by Richard Hall

He may be the perennial butt of a few jokes on the Pointing websites, but he can certainly do the business when he gets the right horse underneath him! Andrew Hickman rode a peach of a race at Marks Tey today as Splash And Dash denied odds on favourite Rob Mine the Men’s Open victory he needed to qualify for the Cheltenham Foxhunters.
Game Gunner, who had travelled from Worcestershire and got held up for hours on the M11, went off determined to make it a good gallop. For two and a half miles Rob Mine sat in second, stalked continuously by Splash And Dash who always appeared to be travelling well. Like spear carriers in a Shakespeare play the rest of the seven strong field might as well have stayed at home for all the impact they had on the outcome. When Rob Mine took over four fences out, Splash and Dash covered the move instantly, the pair easily pulling clear of the pacemaker. Between the third and second last Andrew Hickman asked his mount to quicken and the response was immediate. As they jumped the penultimate fence he had built up a three length lead, which he extended on the way to the line without ever asking his mount to exert.
The winner is still only an eight year old. This was only the sixth race of his career, and his third win. The only times he has tasted defeat in the last two years has been at the hands of Rob Mine, at the much tighter Cottenham circuit on the opening day of the season, and when falling in his second race of 2002 behind Labula Bay at Detling. He only ran here because the Hunter Chase he was entered for at Folkestone earlier in the week was abandoned due to frost. If such races are not continually farmed by professional trainers with their seasoned handicappers, Splash And Dash will undoubtedly go on to provide the husband and wife Hickman team with a few victories in that sphere!

Prior to today, every time Zoe Turner had ridden in a Ladies Open this season she had finished second; twice on Celtic Duke and twice on Spring Gale, who was just touched off by Storm Castle at High Easter last weekend. She rode the former today and was second favourite at 3/1 behind her stablemate’s latest conqueror, who, at 6/4, was attempting to complete a quick, seven day, double. Also in the field were Dooks Delight, who had collared Zoe aboard Spring Gale in the dying strides at Horseheath, and seasonal debutants Mai Point, who had finished 2002 with a treble, and the prolific winner, Village Copper, having his first outing in a Ladies in the hands of Amy Stennett.
Zoe set off determined to grab the box position and, despite being accompanied throughout by Village Copper, also a front runner, she was rarely headed. Mai Point ran promisingly and was in contention before tiring badly two from home, and Dooks Delight could produce nothing extra as his effort petered tamely away a good distance from the post. Storm Castle came to deliver his challenge between the last two but Celtic Duke had more to give and sprinted clear up the run in for a comfortable three length victory. Village Copper rallied well in third to stay within a head of Storm Castle at the line. Ruth Hayter’s charge did not look fully wound up in the paddock and I fully expect him to be a lot sharper for this run.
The “it’s so easy in hindsight” formula of favourites being pipped by second favourites, as in the case of Rob Mine and Storm Castle, also provided punters with the first three winners of the day.

In the Hunt Race Andrew Ayers looked to have things sewn up when his Aughmor River cruised past the pacemaker, Royal Action, at the fifteenth fence. He could never quite shake the second favourite off, however, and, as they raced towards the last, Paul Chinery had closed to within half a length. His mount did not want to be beaten and hurdled it without losing a stride. It was too much for Aughmor River and, despite Andrew Ayers’ dramatic urgings, Royal Action came clear on the run in for a brave, and much deserved success. It was a question of third time lucky for the winner – he had been second in this race (behind horses ridden by Mr Ayers) for the previous two years. This was an improvement in form too and built on his previously encouraging third to Shanavogh and Jackie Jervis at Higham. Today’s stiffer course suited him better and there may be more to come in similar conditions. Aughmor River should not be deserted in future either, although he may need an easier course to show his best.

In the sixteen runner Maiden, Bush Hill Bandit was sent off at the ridiculously short price of 5/4 to improve on his good second to Little Farmer at Cottenham two weeks earlier. He was prominent throughout but had to settle for second best again as Run Monty at 7/2, with Matt Mackley deputising for the injured Tim Lane, came to take it up seven fences from home. The pair pulled clear from the remainder but Run Monty, who had been quietly hunted round on the first circuit, always had a few lengths in hand. All three of his previous outings in points had been at the easier Higham course where he had raced much more prominently in the early stages. Last year he showed promise in finishing a close second to Mister Chips. On his second outing this year, when third behind previous winners Star Glow and Itsmyturnow, he turned round a thirty length deficit on earlier running with Paddy’s Dream. Today’s effort may represent still further improvement, and there could be an Intermediate to be had with him this year.
There were a few other performances that also merit a mention; Second Thoughts looked to have every chance until the leading pair eventually managed to drop him as he tired two out, Cosmic Sky made an encouraging debut, and Brookfield Bass, having only his second outing (he unseated at the first in the other one!), ran comfortably, if novicey, for a long way and was given a gentle introduction by Christian Ward Thomas.

The Red Boy was the predictable favourite for the Confined. He had destroyed a Hunt field (including last Sunday’s winner Filou Du Bois) in his previous race at Cottenham, and was at last beginning to show the promise he had hinted at during his 2000 and 2001 campaigns (he was off injured in 2002). His only serious market rival was Cinnamon Club, who had won a Higham Confined earlier in the season after The Red Boy had exited at the first fence. 
Cinnamon Club ridden by Stuart Morris hit the front after six fences and led until The Red Boy (Andrew Braithwaite) came out of the pack to relieve him at the thirteenth fence. At that point it looked as if the latter would draw away to win as he liked, but Stuart Morris kept Cinnamon Club within two lengths. At the nineteenth he pulled his mount upsides and the battle commenced. For about a hundred yards it was nip and tuck but as they approached the last it was evident that Cinnamon Club (described in the programme as lacking finishing pace) had more left than his rival. He inched further ahead on the run in to win, rather cosily, by a length and a half.
It was the first time I had seen The Red Boy (who had been in my “one to follow” notebook for two years) come under pressure. When off the bridle and asked for a renewed effort there was little left to give. There may have been excuses however as, just after the “horses away”, the vet was called to the Sporborg horsebox. The winner, on the other hand showed courage in abundance and seems a different horse this year. Native Status, an easy High Easter winner last weekend, was a long way back in third with Ballyea Boy fourth. Pampered Gale, despite crying out for stronger handling, was again, mysteriously, ridden by Zoe Turner and finished disappointingly remote (what’s happened to Andrew Sansome, why doesn’t James Owen ride this one – as he does all the others?).

There was a competitive field of fourteen for the Novice Riders Race. Punters couldn’t decide between Always On The Line, a winner at Cottenham and runner up at Ampton from three previous outings this year, and Wibbley Wobbley who had won a similar race at Higham before finishing a respectable fourth to Araminta in an Open at Thorpe Lodge. They were sent off 5/2 joint favourites. As was the pattern of the day they had the race between them, with only Topical Tip ever threatening to gatecrash the battle of market leaders. It was Alexander Meriam’s Always On The Line who finished the best, cruising into the lead after the penultimate fence, to record a comfortable success. Wibbley Wobbley didn’t quite see the three mile two furlong trip out, and was passed on the run in by Emma Boone’s Topical Tip who had been outpaced when the joint favourites had quickened three out. A long way back in fourth came Man Of Steele.  Jack Hackett and Garrison Friendly were amongst the disappointments that pulled up. 

Stuart Morris, who’s winner to runner ratio this year must be greater than fifty percent, was aboard the 9/4 favourite, China Box, in the closing race of the day, the Restricted. His thirteen rivals were headed by the 3/1 shot Whichway Girl, Caroline Bailey’s sole runner at the meeting, with Cantenac Brown, who had made the long journey from the West Country, available at 9/2, along with the Turner’s Westfield John.
This proved to be the only race of the day where the first and second favourite did not fight out the finish. China Box jumped erratically throughout and was the first of the main protagonists to drop away, fully a mile from home. Whichway Girl was the next to go, five fences from the finish, leaving Westfield John, Cantenac Brown, and the Irish import, To Milan, to fight it out between them. It was not much of a contest as it turned out, with the West Country raider, confidently ridden by Nick McDaimid, pulling comfortably clear from To Milan to win on the bridle. He clearly appreciated the extended trip and, if connections show a similar willingness to again travel to find these opportunities, he will surely win again.

The bookmakers displayed what I suspect are their true Jekyll and Hyde colours today. Their over-round figures were:

Race 1                 7 runners          117% over-round (odds on favourite)
Race 2                 16 runners        175% over-round
Race 3                 9 runners          128% over-round
Race 4                 7 runners          122% over-round (odds on favourite)
Race 5                 7 runners          118% over-round
Race 6                 14 runners        181% over-round
Race 7                 14 runners        176% over-round

A pattern has definitely emerged over the last three weeks and, I believe, we can draw the following conclusions;

-                     The smaller the field, the better the value. This is particularly true when the market changes, and favourites “flip flop”. If you are lucky and judge the right times to get on, you can occasionally back all the market principals and still make money.

-                     The bookies will sometimes have the odds on favourite running for them, and offer decent odds to back against it. There are not many people at a ptp who bet in heavy money and, I suspect, the books are unbalanced as punters veer towards the longer prices. If the second or third favourite wins, the bookies may actually lose money.

-                     The bookies offer appallingly poor value on outsiders in fields of ten or more runners. It is rare to see 33/1, and when you do it is in events where the form of both horse and jockey appear well exposed. In Maidens, especially, they are terrified of being caught by a coup, and will rarely go above 14/1. In the long run punters would be well advised to not get involved in these events, or at least to reduce their stakes!