by Dom Bradshaw

Joe Docker, Gary Hanmer and Mark Rimell were the men in form at the Blankney fixture at Nottingham this weekend, each riding a double.

Joe Docker took the opening race, the Confined, on the favourite Gillone, winning comfortably from younger brother Nick on Devonshire with Daring Native (Patrick Millington) back in third.
The winner looked a little burly but simply outclassed his rivals here and should be scoring frequently throughout the season. The second ran with credit on his pointing debut and should be capable of scoring this season. Chasing winner Quiet Moments (Tim Lane) ran well before running out of gas. This was his first run since 1999 and he should strip a lot fitter next time.

Docker completed the double when Dalus Park trotted up in the Restricted. The 7-year-old son of Mandalus looked unlucky when exiting in a Brocklesby restricted last season, when still bang in contention but made no mistake at his second attempt in this company. He looks a progressive type and must be followed throughout the season. Second place went to the 11-year-old Beyond The Stars (Mark Rimell) who made most of the running before dropping out of contention. On his best form he is capable of taking a race of this kind, but I wouldn't want to be taking short odds about him. Frangipane (William Hill) looked booked for a place until exiting late on. If all is well, she should be able to take a Restricted. Its-On-The-Card was a mile back in third place but rider Rachel Atkinson was thrilled just to have got round.

The first leg of Gary Hamner's double was in Division One of the 5, 6 & 7-year-old Maiden on the unraced Change Agent, a strapping 6-year-old by Royal Fountain. Once Hamner took up the running before two out, there was only one horse in it and although tired in the closing stages, he came home well clear of Rosie Stroud (Julian Pritchard). This was a impressive debut by the Paul Jones trained horse and like former stablemate Moss Harvey, he looks like his future lies under rules. Remember that name!
Pritchard's mount was well clear of the third, Because I Can (Simon Walker), and should have a small Maiden in her.
Slingshot (Mark Rimell) was backed like a horse that couldn't get beaten. However, he was a major disappointment. He jumped violently right throughout and by the final circuit, he'd ran his race and dropped out tamely. He is obviously held in some regard at home and can be forgiven on this occasion as the going was sticky and seemed unsuitable for many of the runners. Keep an eye on him.

It's strange how this game can knock you back down to earth and this happened to Hamner in Division Two of the younger Maiden when his mount Oh Wise One dumped him at the first! There was drama at the second last with Johnny Tivio (Joe Docker) coming down when still in contention and Teenage Clover almost unseating John Pritchard. This left the race at the mercy of Primitive Satin (Fiona Needham) to win as he liked. Teenage Clover didn't get over the last at the first attempt (the rider seemed to have lost his irons after the mistake two out), but did on his second try, taking second place with Erin's Surprise (Patrick Millington) well back in third.
Teenage Clover and Johnny Tivio both made decent debuts here and could take a Maiden before too long, but the winner will have to improve again if he's going to be up to Restricted class.
The form of the race looks modest, as the time was a full twenty-six seconds slower than the first division.

The Nick Shutts owned Slip the Ring completed the double for Hamner in Division One of the older Maiden. In 2000, this 8-year-old son of Belmez went through the sales ring at Doncaster for 20,000gns, but had since been disappointing under rules. However, he appreciated the drop in class here, coming home four lengths clear of Mullensgrove (Joe Docker) with Light The Sky (Ed Andrewes) a further distance back in third. The winner should be good enough to take a Restricted. The runner up has showed ability in both of his points starts and reward may yet come.

Maquilleux (Mark Rimell) was a very impressive winner of the Division Two of the older Maiden, coming home a long looking distance clear of Flying Story (Richard Armson) and On The Bone (Lenny Hicks). The winner had only showed modest form when he last raced in 2000, but he was the only horse here that handled the testing conditions. On this run, a Restricted should be a certainty, but it will be interesting to see if he acts on faster going.
The placed horses never got in a blow here and although both are lightly raced, they will have to improve again if they are to score.
Upton Missile (Scott Joynes) chased the winner in second place for a long way until weakening badly and pulling up. This run indicates that she has some ability and if the partnership is maintained, she may be able to put up a better show on easier ground.

Earlier, Mark Rimell took the first leg of his double aboard Varykinov in the Mens Open. Although under pressure a long way from home, Varykinov kept finding a bit more, holding on gamely from Calleva Star (Rupert Abrahams) by four lengths with the fast finishing Weak Moment (Alistair Crow) a close third. The winner is now a 13-year-old and although he would appear to have lost a little of his ability, he's lost none of his enthusiasm and should score again as long as his sights aren't set too high. This was the best run from the runner up for a while. He seemed to relish the conditions and he could score if facing a similar testing track\going. Weak Moment was dropped out at the back by Alistair Crow and appeared to be tailed off at one stage. He stayed on better than any of the others and would have probably won if the race had it been a furlong further. Like the runner up, this one really needs a test of stamina and connections could do a lot worse than running him at one of the longer tracks such as Eaton Hall or Whittington.
The favourite, Noughttosixty (Rowan Cope), was a major disappointment, finding zero when asked to quicken and eventually pulling up. It'd appear that he hated the ground here and this run should be discounted.

Jill Dawson and Upham Lord took the Ladies Open for the second successive Sunday, quickening up nicely to win by four lengths from Polo Pony (Tracey Habgood) with Melnik (Miss K. Cookson) a further six lengths behind, just pipping Shallow River (Sarah Phizacklea) for third place.
The winner and the eventual third went off like scalded cats on the first circuit, but by the second circuit, Melnik was starting to feel the pace. At one stage it looked as though Shallow River would be the main danger, but he couldn't live with the winner once Jill Dawson quickened the pace.
Upham Lord looks to be one of the best ladies horses in the country at the moment and it will take a good one to stop him while he is in this sort of form.
Tracey Habgood gave Polo Pony a lovely patient ride and although never a danger to the winner, he lost nothing in defeat. He looks good enough to take a race of this kind.
Melnik looks to have maintained most of the ability that saw him previously win five ladies races and he should come on a bundle for the run. Like the runner up, he should be scoring soon.
Shallow River is a real staying type and I think that he got to the front too quickly (by no fault of the rider). He would appear to prefer being held up and can take a small race when these tactics are employed.

The final race of the day, the Hunt Members was a poor affair with Via De La Valle (Lucy Coney) beating his only other rival Ryders Wells (Fiona Needham) by a distance.

On a positive note, the organisers seemed to have learned from the problems encountered at last year's Grove & Rufford fixture, as the tents were better positioned, which allowed better viewing for spectators. They should also be commended for their "?5 a head" stance, which is great value for nine races, especially for those enthusiasts who attend by themselves.