by John Bulman

Glorious sunshine greeted the early risers who made it to Alnwick for the start of the Northern Area season. The ground was Good to Soft and as usual was a solid test of fitness. Despite a relatively small entry, declarations were good with competitive racing throughout the day. 

A seven race card (maiden split on the day) kicked off at 12.00pm with Dere Street and Rose Davidson justifying favouritism when taking the Members/Subscribers race from Jimmy Walton and Be A Better Boy. Timberley ran well to claim third under Tom Oates and all three should be competitive during the season. Cath Walton was having her first ride in public on Coquet Gold (she also rode Marteeny later on) and she did nothing wrong and will have learned a lot from her experiences. The Walton horses generally improve as the season goes on so they will have been pleased with how their horses ran today. 

The restricted race provided a thrilling finish with Crevamoy (Andrew Richardson) just getting up in the final strides after running on from way off the pace. Alittlebitopower had been the seemingly reluctant front runner and the steady pace will not have helped his chances as he was collared coming to the last. He fenced fluently and compensation must await him in a stronger run race where he can be made less use of. He looked to have finished third but was awarded a dead heat for second with Wilfie Wild who had always been prominent and stayed on well.

The Ladies open saw Balisteros made favourite to win this race for the fourth successive year. There obviously wasn’t a lot of confidence in him however as his price drifted out to 2/1 at the off. As it happened, Harden Glen made most of the running under J Riding and gave her another great ride. She was beaten into second place however by Light The River and Claire Metcalfe. Light The River had solid form from last season and Although tiring after the last, was a fairly comfortable winner. Balisteros seemed to get slightly outpaced between 4 out but stayed on solidly to be a close third. He will surely win races again this year but may have lost a yard of pace (I say this every year and am usually proved wrong!)

The Mens Open saw 15 runners go to post and all of the leading fancies were in the line up. Some will go home tonight with plenty to think about and a few damaged reputations to repair. Extra Jack (Charlie Shirley Bevan) and Missy Moscow (Richard Tate) cut out the early running at a furious pacewiht many outpaced early on and the field well strung out. Missy Moscow faded disappointingly from half way and she started to drop back through the field. Extra Jack led them a merry dance until he started to falter as they came up the testing hill turning for home the last time. At this point Geordies Express (Kevin Anderson) came to throw down a challenge. Extra Jack faded (Pulled Up) as did Star Of Raven (promising run) and Parade Racer, leaving Geordies Express to come home clear of Just Barney Boy who had stayed on from miles off the pace and must be aimed at the extended distance races. The pace was furious and many never got into the race. Extra Jack would be a good bet in a 2 ½ mile hunter chase and might not be out of place in the Aintree foxhunters.

The Confined race saw a comfortable win for Dream Of My Life and Ranald Morgan. They stayed on well from 3 out and comfortably won from Superior Weapon (good run after a long absence) and Raging Torrent. Count Keni was very warm in the paddock and was soon beaten. He looked capable of better last season. Boulta was disappointing as he has gone well fresh in the past but was prominent for a long way before fading and pulling up.

The concluding maidens were split and with all respect I doubt we have seen anything in the same class as last seasons winners – the ill fated Alpacca and the now Nicky Henderson trained Royal Corrouge.

The First division was won by the favourite, Hallrule who was losing his maiden tag at the age of 10 after being lightly raced over fences and hurdles. Hallrule (well supported in the market) is owned By Raymond Anderson Green, trained by David Parker and ridden by Pauline Robson. He won well enough here and could progress as the season goes on. But with his connections, he will not be much of a betting proposition. Miss Mattie Ross ran a nice race in second and may soon go one better while Scowlin Brig was running well when coming down two out. I was only aware of two finishers.

The Second division was one by Native Alibi for the Shirley Bevan yard under son Charlie. Native Alibi was always prominent and had just about got the measure of Switchback (Niall Saville) when Switchback came down at the last. He lay for a few minutes but happily got to his feet and walked away. More experience and an easier track should see Switchback in the winners enclosure. Little John stayed on well from the top of the hill to claim second with Miss Royello overcoming a long absence to take third. These were the only three to finish.

The maidens took their toll on the horses and only 5 finished from a total of 26 runners. Many may have needed the run but perhaps the West Percy should think of putting on a 2 ½ mile maiden race to avoid as many tired falls and pulled up’s.

It was, all in all, a very enjoyable days racing with good competitive fields. The bookies were a little mean and ran for cover at the first sign of any money for a horse but you can’t blame them for being cautious with many newcomers and fitness having to be taken on trust.

The next point in the Northern area is next Sunday 1st February, The Jedforest at Friars Haugh, Kelso, first race is 12 noon.