by Dom Bradshaw

For the first time this season, the sun was shining brightly and short sleeves and ice cream were the order of the day for many of the bumper crowd at the today’s Vale Of Lune meeting at Whittington.

The whole complexion of the members’ race changed at the final fence where Strong King (Kevin Pearson) took a crashing fall when looking dangerous, leaving the race at the mercy of Fenloe Rambler (Karen Cookson) who came home a distance clear of Tidaro Fairy, with Strong King remounting for third place.
The winner is a shade one paced these days, but does stay extra well.
Strong King is still a maiden but does most of his work at the end of his races and should be capable of scoring on a testing track.

There was a shock in the Confined with Icelandic Spring (Luke Morgan) denying fellow outsider Orton House (Stephen Kelly) by a length, with Vicosa (David Sherlock) and JR-Kay (David Thomas) in third and fourth.
This was the first sign of form that the winner has shown in a long time and if connections are able to keep him straight then he may have a chance under similar circumstances.
The runner up, a 15-year-old, obviously maintains some ability but has never been the trustworthiest sort and this run shouldn’t be taken too literally.
Vicosa ran as well as could be expected and JR-Kay, who looked big in the paddock, appeared to blow up. Both will come on for the race.
The favourite, Merry Christmas, a winner of two weak races at Eaton Hall this season, was disappointing, dropping quickly out of contention.

Lord Dorcet, a high quality two-mile chaser under rules a few seasons ago, readily took the Ladies Open under a well-judged ride from Pauline Robson. He looks a good ladies horse and it will be interesting to see if Pauline will take on Balisteros before long.
Running Mute (Val Jackson) never looked like getting to the winner, but stayed on nicely enough to suggest that this type of race isn’t beyond him.
Allow (Michelle Hugo), a good winner at Weston Park earlier in the season, was never in contention, finishing a disappointing third. I was surprised that his rider didn’t make more of him and he’ll do better under a more enterprising ride.

The odds-on favourite, Blank Cheque (David Coates), took the Mens Open, but didn’t have it all his own way, having to repel the aptly named Cumbrian Challenge (Dale Jewett) who chased him all the way to the line. The winner seems better when ridden handily, as he’s been on his last two runs and should continue to prove hard to beat in points.
The second, like Lord Dorcet, was a formerly a useful two-miler under rules and was given a terrific ride here by Dale Jewett, who gave the horse every chance to get the trip. On this run, he should have little problem getting the standard three miles trip in points and may be able to add to his staggering twenty-two wins under rules.
Concerto Collonges (Robert Hartley) was unable to live with the injection of pace by the first two on the final circuit and came home a long way back in third.

The Intermediate saw Silver Sirocco (Stephen Kelly) and Seven Four Seven (Keith Rosier) fighting out the finish, with the latter just getting the upper hand.
The winner, an 11-year-old, doesn’t have too many miles on the clock and if she can stay healthy, will continue to run well for her owner\rider.
The maiden Silver Sirocco was completing for the first time after pulling up on his five previous attempts. If he’s able to replicate this run, he should be more than capable of taking a maiden.
The one that caught the eye, but for all the wrong reasons was Scruton, who was given a rather uninspiring ride from a gentleman named Walter Puddifer. Looking unstable on more than one occasion (was up the horse’s neck at the second fence and actually did quite well to get back in the plate), Mr Puddifer never had the horse going or jumping well and it was more than interesting to see the horse come home full of running, albeit well after the main contenders. The horse has decent form prior to this race and is worth noting with an established rider aboard.

Brush And Go (Luke Morgan) was made favourite for the maiden, but weakened after the last, leaving the race at the mercy of the 11-year-old Greenfinch (Dale Jewett), who got the better of West Country raider Nick’s Way (Charlie White). The winner did well to score here (was given the dreaded MacKenzie & Selby “squiggle” a couple of season’s ago) and he’ll have to improve if he’s going to step up in class.
The runner up made up for the disappointment of the stable’s earlier runner, Bells Wood in the Mens Open, who lost Mr White at the second! He has more than a modicum of ability and may be able to score in this grade.
Brush And Go weakened tamely for the second successive race and appears to be crying out for a shorter track.
Active Venture (Pauline Robson) jumped sketchily and was beaten a long way from home. He shouldn’t be written off on what is only his second appearance on the track and should take a maiden.

This was my second visit to Whittington and I was impressed not only by the viewing and standard of racing, but also by the effort made by the hunt to lay on a number of trade stands, food stalls and entertainment for the kids (bouncy slide, etc). Well done to the Vale Of Lune!