by Richard Hall

After the rich feast of Cheltenham came the ham and eggs of Higham, the first of Suffolk’s two fixtures this weekend. The ground was good, the sun broke through the clouds, and the icy wind that had sliced through the Festival crowd stayed at home (no doubt suffering from indigestion).

The programme seller, wearing the contented smile of one who was truly happy in her work, tipped us a good thing in the Hunt Members, the first event on the card. It was Castle Road, the horse that I had earmarked for the race when I saw it’s seasonal debut at Cottenham in early February. Spurned on by the inside information, and in spite of my tipping, the missus dug deep into her handbag and plucked out a tenner, compelling me to add it on to my bet.

All went to plan on the first circuit as Campbellhill, jumping faster than I’d ever seen him before, set a strong early pace. After a circuit only Balla D’Aire (whom I suspected wouldn’t truly stay the three miles) and Castle Road could go with him. Six from home Ami Stennett drew Neil King’s charge alongside the leader, with the “good thing” sitting patiently under Rachael Barrow four lengths behind. As Campellhill tired Balla D’Aire injected pace. Castle Road moved into second, covering the break. Four out and it was a two horse race, the even money didn’t seem quite so stingy. Three out and it was all over bar a fall. Balla D’Aire had extended his lead to ten lengths, and Castle Road was being niggled along to prevent the gap increasing still further. Although he did stay on again towards the end, the official distance was declared as fairly comfortable five lengths.

The missus declared that she’d pick her own loser in the next race, the Mens Open, and, after a thorough paddock inspection, opted for the Caroline Bailey trained Shanavogh. Unable to find a strong opinion, and still smarting after Castle Road’s defeat, I had a small bet on Neil King’s Pangeran who had cost me a few quid when unplaced in a two mile Hunter Chase at Leicester earlier in the month.

Richard Hunnisett sent Shanavogh into the lead after four fences. When the race got going in earnest halfway round the final circuit Pangeran seemed to be travelling well in second place, closely followed by Gay Galant who was making his seasonal debut and had attracted money in the ring from eight’s to four’s. Further back Andrew Sansome asked Joe Turner’s Corston Joker to close on the leaders. Three from home Shanavogh kicked on, Pangeran was momentarily caught flat-footed and Gay Galant went out like a light. As they jumped the last Shanavogh seemed to be tiring, but so too was Pangeran, allowing Corston Joker to run on to take second without ever threatening the winner. The missus, dog in tow, spurted on ahead to collect her winnings. I buried my head in the programme to concentrate on the next race. At least there’s always the next race.

I joined her at the paddock as they paraded for the Restricted. It seemed to me a toss up between the twelve year old Fair Ally, a decent second to Labula Bay at Higham and to Splash And Dash at Cottenham earlier in the season, and Hollyhock, an eight year old half sister to Horus. Unfortunately the bookies agreed, making them five to four joint favourites. The missus oohed and aahed at Fair Ally’s gait. She was also unimpressed by Hollyhock. I decided to follow her. Having spent most of her life around horses she obviously knew something about them. As we were leaving the betting ring, having taken the five to four, we noted a fair bit of activity for Round The Bend, trained and ridden by Miss Lucy Allan who also had Shirley Time in the race. I looked again at the formline - 1-fp-pp Maiden winner 2000, no form since – and dismissed it.

As expected, Fair Ally set a strong pace on the first circuit and, when Hollyhock fell at the eleventh after some indifferent jumping, we began to calculate our winnings. By the thirteenth Round The Bend, looking comfortable, had drawn alongside Fair Ally with the third, the woefully one paced Ar Aghaidh Abhaile already beginning to tail off a long way behind. From then on the race became a duel. The lead changed hands from fence to fence, with never more than a length separating the two. Fair Ally approached the last a fraction in front, but Round The Bend jumped it better. On the run in they both gave their all. Standing a good way from the winning post it was impossible to tell who had prevailed. Two minutes later the announcer declared Fair Ally the half-length winner. This time I marched with the missus and the dog to our bookie, who, for the first time since I have traded with him, declared that he was pleased to pay me out. If the “other one” had got it, he said, he would have lost seven hundred on the race!

There was a disappointing turn out for the Ladies Open with only four runners declared. As a betting medium it was the proverbial chocolate teapot, with Spring Gale marked up as the one to five favourite. Contenting ourselves with a couple of quid between us on Mill of the Rags, we bought two delicious bacon and egg rolls and watched the race from the roof of the car. To no-one’s great surprise Spring Gale won it, rather cosily ridden from off the pace, with Commasarris, who led the closely grouped quartet for the first circuit, running on again to take second.

In the fifth race, a Mares Only Club Members, we both fancied She’s A Corker, trained by Chrissie Elliot and ridden by David Dunsdon (the combination responsible for Labula Bay – the twenty five length victor of a Hunter Chase at Fakenham yesterday, and twice a Higham winner). We didn’t fancy her enough though to take the even money she opened up at. When her price hardened to odds on we both decided to look for value elsewhere. Mrs H opted for Mai Point, a previous course winner and runner up to Endeavour here in a hot race at the only meeting Higham saw last year (before the foot and mouth epidemic bought the season to a premature end). I went for the six year old Acute Angle who, according to the formline, was a game winner of a maiden at Godstone on Mar 3, and was improving.

Worthy Memories made the running for the first circuit but Mai Point, who had been jumping superbly, took up her customary pole position as they went out into the country for the final time. By then Acute Angle was struggling, Sunczech was going well in second and She’s A Corker was just beginning to be put into the race. Mai Point, travelling easily and with a four-length lead, unseated Mrs Feek just after the fourteenth. Dickie Barrett. on Sunczech took up the lead but She’s A Corker traveled ominously well in the slipstream. Two out and David Dunsdon pressed the button. All over. The mare took the last superbly and eased home on the bridle.

The twelve runner Maiden looked desperate as a getting out stakes. I lost the other half in the crowds at the paddock and was unable to receive the benefit of her advice. Only two had form; Out of Actons who I had noted at Horseheath, but ridden by his owner who was carrying eleven pounds overweight, and Sharp Madam, previously third in a Market Rasen maiden, who had been installed a ridiculously short two to one favourite. In the end I picked the stable, Joe Turner’s – Spring Gale had won for them and their only other runner, Corston Joker, had ran better than his bare form suggested he would. They were represented by Bruan, a six year old moderate ex novice hurdler who formline proclaimed had run prominently for 2m 4f in previous points, and was on offer at twelve to one. Mrs H, I later learnt, had picked Harkness Warrior. As we passed the Tote I placed a Dual Forecast bet on the Tote.

Despite losing twenty lengths at the start, Tartan Shot raced through the field to lead after the second, a position he maintained until fading badly at the thirteenth. As if deliberately contradicting formline, Braun did not race prominently this time. After a circuit and a half there were only two behind him! Out Of Acton, and the weighty Craig Jarvis, took the lead once Tartan Shot had decided he had no more to give. By then, however, Andrew Sansome had put Braun into the race and he followed the leader at a two length distance, with Andrews, showing his best point form under Sylvaine Salmon, in third with Harkness Warrior running on into fourth. As they entered the home straight the first two pulled away. After the second last Out of Acton still held a three-length lead and appeared to be going the better. Braun was obviously giving Andrew Sansome better signals than he was sending out to the crowd, however, and he looked round to see if there were any dangers behind. Seeing none he put his foot on the clutch and moved up a gear. By the last he had gone two lengths clear. At the winning post it was ten lengths. Out of Acton finished second, Andrews third, and Harkness Warrior fourth.

So there we are, a day at the races. Sometimes you get it badly wrong. Sometimes you follow people who are winning and get a slice of their luck, sometimes you change your mind and get egg on your face. Sometimes too you get it right when you least expect it. Ups and downs. Today finished on an up, and, as life is sometimes, when you get it right the good luck follows effortlessly. No one got the dual forecast. No one had the first and third either. The Tote paid out on Bruan and Harkness Warrior, first and fourth – my throwaway bet! An unexpected bonus. Time to buy a lottery ticket on the way home!