by Simon McInnes

There is nothing like the area season opening in familiar circumstances, but there was something wrong here. The course layout had not changed, but normally at Charing the weather conditions are wet and/or windy and/or cold (delete a maximum of one). Somehow today it managed to be mild, dry-ish and only slightly breezy when racing began. Fortunately the weather gods rectified this by the time the maiden races began! As we eventually had nine races, there was actually enough time for an El Nino effect to build up and receded during the meeting. If the times for the later races look slow compared to the earlier events, the deteriorating ground provides a valid excuse.

Goring Hotel Members Race
With eight runners, the Members race attracted a bigger field than normal, and it held up in terms of quality. Stuart Robinson, on Shoveontommy, tried to bamboozle the opposition tactically. He went clear at the sixth, let the pack close up again by the seventh, only to sprint away again at the fourteenth. The approach seemed likely to work, until Shoveontommy ran quickly out of steam at the second last. The partnership finished third, having been overhauled around the final fence by Viking Lily and Three Of Clubs. The former won, living up to promising Irish form from 1999.

American Leisure Restricted, Div I
Having his first run since novice hurdling back in 1997, Going Primitive set the pace until unseating at the tenth. This left the horses with proven ability in the driving seat, along with Paddy Clyde. Having only won a maiden when nothing else finished, Paddy Clyde laid up surprisingly well until dropping back after the third last. A fair old battle then developed for the prize. With three runs already this season, Lovelock was definitely not wanting for fitness and outstayed Glenmont. Paddy Clyde lost third spot to the unpredictable Chill Factor, who finished like a train from a position coming down the hill fairly describable as 'hopelessly tailed off,' A mystery (not one to rewrite the history of western civilisation) surrounds the disappointment of the race, Dramatic Approach, who looked today as if there was something left to work on, fitness-wise, and a bounce back should not be ruled out. I was sure he had weakened quickly and pulled up after the sixteenth. The commentary belatedly identified him as unseating at the fifteenth, as did the Racing Post results. So what horse, in colours that could be mistaken for light blue with white striped sleeves ran well for two circuits? Probably Mountain Tae, who sports pale blue with yellow striped sleeves, but apparently jumped seventeen and eighteen. He also will be better for the race.

American Leisure Restricted, Div II
This division seemed to have less strength in depth, and the lead was held for a long way by Lady Dot, whose form is modest, to say the least. She may have run a bit above par as up until the last four, her dodgy jumping did not come to the fore. The two most promising horses were in control once heading the long-time leader. Glory Trail would have won a Restricted last year but for an unfortunate upheaval at the last, but he found the path to success much more smooth this time. Second place went to Rainbow Ranch, who was waited with down the field, only to find Glory Trail had a little too much in reserve to be worn down when a serious late challenge was mounted. Although the margin was tight at the post, the winner was much less vigorously ridden of the two horses, and Philip Hall either judged it magnificently or came uncomfortably close to a nasty egg-on-face experience.

South East Hunts Club Members
There were one or two decent horses lurking in the big field, and eighteen runners did generate some congestion early in the race, until the field sorted itself out. Perennial entertainer supreme Jojo led them along, but he got fed up with that idea after a couple of miles and dropped away. Belvento, under David Dunsdon, was a more impressive winner than the margin of 2 lengths implies, as he did not seem 100% tuned up for this. Despite having only won at modest level, he is ready for a step up in class. A gallant second was Dixon Varner, who has won a hatful of races in Ireland, and was decidedly more off than on his UK debut. Whispering Pines kept on for third, but he was slightly fortunate as Cormeen Lord almost unseated at the fifteenth, only to fight back quite well. Sadly for connections, he only does well in odd numbered years. Further back, Kenny Davis jumped better than he was doing last season, until staying on to be a never nearer fifth. At the age of nine, he was the up and coming whippersnapper of the field.

Classic Security (UK) Ltd Ladies Open
Not for the first time today, favouritism fell to a horse that did not look race fit, and Storm Castle ran accordingly, never threatening to add to his tally. Main market rival Starpath was given an attacking ride by Emily Jones, but he hit the wall at the second last, and long time leader Caldamus saw Frazer Island come through and challenge. Alex Embiricos, not at all threatened by packs of ravenous tourist-spoilt dingoes, prevailed on Frazer Island, who had been a useful chaser for Richard Rowe, only to have his handicap career ruined by an over-estimated defeat of Boardroom Shuffle. He could win more races, although at 13, time is not on his side. Caldamus lost many lengths by jumping right, but can win an open at a more suitable course.

NFU Mutual Mens Open
The marvellous Real Value, who won with an awful lot in hand, predictably dominated the race, preventing the rest of the field from landing a blow. Consolation for the opposition is that they will not often bump into a Foxhunters' runner-up, and they lived to fight another day. Satcotino did quite well, being certain of a place when he flung Philip York out of the saddle with a howler three out. As second place was eventually lost by doubtful stayer Hawaiian Youth, there would have been every chance of runner-up respectability had he completed. Gamay had a going day to fill that position, but cannot be relied upon to bother on any given occasion. There was a chance that the change of scenery might refresh moody chaser Dom Samourai, but he just had a school round at the back, and the jury did not return a verdict.

Spa Hotel Open Maiden, Div I
Lordston provided a third Nick Gifford winner, and the second for David Dunsdon. The horse had tried bumpers and hurdles without much encouragement, but he is only just turned six and a slog in the mud brought out the best in him. For the time being, he might rely on it raining to sustain the progress. The runner-up was Larkus Aurelius, who has shown similar promise in the past and not delivered upon it. Some of the more obvious challengers were disappointing, especially Nubro, who pulled up for the second day in a row, and has lost his way a little. Native Spin paid no compliments to the form of his debut third place by always being out of contention.

Spa Hotel Open Maiden, Div II
The market behaved oddly for this race, as the clearly race fit Lively Lord drifted, despite not really having any rivals with form to threaten his placed efforts under Rules in Ireland. He had one or two awkward jumping moments, especially with the open ditch, but there was little danger of a fall, and only slightly more threat from the other horses. Stick Or Bust at least showed improvement to be second, and at the tenderish age of seven, could be capable of maintaining the progress. The only other finishers were Sound Gossin, who has hinted at competence in the past, and Bavard Push, whose talents have been less conspicuous. In the racecard lurked the most fantastically optimistic comment of the day, relating to Mr Baloo. "Yet to complete, and has refused twice in the past, but could improve."

Coakham Bloodhounds Open Maiden, Div III
The Chris Gordon/Jenny Grant/Simon Tindall riding/training/owning open maiden double was completed by Sheriff's Friend, returning to points after a modestly promising stint hurdling. He saw out the three miles better than looked to be the case in the 2000 season. Trinity Buoy was marginally better than the winner in hurdling defeats, but just lobbed around at the back until unseating at the seventeenth. The minor places fell to temperamental Moon Rising and more promising The Winkster, who has run up to a similar level in the past. Another exile from Rules to compete here was Mr Splodge. He had hurdling form that suggested he ought to be a suitable recruit for pointing, but at the third fence he cocked his jaw and ran out. An alarming start and Mr Splodge now has to prove himself vaguely interested. Final mystery of the day - how did the rider of never in contention Le Sorcier manage to keep his silks spotlessly clean having done a whole lap in the grime?

And then we all went home, wetter, muddier and more contented, except those that gave up earlier and were drier.