With racing having got the go-ahead after a second inspection at 10am due to a heavy overnight frost, many were questioning the wisdom of this decision an hour before the scheduled start of 12.30pm. Common sense thankfully prevailed and the first race was put back to 1pm, although it could easily have been deferred for a full hour. When racing did get underway, the take-offs of the two fences in the home straight were still giving cause for concern as they were partly frozen. The fence taken as the first and tenth was therefore omitted from all races. As it turned out, two or three horses did stay in their boxes for the second and third races, but midway through the card conditions were much improved.
All six entries for the Hunt Members went to post on barely raceable ground and they went a sensible pace in the circumstances. Cop Howe has done nothing wrong this year and he came away on the incline to the post under Jacqueline Coward with a fair bit in hand. He had had a wind operation in the close season and reaped the benefits when disposing of a reasonable field in a Witton Castle restricted a fortnight ago. You wouldn’t want to rule this progressive sort out when tackling a confined. Runner-up Welcome To Unos (Serena Brotherton) built on his creditable effort at Brocklesby Park last week. This wouldn’t be a track that played to his strengths. In third, Nectar De Guye and Mark Walford did all right. Nectar De Guye kept on pretty willingly and should have a decent chance back in maiden company. Blinkered for the first time, On Yer Bike showed a good deal more in fourth than he had on his only two previous racecourse appearances.
There were 12 runners for the Confined, which saw a hard fought battle up the hill. Well Presented gained the day for Oliver Greenall from the valiant West Coaster, in the hands of Laura Mason. Well Presented went off a shade of odds-on, but was made to work hard for his success. With a double penalty in these events now having won the very first race at Sheriff Hutton, he might move into opens in future. Well Presented was perhaps a shade fortunate to keep this contest in the stewards’ room as he did carry West Coaster across on the long run-in and there was officially a mere half a length at the lollipop. The winning rider did technically also have his whip in the wrong hand. West Coaster was ridden far more positively than on his two outings earlier in 2008 and this paid immediate dividends. If similar tactics are employed, he should get his head in front again soon. Pikachu Blue ran an absolute blinder to be a close third on Henry Brooke’s first ride. Pikachu Blue hadn’t set foot on a racecourse since November 2004, so this was no mean effort. In his prime, he had been mighty useful and kept some serious company in Ireland when in the care of Sue Bramall. If Pikachu Blue can stay sound, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with at this level. Fourth-placed Mile High City again did OK. Since headgear has been fitted to make him concentrate, he has been able to do himself justice and might just sneak a small heat. Sandy Gold ran a sound enough race once more, but could only keep on at the one pace, while Harwood Dale was beaten a long way out. This might have come too quickly after his victory in a quality restricted at Brocklesby Park last week, however his best has often been on a flattish track anyway.
A total of 13 horses came under orders for the Restricted and the generally consistent Alpha Lima took the spoils under Simon Walker. Alpha Lima was nothing if not resolute as he stayed on right the way to the line. He can continue to give a good account of himself. Runner-up Anaczar finished remarkably well for Alistair McEntyre having got behind. Although his overall form isn’t all that convincing, Anaczar hadn’t been beaten too far behind Cop Howe at Witton Castle. Thunder Hawk, with Mark Walford aboard, was there or thereabouts from the off and stuck on for third. He had performed with élan when highly tried in a couple of hunter chases in 2007. Jey Jey Keen showed a bit more in fourth than he had at any time since his lengthy layoff. Chorizo was rightly made a hot favourite after trotting up at Witton Castle, but was an early casualty. Riot Act had a decent blow out.
Nine horses faced the starter for the Mens Open. Amicelli, so impressive at Brocklesby Park last week, carried off the prize, although he did need a little more encouragement from Oliver Greenall to do so. He was briefly given a run for his money by Europa, but had all the answers to that one’s challenge. £38,000 is rumoured to have been Amicelli’s price tag and he seems worth every penny. More success is likely to head in his direction. Whilst he is unlikely to take part, Amicelli is now qualified for the Cheltenham Foxhunters and with no outstanding candidate, it would be interesting to see how he would get on there. Following two years off with injury, there was a pleasing return to action for Europa, ridden by Will Kinsey, in second. Formerly with Tom Tate at his peak, he was better known at shorter distances, but three miles doesn’t present any problems. Provided he feels no ill effects from this race, he is bound to pick up a point-to-point or two and would be perfectly capable of holding his own in hunter chases. Third went to Over To Joe (Simon Walker), who is pretty competent. In his career under Rules, he was rarely outclassed, but equally hardly ever looked like winning. He’s a funny old character that isn’t easy to get to the bottom of. Gabor was back in fourth. Hunter chasers Forty Shakes and Imps Way both shook off a few cobwebs and will strip fitter next time.
They went 12-1 bar two in the Ladies Open that brought together ten hopefuls and the duo fought out the finish with a yawning gap back to the remainder. With the help of Emma Brader’s assured handling, Duchess Account found a breathtaking turn of foot at the business end at the main expense of One Five Eight, with Jacqueline Coward on board. This brought up a twelfth victory in point-to-points for Duchess Account. There was no hanging around and Duchess Account attempted to make every yard. One Five Eight was seemingly waiting to pounce though and took a narrow advantage at the last, but the mare had simply been given a breather at the bottom of the hill and regained the lead entering the final furlong before asserting in the closing stages. This race reinforced the belief that it had been some achievement for Ask Bobby to edge Duchess Account out at Sheriff Hutton. My theory was that Duncombe Park wasn’t Duchess Account’s favourite track, but that was well and truly blown out of the water after this display, and it has probably been the fact that she usually makes her seasonal reappearance here that has prevented her winning at this venue in the past. It was surprising that it was the first time this pair had crossed swords. One Five Eight had lost his unbeaten record at Sheriff Hutton when lack of prime fitness had been a valid excuse. He seemed to be beaten fair and square on this occasion, but should return to winning ways in the near future as he is a match for any foe in ladies opens. Third-placed Knightsbridge King, with Sam Drake in the plate, was firmly put in his place, however he was certainly best of the rest. He had weakened after about two and a half miles so far between the flags, but didn’t make a bad fist of it here. In fourth was Misty Gem, who might be coming somewhere close to hand. She did rack up a hat-trick in Wales last year, but Misty Gem is still eligible for a confined without a penalty or an intermediate. There was a satisfactory performance from Red Alert Man and, having completed at Witton Castle, Nina Chester actually beat one home today. Once the competition in maidens has slackened, she could spring a surprise.
There was a very sedate gallop in the 13-runner Maiden Division One and as a result five horses crossed the line in close proximity, meaning the form might be questionable. A peach of a ride from Mark Walford secured first spot for The Viking. He wasn’t winning out of turn and the application of blinkers has been a shrewd move. Held up in rear for most of the journey, The Viking snook up the inside on the final turn and was perfectly produced to challenge in the shadow of the post, where he had his head in front for a cosy triumph. The Viking is fairly fragile and doesn’t have many miles on the clock, yet at the age of nine, there is still some improvement in him. Runner-up Go Moss Go seemed as though he was going to hold on for Nigel Tutty and had plenty of use made of him. This was his British debut, but his credentials in Irish point-to-points weren’t particularly inspiring. The change of scenery might have done him some good, but it remains to be seen which way he will go from here. Oliver Greenall guided Malton into third. Malton is a bit frustrating, but the raw talent is there, and the lack of pace won’t have played to his strengths. He will no doubt land a maiden at some stage though. Liverpool in fourth didn’t really have the race run to suit and will do better, although this was by no means a bad attempt. Iron Warrior wasn’t too far off them and there was a pleasing debut from Oaklands Bobby.
Division Two of the Maiden was run in a time identical to the restricted and 17 seconds quicker than the first division and was claimed by Messager and Nathan Moscrop from Pristine Condition and the hat-trick seeking Oliver Greenall. It was a big field of 17 that had set out, but these two pulled clear. Messager isn’t much to look at and was available at 20-1 in places, but he displayed great tenacity on the uphill run-in to keep the warm favourite at bay. The French-bred had been on the sidelines since May 2005 and was making his initial appearance for current connections, being owned by Ferdy Murphy. If he remains in points, Messager will be a major player in restricteds. Pristine Condition tried his best, but just couldn’t reel in the winner. There had been so much to like about his Sheriff Hutton debut in chasing home the smart trio of Ask Bobby, Duchess Account and Beau De Turgeon, while Pristine Condition looked to have a Friars Haugh maiden at his mercy when tipping up at the penultimate obstacle a fortnight ago. His time will come. Although there was a gap to Jimmys Duky (Lucy Bell) in third, that one was far from disgraced. The two principals are well above average and Jimmys Duky was perhaps unlucky not to score under Rules. He was more than capable on his day in that sphere and should find at least a maiden without too much trouble. Cottam Phantom in fourth hasn’t appeared an obvious stayer at this trip in the past. This was a better effort and, although the jury is still out, he does deserve another chance to prove himself. Tony’s Pride got round, which must have been the main aim after four non-completions on the trot. This was something to build on and there will be much weaker events later in the season.
Some mention must be made of the number board that lacked any mention of jockey changes until late in the afternoon. In addition, the announcements left something to be desired with only very basic information given. Considering that this meeting is normally well run, it is disappointing that it fell somewhat short in these respects on this occasion.