A twelve-race card, comprising three pony races and nine over fences, stretched the stamina of organisers and racegoers at Brafield-on-the-Green last Sunday. Luckily the weather was mild, with sunny spells, and the good-sized crowd was treated to a trip down memory lane in the third pony race, when Ella McCain sported the maroon with yellow horizontal diamond colours immortalized by Red Rum, trained by her grandfather Donald to win three Grand Nationals.
Despite the nine races, honours were shared evenly, with jockey Tom McClorey being the only dual visitor to the winners' enclosure. Highlight of his double was Gunmoney in the Mens Open, sponsored by well-known owner Toby Hunt's Funeral Services. Tom, deputising for the injured John Russell, sent Gunmoney into the lead from the off and never saw another horse. One More Tune, beaten just three lengths by Cheltenham Foxhunters third Paint The Clouds last time, was let down by his jumping and never got closer than the four lengths he was beaten at the post, with Noakarad De Verzee, returning from a two-year layoff, well back in third.
Owner's son John Russell, who fractured three vertebrae in a recent fall at Garthorpe, hopes to be back next month. "Tom gave him a good ride," he said afterwards. "The horse is quite straightforward. He stays, is a proper galloper and jumped nicely. But he's always been a lazy horse – if One More Tune had come up to him, he'd have gone away again. I want to get back and ride him at Cheltenham," continued John. "Either in the Open Hunter Chase or the four-miler. He'd give a good account in either." "That's the tenth Open Race (including Hunter Chases) he's won," confirmed owner Richard Russell of the eleven-year-old, who seems to have been around much longer! "I bought him unraced from Brian Murphy in Ireland – I like big old-fashioned chasers that stay."
The race seemed straightforward, but was not without controversy. Gunmoney got a flier and jumped the first fence on his own, with the other three runners still at the start. He went back, and the race was restarted, but no false start was called. Then, after the race, a stewards enquiry was called – with the placings to remain unaltered – but no weigh in was announced.
Tom McClorey kicked off his double with victory on Bell On Bike in the three-runner Brian Currie Hunt Members Race. Meeting Chairman Graham Tawell's lightly raced 13-year-old made most of the running at a slow pace and came home by a length from odds-on favourite Edgar Henry. Fair Chance completed for third.
"He jumped well – he's a good old horse," confirmed his owner. "He won this race in 2014 and we retired him, but he came back this year a fresh horse. We may go to Towcester next – he loves it there." Graham has not officially retired from the saddle yet – "the fire still burns bright," he laughed, but is currently stood down with a neck injury. "He's a lovely jumper," said winning rider Tom McClorey of Bell On Bike, his second winner of the season (soon to be three). "You can send him into anything – he's very clever."
Another rider who completed a notable achievement on the day was 20-year-old Hannah Henn, who rode her first winner on The Drone, owned and trained by father Chris, in the Landscope Land & Property Open Maiden (Division One). She belied her inexperience on only her twelfth ride, sitting in mid-division on the first circuit, going third at the eleventh fence, then moving into the lead at the penultimate and just getting the better of Magic Symphony – who had looked the winner three out – by half-a-length. Jump To The Beat, who was always prominent, was three lengths away in third.
It was a welcome change of luck for Chris Henn, who lost a promising youngster at Kingston Blount recently. Chris was candid about how he came to buy The Drone. "I couldn't afford an Open horse for Hannah," he admitted, "So I asked Martin Lynch – who now trains in Ireland – to find her a sensible Maiden." The winner was not expected, despite starting at 6/1 third favourite. "I didn't fancy him," said Chris. "I just told Hannah 'Go out and find out about him. No pressure!" The delighted jockey was quick to praise rules trainer Alex Hales "For giving me lots of opportunities schooling." Hannah, like so many young jockeys, is a graduate of pony racing, having ridden a winner at Towcester, "But today was the first time I've had to ride a finish." Not that we noticed!
The second division of the Open Maiden, sponsored by the Bells Motor Group, was split on the day. Part one had nine starters and was won by short-priced favourite Namako, who kept tabs on long-time leader Alittlebitless, before joining him four out and quickening clear to score by 30 lengths. The tired front-runner made mistakes at the second last and last fences and was caught on the run-in for second by Katesoneoneeight.
Namako was the ninth winner of the season for trainer Philip Rowley, and was not scoring out of turn, following seconds at Cocklebarrow and Cottenham. "He's by Ballingarry and stays and gallops," said his trainer of the six-year-old. But he wouldn't be drawn on where Namako stands in his pecking order of promising youngsters. "They're all different," laughed Philip, who was reluctant to set any goals for his season, saying his targets were simply "Happy owners and more winners!" The happy owner here was Cynthia Bibbey, a long-standing owner of pointers in the Welsh Borders area, and whose second Rowley-trained winner this was. Jockey Alex Edwards, riding his sixth winner of 2015/2016 said, "I've got some nice ones to ride and the aim is to get as many winners as I can."
Eight went to post for division two, part two of the Open Maiden, which again went to a short-priced favourite, in the shape of the odds-on Ballalough, trained by David Kemp for the Oak Partnership. Nothing Personal led early and, when Ballalough took over at the fifteenth, he looked likely to win comfortably. However, the well-bred and progressive Squire Oliver made a race of it and the favourite had to be shaken up to score by a length and a half. Nothing Personal kept on for third.
"He's still very green and there's a lot more in the tank," was the winning trainer's verdict of his Lucarno six-year-old. "We tried to settle him here and the penny will drop with him, but he needs to be more streetwise." I suggested that David was flying after his treble at Parham, but he begged to differ! "It was better last week, but not at Garthorpe yesterday. A few of our quirky ones are running below form. We've had some real highs, but some are running no sort of race." David also confirmed that his retirement from the saddle is final and that "I find training less stressful – I haven't got to do the feeding, the gallops… and go to the gym. And I'm enjoying eating more – you wouldn't think to look at me, but I've got a massive appetite!"
Hopefully no retirement plans are in the air for winning jockey Sam Davies-Thomas, for whom this was an eleventh success of the season. Banbury-based Sam, who works as a saddler for Harley Racing, rides mostly for David Kemp, Julie Marles, Tommy Morgan and Nick Pearce – in four different areas! "I go to Newmarket to ride out for David, then down south to ride for Nick," he confirmed with a smile. "But they're all good trainers, so they do most of the work themselves."
Only three went to post for the AGA Ladies Open, which qualified the first two for their series final at Stratford on 20th May. One of these was Christopher and Fran Marriott's wonderful little mare Dabinett Moon. The long odds-on favourite always had leader Don't Back Down in her sights and cruised clear five out, eventually scoring by eight lengths, which could have been many more. The third runner, Romany Ryme, was never in the race but completed for third.
"Of course I was nervous!" laughed Christopher Marriott at my cheeky enquiry about whether he was confident beforehand. "There were 18 fences to jump." The mare has returned to points following a spell under rules with Charlie Longsdon. Christopher explained the reason for the switch back. "She ran well first time out and when fifth at Doncaster, but she's high in the handicap and is only little – she's happier jumping the smaller fences." Dabinett Moon isn't qualified to run in Hunter Chases this year, so will stick to Ladies Opens, "Otherwise the penalties are horrendous," according to Christopher. Dabinett Moon is a descendent of the Marriotts' foundation mare Windfall and, while she is their only horse in training at present, they have more youngsters to come. Title-chasing jockey Claire Hart was riding her twelfth winner of the year and was never in any doubt about the outcome. "She's class, isn't she – absolutely brilliant." (For once Claire managed to complete an interview without using the word "Bless!")
Another race with a series final at Stratford on 20th May – won last year by today's Ladies Open heroine Dabinett Moon – was the closing Subaru Restricted. Eleven went to post and Chris Loggin's Bit Of A Barney made most of the running. But he never managed to slip his field and Dale Peters on Dido always had the leader in his sights, moving smoothly clear two out to win by three lengths from Bit Of A Barney. Go On Henry was third, but favourite Woodfleet ran no sort of a race, being pulled up before the last.
Dido is owned by Bob Fox, who also bred the Killer Instinct six-year-old – his dam, Bowdlane Barb won a hurdle for him at Uttoxeter. "Dido is named after my brother, who died four years ago," confirmed Bob. "His son was supposed to be here today – he'll be gutted." Dido won a Maiden at Dingley last year and has already been placed twice this season. "We're qualified for Stratford," continued Bob. "But we're hoping to go to Dingley next weekend – it's our local track." Dale Peters has scored twice as a jockey and six times as a trainer this season and admitted, "The horses are flying." He refused to commit to plans for the Easter weekend, saying simply, "We'll see how he comes out of the race."
The 12-runner Fisher German Confined Race produced an exciting finish. Soupcon D'Albain led early, but – as in most races today – those who ended up battling for victory sat close to the pace. Mister Teddy was the first of those to commit, but Flicka's Witness and Nick Meek jumped past him four out and held on to win by a length from the reluctant-looking runner-up. Sivola De Sivola was always thereabouts, but couldn't get closer than a length back in third at the line.
The winner is owned by Denis and Pauline Moylan and trained by Joan Johnston. "He won here last year, but I don't know whether he remembers," smiled Denis. Flicka's Witness used to be an erratic jumper, as his owner confirmed. "He's been showjumping over poles to smarten him up. It took him four seasons to win, but he's now won three in a year." The Moylans also own useful Native Pride, currently sidelined, but due back in 2017 and credited their trainer for the victory – "She always gets her horses very fit." Plans may include Kimble next weekend – "He won at Easter after winning here last year and takes his racing well", said Denis. It was a third winner of the year for the promising Nick Meek, who also rides for Jamie Goss (who put him in for this ride). Pauline Harkin and Michael Kehoe. "My target is five winners so I'm just two off," admitted Nick. "But I'm just going with the flow and enjoying it."
Easiest winner of the day – in the fastest time – was the well-backed Arthur's Secret in the Dodson & Horrell Novice Riders Race. The six-year-old French hurdle winner made all the running under Abigail Banks and – despite some hesitant jumps – was unchallenged to score by 30 lengths from outsider Festival Bound. Buck Magic, ridden by Abigail's cousin John Smith-Maxwell, was third.
"I don't think he was ever in danger of falling. He's fairly safe," said trainer's son Tom Weston, representing father Martin, who was 'at home on the sofa!'Owner Christine Banks bought Arthur's Secret at Doncaster and plans may include Ladies Opens. "He looks like a fair animal," continued Tom. "He's win impressively both time and galloped them into the ground today." "That was exciting," enthused the winning jockey. "He's very keen and puts everything into the race." It was a seventh career winner for Abigail, two on Arthur's Secret and the other five on the consistent Hall Kelly, who "Will run next weekend. We've been waiting for firmer ground."