Phenomenal mare Dabinett Moon gave rider Claire Hardwick the perfect birthday present by returning to her best to win the William Powell Ladies Open at Mollington on Saturday.
The prolific eleven-year-old mastered a competitive field to register an eighteenth career success which, all bar one, have been under her regular pilot. Hardwick pinched the inside from favourite Diamond King turning for home and never looked back, with the former Cheltenham Festival victor unable to make an impression on the likeable winner. Jubilant owner/trainers Chris and Fran Marriott said: "Isn't she a star! We thought she'd be third at best today in what looked a very hot race. Claire knows her so well and it's great for her after the disaster at Siddington. She had a wind operation in November, and it took a couple of races to get her confidence back but today she looked as good as ever. She is simply amazing." The Midnight Legend mare, winning for the third time at this meeting, may go to stud at the end of the season.
Jockeyship also played a key part in the outcome of the Hatton Arms Mens Open as Ardkilly Witness – returning from an unseat at the Cheltenham Festival last month – repelled the challenge of odds-on favourite Cousin Pete. Gaining the inside on the final bend again proved decisive, with Will Thirby driving out the thirteen-year-old to score by a neck. Atherstone trainer Kirsty Smith, another celebrating a birthday success, praised the winning rider: "William is only 19 but he's really getting [race riding] now and rode to instructions perfectly today." All four of the winner's victories under rules came when racing right-handed and Smith opined that conditions suited her charge: "He likes a bit of give in the ground. Our horses are flying, and he came out of Cheltenham well. He was always going to get outclassed there but he was qualified, and it was invaluable experience for William. He's just been chilling out at home for three weeks since and he deserved to get his head in front, so I'm thrilled. I think we'll probably try and win some Points with him now – rather than thinking about Cheltenham again – because he's not at his best going left-handed."
Tom Ellis and Gina Andrews – who lead the National Point-to-Point Trainer and Rider Championships respectively – combined to land the well-contested NFU Mutual Conditions with Celtic Silver. Andrews produced the grey son of Shirocco to jump ahead at the last and execute a long-term plan for the trainer. "We've targeted this race for some time," said Ellis. "He's not short of speed so this trip was perfect for him. He picked up a niggle after he won at Cottenham last year, then was dazed after a bad fall at Garthorpe on his comeback. He's not one you'd over-race but all being well he will return for the Warwickshire Hunt Members here next month as Jenny [Hayward, owner] is a real Warwickshire supporter."
Ellis suffered an unexpected reversal in the Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate with Brafield scorer King of The Clothe having no answers for progressive six-year-old Smoke Man. Purchased for £16,000 from Tom Lacey in May 2017, the Helen Connors-trained gelding, now three from three wearing cheek pieces, is ever-growing in confidence and ability – evident from some spectacular leaps throughout his front-running victory. "He's not the fastest but all he does is stay and gallop," said Leicestershire-based Connors. "We've done a lot of work on his jumping at home and he seems much more confident now. Mr Lacey tried to win a maiden with him as a four-year-old but he's a big, gangly horse who is only just starting to fill out. He must be 17 hands. I'm not sure if he's ready for Cheltenham yet." Winning rider Tom Chatfeild-Roberts added: "He was very disappointing first time this season, but we think the track was too sharp for him. He's an out-and-out galloper who's improving but is still raw."
Ledbury handler Martin Wilesmith saddled his first winner in over eight years with ten-year-old Midnight Frensi (Dave Mansell) prevailing in the Lodders Solicitors Maiden. Driven to lead close home in customary Mansell fashion, the gelding is a son of gutsy front-runner Flame O'Frensi – a legendary mare in the West Country during the 1990s. Wilesmith's charge had failed to complete before chasing home subsequent £50,000 sales purchase Bird On The Wire at Brampton Bryan last month and managed to go one better here to pay off the owner/trainer's remarkable patience. "We picked him out as a foal at Donnie in 2010," said Wilesmith. "My daughter had ridden against the dam, who won over 20 races, and that's what attracted us to buy him. He didn't run until he was seven but kept stopping half a mile from home. He's had a wind problem and it's taken us three seasons to sort it, so this has been some time in the making!" However, a busy morning meant Wilesmith forgot the family silks of Royal Blue, Yellow Diamond, Red Cap with Dave Mansell instead impersonating Nick Phillips for the event. "We quite liked his colours, and Nick was kind enough to lend them," added Wilesmith, who – in all the excitement – was late for the post-race presentation while busy collecting his winnings from the bookies.
Fred Henderson guided Order In Court to follow up his Siddington success in the JLD Driver Training Restricted. Trained by father James, the six-year-old half-brother to Scorpion Sid has won both starts since the application of a tongue-tie. "I don't dare take it off!" said the winning trainer. "We bought him privately from the Irish Point-to-Point field as he was considered a shade slow for the big game, but he's been great fun for us. He finished ahead of Smoke Man when second here last year, so I was pleased to see him win earlier today!"