Despite the weather refusing to recognise it, there were two
clear signs that spring was here and that summer was just around the corner.
Firstly we were preparing to put the clocks forward and start enjoying
bright evenings in the open air after a day’s toil in the office.
Secondly, and perhaps more tellingly, the picnic basket brigade had made
their annual bid to reclaim the remainder of the point to point season for
themselves. They were everywhere. As I drove into the car park it seemed as
if I had trespassed onto a film set, and hidden cameras were shooting the
concluding shots to The Dawn of the Living Dead.
Doors to suburban garages had been flung open and Land
Rovers, or their foreign counterfeits, had been taken out of winter storage.
Into the backs had been thrown Argos tables, chairs, and wicker hampers
containing copious quantities of food and alcohol. They parked wherever they
could. It did not matter too much if they had a view of the horses, that was
not mandatory. All that mattered was being there, being seen to be there,
and showing the world that they knew how to live whilst there were there.
It reminded me why the sport has such an elitist image, and
why even racing fans such as Mark Winstanley were driven to a position of
inverted snobbery. Each to his own however, and at least the trade stands
benefited from the zombie invasion!
If any of the hoity toities did bother to watch the racing,
rather than merely glance at the four legged creatures as they happened to
pass by, they would undoubtedly have been impressed. The ground had been
well watered, and large fields were attracted. Although the going was
officially good, some parts of the course, particularly the final couple of
furlongs, became very holding. This caused horses to tire, and was
responsible for producing some tight finishes as leaders quickly came back
to the chasing pack.
The closest, and most exciting finish of the day undoubtedly
belonged to the Confined. Three horses could have been covered by the
proverbial blanket at the fourth last. Nigel Bloom on Tom de Savoie, who had
patiently sat behind the other two as they had shared pacemaking duties,
decided that was the moment to play his hand. James Owen had to work hard to
keep Westfield John in contention, but he stuck gamely to his task and was
within a couple of lengths as they approached the second last. The favourite,
Bard of Drumcoo, had, surprisingly, been tapped for toe, and quickly found
himself a further five lengths adrift.
Tom de Savoie looked to have the contest in the bag taking
the final bend. He had the inside berth and appeared to be going much better
than Westfield John, on whom James Owen was working like a man possessed.
Even though the gap was closing it looked as if Nibby Bloom’s mount had
more to give, should the question ever needed to be asked. Almost unnoticed,
David Kemp had found a second wind on Bard of Drumcoo, and, as the leading
duo ploughed through the holding ground, he steadily ate into their
Incredibly at the final fence James Owen had managed to pick
Westfield John up and put him alongside Tom de Savoie, with Bard of Drumcoo
only a length behind in third. All Owen’s hard work seemed to be in vain
though, when the combination almost came down at the last. It cost them at
least a length. Tom de Savoie found little when his jockey finally got
serious and the race looked to be at the mercy of Bard of Drumcoo’s well
timed final flourish.
James Owen had obviously spent the week watching a video of Tony McCoy’s most rousing rides, and was not letting Westfield John off lightly. He picked him virtually off the floor, found his balance, and threw his entire being into the surge for the line. It was the hardest and, in some ways, most impressive ride I have ever seen him give. It worked. To the surprise of virtually everybody present, he got up on the line to claim the prize from an amazed David Kemp, who must have thought he had done enough.
Unlucky though they may have been, the jockeys of both the
second and third did not have to wait long to record emphatic victories of
there own. Nibby Bloom’s came in the very next race, the Restricted. His
Bunratty’s Sole, an expensive purchase from Ireland last year, came home
twenty lengths clear of Just Jove. The winning margin was a touch flattering
as Caroline Bailey’s charge had matched strides with the winner until
three fences from home, and was only few lengths adrift when stumbling badly
at the last. Nothing else ever got into the race, and although Ruth
Hayter’s Federal Case was only five lengths behind the runner up at the
post, the first two looked to be in a completely different class.
Both should go on to better things. For most of the race Just
Jove appeared to be travelling much the better of the two and, to me, showed
that he had improved considerably since landing a comparatively soft maiden
at the course in February. He cannot remain in Restricted company for too
much longer. Despite not looking entirely at home on the tacky ground,
Bunratty’s Sole showed a good attitude and willingly found extra every
time he was asked. He will be even better on a sounder surface.
David Kemp’s compensation came on the odds on favourite,
Cantarhino, in the Men’s Open. Setting off for the second circuit he had
only Weaver’s Choice for company and, when that fell at the twelfth, he
found himself with a twenty length lead. He was ridden as tenderly as
possible from that point, although, even then, the second favourite, Choral
Dream, was the only one capable of closing the deficit. When Cantarhino
overjumped the third last and almost catapulted his jockey to the turf, it
looked for a second as if David Kemp’s over confidence may be punished. He
did not take long to sort himself out, however, and once Cantarhino was
given the office to set sail for home, he quickly extended his advantage
with the minimum of fuss. Dunrig, looking as reluctant as ever, was a
distance behind Choral Dream in third. He does not look to be one of Joe
Turner’s best ever buys!
Celtic Duke, in contrast, has been a grand servant to the
Turner yard. He made yet another contribution to their trophy cabinet today
with an all the way success in the Ladies Open under granddaughter Zoe. Fair
Kiowa tried to make a race of it but, despite Sam Hodge riding a spirited
finish, was always held by the Turner stalwart. Filou du Bois finished third
and Mister Audi fourth, without either ever threatening anything better.
There were two divisions of the Maiden. I thought that I had
landed a nice bet in the first when my 25/1 selection, Highland Dancer (who
had ran well for a long way in Mister Ringa’s race at the course in
February), jumped the second last five lengths clear. My luck, and his
stamina, were not quite enough to see him home, however, and he was collared
at the last by the lightly raced eleven year old Ocki, who had made resolute
progress from what seemed an impossible position four fences from the line.
Manhatton Storm finished like a train to be just a length adrift in third
with the Turner representative, On The Day, who had been outpaced when
Highland Dancer had kicked for home three out, plugging on to finish just
out of the prize money in fourth.
The big disappointments of the race were King Freddy, who had
to be niggled at several times to keep his position, and Artic Snip, who
dropped out tamely once passed on the second circuit. I suspect that neither
have fully recovered mentally from hard races earlier in the campaign.
The second division went to Olivia Maylam riding her mare
Miss Biddy. George Cooper had quickly gone a distance clear on Another
Leader and, while the rest of the field waited for him to come back to them,
Miss Biddy was the only one with the sense to actually go and catch him. She
hit the front just before the third last, where the long time leader
eventually fell. By then her lead was unassailable and despite Mr Know What
spouting wings to give chase up the home straight, she came home with a bit
to spare. Round The Isles finished a remote third and emphasised the day’s
under achievement for the Caroline Bailey yard.
A month ago Robert Cundy made his first public appearance as
a jockey in the Easton Harriers Hunt Race. He fell at the first. He took
part in the Essex Hunt Race today and, despite putting up a massive thirteen
pounds overweight, delivered a perfect late run on Rip Kirby to collar
course owner Simon Marriage’s debutant, Top Boots, on the run in. It was a
fine performance, particularly as his mount has a reluctant mind all of his
I shall be putting Top Boots into my notebook for next season. Even though this was a poor race (which he should have won) there was a lot to like about him. He is only a five year old and has a lot of physical maturing still to do. He was on his toes in the paddock and both nervous and unsure when the race actually got underway. To say he was green would be an understatement. Deep emerald would be more apt. He spooked at the starters flag, and leapt like a cat over the first few fences. Andrew Braithwaite gave him a perfect educational ride, though, and allowed his natural speed to bring him to pole position as they headed out for the second circuit. At no time was the horse asked to do more than he wanted to. He did do enough, however, to show that he has that all important raw ability. He can only be a much better proposition next year.