by Simon McInnes

Having not visited the course for a couple of years, I was surprised to find that I could see more than I remembered from previous visits. There was an explanation, but when it came through I was upwind of the PA system and given the extremely blustery weather, the audio enlightenment disintegrated into a series of disconnected burblings. The course now has a pronounced kidney shape as it goes around the dip that once was in the back straight. For time buffs it means adding a few yards to the trip, but the lack of an incline probably cancels that out. From the runners point of view, the fields mostly held up well as there had been some rain on what was genuine good to firm ground. Thus it was disappointing that the two opens cut up to a pair of runners each from seventeen and eighteen entries, given that conditions were probably exactly as expected in advance.

JSI Quality Food Service Restricted
The seven runners were held up from getting the meeting under way as Master Page played up at the start. He did just about jump off but his fencing was unconvincing and he seemed not to devote as much energy to the race as to the disruption. Chill Factor led early on but Dinsey Finnegan took over with a quick leap over the fourth, and with the exception of a handful of yards, held pole position for the rest of the race. After having won an Irish maiden last year, he had been a bit disappointing this term, and the return to form was achieved by a gutsy response to a forceful ride from Chris Gordon, rather than sparkling brilliance. However, that commitment may be enough at this level, in which some of the south-eastís more erratic equine characters are often found. Second place went to another winner from Ireland, River Bailiff. He had been third in two restricted races this season, and thus went off favourite, but could not stick his nose in front where it mattered, having briefly led after the third last. Gabaka De Thaix, whom I had previously accused of being utterly hopeless, even when second in a maiden at Charing, maintained his improvement this season to be third. With his win having come in a poor maiden, winning a restricted looks a very tall order.

Polebrook South East Hunts Club Members, for novice and veteran riders
The pilots had to be over 40 or having no more than 3 point wins or 1 under rules. Some participants possibly qualified under both categories. The winner, Paul Townsley only made it under the first clause, and was no doubt delighted to be reminded by the announcer, that he was fractionally older than the trophy that he won, which was created in 1948. The horse that carried him to victory, Ell Gee, was frustratingly one of those that arrived in the paddock after the signal to mount had been given (Graphic Designer was the other). The money seemed to be for Caddy Man, who was in the rear early on and could not close when asked to. He probably needs a more attacking ride as his weapons do not include a turn of foot. The solid jumping but fairly slow Cruise Free got positive handling early on but favourite High Learie took over the lead at the fourth, his rider having had an uncomfortably awkward moment landing after the second fence. He was unconvincing at the same obstacle a lap later but the race really unfolded in the back straight for the final time. Ell Gee went to the fore three out, but Caesarís Reign made rapid headway to ensure a triumvirate of leaders approaching the second last. It seemed Caesarís Reign had cracked as he clouted that fence, but to his credit he rallied to regain second, when Ell Gee had the race in the bag. High Learie kept third but slowed up quickly, just holding off the fast finishing What A Storm. The latter is a strongly built horse that showed a minor bit of hurdling ability in Ireland, and can do better in points as his rider gains experience.

Sterling Financial Print Ltd Confined
A funny old race this, in that it produced an expected result by unfolding in a most unexpected manner. Lively Lord was a surprisingly uneasy favourite and may even have been overtaken by Oxendale for that dubious accolade. Oxendale made the early running but by the fifteenth he was part of pack snapping at Lively Lordís heels. Chris Gordon was scrubbing away on the leader, who kept responding, and even started to ease clear. Oxendale usually starts to fade at about this stage, but he rallied purposefully and almost snatched the spoils, the official margin of defeat being a short-head. Back in third, Legal Storm weakened from the second last and held third from the staying on Tooth Pick. Half Moon Spinney stopped most dramatically, having been only a couple of lengths down at the fifteenth but pulled up well beaten just over a fence later.

Elizabeth Champion Memorial Ladies Open
Not much to write about for this. Hawaiian Youth tried to put the willies up Mr Miller by taking him on after the sixth, but the long odds-on favourite made a move at the eleventh and soon went clear, to provide Jenny Grant with one of her easiest winners. On the runner-up, Claire Anthony, having only her third ride, was shrewd enough to accept the inevitable and school round the last few furlongs for a guaranteed completion.

Testerís of Edenbridge Land Rover Menís Open
A golden opportunity presented itself for the nearly venerable Prime Course to add another open to his battle honours. The two horses lobbed round together until Prime Course eased clear in the last half-mile to complete a Chris Gordon treble. Despite this being his last season in the saddle, Paul Townsley did not shy away from the ride on Reign Dance (record this term FPP), and got him round for the second place money.

Grants Cherry Brandy Open Maiden
A bookies nightmare turned dream, as Mr Chataway produced a minor surprise. The first problem for the men with satchels came as Thunder-Lee was withdrawn not under orders, leaving a 20p rule 4 deduction to deal with. But favourite Star Glow ran a stinker to cheer them up and the well backed Gillís Gale failed to deliver for his supporters. Star Glow did reasonably for a while, but belted the thirteenth and fourteenth, dropping to last as a result. With the horseís jumping confidence seemingly gone, Philip York nursed him home in his own time, although many of the horses ahead weakened sufficiently that he was not far off finishing in the frame. Gillís Gale had been struggling to complete before today but he was always in contention here, only to find himself mugged by Mr Chataway. This unpredictable individual defied convention by travelling sweetly into the lead on the home turn and doggedly refused to down tools as Gillís Gale renewed the challenge. Jockey Hannah Grissell was clearly delighted afterwards, although amazement might have been present too. The winner will no doubt now join his equally nutty stablemate Jojo in restricted company, which should be a treat for regular racegoers to look forward to next season. Green Missile sort of ran his best race to date, being right in the vanguard until hitting the wall after the second last. He may be a non-stayer, so short tracks like Godstone would help. The fact that Intercity was able to double his career tally of completions and be fourth into the bargain does not present the form in fantastic light.

 Leicester Arms of Penshurst Crawley & Horsham Hunt Race
This was rescheduled from the abandoned Parham meeting, and ironically attracted three runners that usually contest at a higher level than Hunt races. Jamie Hawksfield was attempting to go out on a high in his last ride, but the normally safe jumping Wibbley Wobbley hit the deck at fence thirteen. Rush N Tear had been living up to his name in front and a mistake two fences after Wibbley Wobbleyís departure knocked all the stuffing out of him. This presented the race on a plate to White Smoke, on whom Russell Ross had been riding a quiet waiting race in third, then second, then first. A slow jump at the last caused a brief scare, but it was no big deal. Rush N Tear just about struggled home for second.

Not being able to make Aldington and being highly disinclined to return to Peper Harrow, next season is already eagerly anticipated, with a possible restricted line up of Jojo, Mr Chataway, Oxendale and Glenmont all desperately trying to hand the race to Viking Lily.