Acclamation filly out of an Oasis Dream mare and she's bred to be all right. We paid 19,000 euros. She came for a good stud and they announced she was a boxwalker which would put a lot of people off and, when she went into the sales ring, I can't believe we got her for that.

"If it had been any other time in the two-day sale she would have gone for 30,000. We put her in the yard and she boxwalks. But put her in the barn, where she can't see anything, and she is fine.

"They get individual attention at a yard like ours so, any quirks, or worries you can soon find it."

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