by Tanya Simons

There was a sense of renewal, apt for a New Year, as a record crowd attended the Army meeting at Larkhill on Saturday, the packed viewing areas around the paddock signalling that, at last, fun is back on the West Country rural agenda.

With a palpable sense of relief people greeted each other once again as if they had just come back from the war. But the only visible remnant of foot and mouth was the price for the racecard, at £2.50, dearer than Ascot, of which apparently 50p was set aside to "offset the cost of foot and mouth precautions".

These proved to be as fog obscured as the far end of the course for the first race, but the Lord moves in mysterious ways and the commentator, after an eerie silence, felt able to fill in what might have been happening in the Army race, by prefacing his comments with
the phrase "One would imagine...".

As it was, the horses emerged from the murk and it was a reprise of last year, same jockey if a different rank, same horse, and a sense of deja vu (all over again) as the now promoted Colonel Oliver Ellwood took twelve lengths out of the opposition to hack up on Ciara's Prince for Richard Barber, ahead of Archies Oats and Alltime Dancer who fought it out for second, Archies taking the duel by a neck (6 minutes 11 seconds).

As the cup was presented, the fog cleared never to return and the course was fully revealed, perfect ground as usual. Indeed with the same old faces and Ollie picking up the cup one could forget we'd ever been away. As the first ice cubes hit the bottom of the glass, Mine's a Gin, an attractive grey, was winning for Emily Jones in the Ladies Open from Caldamus and Spread the Word, (short head, head) in the fastest time of the day (6m 05s). Garolo fans should not despair as the horse was miles away for a good part of the race, but Susie Samworth managed to finally get him travelling to get fourth.

But days like this are about stars of the past and stars of the future and the Open was a classic of the genre. This was Horus's race last year, and many people present at that event felt they had seen a future Foxhunter winner, but David Pipe's charge had taken an injury and was out for the rest of the stilted season. Musings from Nicolashayne on his prospects this year have been more hopeful than confident and there was a murmur around the paddock when "lucky" number 13 went up on the number board next to the name of Ashley Farrant.

With Gunner Welburn, Prince Sandrovitch, Supremism and Miss O'Grady also in the hunt, plus some other good winners and horses with decent "rules" form, there was an expectation of some questions being answered regarding future dates at Cheltenham and Aintree. Horus was an odds on shot at 4-7 so understandably there was money for Gunner Welburn as punters took the 7-2 and threes became more commonplace.

In the event all the "two pounds to win" on Horus paid and the shrapnel was duly collected, as the young gelding won by 5 lengths from the attractive mare, Miss O'Grady, she ten lengths clear of Supremism (6m 06s).

So how good is he? The time was not particularly impressive but he won as he wanted and jumped well. He is a much more mature horse than
last year and has filled out as one would want with a promising 7 year old. He was well produced and fit as a flea, as one would expect
from this handler. The question has to be as to how he comes out of the race. I felt last year he was a warm Christies Foxhunters' contender. Circumstances meant that was not to be, but one year on, yesterday's performance suggested that such aspirations were postponed rather than cancelled.

Horus's owner, Brian Kilpatrick, is familiar with smarter paddocks than Larkhill as owner of Sabin du Loir, Aquilifer and Tarxien, but plans announced prior to Christmas suggest that the Larkhill Committee are set to move the course forward from scenes more familiar with a Munnings painting from the 1950s by building a new pavilion.

The Queens Building will replace all but one of the existing buildings on the site and is a two-storey construction containing jockeys changing rooms, lavatories, a medical room and an office.

So far so good.

The second floor will become an extensive hospitality area, available for the organising committee and the sponsors of each meeting and their guests and a further room for the use of the Woodhousian named Oshkosh Truck Corporation of America who are sponsoring the project. Oshkosh apparently has just secured a major contract with the MoD to supply heavy lift vehicles to the MoD and their vehicles will soon be seen throughout the British Army fleet, which considering the current owners of the site, may have some bearing.

We are told that "subsequent developments at the racecourse" will include greatly improved facilities for the general public including new lavatory blocks, a case of the cart before the horse, if ever there was one.

Another defence company acting out of the goodness of its heart, Integris, sponsored the maiden races, the Division One of which was won by justifiable favourite, Richard Barber's Working Lunch, which sounds less like a horse and more like an assignation involving a great deal of beer and a ploughman's. Sent off evens (with some odds against in places) this was actually a far from accomplished jumping performance in a scrappy race. Left alone in front he made several mistakes, and one can only hope he might be better with something upsides him. The time nonetheless was a respectable 6m 12s, and Greg Richards would have needed binoculars to see second, Sir Cumferance (distance), third North Sprite (distance) and fourth, Mr. Cooney who were all flattered to be down as placed horses.

The second division was won creditably by Caroline Bailey's appropriately named Find Me Another, who with no known form won by 20L from Thomas the Doubter, from the Hughes stable one of the few Welsh entries, with Ramnuggur, another Caroline Bailey runner six lengths further back.

Two lively restricted races completed the programme, Polar Rambler beating Niloufer and Native Spin, with Jobsagoodun fourth (5l, 10l) in the sixth, and Benova Boy having one of his good days, winning the last from Ard Na Carrig and Wild Native with Happy Team in fourth.