by Fred Sampson
(of Equestrian Cornwall -

After leaving Exeter and The Countryside Alliance demonstration yesterday (Friday) we set off at a very casual pace towards Badbury Rings.  Incidentally I thought the rally of supporters for the CA and its ideals, was well attended but I do think we need to be a little more demonstrative and if we hold vehicles up on the main highway – so be it!  If we are a general nuisance then surely that is what we are there for.  I don’t want to upset any organisation but I am sure we would have achieved more if we sat in the road (A3052) whilst the letter was delivered to the DEFRA offices.  We were not seen by many down the lane to the offices except the lady with an eye to business who supported the RNLI and provided drinks for the thirsty ones.

Ruth has an interest in Rings and things like Stonehenge, Castle an Dinas, Amesbury etc. so by arriving at Badbury Rings a day before the Portman Hunt P to P we were able to walk around (I just toddled on behind!) the area in excellent weather before going off to find B & B.  The farms that we tried were all full but a lovely little place in Colehill suited us and a good meal in The Lodges completed our day.

They have three entrance fees for cars at the Rings, £10, £15 and £20 which provide different views of the course and all were well occupied before the off of Race One at 2 pm.  I had watched a little of the friendly terrier racing which is always a great crowd puller and there was the ‘silent auction’, whisky draw, and several shops to pass the time for those, like us, who arrive early. 

I joined another gentleman for my walk of the course. Ruth is suffering a little with a bad knee so I don’t count on her as company these days.  Jade (grand-daughter) is back at school so she is out of it, so I appreciated the company of The Viscount Head who was Chairman of the Stewards this day.  We did a really good job on this inspection and it was obvious that a great deal of planning had gone into the variable pieces of the course and new ground had been found wherever possible.  Unfortunately it was not possible enough and the outcome was that going would be 'firm’ and ‘firm to rough in places’. 

By the time we were half way round the course which is set in an area of about 100 acres we caught up with some owners who had runners and had years of experience of this course.  I don’t think ‘mud’ has ever been seen here and it is a really good early season course.  We discussed the racing line, the open ditch and the varying height of the fences, and the method used by some of the female fraternity to accurately measure the height, which is no doubt very very accurate but could be a little painful if one tripped.  Thank you Mrs ‘A’ I am so much wiser now!

Four runners for The Hall & Woodhouse Ltd Confined Hunts Race with Mrs Woodhouse’s BEST BITTER now to be ridden by Nick Mitchell carried my investment and completed the first circuit viewing the race from the rear.  Miss Reed’s SUSIE’S MELODY (Guy Wetherly) from the Kate Buckett yard and Martin Atkinson on the family owned AVRIL SHOWERS vied for first place with Charlotte Tizzard on Mr Tizzard’s RADIO DAYS not taking much interest and will be pulled up as suspect blood vessel ‘leaking’ or just too firm a surface today!  On the uphill run to fence 14 it was SUSIE’S MELODY leading AVRIL SHOWERS and BEST BITTER by about one length.  When it was reported that SUSIES MELODY made a small mistake I managed as little ‘oh! Dear’ (followed very closely by an undercover smile) as it was my investment that was now going the better of the remaining three participants.  It happened – a disastrous blunder by BEST BITTER saw Nick Mitchell do everything but get off and the other two raced on towards the finish.  All credit to the jockey but when I mentioned it to the recipient of my investment he declared that no money was paid out on ‘hard luck’ stories so as SUSIE’S MELODY passed the post one and half lengths in front of AVRIL SHOWERS with my money carrier a 20 lengths third, I went back to the drawing board!

The C & O Tractors Ltd Portman Hunt Race followed and surely I could make a little this time!  Four to the post and again I will choose Nick Mitchell to pay for my overnight stay.  He obviously does not like falling off onto this surface so I will use that to my advantage!  The price I managed to obtain told me that some local knowledge must be available about Ali Tory’s WILLIEMAKEIT to be ridden by a young lady who is making her debut – one Lucy Fishenden, but I prefer to stick with Mrs Abbott’s IN FOR A POP; after all, Mrs Abbott and I are old friends now having met at the fourteenth fence earlier.  The other two runners, M Tory’s giant size TWELVE BORE (Charles Barlow) and Jayne Wilkinson riding her THOMA CROWN are available at a big price so I think I have everything in my favour.  On the way to fence six young Lucy was enjoying herself and Nick Mitchell was not giving me a lot of pleasure as he was tailing the field by about six lengths.  On reaching the fence where he nearly came off during the last race another mistake was made and I am now rather serious with a capital ‘S’ about my investment.  At the half way stage it was ‘Indian file’ with Lucy doing her bit up front and Nick Mitchell not doing my bit at the tale end. On approaching fence 15 I began to feel a little better and IN FOR A POP was now in second place and looking decidedly interested.  TWELVE BORE was pulled up here.  At the fourth from home Jane Wilkinson came over the fence and then took some time out to decide whether to come off or stay on – she eventually chose the former leaving my investment to trot home in front of the inexperienced Lucy on WILLIE MAKEIT.  On the run to the second last fence these two were matching strides but I was not so fussed, as I knew my jockey would soon be going for home and had the advantage of ‘the inside’.   Lucy did not see it like that and when my man started to race for home so did Lucy and her horse gave her a lovely jump at the last and that determined look on an attractive face took some of the pain away from me as she went for the line and won by four lengths from IN FOR A POP.  A winner on her very first P-to-P ride.  This girl is class!

What was previously a cheap B & B is now ‘The Ritz’ price and as the next race is a ‘walk – over’ with only P Awdry’s INDIAN MUSE (M Shears) being declared, but I did think it a bit cheeky when someone reminded the jockey “don’t forget to weigh-in”.

Only three runners in The Westover Land Rover Mixed Open Race and I will not be giving Nick Mitchell any more chances.  He is riding Susie Woodhouse’s best turned out BADGER BEER but Mrs Richardson’s LORD MAX to be ridden by James Richardson is the one for me; there is not a lot of form but I feel quietly confident.  I don’t think the Doggrell’s CAUNDLE STEPS is going to be a threat today as his age is now at the level where fast walking is a challenge leave alone a hike around this course at speed.  My horse set the pace and was soon four or five lengths to the good at the first open ditch.  At the tenth BADGER BEER decided to join my horse with CAUNDLE STEPS finding the pace a little too hot.  LORD MAX was out jumping BADGER BEER and gained ground at the fences.  Would you believe it! – at the fourth last LORD MAX decided to quit and fell!  I’m sure he was going to make it but one of the rules is that you must jump ALL the fences en route to the finishing line.  CAUNDLE STEPS has now inherited second place as BADGER BEER goes on to win by a distance.

I am worried now! – not one winner but I am about to change tactics.  The Restricted Race is void as no runners are declared so the organising body – I think it’s the Jockey Club, no! Not quite right, but nevertheless ‘The Committee’ have arranged ‘alternative’ racing.  We will now be racing terriers in the parade ring with the bookmakers running a book.  Surely I can win something here.  Not so – the terriers caught the ‘hare’ before a third of the course was completed.  When I rearranged my investment on the rerun – the little white thing with a short tale and a pink eye - came in last!  If this lot doesn’t appear in “What happened next!” then I shall be very surprised.

The final race was The Clarke and Partners 8 years & over Maiden Race with 7 going to post.  This should tax the under worked commentator!  (He is in fact - excellent!)  I have tried all other ‘form’ measures so now I am going to rely on BTO – ‘best turned out’ to fill my rather depleted wallet.  Miss T Lahy & Nice Approach Partnership’s NICE APPROACH to be ridden by Mr J Snowden will carry my investment.  This is good stuff, on reaching fence eight my horse is going well, jumping well and in front of all the others.  LAST GAMBLE is challenging occasionally but on their way out into the country for the final time it was NICE APPROACH going well about a length ahead of his nearest rival. Tabitha Cave pulled up Mrs Bailey’s SNOWBOY rather rapidly and I could not find out why but my mind really is concentrating on the event at the bottom of the course.   Back at the open ditch for the final time it was Ms M Burrough’s SPANISH JEST (J O’Rouke) who challenged the leader with LAST GAMBLE now having been pulled up.  At the fourth last fence it was my investment leading by three lengths from SPANISH JEST and a couple of lengths back, the Froud’s BRUE HOUND BOY. There was a little bit of worry at the second last but my jockey sat tight and went on to win in the fastest time of the day (not including terrier races!) by five lengths from SPANISH JEST and BRUE HOUND BOY was twenty lengths further back.  Why am I singing and whistling again – it’s all in the mind and the wallet!

Before closing I would like to thank The Portman for parading their hounds.  It is something I and a lot of others like to see; it is the close relation between hunts, hounds and point to points that we are fighting to maintain. So to see a good twelve and half couple paraded for the public is much appreciated and the gallop away was made even more rewarding when Mrs Susie Woodhouse spotted the huntsman taking them to the lorry in the distance.  Up went a ‘holloa’ like I have never heard before!  Up went another ‘holloa’ and another and another and yes you guessed it, back they came again to give us another show.  In the words of Captain M H Hayes ‘Riding and Hunting’ “No fox should be holloaed away by a hunt servant or amateur until he is through the second fence from the covert” In this big country Susie would have had no trouble in being heard several fences away.  Truly wonderful and Susie, the hairs on the backs of my arms have not gone to rest yet!  Well done The Portman. 

See you again soon.  Fred & Ruth