A cloudy and breezy day with minimal rain greeted racegoers who attended the Countryside Alliance (Wessex) meeting at Badbury Rings where the overnight rain had eased the ground which riders reported as being good and good to firm in places. It was a day that rider Sean Houlihan will remember as he rode his first ever treble and there were training doubles for Jack Barber and Ces Mitford-Slade (his first ever).
Jack saddled his first winner on the day when Golden Hoof easily won the Club Members Conditions race ridden by champion rider Will Biddick. After Little Cornham was hampered and lost his rider George Hiscock on the bend after the fifteenth fence it was plain sailing for Golden Hoof who had twelve lengths to spare from Same Difference at the line. Bought by Jack at Doncaster last May out of Nicky Henderson's stable he is now owned by a partnership consisting of Len and Rose Vickery in whose colours he runs, Graham Cotton, Helen Hall and Robert Trevarthen. He suffered a very nasty fall at Milborne St Andrew on his last appearance and thanks to the quick intervention of his trainer and rider his life was saved. He seemed to have had no adverse effects from the fall after schooling sessions and jumped well to record an easy victory.
The Wessex National Men's Open race, one of the two Wessex feature races this season, gave trainer Claire Hitch a change in fortune when her charge Im All Set gave Sean Houlihan his first winner on the day. Having unseated his rider at the first fence on his seasonal debut at Wincanton his saddle slipped on his next intended outing at Barbury Castle and he was withdrawn without coming under orders. This time he was able to defy the Welsh challenge from Mr Sawyer and had three lengths in hand at the winning post. Own by Claire, her farrier Keith Parkin and farmer Phil Rawle she was quick to praise the work of Heidi Stevens who looks after the horse at home. A Hunter Chase may be on the agenda for the winner later in the season.
The Club Members race for Novice Riders was won quite comfortably by Tom Barton trained by Sally Alner and ridden by Lorcan Williams. Owned by the Four Dames Partnership consisting of Anne Tory, Diana Dampney, Patsy Todd and Hilary Cox he relished the going with his trainer reporting this as 'just spot on' for her charge. His young rider, the leading Novice Rider in the country, indicated that there was 'more in the tank' to comfortably beat the prolific Tempelpirate by eight lengths.
The Skinner's Pet Foods Ladies race was won by course specialist Posh Totty who was ridden by Bryony Frost who held off the challenge of Bound For Glory ridden by Hannah Lewis by a length and a half. Recording her sixth career victory at Badbury Rings she relished this faster ground and as her trainer added with a smile that 'she is like a little motorbike round the bends'. She will be continuing with Ladies Races this season in view of the weight she carries and on this form she will be tough to beat.
The Subaru Restricted race was won by Master Tradesman who was supplementing his win at Milborne St Andrew. Settled behind the leaders his rider Sean Houlihan bided his time but came with a well- timed challenge to catch leader Guerrilla Tactics and win by three lengths. His trainer Ces Mitford-Slade had no worries that his charge would not stay the full three miles particularly over the better ground. Commenting on how he has improved since arriving from Ireland Ces felt that he has now grown up and having won at Milborne he jumped off the lorry knowing what the job is about and realising that he was 'the king'. He might be aimed at a Novice Hunter Chase as he progresses with the race Ces sponsors at Taunton on 6th April as a possibility.
Sean completed his treble and Ces his double when Samuel Jackson held off the late challenges of Doctor Tiger and Flights in the concluding Maiden. Trained last season by Kayley Woollacott for Ces and Lucy Fielding Johnson he was green on his two races and although showing signs of inexperience he was able to go one better than his half-brother Winter Soldier who had finished second in the same race in 2015. Sean, 21, who is stable amateur to Philip Hobbs' powerful stable at Bilbrook, near Minehead, described the day as 'the best day in his riding career'