by Simon McInnes

When someone has the common decency to build a course within walking distance of your abode, the only honourable thing to do is attend. After seven races and not one of the horses invested upon having even finished, a certain amount of nostalgia for distant and demised Rodmell was stirring. What is the point of having a cake and not being able to eat it? Or a jacket potato with chilli, for that matter. Andrew Hickman and Philip Hall (3 wins apiece) probably have built a more instant rapport with the venue. The new track is actually rather well designed for a venue that goes up and down a couple of hills and has an avenue of trees right through the middle. Five of the fences are on one side of the avenue, and standing on the raised ground near the first two obstacles enables a clear sight of all seven, plus a distant but unobstructed view of the finish. It does mean the field disappears into the dip on the far side. Unlike Penshurst, it is too far out to be critical and the mutterings of discontent about the viewing in some corners were harsh. Make the effort to explore! Normally the undulations of a course like this serve to break up the pace, but the quick times (6m 8s for the men’s open compared to 6m 27s for the slowest, a very weak mares’ race) on what looks a tough course imply the distance might be a little bit short of three miles.

Wilkins Family Hunt Race
Favourite Lively Lord made it no further than the first, which left a relatively straight forward task for Jack Hackett. His main rival, Esprit De Cotte, was lugging 13 stone 6 pounds around, and commentator David Rhys-Jones, who shrewdly anticipated that he would not be able to see the runners for a good chunk of each lap, had unearthed the space-filling fact that despite some fair efforts in big staying races, the horse had never won a race since leaving France. Statistic still valid. Jack Hackett had won his maiden in first time blinkers, but the preceding form was fairly ordinary. Will he deliver in Restricted class? “That would be an ecumenical matter!” Royal Dew managed second, looking a solid threat up until two out.

Peter Edwards Restricted Race
This was a fair quality event, with several contenders who have shown the ability to win at this level, and it looked to the naked eye as if a strong pace was set. Having been a bit excited in the paddock, Buckaholic was a big factor in carting them along so fast, and he was only undone finally by a mistake four out. He has not won since 1999, but is not done for yet. The East Anglians walked off with first prize, courtesy of Millennium Way, who is looking a handy new recruit. He was inclined to jump a bit to the right, resulting in a couple of close shaves with the inside wings of the fences, but ought to be capable of further successes. The improved Larkus Aurelius held on for second, from favourite Rainbow Ranch, who was not disgraced in defeat. After his fall last time, James Isaac unfortunately pulled up lame before the fourth.

Monument Derivatives Confined Hunts Race
Thirteen set out, and the idea that Godstone is a testing course was borne out as quite a few cried enough after the sharp ascent out of the dip for the second time. As exclusively predicted after his win at Charing, Physical Fun vowed that he won’t get fooled again, and in a defiantly ironic response to last time (who says horses do not have a sense of humour) trotted over the start line and pointedly refused to jump the first. Ballinure Boy, on the other hand, had a real going day, and is quite capable when on song. This was an easy and impressive win, but consistency is not his strength and he is due an off day. With handy Rules form and a third place in an Open, Tom Cobbler was disappointingly unable to mount a challenge, despite finishing second, ahead of Kenny Davis whose improved jumping seems to come with an inexplicable loss of cruising speed. After going pointing off of the back of a sequence of underachievements, Arfer Mole is hard to get carried away with for betting purposes. This time he had as good a chance as any when unseating at the open ditch – the fourteenth. He could sneak a place at a long price in this sort of race.

Highfields Farm Ladies Open Race
This was below par for an open, with Frazer Island meeting just one serious rival My Wee Man, who has not run since the 2000 season and looked as if the race would do him good. At the fifth last there were still plenty in contention, but when Alex Embiricos asked Frazer Island for an effort, he scooted clear without second thought. My Wee Man stayed on surprisingly well for second, and will be better next time. Burntwood Melody put up his best show for a while to be third, but the absence of any finishing speed means that unless he is more positively ridden, finding that little bit extra to actually win will be tricky. This could almost have been a veterans race, as three old timers took part. For William (16) had his usual sight-seeing amble round at the back, Parsons Way (15) led until unseating at the ninth, his most enthusiastic effort for a while, and Lucky Christopher (17) who stayed up in contention for a long way and then didn’t.

Calcutt Maclean Standen Mens Open Race
An apology. In previous reviews, readers may have got the impression that riding Brackenheath has a similar life expectancy to sky-diving without a parachute. It is now accepted that this was a horrible misrepresentation of a talented and athletic creature. There was the odd slowish jump today, but he was mostly a transformed horse and provided Philip Hall with his second success of the day. To be fair, Brackenheath has always had the engine, and he was finally able to show it. Belvento was beaten when tipping up at the second last, and may have been tired as he had been slow over the previous fence. He seemed a little short of peak fitness before the race, but as the rest of Nick Gifford’s team have been spot on, Belvento may just be naturally a touch portly. Another casualty that was vanquished at the time was Lottie The Lotus. The third last was her undoing, but Jimmy Tarry had given her an awful lot to do, and a place was the best she could have managed. After jumping off in front and then drifting to the rear Dom Samourai, found himself left in third, and Prime Course’s running out of steam late on left the enigmatic and inscrutable grey in an unexpected second.

Marsh Private Clients/TBA PPORA Club Members Race for Mares
With a course record in every race so far, the leaders in this set off at a frantic pace to maintain the sequence. At the fifth, Lady Dot was fifteen clear of Acuteangle with twenty more to the rest. Lady Dot ground to a halt after two miles, but Acuteangle kept going for the Hall treble. Coming off the back of a thrashing in a duff race at Charing, much kudos to anyone who saw this one coming. Alrite Pet got in contention three out and was travelling better, only to spoil her chance by losing jumping fluency late on. The talking point of the race was favourite Fawsley Manor. Her fitness after a year off was a key issue for betting consideration, but she only arrived in the paddock after the mount up signal had been given, despite repeated calls from the stewards. After a cursory stroll round, she was off to the start, which involved far more energy than she expended in a gentle two mile meander before pulling up. It was a long way to come and not be off a yard, but alternative explanations are less than obvious.

Powell & Partner Open Maiden, Div I
The pace for this division seemed the stronger of the two. It was a win for Nubro, bouncing back from his earlier ignominy of pulling up twice in two days. Whatever was the problem then must have gone, as this was totally unaided by misfortune to his rivals. Call The Tune was second and must have improved as Goforitkate in third seems a good yardstick in maidens. With some fair Rules form in Ireland, Assegai was a promising arrival in points but his chances were spoiled by jumping very big. He needs a bit of work but ought to be capable of better eventually.

Troy Open Maiden, Div II
Andrew Hickman won his second maiden of the day for the second hat-trick of the day. Sound Gossin was probably the form choice, and after being niggled along at the thirteenth, he asserted himself thoroughly over the last four, winning with plenty in hand. A tough fight for the places to see Stick Or Bust, subject of some steady market support to take favouritism from the winner, just edge Tonrin and Barbed Broach. The manner in which Tonrin lost second backed up views that he does not really stay three miles.

So after just three meetings, I have already seen a bargain 25 races, although the south-east now has something of a lull in the Sunday racing until late April.