by Rachel O'Brien

One of the first of the South Midland Area Points took place on Sunday at Heythrop in Oxfordshire.  The eight race card was soon extended to ten races and the afternoon produced some good racing on near perfect going with a huge crowd enjoying unseasonably mild and dry conditions.  Heythrop is a relatively flat right-handed course with a few undulations and has several different distances which can confuse new attendees (myself being one!)  It is not the best course for viewing because it lacks a hill on which to stand, but most of the course is visible from a few strategic spots and thanks to an excellent commentary we were kept well informed of the action.

I have to apologise for my lack of information regarding what happened during some of the races (a) because I arrived late and missed the first race, (b) my pen decided to work intermittently throughout the afternoon and (c) because I had to leave before the last race.  However, perhaps some information is better than none!

As I’ve said, I missed the first race (Members), but I believe Thor’s Phantom won it for the second year in succession.

With a packed afternoon, the organisers would have been praying for no delays, but the second race was late off due to Semliki parting company with his jockey at the start and completing about ¾ of a circuit before being caught and reunited.  The race itself was a competitive affair with 19 runners contesting the Confined Hunts race over the standard 3-mile trip.  Mr Smudge was one of the market leaders, but was soon struggling as Wellie lead them off at a furious gallop.  Still among the leaders, he unseated his rider on the second circuit and left Admiral Rose to come home strongly 1½l ahead of Thatsforeel (who finished very sore) and 1l back to Route One.  The time of 6.46 was the fastest of the day.

Race three was the Ladies Open Race over 3⅔ miles and hot favourite here was Balisteros, odds-on to increase his winning sequence.  However, his seven rivals had other ideas and Bosuns Mate took them along a good pace.  Balisteros never seemed to be travelling well and the danger signals started to go out after 1½ circuits with reminders from Pauline Robson.  Gill’mar, on the other hand, was always going well and jumped superbly to take up the running about 1 mile from home.  He never looked in danger of being beaten and finished 8l ahead of Bosuns Mate who held a final surge from Balisteros by 1l with Aqua Star in 4th.   Considering how badly he appeared to be going with a full circuit remaining, Balisteros did well to finish so close, but perhaps he is now feeling his age.  The time for 3⅔ miles was 7.46.

The Men’s Open was listed as the South Midlands Area Feature Race and was over 4 miles.  All eyes were on the grey Bright Approach who looked superb in the paddock and he didn’t disappoint.  He was always travelling sweetly in behind until about ½ mile from home and then quickly asserted his authority and held a comfortable 2l advantage at the line.  Him of Praise chased him home and a creditable 3rd was Wag the Brush who, as his name suggests, was at the rear of field most of the way and finished strongly 1½l behind.  The time for 4 miles was 8.33.

A field of 12 lined up for the Intermediate Race over 3 miles and favourite was Jazz de Chalamont.  Sadly, he got no further than the first fence and when caught at fence 3 seemed to have suffered a serious injury and left the course in a horse ambulance.  I hope it is not as bad as it looked.  The race was won in very determined fashion by Frangipane, a chestnut mare, who held the challenge of The Gadfly by 2½l with another 15l back to Dinsey Finnegan.  Time for the 3 miles was 6.51.

Part 1 of Division 1 of the Open Maiden (6 yr olds & over) came next over 3 miles.  Bolbec Ice Falcon was a debutante for Caroline Bailey and widely expected to beat 9 opponents.  However, he didn’t take the eye during running and I think was pulled up on the second circuit.  The outsider Brown Blake, who is a half brother to Brown Bala, easily won the race.  No previous form and an “unenthusiastic” label in the form guide did little to suggest he would win by 15l from Run to the Glen and another 6l back to Circlesinthesand.  Rosie Stroud, who led for a long way, took the eye throughout the race until fading badly with about ½ mile to go.  Might want a shorter trip.

A field of 9 lined up for Part 2 of Division 1 and appeared the stronger of the two races, with the winning time 9 seconds faster than Part 1.  Denel Lady, who also had a pretty poor description in the form guide, won this.  Another chestnut mare, she also kept on in determined fashion to deny Ad Lib by 1l with Fortlander 12l back in 3rd.  The time was 6.47 for 3 miles.  Jon Trice-Rolph appeared to give an easy ride to a nice-looking debutante 10yr old Rightful Heir (brother to You be King).  Having completed one comfortable circuit, he called it a day.

Next race was the Open Maiden (5,6 & 7 yr olds) over 2½ miles and saw the closest finish of the day.  The favourite was another Caroline Bailey debutante mare Return to Clover, who also looked a picture in the paddock.  The race was an eventful one, with an early casualty being the fancied Simply Divine who’s steering and brakes suddenly failed, dumping her unfortunate jockey on the floor.  Return to Clover travelled well and shaken up over the last ½ mile held Game On by ½l with Sing High (half sis to Romany Chat) 12l back in 3rd.  Ideal de L’ile caught the eye back in 4th (another John Trice Rolph runner who wasn’t asked a serious question).  Time for 2½ miles was 5.06.

The ninth race (my last) was back to 3 miles for Part 1 of Division 2 of the Open Maiden.  10 runners contested this race and for the second time the organisers’ nightmare returned with the departure, before reaching the paddock this time, of Almost a Day.  Unperturbed, the other runners filed out on to the course and waited patiently for the escapee to be caught and reunited with his jockey.  One horse who caught the eye was Astley Gold who, despite carrying 10lb overweight and trying his best to lose his jockey twice with indifferent jumps – Grant Whisker must have used superglue – raced prominently for much of the race.  The race was won by Mrs Sherman, a modest graduate from NH rules beating Uncle Ada and Tanager.  I didn’t wait around for the distances and time.

I hope they managed to squeeze in the final race before it got too dark, but it must have been nearly 5 o’clock before it was run.