16th January 2005
by Richard Hall
Sabre looked good as he strutted
proudly around the paddock. Cocky, confident, well muscled, and as
fit as could be expected for his first run of the year. Having
waited a long while for the season to involve us, we had assembled
a large crowd of friends, relatives, and well-wishers to witness
his seasonal debut. A good showing was expected. It was his second
season, he had clearly grown and matured, and he was eager to get
on with things.
Those within our crowd who have more exciting
things to do with their lives than study point-to-point form, asked
me what the dangers were. I referred them to just three of the
eight strong opposition. To my mind only they stood between us and
the perfect excuse for celebration. The Caroline Bailey horse, Just
Jove, was the one I feared most. He had run with credit in a couple
of hot Restricteds last year and was clearly destined for better
things. The second potential stumbling block was Monarch Ruler.
Although the form of his Maiden win at Marks Tey last backend was
nothing special, it was only his second outing and James Crispe,
usually a good judge of potential, had marked him down as one to
follow for the season. The final threat, I ventured, could be
Runningwiththemoon. He had been purchased from the Bealby stable
over the summer by fellow scribe Ray Newby (he writes for the
Maldon and Burnham Echo, I believe) and his form included
a decent fourth in a Chase. As I spoke, I saw Ray chatting to
friends in the group beside ours. He was could barely contain his
excitement. It was his first ever runner and he was clearly
enjoying the experience.
Having placed my bet, Mrs H and I raced, with
camera, to the third fence. I was determined to get a decent action
shot of “our” horse, and that was the best place for
it. The sun would be behind me and directly onto the subject.
Better still, it followed a long, straight, downhill run and I
could pick them out and track them into it. As soon as I was in
position the starter let them go.
The field set off at a fast pace. As was the
plan, Sabre was prominent amongst them. At the first fence Lucinda
(Barrett Nobbs – his jockey) had to check a bit as George
Cooper on Monarch Ruler jumped slightly across her. It barely
halted their momentum, however, and by the time they approached the
second fence Sabre was alongside the leader. He jumped it big, and
that was his undoing. Being slightly downhill, the ground was not
where he expected it to be and his front legs crumbled on landing.
As he rolled to the floor Lucinda had little option but to part
company with him. We could scarcely believe it. All that hope, all
that expectation, all the persuading of friends and relatives to
come and watch him run, all the getting up early to cook and
prepare food for them, had collapsed in one over-big jump within
twenty seconds of the race beginning. There was no right of appeal,
no second chance, not even an action replay. Our race was over.
Anticipation and excitement instantly evaporated into a deep
anti-climax. Later, when a sense of proportion returned, we would
console ourselves with the platitude that there was always another
day. At that moment though, all any of us connected with the horse
felt was emptiness.
Our story was just a small part of the jigsaw
however, and for the remainder of the field there were still
eighteen fences to negotiate. Monarch Ruler, perhaps travelling a
bit faster than his pilot would have liked, went into a clear lead
before coming to grief himself at the eighth fence. From that point
Just Jove took over pacemaking duties, a task he shared with Ical
for the whole of the second circuit. These two were still
alternating for pole position as they went into the final mile of
the contest, although behind them Runningwithmoon, who had been
hunted round up until then, was beginning to close ominously. These
three clearly had the race between them.
Ical was the first to tire. As he did so
Runningwiththemoon moved alongside Just Jove and threw down the
gauntlet. They locked horns and battle commenced. At the third last
Ray Newby’s horse had gained a definite advantage. Matt
Mackley kept him up to his work and, by the second last, they were
five lengths ahead and pulling away. At the line they were
comfortable winners, with Caroline Bailey’s charge, who will
be better for the run, hanging on to second place despite a late
surge from Boozi Birthday. Ical, completing the course for only the
second time since Chrissy Rogers acquired him, came home a
Mr Newby was understandably elated when I
spoke to him a good ten minutes afterwards. I could see the
concentration of all his emotions clearly in his face and,
remembering that day last March when Sabre won his Maiden, I knew
exactly how he was feeling. It was that magical lift everyone aims
for; the intense joy of everything coming right. He would be on
cloud nine for a good few days.
One staunch supporter of East Anglian
Pointing who could be excused for forgetting that feeling is
Jeffrey Bowles. He has had horses in training for many years but,
like so many “ordinary” people, is unable to afford the
large sums necessary to buy the quality of horse likely to win. His
last (and only?) success was Cheery Chap at Cottenham in 1996
– a long time, and several tens of thousands of pounds,
Over the last five years he has bought
several comparatively “cheap” horses, primarily for his
daughter, Annie, to ride. The combination came close on a couple of
occasions with Society Lad; once at Horseheath in 2002 when they
went through the wings while challenging at the second last, and
again at the same course when going well before falling at the
downhill fence on the final circuit in 2003. After breaking down at
Fakenham later that year, Society Lad had to be retired. Jeffrey
then bought Kirkharle (who had one run at Ampton last year before
also being forced into early retirement) and shares in two horses
that have hardly set the world alight: Mister Audi and No Nay
At the end of last year, after a few poor
runs, his fellow partners gave up on No Nay Never. Jeffrey bought
them out and moved the horse to John Ibbott to train. Over the
summer the horse strengthened up and managed to hold his weight
better than he had done for a long while. As daughter Annie lined
up on him for the second division of the Maiden, however, their
hopes were not unduly high; a place was the best they realistically
believed they could achieve. How wrong they were.
No Nay Never appreciated being able to run up
with the pace, and that pace being a slow one. As they rounded the
final bend they were still very much in contention and Annie, for
perhaps the first time in her life, looked around at the two or
three horses that were running in close proximity and knew that
victory could be hers if No Nay Never’s hitherto suspect
stamina held out, and she could keep him balanced and together. She
kicked on as the leading pack turned to climb the final hill. The
horse responded. He moved on by a length. Rumour Has It could not
keep with them, but she had not shaken off Willy Boy or Groovejet.
They were still very much in contention as they approached the
last, but they were not closing. Annie and No Nay Never took it
sensibly and emerged with a two length advantage. She got low in
the saddle and pushed hands and heels to the line. It was enough.
The margin was maintained. She had ridden her first winner. As she
unsaddled in the winner’s enclosure she was beaming from ear
to ear. Dad stood in the background and watched. Jeffrey has never
been one to wear his heart on his sleeve, but if you looked closely
enough you could nevertheless see the joy in his eyes. It had taken
many years, dozens of setbacks, and a lot of money. That moment,
however, was worth everything he had paid.
The First Division of the Maiden was by far
the stronger of the two, and bought together three horses who had
shown more than a modicum of ability last year in Eva’s
Songbird, a strapping individual who would undoubtedly come on for
the run, Earl of Buckingham, and Round The Isles.
The race itself went as scripted with the
three principles dominating throughout. Round the Isles was given
the more restrained ride, with Rowan Cope content to hunt round in
the pack for the first two miles as Earl of Buckingham and
Eva’s Songbird took it in turns to set the pace. As they
headed onto their final circuit Rowan Cope asked him to take a
closer interest and drove him alongside the leading pair. After
little ado Eva’s Songbird started to tire and dropped off the
other two. Alex Merriam, with an eye very much on another day, then
allowed him to complete the course as leisurely as he liked.
Earl of Buckingham and Round the Isles were
then left to fight a rare duel over the last half mile. Rowan Cope
had to be at his strongest to force his mount to forge ahead, but
every time he did so Paul Cowley seemed to find more on the ultra
game Earl of Buckingham to bring himself back into contention.
There was little in it jumping the last, and on the run in both men
gave their all. Where it mattered most it was adjudged that Rowan
Cope had got Round The Isles up to prevail by half a length. Paul
Cowley, for at least the fourth time already this season, had to be
content with second again.
I do not know what to make of Round The
Isles. He ran well on his debut last year and then turned in
subsequently disappointing performances. I was not sure if he was
demonstrating reluctance to go through with his effort today, or
whether Earl of Buckingham was really as tough and determined as it
first seemed. Either way I think one should be backed to lose his
Maiden status next time, and the other watched to see if he will
progress or regress from today’s exertions.
In the other races on the card three horses
went off at long odds on, but not all of them were successful. The
first favourite was Madmidge in the opening race of the day, the
Confined. He made the unbackable price of 4/6 seem generous as he
comfortably kept daylight between himself and the veteran pairing
of George Cooper and Endeavour, with Good Vintage, a summer
acquisition from Ireland, hinting at ability in third. Ruperts
Choice, now thirteen and after a season’s absence, ran on
well from a long way behind to finish close up in fourth and
suggest that the Member’s Race at the Puckeridge meeting
would still be well within his grasp.
Bunratty’s Sole in the Intermediate was
the next to go off at a price you could not even consider unless
you were investing in thousands. He was top priced at 4/11 but made
mincemeat of his five rivals to win with his head in his chest. He
will not be out of place in Open company. Tubber Roads ran a decent
enough race in second and should be capable of finding a winning
opportunity soon. Teach Altra though, ran poorly in third and
seemed a shadow of the horse that impressed many a good judge when
landing the Restricted at the corresponding meeting last year.
Perhaps the key to him is a strong, male, jockey such as Chris
Gordon (who rode him twelve months ago)?
Gallant Glen, at 1/3 was the third unbackably
priced favourite on the card. If this former Aintree Foxhunters
hope was going to be overturned in East Anglia this year though,
today was probably the time to do it, as two of his three defeats
in Points had come on his seasonal debut.
He looked home and hosed as they climbed the
final hill, having cantered over the opposition with impressive
ease from the moment Matt Mackley had given him the license to go
on at halfway. At the second last, however, he seemed to fall in a
heap and his twenty-length lead halved in a matter of strides.
Despite his jockey’s best urgings he could not keep up the
gallop and Choral Dream, under strong driving from Richard
Hunnisett, found wings to catch and overhaul him on the run in.
It was a remarkable run from the winner, and
a credit to the never say die attitude of his jockey. He was
scrubbing his horse along from a long way out and, with less than
half a mile left to go, they were a good thirty lengths off Gallant
Glen and ten off the remainder of the field. I had backed them and
had given up hope to such an extent that I stopped watching them. I
was genuinely amazed when I saw the three gold balls on a dark
green background come like magic to turn my useless investment into
a profitable one and, in so doing, provide the second winner of the
day for Caroline Bailey yard.
My Best Buddy, ridden by Ami Stennett, was
the stable’s representative in the Ladies Open, and was
moving ominously into contention when falling at the sixteenth.
With so many front runners in the field it was hardly surprising
that this was the fastest race of the day and in the end it was the
fittest of them, Cedar Chief, who claimed the spoils. He, under a
good ride from Bhrea Donnelly, accompanied last year’s
winner, Kincora, and the Turner’s The Wiley Kalmuck in a
charge from flagfall, and still had petrol in the tank when the
others had exhausted theirs. Kincora kept on for a tired third,
being deprived of the runners up berth by Millenium Way who had
been purchased from the Turner yard during the summer by novice
rider Caroline Taylor. Without ever looking likely to catch the
winner the horse looks as if he may have been sweetened up by the
change of scenery and, at eleven years of age, may still have a
couple of seasons in him.
The Novice Riders Race bought proceedings to
a conclusion as the light began to fade. The finish was dominated
by the Caroline Bailey trained duo of Persian Hero (given a
confident and competent ride by John Russell) who always held too
many aces for the ex Kim Bailey trained The Wonder Weasel. These
two finished a long way clear of Interrogator in third, and Stick
and Bust who tired badly in the last mile.
All in all it was a terrific day’s
racing, with many highs and a few lows. It was one that Lucinda
Barrett Nobbs and The Sporting Endeavour partnership will probably
forget rather quickly, but one that Ray Newby and Jeffrey and Annie
Bowles will remember forever! One negative that I do have to
mention (again) is the prices offered by the bookmakers. It was so
bad that many regulars refused to bet. Indeed there were three
events today when even I could not bring my hand to pull out notes
from the punting pocket. Overrounds approaching 200% were the best
they could do on some of the contests, although, in their defence,
this failed to match the 254% record they achieved last year! In an
attempt to shame them, I publish below a photograph of an offending
“Turf Accountant” displaying his wares. At least Dick
Turpin had the decency to wear a mask!