by Richard Hall

Fakenham was the first course I ever went to. One Bank Holiday Monday, over thirty-five years ago, I cheered Black Diamond (carrying the brown and white checks of the Wales family?) to victory in the Selling Hurdle. Miraculously my sixpence stake transformed into two shillings and ninepence when my Dad presented the receipt at the Tote window. That new football I wanted was suddenly within my grasp and, from that moment, a lifelong punter was born.

Irrationally, a part of me was expecting time to have stood still and everything be as it was in those halcyon, boyhood days. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, aside from a lick of paint and an additional grandstand, it had. Yet this now seemed like Ascot compared to the other pointing fields in East Anglia. Clean toilets that you didn’t have to queue for, a grandstand that offered a complete view of the course, all amenities within easy walking distance, and, above all, an enthusiastic crowd that still cheered and clapped as if it too was part of the event. Mrs H said it took away some of point to point’s basic charm, not being one man and his dog at the last to watch the birch fly. However, after being nearly sliced in half by hailstones at a shelterless Marks Tey, after walking miles from the car to the parade ring to the bookies and then to the course at both Higham and Horseheath, and, after spending a whole season queuing for what seemed like hours wherever they have those dammed portaloos, I was ready for this!

The racing lived up to the surrounds and it was difficult to select a highlight – there was so much to choose from. On the grounds of pure emotion however, I must opt for the 5,6 & 7 y.o Maiden. Sydney Hobart (owned by the North Norfolk Group) and Paddys Dream set a strong pace. Three from home they had shaken off the eleven other challengers and were fifteen lengths clear of Parsonhumfreywebber in third. Two out Paddy’s Dream seemed to have Sydney Hobart’s measure and had established a length lead. Parsonhumfreywebber was only eight lengths adrift in third. By the time they reached the last, less than a quarter of a mile later, Emma Bell on Parsonhumfreywebber had found the gears of a Ferrari underneath her and had overtaken them both to fly into a ten-length lead. The hitherto luckless combination (who many thought had had their previous race stolen from them at Cottenham when adjudged to have been overtaken by Give Him A Chance on the line) only had to jump it to win. As the crowd held their breath they stumbled over it. On the run in their victory was greeted with spontaneous applause. Justice had been done.
A Fine Story
survived a mistake at the third last to run on to collar Paddys Dream for third, with the disappointing Sydney Hobart tiring badly to finish fourth.
The winner is still only a six year old and has been improving steadily throughout the season. Although he is never going to be up with the pace early on, he can now (with encouragement) keep the leaders within eyesight to be able to benefit from the electrifying burst of pace he can produce after about two and a half miles (maybe when he feels the stables are close at hand!). He still jumps like a novice and, when that can be cleared up, he may well develop into an exciting prospect next season. He is certainly a horse with character – a Scurlogue Champ of the equine world.

The Men’s Open ran a close second in the excitement stakes. As expected, the 5/4 favourite, Dry Highline (who yours truly had managed to back at 5/2!!), went off as if he had a train to catch – and this time he was jumping well. As they went out on the third and final circuit he had a twenty length lead over Andrew Ayers on the hard ridden Novatara (whom Mrs H had backed at 5/1) with Tom De Savoie (at 9/4) a distance back in third. Three out and Andrew Ayers’ urgings were beginning to have some affect; the gap had reduced to fifteen lengths. As Dry Highline approached the second last it was obvious to all that he was beginning to tire. The gap was now only five lengths. As they began to climb the final hill that would swing them into the home straight Novatara, cheered on by most of the crowd who had backed him down to 3/1, drew level. At the last he had not only passed his rival but had opened up a three length advantage. This seemed to inspire Dry Highline and, under gentle handling from Andrew Braithwaite, he found more. It was not enough. The run in was too short, and the post came too quick. A triumph for grit and determination.
A sad postscript was the death of Dynamic Lord, who broke a leg after jumping the open ditch on the second circuit and had to be put down.

Andrew Ayers had earlier steered Native Status to a commanding victory in the eighteen runner Confined. The tactics were very similar to those he employed when beating Village Copper at Higham earlier in the season, taking up the running three quarters of a mile from home and quickly putting distance between himself and the field. Lovelock, ridden this time by trainer Neil King, looked to be going well until pulling up lame. Bruan, chasing a treble, found little when asked to take up a closer position four from home and may have found the tight course not to his liking. Wise Advice, under an inspired ride from David Kemp, ran his best race for a long while to finish a clear second and confirm his appreciation of the good ground. Cormeen Lord who struggled to go with the early pace, sprouted wings to catch Sorcerer’s Drum (who had threatened to take a hand in the finish until a bad mistake two out) for third on the run in.

The Ladies Open saw the eagerly awaited meeting of two prolific, if sometimes facile, winners this season Upham Lord and Imperial Dawn. Amy Stennett, riding Caroline Bailey’s grey, set off at a blistering pace to deny Fiona Needham’s mount the opportunity to take up his familiar front running role. It was a tactic that could not be sustained however and, after two miles, Imperial Dawn had run out of steam. This left Zoe Turner on Celtic Duke (himself a winner of three Ladies Open’s this year) to provide the main opposition, but he was made to look one paced when Upham Lord kicked again between the last two for a convincing victory.

The Restricted saw a sustained gamble on Paul Keane’s Barton Saint (7/2 to 6/4). David Crosse looked to have ridden a well judged race, having held his mount up early as the field went a blistering pace, and was weaving into a challenging position before clouting the second last. Even then, though, it was debatable if he would have caught the Nigel Bloom ridden Silver Spider, hitherto a disappointment since his early season Maiden victory at Thorpe, who was full of running and five lengths superior at the time. Nowornever, another of the Kemp string to show improved form, was responsible for the strong early pace and ran on well again (after being passed by several six fences out) to chase Silver Spider home.

The Paul Keane stable made the long journey from Wiltshire worthwhile with their only other runner; Whatacharlie, in the day’s final race, the 8 yo+ Maiden. He defied the programme’s formline comment (Front running maiden, not without ability but rarely finishes, has run tubed) to sprint clear from his nine rivals to ensure the bookies, at least, went home richer for the day’s proceedings. Tell Monty was sent off the even money favourite and confirmed that he has lost what enthusiasm he did posses for the game by planting himself a long way from the pack at the rear of the field before eventually pulling up. Skirmishing ran well for a long way before going lame and Filou du Bois clearly resented being asked to lead on the final circuit, although did run on under strong driving to finish second.

The three runner Hunt Members was won by Chris Garmen on Rafter, who clearly appreciated the drop in class and cantered home a distance clear of the maiden Play Alone in second.

With only the rescheduled Essex Farmers at Mark’s Tey (which I am unable to attend) and the meeting at Northaw (which is simply too far to travel) left on the East Anglian circuit this year, this was (probably!) my last point to point for the season. Mrs H, I know is looking forward to the break. Quietly then I will whisper the sentiment - Roll on January 2003!