Portman at Badbury Rings by Bob Bracher
A bright sunny day with a strong breeze heralded the start of the Wessex Point to Point season when the Portman held their meeting at Badbury Rings. A large crowd gathered to enjoy the six competitive races on going described by many riders as being perfect on the popular Dorset course. The experiment of moving from their traditional April date paid off with the weather playing its part to ensure that racegoers could enjoy the spectacle of live racing without many of the restrictions that were faced last season. On the course there was an unusual double for Matt Hampton, a welcome winner for trainer Marie McGuinness and a promising introduction to racing of a 4 year old filly ridden by Will Biddick and trained by Chris Barber.
The feature race, the Savills sponsored Mixed Open, saw a competitive field of seven horses face the starter. The prolific grey Apple's Queen was strongly fancied to win another race for trainer Sally Alner and rider Natalie Parker but he faded over the final four fences. Sky Marshal ridden by Milo Herbert boasted good form from Ireland but he proved no match for Le Ligerien ridden by Tommie O'Brien and owned by David Churches. A three time winner over Hurdles when trained by Philip Hobbs he was transferred back to the care of Marie McGuinness where he started his racing career at Badbury Rings in April 2018. Now trained by Marie at her new base at Pontispool near Taunton David advised that the gelding had had a wind operation in the summer which seemed to have helped. Tommie took his time to get into the race but with a following wind down the home straight he drew away from his rivals to record a five lengths victory. There should be more to come from the gelding on the evidence of this performance.
Matt's double began when Beau Morgan steered Twig to a one and half-length victory over course specialist Tom Barton ridden by Charlie Sprake in the Domvs Estate Agents sponsored Novice Riders Race. Trained by Matt at his base at Peasedown St John near Bath the six year gelding gave Beau his first two career winners last season and on this evidence the progressive Sulamani gelding will be one to follow this season. Beau who is 16 has now left school and is working at the National Hunt yard of Ben Pauling as his stable amateur where his brother Luca is the conditional jockey. This was only his sixth ever ride and Matt was full of praise of Beau and said that'this gives him such a buzz to see young riders like Beau start their careers in such a promising way'
Matt then resumed his usual role as a jockey when partnering Where's Wilma to win the Richard Miller Memorial Conditions race. Held up off the pace the mare stayed on strongly to beat Exxaro ridden by Connor Houlihan by a length and a half. Now aged 11 the mare has improved out of all recognition since being partnered with Matt and this was their fifth victory together. Owned and trained by Michael and Sheila Watson and the Not So Innocent Partnership the mare is only one of two horses trained by them near Tiverton. Formerly living at Henstridge on the Dorset/Somerset border there were many old acquaintances of the Watsons who were delighted to see them record the victory at the course.
The day began with the two and a half mile Maiden race sponsored by Trethowans. The outsider of the field of five was the five year old mare Southfield Lily ridden by Lily Bradstock and trained by her mother Sara. Despite refusing to race on her last outing under Rules at Newton Abbot this time Lily took her mount to the front at an early stage and despite the effort of Will Biddick aboard the newcomer Monty Searle the combination of the two Lily's was not to be beaten. Her enthusiastic owner Angela Yeoman expressed her surprise and delight in welcoming her home bred mare into the winner's enclosure. Explaining the improvement in her form Sara said that Lily had taken her team chasing with the Heythrop and this had improved her confidence. Lily said that some of her jumping reminded her of the front running Southfield Theatre aboard whom Lily has enjoyed much success.
Will Biddick and Chris Barber combined with the unraced four year old filly Hey Soul Sister in the Symonds and Sampson sponsored Restricted race. It was a bold move to run the newcomer against much more experienced rivals but despite a few novicey jumps the weight difference of a stone proved too much for her principal rival Schiap Hill ridden by Charlie Marshall and showing a good turn of foot jumping the last she drew away to win by a comfortable three lengths. Bought by Stephen Kemble at Arqana as a two year old and the full sister to Fifrelet already a three time winner under Rules for Ian Williams she is next likely to be seen at the sales at Cheltenham later this week.
The concluding race, the Aspectus Group sponsored Maiden, provided the closest finish of the day with Dock of the Bay ridden by Martin McIntyre just getting up to deny Jimmy Tew ridden by Darren Edwards by a head. Previously trained on the flat by Mick Channon and then over Hurdles by David Pipe the winner is now in the care of Leslie Jefford and runs for the Otis Partnership headed by Stewart Bradley from Feniton. Bought to replace the late Ryves Rocky who they lost at Wadebridge last season he wears a hood to keep him calm but credit was given to Leslie's wife Lisa and groom Hannah for the work they have put in with the gelding to improve his confidence.