by Richard Hall

Having never been to High Easter before and, with the directions and road map from AutoRoute Express degenerating into “follow local roads” once clear of the A130, I thought we’d better leave in good time. After confirming that the frost had stayed away, we set out on the eighty five mile journey at just after nine. On the A120 we hit upon a bit of luck – a horse lorry in front, clearly from a racing yard. We had over an hour and a half before the first race (a non betting event – the favourite looked a good two to one on shot), so we decided to follow at a sedate pace. Our decision seemed vindicated when he turned off earlier than our map suggested; obviously a short cut! Some forty five minutes later, after a tour of the Chelmsford suburbs and five miles of single track roads and villages so small that they didn’t even appear the map, the lorry turned into a remote farmyard. As he did so I felt two pairs of eyes looking at me; totally mystified. He, no doubt searching for a reason why I had followed him home, and Mrs H, who was now no longer sure that I should “relax” because we were going “in the general direction and had plenty of time”. 

Fifteen miles, and several map references, later we found the course with twenty minutes to spare. By the time we’d put on all the extra layers of clothing we’d bought to protect against the biting east wind, consumed a bacon roll, drunk a much needed coffee, and wandered across to the centre of the course, the horses were leaving the paddock. All of the seven entered for the Members declared, but I was still amazed to find Native Status available at just under even money. His form was head and shoulders above anything else. I wasn’t going to bet but this was too good to be true. I couldn’t resist it. Although not normally the sort of price I like get involved with, this was one of those rare occasions when I believed the probability of success to be much greater than the odds available.

I didn’t have many anxious moments. Joining the long time leader, Rip Kirby, just before he decided to unseat George Cooper on the flat, six from home, Native Status galloped away from his rivals. At the second last, however, he overjumped and the saddle slipped. Andrew Ayers gripped tightly, and somehow managed to get him over the final obstacle and up the run in without falling off. Cormeen Lord, who had been his closest pursuer, tired badly up the hill and was passed for second by Marmalade Mountain, some twenty five lengths adrift of the winner.

The younger horse Maiden looked to contain several promising recruits but was turned into a procession by the five year old debutant All In The Stars, trained by Paul Keane and confidently ridden by Shane Walsh. After Fine and Dandy had fallen at the third last, James Crispe, in the commentary box, declared the contest to be a match between Ravensworth and The Glen Road – they were that far clear. Before they jumped the last, All In The Stars had made up a full twenty lengths and was pulling away. He sprinted up the run in far faster than any other horse on the day. He is clearly a talented individual – probably the best maiden winner I’ve seen since Themanfromcarlisle at Cottenham in January 2002 – and I’ll be amazed if he doesn’t go quickly on to better things. Of the others, Corn Bunting ran full of promise for the first two miles, Pardon Me Son travelled well throughout and was tenderly handled to finish fourth, and Fine and Dandy showed that he had benefited from his seasonal reappearance behind Freteval at Cottenham.

The older Maiden split, and the four from my shortlist, Nelsun Grey Fusilier, Camden Loch and Filou Du Bois, all found themselves in the first division. In the end I plumped for Camden Loch. He shared most of the running with Nelsun, the pair jumping almost in tandem for nearly two miles. This racing (rather than settling) told on both horses and, when they met the tacky ground on the downhill section of the course for the second time, neither had the legs left to go through it. This left the hitherto woefully one paced Tall Hat, ridden far more enterprisingly this time by Nick Pearce, to assume pole position. At this point he looked all over the winner but Alex Embiricos had ridden a patient race (again) on her Filou Du Bois, and had bought him steadily from the pack on the second circuit to close on the leading trio. She quickly went passed Nelsun and Camden Loch and set after Mr Pearce. She jumped alongsides at the second last and, a few strides later began to pull clear. As she urged her mount past the post Miss Embiricos paused only to practise her Frankie Dettori salute. Clearly this victory meant a lot to her! Nelsun battled on, full of courage, to regain second from an exhausted Tall Hat. The lightly raced Camden Loch was allowed to come home in his own time and will be better for the experience, and on a less demanding course.

Division Two was not, on paper at least, anywhere near as competitive. Lucrative Perk, who had run well for a long way at Cottenham on her seasonal debut, set off at what seemed a suicidal pace, given the conditions. She quickly established an eight length lead. After the first circuit (of two) this was reduced to less than a length and the expectation was for her to do as she did at Cottenham; fade and pull up. This time, however, there was a different script. She kicked on again and four fences later the eight length lead was re-established. Five out only Harkness Warrior and Pakochino, who had been almost put to sleep at the rear of the field for the first circuit, remained in opposition. Neither could close, the winner pulling further and further clear.

The start to the Men’s Open was delayed until the ambulance returned from carrying the unfortunate Tim Lane, who had fallen on Tea Time, to hospital. He was due to ride the Thorpe Lodge winner, Araminta, and the ever-enthusiastic Nick Pearce was asked to deputise. He was one of three previously impressive winners in the field, the other two being Weavers Choice, up in grade after trouncing a good field at Horseheath, and Rob Mine, also successful at Horseheath as well as at the opening Cottenham fixture where his performance against Splash and Dash put him in many notebooks.  The bookies were in no doubt as to their favourite, and punters struggled to ever find better than 2/5 on the Sporborg horse! I went for Weavers Choice at 7/1, although most who wanted to oppose the favourite opted for Araminta, who was well backed from 6/1 into 4/1.

The three principals, accompanied by Heather Silk’s None Stirred, were in the first four throughout, quickly creating distance from the other contenders. Weavers Choice was not allowed to dictate as he did at Horseheath and may not have been so comfortable going left handed. Whatever the reason, he frequently lost ground in the air and was the first of these four to come under pressure. Rob Mine was going best of all, jumping efficiently and travelling comfortably (as a long odds on shot should) until mysteriously running out five fences from home. This left None Stirred and Araminta, who had no doubt resigned themselves to be fighting for minor honours, to battle for the main prize. As they slugged it out over the remaining fences both horses gave there all on the testing ground. It was Nick Pearce’s mount, some four years younger, who eventually prevailed by a couple of lengths.

Nick Pearce substituted for Tim Lane again in the Intermediate, on the other half of Nick Pomfret’s Thorpe Lodge double, Intrepid Gal.  She carried my money, together with a saver on Bard of Drumco who had impressed with his attitude at Ampton. The poor performance put up by Weaver’s Choice had convinced me to desert his stablemate Teeton Priceless who, similarly, had only previously shown form at Horseheath. How wrong could I be? Paul Cowley had Jenny Tice’s eight year old mare in the first two throughout and, although seven were in with a shout as they rounded the final bend, she maintained a length’s advantage with some degree of comfort. Nick Pearce, perhaps a shade too confidently, produced Intrepid Gal late for second, and Bard of Drumco ran another promising race to finish strongly for third, having been a bit outpaced three fences out. The recently reluctant Bruan ran his best race for a long while and was well in contention before tiring two fences from home, and Bedtime Boys survived some indifferent jumping in the hands of Patrick Millington to run on for fourth.

The Ladies Open had both the smallest field of the day and the fastest winning time. The four that went to post were soon whittled down to three when outsider, Ben’s Gift, pulled up after a circuit. Wilf Tolhurst’s French import, Paradisio, forcefully ridden by Amy Stennett, set a strong and steady pace with joint favourites Spring Gale (Zoe Turner) and Storm Castle (Julie Wickens) content to sit in some four or five lengths behind. Three fences from home Paradisio seemed to be going the best of the trio but, between the penultimate and final fence, was soon swallowed up by the other two. Perhaps it was lack of fitness; perhaps he did not fully stay the trip? In a well ridden and stylish finish Storm Cloud just got up on the line to win by a head.

Steward Wilf Tolhurst did not go home empty handed, however. His Minino, second to Endeavour at Horseheath after forfeiting twenty lengths at the start, was this time led in and consented to set off with the rest of the six strong field. He seemed keen to race this time and wanted to be in front, pulling for his head until jockey Nigel Bloom got him in pole position. From there he settled well, leading until joined by Drumlin, another Turner horse showing signs of a revival in form, early on the second circuit. Minino had more up his sleeve, however, and within a couple of fences had regained the advantage and began to pull clear. Holmby Copse showed his Ampton win to be no fluke in running on gamely in the final stages to get within three lengths as Minino was eased on the run in. Rupert’s Choice finished third, with Drumlin fourth and Hatcham Boy, now a shade of his former self, fifth. The winner clearly stays well and will win again in similar conditions.

A good day’s racing, despite the cold! The sixteen bookies present behaved themselves too and, apart from the horrendous 182% over-round in the younger Maiden, margins were at the lowest levels for several weeks. For those, like me, who love statistics they were;

Race One - 7 runners 133% over-round (10/11 fav)
Race Two - 13 runners 182% over-round
Race Three - 8 runners 124% over-round
Race Four - 8 runners 117% over-round
Race Five - 7 runners 133% over-round (2/5 fav)
Race Six - 4 runners 113% over-round
Race Seven - 13 runners 156% over-round
Race Eight - 6 runners 118% over-round 

Let’s hope these levels can be maintained at Marks Tey next week!