by Richard Hall

Seven races involving forty three runners, bright sunshine, genuinely good to firm ground, a bevy of close finishes, and only two odds on favourites. This was the menu greeting racegoers at the Aldenham Harriers Point to Point at Cottenham – a far cry from the four “race” debacle at Horseheath just a fortnight earlier! Well done to all concerned! 

Proceedings began with four of the five entries declaring for the Hunt Race. I could not see beyond Barbed Broach and, armed with the plus of Andrew Sansome in the saddle, I had a decent bet at the 6/4 on offer with one bookie early. All looked to be going well when my selection took up the running after the first circuit and, with a little help from the saddle, kept a two to three length advantage over Tell Monty, with This is My Life and Moorland Highflyer losing touch. Tell Monty has (hitherto) never been the most genuine of horses, showing a distinct reluctance to exert himself, and, until they jumped the second last, I was not a bit anxious about the outcome of my wager. Barbed Broach (I learnt from the commentator as he surrendered his lead just before the final fence) also has a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and his determination not to succeed was to prove far greater than Tell Monty’s, despite Andrew Sansome’s urgings. To be fair to the connections of Tell Monty, he looked an absolute picture in the paddock (as if he were trained to the day) and the long lay off may well have benefited him mentally as he looked very willing when Kevin Sheppard pushed him out with hands and heels to draw clear on the run in.

Tell Monty (blue and pink) leads in the early stages of the Hunt Race

Only four went to post for the Novice Riders Race. Gratomi, given a very positive ride by owner Ann Lee, led until tiring two from home and will come on for the run. Alexander Merriam, riding New Ross, hugged the inside position at the final bend and this manoeuvre may well have secured the race from the other grey, Gin N Ice, who found little under pressure on the run in.

The four runners take the third in the Novice Riders Race. New Ross, the eventually winner, is furthest from view

The ten runner PPORA Mares Maiden Race looked a dire event on paper, but threw up two debutants, in Castlediva and Loyal Event, whom it may well pay to keep on the right side of in future. These two, both allowed to hunt round the first circuit, had the race between them when long time pacemakers, Altar Society and Memsahib Ki Behan, dropped tamely away three fences from home. Nick Pearce on Castlediva got first run and, when Harry Fowler drew Loyal Event alongside at the last, his mount showed enough heart to fight back and regain her advantage within fifty yards. Loyal Event is gutsy too, however, and she wasn’t giving up without a fight either. The two went head to head up the run in, with neither combination giving an inch. At the post Loyal Event was adjudged to have prevailed by a head. These are two very genuine mares and, despite being only five, the winner looked the more forward in the paddock. It could be, therefore, that runner up, a six year old from the Pollock stable, holds the greater scope for improvement.

Loyal Event and Harry Fowler (near side) jump the last marginally in front of Nick Pearce and Castlediva.

The seven runner Men’s Open unfolded into another dramatic finish, this time with four horses in with a chance at the final fence. Victory went to Matt Mackley on the favourite, Fine Times, but nowhere near as comfortably as his starting odds would suggest. The race was won in the day’s fastest time of six minutes and three seconds and, despite looking tired on the run in, the winner, who had taken up pole position a long way from home, had just enough left to repel the renewed challenge of Drumlin, with the admirably consistent Royal Action third and Wise Advice a close fourth. Alongside the steady progression shown by the winner, building on a previous second to Ababou, the revelation of the race for me was the improvement shown by the Turner’s Drumlin. This was by far his best ever performance in points but fits the template of “no hopers”, such as Royal Way and Corston Joker, which they have bought on towards the tail end of the campaign in previous seasons. He is undoubtedly one to follow for the rest of the year, possibly even in Hunter Chases.

Fine Times wins the Mens Open Also pictured are the third, Royal Action, and fourth, Wise Advice. Drumlin, who was second, finished out of picture on the stand side rails

Zoe Turner’s last outing on The Wiley Kalmuck was a walkover. Her task today was a bit harder, but she still managed to pass the post in first position. Torus Spa, running his best race for a considerable time, made her fight all the way, however; the pair finishing a long way clear of Borrow Mine in third. The favourite, Thurles Pickpocket, was never in the race and pulled up a mile from home. For a long while it had looked as if Heather Silk’s grand veteran, Strong Medicine, would lead from pillar to post. He jumped like a stag in front, but pulled up very quickly after being passed at the sixteenth and was led gently to the final fence where he hitched a lift in the horse ambulance back to his lorry.

Nicky Barnes on Torus Spa (near side) and Zoe Turner (The Wiley Kalmuck) race to the line in the Ladies Open

The Turner’s took the Restricted too. This time Fine and Dandy was the ammunition used. Like The Wiley Kalmuck, he was one of the stable’s “Horseheath Five”, and is clearly continuing to improve. The race was a virtual match with the Marks Tey maiden winner, Run Monty, but when James Owen, who is riding out of his skin at the moment, gave him his head he pulled easily away. Lone Star had threatened to take a hand in the finish with a resurgent run between the third and second last as the two principles played cat and mouse, but did not have the gears left when the first two quickened again.

Run Monty (Matt Mackley) and Fine And Dandy (James Owen) take the tenth in the Restricted

The concluding Open Maiden looked, on paper, unlikely to throw up any future winners. The statement was given added weight by the fact that Piccolina and Camden Loch, who have both had many previous opportunities, vied for favouritism. It looked for a long while that the latter would break eventually break her duck as she established a clear lead on the final circuit. Andrew Braithwaite, however, is developing a talent for bringing a horse, full of running, late into a race. He achieved this perfectly today with the twelve year old, Denis Compton, who was a full fifteen lengths down at the penultimate fence. He jumped the last with a slight advantage and pulled easily clear on the run in to win without being given a hard time. This was a remarkable training performance by Diane Pyper as the horse had been off the track for four years and had clearly had problems. The manner of his victory today suggested that, providing he can be kept sound (he did pull up lame), he might be capable of a taking a hand in a Restricted under similar conditions.

The early stages of he Open Maiden – David Kemp (Camden Loch, far side) is jumping without the aid of his irons – lost through a mistake at the previous fence. Also pictured are Cherokee Red (near side) and Fair Storm

And the ultimate question – was the horsebox exit open to those of us parked in the main car park? Yes, thank you Mr Gingell, - a satisfactory day’s racing all round!