The delayed meeting at Howick took place on Saturday after a
fairly mild and frost free week. The snow that had caused havoc in South
Wales the week before had softened the ground, but not enough to prevent the
quick pace that normally prevails at this track. Runners were in abundance;
many choosing to come across the bridge is search of the better ground, with
reports of firm coming from the Beaufort meeting on the same day. The long
gap in scheduling between Wales’ opening day meeting at Erw Lon and this
meeting also had a lot of trainers anxious to start the season and give
their charges a run.
The first race on the card, the Members, saw the shock
departure of the well-fancied Questionnaire at the ditch. This mare was one
of the least likely to succumb to an early season fall, especially at her
home track. This left the way clear for Coole’s Abbott, a decent enough
performer on his day to take the spoils followed home by Steel Gem.
The restricted race was split on the day and still produced
two large fields. The first went to Twilight Dancer under a beautifully
timed ride by Fiona Wilson. Having spent most of last season on crutches
with a damaged tendon, Fiona has lost none of her “bottle” and is as
intent as ever on notching up the winners. The favourite, Pete the Painter
was always just held in second. (Attheraces viewers will be pleased to know
that James Tudor had his teeth with him and they were NOT as commented on
“still in the mud at Kingston Blount”).
Division 2 went to the even money favourite BallyAlbert,
whose previous performances can only be described as inconsistent!
Jeroboam and Daisy’s Choice filled the minor placings in what was
the slower of the two divisions.
The confined was the “warmest” race of the day and
produced the expected exciting finish. Sohapara and Wales’ hardy annual
Dai Jones took command at the top of the hill and despite looking wayward
coming to the last, held on to continue this mare’s impressive tally of
victories. Former Irish chaser Inis Cara followed them home in second with
the rather unlucky Gilzine, who had done the splits two out, in third.
The Men’s spoils went across the bridge to Sir Dante and
Andy Martin who were chased home by Quickswood and Smile Pleeze, neither of
whom, despite game, efforts could peg back the leader.
The Ladies Open left the course looking rather like a
battlefield after the crashing falls of Nigel’s Boy and Buckland Boy.
Fiona Wilson, sent to the floor by Nigel’s Boy after taking up the lead,
passed the doctors later in the day, although her fiancée was heard
mumbling about the doctors doing a mental health check when he heard she was
fit to ride. Angharad Herries was not so lucky and the fence was bypassed as
she received attention. Isobella Thompsett reaped the benefits of the
carnage and steered Ashfield Orchestra home in front of Cowanston Prince.
The maiden had been split at entry and produced large fields
on the day. The first going to the very impressive Gypsy Girl ridden for
David Stephens by his son Robert, and the last to Call Me Sonic and Dai
Jones, making his tally two for the day. It was good to see Ruby Dante, the
leader, get to his feet after a horrible incident three out.
The Welsh season has a rather different look to it this year, with the decampment to the ranks of professional by Christian Williams as jockey and Evan Williams as trainer. Christian’s younger brother Nick and West Wales’s Marc Barber are both busy under rules, and James Tudor is committed to the yard of Lawney Hill. Add this to the “maternity” break of reigning ladies title-holder Lucy Rowsell and there is a large gap in the rider’s book. This season should provide some Novice riders with good opportunities for success, although they will have to unplug the ‘phones of Dai Jones and Tim Vaughan to get through to any owners!