THE glorious backcloth of Exmoor was seen at its best in the warm spring sunshine on Sunday before a packed crowd for the Dulverton West meeting at Bratton Down.
The drying conditions and a shorter racing line round the bends led to particularly quick times.
Will Biddick is not surrendering his national title without a fight, and landed a double thanks to Imogens Thunder and La Madonnina.
The progressive Imogens Thunder followed up his Axe Vale win in good style, holding off the sustained challenges of River Wye and Tree Sparrow in the Restricted.
Mary Tory trains the Stowaway gelding Imogens Thunder near Blandford for owner Wendy Jarrett and said, "We bought him from Aidan Kennedy in Ireland and he was unlucky earlier in the year. He will be roughed off now and is something to look forward to next season."
Biddick's other winner La Madonnina just held off Angles Hill by a neck in the 12-runner Conditions race. "She is so tough," commented the rider of this mare who seemed to relish the faster ground. She is trained by Ed Walker for his ten strong racing club syndicate. Angles Hill (Heidi Lewis) came from a long way back but was staying on strongly towards the finish. Its All Or Nothing ran his usual sound race to finish third.
The reigning champion jockey had to settle for the runner up spot in the young horses maiden when odds-on favourite Robin Why Not chased home The Jitterbug.
Josh Newman pushed the five-year-old The Jitterbug clear on the uphill climb to the judge Owner/trainer Keith Cumings bought the winner on the advice of bloodstock agent Tom Malone as a three-year-old. "He is still very green and still learning. A big baby who will be a lot stronger next year, but he might be on the market before then," reported the Bishops Nympton based handler. The Cumings family gave a special mention to Haley Northcott who looks after the rangy gelding and rides work on him.
The veteran chestnut Consigliere travelled from Oxfordshire and put up a memorable staying performance to win the four miles plus Mixed Open. Izzie Marshall sent the game 15-year-old to the front at half way to deny the Biddick ridden mare Miss Gotaway by four lengths. "Awesome" said the breathless 18-year-old rider, who was enjoying her ninth winner of the season, and has a place at Reading University in September.
The well related Moonlight Flyer cut little ice under rules for Jeremy Scott, but first time cheek pieces seemed to do the trick in the Open Maiden run in memory of much missed local bookmaker Bob Pittard. Christopher Barber had the six-year-old in front virtually throughout, and the positive ride proved successful as he fought off Dragon De La Tour before holding the late thrust of Ballyjim. "He was bought at the Land Rover sales as a three-year-old and runs for a syndicate of ten. His year point-to-pointing has done him good and he will probably go back under rules," explained Camilla Scott who has the yard's pointers.
Top Chief loves quick ground and put up the fastest time of the day (5 mins 33 secs) to win the Novice Riders' race under Bryan Carver. The 10-year-old was always fencing better than his main rival Tom Barton, and drew right away in the closing stages. Stuart Sampson has his string in great form at present and was saddling Top Chief for joint owners Terry Hamlin and John Gardener.
The same owners and trainer combination re-appeared in the winner's enclosure again in the concluding Intermediate, but this time had to share the spoils with the Chapman family from Cornwall as their Winter Garden battled tenaciously to gain a dead heat with River Myth. Darren Andrews sent the mare River Myth ahead entering the final circuit, but was joined in a neck and neck battle in the final 100 yards by Nick Lawton on Winter Garden before the duo passed the judge locked together.