by Simon McInnes

This was my first visit to the course, and first point-to-point of the

season. The latter provoked the usual errors, such as why puzzlement as to why my race card was still sodden long after the drizzle had stopped - residue running off of the hat brim being the culprit. Back to basics time!

 Despite the lack of any raised ground for viewing purposes, there is sufficient space to afford everyone a decent sight of what went on, although had it been colder and wetter, places of durable shelter from the elements seem thin on the ground and likely to be oversubscribed. The only other negative was that the bookmakers were operating on over-rounds that would embarrass a BAGS dog meeting. The prices on outsiders were especially tight, and had someone fielded a three-legged donkey in an open, they would do well to get 20/1 about its chances. As far as conditions went, the ground seemed genuinely good, although the top was well churned up by the end of the day, and at times it may have been a little slippery. Only a lover of extreme goings could have had an excuse.

Friends Growers Hunt Members
Six went to post for this, and it was a fairly competitive event at the standard, so all in all it was less than ideal was that half the field wore orange and black jackets, one with a black cap, one with an orange cap and one with guess what two-colour combination? After a steady early pace, the field gradually stretched, especially as favourite Lone Star began to suffer the consequences of the jumping off to the right in varying degrees. By the fourth last, it was between Castle Road and Campbellhill, and Rachel Barrow steered the former home in a good finish, which was not decided until half way up the run-in. Being 'out of area,' the runner-up was unfamiliar to me, but the race card was fairly certain that he is a non-stayer. Given that his form figures imply indifferent jumping and a bit of a bad temper on top of that, connections must have been delighted to manage second. A distant third was Non Plussed, who lived up to his name over the fences to start with and got behind, but did at least warm up a bit in the final mile.

Pegasus Horse Shoes Men's Open
This produced an all-the-way success for recent course winner Shanavogh. He was the form choice in the race, and set out to test his rivals. By the fourteenth, only the small but game Jackie Jarvis was laying down a challenge, but he was travelling conspicuously less well. That was the finishing order, as had been the case here in mid-January. Whilst Shanavogh is a useful performer, he is very much a known quantity on whom enough cannot be won to revive the collapsed pension, but only just having turned six, Jackie Jarvis is still learning, and ought to progress enough to win an Open somewhere, perhaps sooner rather than later. Even when up with the pace for a couple for miles, Royal Action was being out jumped, and eventually he was left floundering by the first pair, but at least held on for third as Avondale Illusion stayed on very belatedly. That horse was in only his second British point, having lost his way a bit in Ireland. This was better, but not quite exciting enough to see success just around the corner. Borotown Lord was bang up with the leaders, but at faded quickly after the thirteenth. One of the runners lost a shoe at that fence, and if it was him, then there may be a legitimate excuse. Prior to the race, Castle Arrow appeared to have place claims, but he ran a similar race to Borotown Lord and may have been the shoeless one. Whomsoever the lost shoe fits, shall go to the ball next time out. Possibly.

Sworders Restricted (Div I)
This is where my race card got most battered, so the notes to which I now refer are at best a bit ambiguous, as twenty of the twenty-three entries lined up for one division or the other and in some places it is not clear which division the horse raced in or which horse the note refers to. What is certain is that Star Glow won this quite easily, after being niggled at halfway round. He had shown promise in previous seasons, but not managed to win until the last meeting here. Chasing him home was Itsmyturnnow, for whom it was in his last race, but not this one. If Star Glow has improved a bit in the close season (as looks likely), then this defeat was no disgrace. Third place went to Run Monty, who is starting to look a consistent each-way prospect. The remaining runners were well adrift, including Surprisedly Gifted, who weakened alarmingly after five out and eventually pulled up. He seems a lacking in stamina, and the most suprisedly thing must have been his maiden win.

Sworders Restricted (Div II)
The pace setter in this was Round The Bend, whose career strike rate is quite poor. However, a recent close fourth in an Open appeared to give him a golden opportunity if that effort could be repeated. Many opponents decided that it may well not, and settled towards the rear. For Crackrattle, who was still last at halfway, this approach worked, as he and Round The Bend had a ding-dong battle over the last three, and Nigel Pearce just got Crackrattle home ahead of the long-time leader. Naughty Dandy, whose form hardly inspires great, in fact any, confidence, managed third, ahead of Namron, for whom the hold-up tactics were less than ideally effective. They overtook Henry Henbit in the home straight. That individual tried hard to keep tabs on Round The Bend, but weakened four out. He looked as if he would be much better for the race.

EFG Private Bank Ladies Open
Jumping off in front, Bitofamixup made all the running under Jenny Gordon (nee Grant) and eventually won quite comfortably. Zoe Turner was content to bide her time a few lengths behind on Celtic Duke, but when an effort was required, Celtic Duke had insufficient in reserve to lay down a challenge. The victor has never wanted for inconsistency, and apparently threw a total tantrum last time, so whether he will turn out in such a co-operative frame of mind next time is anyone's guess. One thing it did confirm was previous indications that Mike Roberts' string is in much better form this term. The other two runners accepted early on that they were duelling for second, and Man Of Steele was gaining the upper hand when Silk Vestments fell four or five out - they were so far behind Bitofamixup that the incident occurred out of  the line of sight for anyone following the leading pair. The suspense came when Man Of Steele tried to demolish the third last, provoking a good recovery from Olivia Maylam.

Countryside Alliance Club Members
Eleven went to post, and it was not the worst race in terms of quality either. Spread over this season and the last Endeavour had won three in a row, and a smooth performance maintained the sequence. He moved to the fore at the eleventh, and repelled all challengers from then on, probably with a bit more up his sleeve should it have been required. The most serious threat had been from Gatchou Mans, who was upsides when tipping up at the last fence. The pair had half a length on Rustic Revelry, who looked set for a while to give Philip York a double, but found least of the three when the chips were down. Of the Rules refugees in this, Top Note had the best form, but it was four years ago and he ran quite flat (ha!) here, although such a sharp track (double ha!) is not ideal for him.

Country Store Open Maiden
Only three finished this, and after a few casualties early on, many gave up the ghost with a lap to go. Those that completed provided an epic spectacle for the crowd, with the distances given as a length and a length. That appeared to flatter Charlie's Angel, who was upside Game On at the last and got away from that fence more slowly. She stuck to the task resolutely, as Return The Call was also closing the gap from third all the time. On face value, the form in winning this does not look anything special, but Charlie's Angel was making her debut and was very green in the parade ring - frustratingly, just nervy enough to dissuade me from backing her! There was little sign of inexperience during the race, but it is fair to assume she can improve on what was shown - although she was not wanting for fitness in the least. Additionally, Return The Call is only six and having his third ever race, so still may prove capable - or not. Irish runner-up Asthefellowsaid also seemed ready for his seasonal debut and is the compact, smallish type suited by sharp bends such as these, but he pulled up going into the back straight. He was immediately dismounted, so it may not have been lack of ability that was the problem. At the third last, Captive came to grief when still in second place, but he did look to be tiring at the time. Under Rules, he mostly ran at two miles, but suggesting further would suit. Whether as much as three miles is the answer remains doubtful.