by Dom Bradshaw

With most of the country still frozen solid, Cottenham dished up a pleasant surprise on Sunday providing us with the first meeting of 2003.

Christopher Sporborg pulled off a tremendous training feat in the Club Members race with the classy Rob Mine (Andrew Braithwaite) returning from a two-and-a-half year absence to deny the South East raider Splash And Dash (Andrew Hickman) by a length and a half. The winner jumped and travelled well throughout under a patient ride from Andrew Braithwaite, who looks a pilot of note and as long as he doesnít suffer from the ďbounce factorĒ, then heíll be scoring again soon. The runner up lost little in defeat and will be winning before long.
Jorodec (Richard Burton) was disappointing back in third, but make a note of Parsonhumfrywebber (Emma Bell) who came from the clouds to take fourth. The horse and rider were slow getting started last season, but they looked pretty forwards here. Heís still eligible for restricteds and should be taking one in the coming months.

Teenager Alexander Merriam is starting to shape into a decent rider and he took the Restricted on the ex-Irish Always On The Line, staying on at the death to deny the front running Helmsley Flyer (Nigel Bloom) by a neck. This was a decent performance by the winner, but heíll have to improve again if heís to step up in class.
Helmsley Flyer has been called some rude names in the past, but he did little wrong here and ran right up to his best. He does require strong handling and may be able to score in similar circumstance.
Iím Dreaming (Andy Martin) was one paced back in third and the fourth Daisy Fay (James Owen) went out quickly and looks short of stamina.
Make a note of Golden Gent (Mark Walford) who went well for a long way before fading and should improve for the experience.

There was drama before the Mens Open when Real Value reared up and fell over backwards in the paddock, but thankfully he was none the worse for the experience.
In the race itself, the Welsh attempted to land a small touch with Evanís Collier Boy, but he raced far too freely for Christian Williams and was a spent force by the second circuit. This left Real Value to bowl along in front and he still looked full of running when stumbling and coming to grief two out. His closest pursuer, Sheila McKenzie (Ben King), also exited at the same fence leaving Cock A Hoop (Mark Keel) and Philtre (Adrian Wintle) to fight out the finish with the latter landing the spoils by half a length. The ex-Venetia Williams trained Inis Cara (Sam Thomas) was a further ten lengths back in third. The winner appreciated the return to points and has the class to take his fair share during the season.
Cock A Hoop ran a solid race considering that prefers a sound surface and should take a race under when encountering quicker conditions.
Youíd have to say that Real Value looked unlucky, as he looked to still be travelling best of all when exiting and compensation surely awaits. This also applies to Sheila McKenzie, admirably handled by Ben King having his first ride back since recovering from his terrible injuries sustained in a fall at Clifton On Dunsmore last season. Only a 6-year-old, the daughter of Aragon will have plenty more opportunities over the coming months and she must be followed.

The Countryside Alliance Club Members Novice Riders race saw a great finish fought out by Tirley Gale (Sam Thomas) and Dixon Varner (Fraser Marshall) with the former getting the judges verdict by a head. Both horses and riders did themselves proud and represent what the sport is all about.
Jazz De Chalamont (Charlie Shirley-Beavan) ran with credit three lengths back in third and will come on for this.

The Ladies Open was taken by Andsuephi (Sam Hodge), making his pointing debut after a successful career under rules. He did this in good style and should give some of the better East Anglian ladies horses something to think about.
The runner up, Gillímar (Candy Thomas) gave his best, but unfortunately just doesnít see out the trip in points and will continue to find it difficult to get his head in front.
Yorkshire horse Winter Gale (Laura Eddery) showed up well for a long way before fading and may be capable of taking a small race as the season progresses.
The race was marred by the death of the popular grey Imperial Dawn, who took a crashing fall at the ninth, sadly breaking a shoulder in the process and he'll be missed by point-to-point supporters in all areas.

Tragedy turned into triumph for trainer Caroline Bailey with Whichway Girl (Joe Docker) taking the Eight-year-olds and above Maiden in good style. Placed four times last season, she wasnít scoring out of turn and with a little improvement, she may be up to restricted class.
Two lengths away in second came Aughmor River (Andrew Ayers) who gave the winner plenty to think about and should have little trouble taking an East Anglian maiden.
The Ben Pollock trained Tall Hat (Julian Pritchard) showed up for a long way before fading into third and should come on for the run.

There was carnage-a-plenty in Division One of the 2m4f Five, Six & Seven-year-olds Maiden with no less than nine of the eleven who started failing to complete. This left the enigmatic Patrick Millington to equal his 2002 score to appear late on the scene, landing the spoils on his ex-Irish pointer Ballycotton. Millington never gave up on this one even when his chance looked to have gone and the 7yo son of Executive Perk responded in game fashion, collaring the long time leader Javelot De Thaix (Nick Pearce) and going onto score by eight lengths. With so many fallers, itís hard to weight up the value of the form, but Millington and Ballycotton should be applauded for their efforts (as they were when returning to the winners enclosure).
Javalot De Thaix put in a respectable effort and may prefer a better surface. He should be winning soon.
Susie Sinatra was disputing the lead when losing Rachel Clark two out and looked unlucky, as did Headwrecker (Godfrey Maundrell) who was by no means a spent force when exiting at the same fence.
Roboastar gave owner\rider Tim Vaughan plenty of trouble, hanging off the course after passing the stands. Vaughan did amazingly well to get him back onto the course and surprisingly wasnít that far away in third when tumbling at the last. Thereís no doubt that the horse has ability but Vaughan will have to employ plenty of kidology to persuade him to put his best foot forwards.

The final race, Division Two of the 2m4f Five, Six & Seven-year-olds Maiden, saw Richard Burton onboard Chocoholic just get the better of Braceys Girl (Christian Williams). The winner looks the type to go to better things and should be able to step up in class as the season progresses and the runner up looks a maiden certainty.
French chaser Junior Des Ormeaux (Charlie Shirley-Beavan) was twenty lengths back in third and will benefit for this, his first run in the UK.
Game On (Julian Pritchard) ran too freely and will have to learn to settle.
Jims Belief (George Cooper) looks the part but didnít an awful lot in running, weakening quickly. This was his first run for over a year and heíll strip a lot fitter.

The ninth\eighteenth fence claimed a high number of the total casualties and gave many spectators cause for concern. Although Iím no expert in fence positioning, the excessive number of fallers at this particular obstacle does appear slightly abnormal and perhaps the course staff may want to investigate why this is the case?

On a positive note, for the second year running, thanks to Michael Gingell and his ground staff for ensuring that the course was in tip-top condition so that we all could enjoy a great dayís racing.