by Richard Hall

One week on from the wind of a million Arctic razors that greeted the circus at Marks Tey, bright sunshine filled the swelled ensemble with renewed optimism as they parked their chariots and surveyed the picturesque Horseheath course before the start of the first race. Henry and Fiona met Rupert, Lucinda, and the rest of the gang for champagne and pate served from the boot of their BMW, unable to decide whether Hunterís or Nike were the order of the day. Mr and Mrs Rural walked the dogs energetically around the undulating mile and three-quarter circuit whilst the kids played contentedly on the fairground attractions. Singles and couples sat in their cars studying racecards and drinking flasks of coffee with the windows wound down. Spring was well and truly on itís way.

Appropriately the proceedings began with a twelve strong Open Maiden for five, six and seven year olds. Andrew Braithwaite, recently named as East Angliaís jockey of the month and enjoying his first season as stable jockey to the Sporborg yard, led them home on the stableís Joshís Choice. He was closely followed by Rowan Cope on Caroline Baileyís Heís A Lad, the pair having pulled clear of the field as they climbed the hill to the final three fences. These two had a few races under their belts and neither would have won out of turn. The race, however, did throw up some unexposed novices who could soon be paying their way. Penlet Too particularly caught my eye. At least seventeen hands high, he stood out in the paddock and raced comfortably with the leaders for a long way before tiring half a mile from home and was then allowed to come back in his own time. Neil Kingís Bit of A Chick was also prominent to a similar distance and was nibbled at in the market from 33/1 to 16ís. She eventually finished fourth, just behind Marbank Lad who showed vast improvement from his two pís formline to stay on resolutely to claim third.

The winning team completed a double in the ultra competitive, eighteen runner, Restricted when their six year old Alphabatim gelding, Alpha Man, got the better of Joe Turnerís Pampered Gale in a thrilling finish. Despite only prevailing by a head Alpha Man was not given a hard race and I felt Andrew Braithwate had left some ammunition in the locker. The runner up ran his usual brave race, taking the lead and stretching the pace early on the second circuit. He shook off challengers one by one until only the Sporborg horse remained as the danger. They jumped the last together but, despite having the heart of an ox, he did not have the change of gear to match his younger rival. Rip Kirby, George Cooperís Irish maiden winner, was given a tender ride and ran on well to take third, five lengths adrift of the first two.

The form of this race will probably stand up well. There were many useful and well thought of horses behind. These included Leading Case (an impressive Charing winner who was also entered for the Menís Open), Mr Cooney (from the Bailey yard and a winner of a Brocklesby Maiden two weeks earlier), Marmalade Mountain (a Higham maiden winner who could not go the early pace but was noted running on in the closing stages) and Uncle Buck. (a winner at the previous meeting). I would not be at all surprised to see Alpha Man make a name for himself in Hunter Chases later in the year. This would provide some compensation for his stable, whoís more established stars Secret Streams, The Red Boy, and Rupertís Choice, have all had to be given the season off to recover from various ailments.

The Turner stable seem to have trained more seconds than I have backed this season and they (and I) had to settle for that berth again with Spring Gale in the Ladies Open.

The race was one of the most remarkable I have seen with Garolo, the 6/4 favourite, being left a full twenty lengths at the start. Susie Samworth, riding her own horse, did not panic, however, and gradually closed the deficit to sit at the back of the closely packed field by halfway. As the field strung out when Spring Gale injected pace Susie improved her position, always keeping within two lengths of Zoe Turner. At the last she drew upsides and pressed the button. Garolo responded immediately and pulled away on the run in to win impressively in the dayís fastest time of six minutes forty-one seconds. This, undoubtedly, is another horse that will win again.

A similar start occurred earlier in the day, only this time it was not accidental. Caroline Eagle deliberately put her well-backed mount, Senso, twenty lengths adrift of the field as they set off for the Intermediate. She was, no doubt, hoping that she could recover the ground in as spectacular fashion as she had done last week at Marks Tey when she picked off all bar the winner in the final half-mile. This time, however, she got no further than the first downhill fence before she unseated for the third time in four outings. The race went to Contingency, a Bailey winner at the course last year, who survived a bad mistake early on the second circuit to assert three from home and establish an unassailable lead. Rachael Barrow rode a fine race on Castle Road to finish second. Always prominent, she could not go the pace of the winner when Rowan Cope kicked for home but her horse, a seven year old winner of two Irish points in 2000, will have improved for the run (his first completion this season). Tohunga, ridden by Andrew Sansome, looked to be going ominously well for a long way but found little off the bridle coming up the final hill.

The Menís Open saw a return to form of another course winner last year, Fair Exchange. He led from pillar to post under his regular pilot, Paul Tiano. The favourite, Ebullient Equiname was the only one of the six strong field to ever get in a serious challenge but, when Stuart Morris put him upsides at the second last, Fair Exchange found more and pulled away again.

These tactics were repeated in the final race of the day, the Confined, with David Kemp on Tea Box taking the Fair Exchange role. Once again there was only one serious challenger, Corston Joker trained by Joe Turner (who else?), but when the gauntlet was thrown down in the home straight the leader, once again, was able to quicken up to win as he liked. The disappointment of the race was Village Copper. He was backed down to 5/4 joint favourite and was always within a couple of lengths of his market rival until tiring badly a mile from home. The one paced Tartooth who passed him on the run in eventually deprived him of a remote third spot.

Having (again) backed the second I kicked myself for not doing the forecast as the dividend of £116 for a £1 stake was announced. Some compensation was found, however, in following a Land Rover through a little known exit point at the far end of the course. This allowed me to join the main road at least half an hour earlier than I would have done had I joined the long queue trying to get out the way I had come in!