by Brian & Gill Armstrong

Sixty-six horses contested the seven races at the Royal Artillery meeting at rain-swept Larkhill on Saturday. Highlights were doubles for Richard Barber and for Polly Gundry, and successful race riding debuts for Gunner Ryan Haigh and Nick Williams.

The opening King's Troop RHA Members race went to Captain Neil Cross' Capriole and Gunner Ryan Haigh, a 20-year-old from Huddersfield having his first ride in a point-to-point. Capriole, third in the race last year, took the lead after the second last and was left clear when Herzagova, who had been prominent throughout, unseated her rider at the last.

There was a close finish to the Hunt Members' race when Alltime Dancer got up close home to beat Otago Heights by ½ length with long-time leader Gerry's Pride in third. Alltime Dancer was a second career riding success for Major Charlie Lambert whose wife, Moddi, trains the horse at their Orcheston home just a few miles from the Larkhill course.

There was another close finish when John Manners' homebred Hi Rudolf and Alex Charles-Jones just got the better of Mrs Be and Polly Gundry to take Division 1 of the Open Maiden. Hi Rudolf, who was a first winner for his sire Ballet Royal, was following in the footsteps of his dam Hi Darlin who won a hurdle race, a steeplechase and two point-to-points.

Barber initiated his double when Maybe The Business took Division 2 of the Open Maiden under Polly Gundry. Maybe The Business was not fluent in the early stages, but improved as the race went on, running out a comfortable 8-length winner from Duke Of Buckingham, with Thomas The Doubter in third. Thurloxton owner Richard Williams, whose familiar scarlet and gold colours were carried by See More Business in point-to-points back in 1995, bought Maybe The Business, a half-brother to Jillywig, at the May 2000 Doncaster sales.

Polly Gundry quickly completed her double when Fair Wind stayed on strongly to catch Ciara's Prince near the line, with favourite Miss O'Grady in third. Fair Wind has now won five races for delighted Sixpenny Handley owner Rachel Bartlett - Rachel David prior to her September marriage to farmer Hugh Bartlett - since being bought unraced from Wally Sturt, and could now be aimed at the Cheltenham Foxhunters.

Welsh Silk and Nick Mitchell looked to have the Confined in safe keeping but fell at the last, leaving Lucky Tanner and Gill Young to win from Penny's Prince and Spring Marathon. Lucky Tanner is trained by Gill's sister, Jenny, at Calne and was a first ever runner for owner Mark Johannsen.

Barber completed his double when Elaine Hutchinson's Rimpton Boy took the closing Intermediate in a close finish with Finnigan's Lot and Strong Tea. Rimpton Boy was a first-ever ride for 16-year-old Nick Williams from Bridgend. Nick's brother, Christian, was National Novice Champion rider in 1999, but Nick could be said to have made the better start - Christian pulled up on his first mount at the 1999 Vale of Clettwr before winning on his second ride Touch 'N' Pass just 90 minutes later.

The next Wessex Area meeting is the United Services at Larkhill on Saturday 9 February. First race 12.00 noon.