A blustery day at Skutterskelfe Park made life difficult for racegoers and competitors alike. However, some exciting finishes and two quality opens made for an enthralling afternoon. A drying week left ground on the firm side of good, although some patches did seem quite rough, but it rode extremely well.
The Hunt Members had four runners and went right to the wire. Queenies Girl and Paul Frank prevailed by a neck from Ballybrophy and Sarah Horner-Harker. Queenies Girl has had her doubters in the past, but stuck to her task well here. Her third in a mens open to Imps Way earlier this month suggests that she is just about at the top of her game at the moment. Ballybrophy gave a good account of himself chasing all the way to the line. Shays Lane (Nigel Tutty) in third was one-paced from three out, but at the age of 13 and making his debut in points after a lengthy career under Rules, he can be expected to have needed the run. Dracaena under Pippa Tutty trailed throughout, but completed for fourth.
Ten horses lined up for the Restricted and there was another battle royal on the run-in. This time, three horses were separated by less than a length at the post. Chris Dawson conjured up a late effort from Shanteen Lass and she stuck her neck out to score. Since joining Mark Coglan from Ferdy Murphy, Shanteen Lass has exhibited some decent form, being fourth of 19 in an Alnwick restricted, then winning a Friars Haugh maiden, before being out of her depth in a Haydock hunter chase. There should be more to come from her between the flags. Runner-up Sandy Gold (Jo Foster) is better known as a chaser, but this was more suitable. If his attention remains turned to point-to-points, he ought to find a restricted. Oaklands Luis in third, partnered by Tina Jackson, also had good credentials and at this level needs to be respected as a restricted is well within his capabilities. Fourth went to Ginger Biscuit (Paul Frank), who is slowly coming to hand on his return from a year off. Badr will benefit considerably from the outing and Adams Wine can do the same, although it was worrying that he seemed to not want to leave the paddock. French Envoy was a warm favourite and there was no obvious explanation for him going out like a light once the pace was increased. He did tend to edge out to the right at his fences, but is worth another chance Nigel Tutty gave up the remainder of his rides after Oyster Point decanted him at the ditch.
A hot Ladies Open saw nine horses face the starter and the time was at least fifteen seconds quicker than any other on the day, which indicates the quality of the race. There was a hugely impressive performance from Fiori, with Jacqueline Coward in the plate. He claimed top spot by ten lengths with his rider constantly patting him down the neck all the way up the run-in. Fiori is a class act and cantered ahead after the second last, prior to pulling clear with the minimum of fuss. His next assignment is likely to be at Aintree, either in the Foxhunters or possibly even in the John Hughes as he holds a handicap mark from his recent chasing career with Patrick Haslam. Runner-up Texas Ranger took up his customary position at the head of affairs and, although readily swept aside, gave plenty of encouragement for the rest of the season. Jo Foster should get more reward on him before long as Texas Ranger managed to withstand Wilfie Wild’s late challenge from the final fence. Wilfie Wild never got to the front two, but again put up a respectable showing. As good as Wilfie Wild is, it could be worth Lynne Ward giving more positive tactics a try once or twice in the future. Given the standard of the opposition, Snizort did as well as he can in fourth for Freya Hartley, while Del Trotter didn’t get on too badly. Lanaken hit the deck at the 13th, about the same point that he did at Charm Park, and will need to cut out such costly errors if he is to succeed at this game.
A strong field of ten was present for the Mens Open, which wouldn’t have looked out of place as a hunter chase. Proven on top of the ground, Jupiter’s Fancy was produced by Chris Dawson at the second last as four horses jumped it as one. Jupiter’s Fancy found extra reserves at the business end and got home by half a length to give his jockey a double. As a 12-year-old mare, retirement beckons, but she has every chance of adding to her Hexham hunter chase success before the end of the year if there is rattle underfoot. Scenic Storm was guided into second by Nathan Moscrop and kept on up the hill. His rider’s unobtrusive style seemed to suit Scenic Storm, who hadn’t been at his best at Duncombe Park and Kelso previously during this campaign. Kadarann was third in the hands of Oliver Greenall and could find no more in the closing stages, having travelled supremely well. Three or four years ago, he was a top class two mile chaser when trained by Paul Nicholls and he might need a sharp track to stand any chance of staying three miles in points. Fourth-placed Be My Manager (Richard Tierney) was always to the fore and was only run out of it late on. Astral Prince wasn’t disgraced and will come on for the run, while Tiger Talk did all right.
The Confined had nine hopefuls and looked quite open. Jacqueline Coward completed a double aboard the favourite Narciso, who accelerated away on the climb to the judge. A consistent sort, Narciso should be able to hold his form and further reward can come his way. He shrugged aside the odd jumping error to readily assert for victory. Rushing Again was second in the hands of Chris Dawson and is somewhat of an unknown quantity. He will need consideration when next seen as this was a sound showing. Third-placed Lutin Du Moulin (Paul Hodgson) was putting in his best work at the finish and found this lesser grade much easier than the opens he had contested on his two other runs between the flags. Bobby Buttons ran a bit flat in fourth for Tina Jackson, which is unusual for him. Porto was bang there until his lack of a recent outing told. Victoria’s Boy the veteran was going well when he turned a somersault at the ditch on the second occasion. Thankfully, both the horse and jockey Guy Brewer were largely unscathed and it is hoped nothing comes to light later as it would be big shame if we have seen the last of Victoria’s Boy.
A total of 13 horses came under orders for Division One of the Maiden, which on paper was the stronger of the two. It was a day to remember for trainer Mark Coglan as Young Blade made it a treble on the card for him with his only three runners. Nathan Moscrop did the steering as Young Blade’s late surge down the outside paid off handsomely. Moderate under Rules, Young Blade travelled sweetly today and could be called the most likely winner a long way out. At Alnwick in January, he fell when booked for a place and is the third horse from that contest to subsequently pick up a maiden. A fair second here was Shapani under Chris Dawson. He had a pretty hard race when filling the same position in a mudbath at Charm Park a fortnight ago, but this sort of going is more his forte. Shapani can sneak a small event. Mandalay Bay had Jacqueline Coward for assistance and put in far and away his best performance to date in third. If this was no flash in the pan, there should be a little race in him. Welham (Oliver Greenall) in fourth seems another to prefer genuinely good ground and he would be of interest on this kind of surface at somewhere like Whitwell-on-the-Hill or Hornby Castle. Ambiante emptied quickly having been prominent and should be better for the outing. Waltzing Along, who had reasonable form under the professional code, fell at halfway, bringing down the highly thought of Swaledale. Beijing Breeze got hampered, but is difficult to weigh up anyway as he doesn’t appear to be putting his best hoof forward. It can’t be long before cheekpieces are replaced by blinkers.
Division Two of the Maiden to bring an end to proceedings was seven seconds slower than the previous heat and was desperate stuff, even though there were 15 declarations. Nomadic Ice had appeared distinctly modest in the past, but you couldn’t really fault him for effort here. He responded well to Ben Hamilton’s urgings to scramble home and post a personal best by some distance. He might find life tough in restricteds though. In second, West End Rocker under Chris Dawson tried hard, but was held off. He can improve some more. Castle Gunner and Rachel Clark were a close third. Castle Gunner isn’t as exposed as many and is learning, albeit slowly. Fourth went to Tony’s Pride, with Guy Brewer in the saddle. Tony’s Pride loomed up at the penultimate obstacle looking a big danger. However, he was immediately outpaced and seemed to blow up. He will be of interest with this run under his belt. Old Barns probably has a bit more to offer with further experience.