by Simon McInnes

This meeting was a paranoid conspiracy theorists dream, with five of the races named after masonic lodges, and for all we know, the other named after a secret code for a bizarre masonic ritual. In the interest of reckless rumour mongering, I would throw into the ring the possibility that the prize for the long distance hunter chase secretly included the lost treasure of the Knights Templar, the Head of Baphomet, or possibly both. On the racing side, there were few genuinely hunter chase class performers on show, but that did not detract from the entertainment, and perhaps made for more competitive racing than some hunter chase fixtures contrive to stage.

6th Year of the David Woodhouse Birthday Novice Hunter Chase [2m 4.5f]
Finding this a somewhat easier task than Cheltenham's hunter chase meeting, Route One got back in the number one spot with a fairly comfortable success. He was three lengths up approaching the second last, travelling better than his rivals, and made no silly mistake to give the game away. Rooster plugged away gamely for second, at the expense of Lunardi, who again found less than expected at the business end of the race. Win The Toss made some progress on the home turn, but ran out of steam entering the straight. Connections have got on the winning trail by joining every hunt in the country and contesting the members races, but this grade was tougher, as the winner is quite a decent performer over this sort of trip. Irish point winner Mr Mighty killed off his chances quite early by pulling like a train, and it is no surprise that he has run out in the past.

Hatton Lodge No 3041 Novice Hunter Chase [3m]
Making all under James Diment, the consistent grey Hatch Gate ran out a ready winner from Pharly Star, who has made a reasonable start to a jumping career against weak opponents. The big difference between the two was jumping. Hatch Gate was solid and reliable all the way round, whereas Pharly Star tended to be quite low. Sometimes he made ground as a result, especially early on, but other times, more so when tired, he hit the obstacles too hard for his own good, and tended to go left to correct himself. Judicious Norman left it pretty late in life to break his maiden tag, and the way he failed to develop a good position at the second last suggests stamina is his achilles heel.

Schola Regia Lodge No 9105 amateur riders' Novice Hurdle [2m 0.5f]
This boiled down to a match between a pair of hurdles debutants - would the decent bumper horse have the toe to compete with the decent flat horse. The answer proved to be yes, as Saprkling Water set off far too freely in front and consequently failed to see out the trip, despite having been second in the Chester Vase and thus not lacking stamina. On the winner, Be Fair, Andrew Tinkler rode a shrewd tactical race, always keeping tabs on the leader and imposing his authority after two out. The failure to settle took sufficient toll on Sparkling Water that he lost second place to Pharbeit in the shadow of the post.

Chicheley Lodge No 607 Confined Series Hunter Chase [3m]
As they jumped the ditch in front of the stand with a lap to go, the six runners where all within a length or two of the leaders, and it seemed set for a close outcome. However, the favourite went clear in the latter stages, to seal a York double. Being one of my favourites, I was pleased to see Rustic Revelry, for whom the prefix 'Second Was' to his name has become almost permanent, prevail, but it was slightly surprising, as there is a big question as to how well he gets three miles. His best form has been at two and half miles or less, including a narrow second (again!) over two miles at Cheltenham last time. Runner-up spot came the way of Winter Gale, all of whom's career wins ironically came in July 2000. He takes a bit of stoking up in a finish, and unfortunately his rider was not greatly effective at this point of the race, when it was most needed, especially as Rustic Revelry made a mistake two out that gave a small window of opportunity. Pangeran managed third, which was about the average position his wildly inconsistent form may have led punters to forecast.

St Ivo Lodge No 2684 Hunter Chase [3m 6.5f]
This innocuous event was rendered fascinating by the setting off of a fire alarm in mid-race. Watching from down before the last fence, it was intriguing to spot the number of people who took the decision to ignore it until the race was over, including a stalwart, but increasingly nervous, Jonathon Turner in the commentary box! It did seem that Jimmy Tarry, on the favourite Grecian Star, was also looking to his fellow riders for advice as to what to do next, as once he had jumped to the front with a couple of laps to go, there was plenty of looking over his shoulder. Given the timing of the move to the front, it cannot be ruled out that the fire bells may have spooked the horse, which would have made for an unusual explanation in the form book had Grecian Star been beaten. Turning for home, Grecian Star had a few lengths lead, but two rivals were laying down a challenge. Itsmyturnnow was a likely threat as Chris Gordon was on board, much stronger in a finish than the man on the leader, but the horse did not see out the trip. In the end, Grecian Star hung on in a doughty but style-less finish from Maggies Brother, whose recent form had been very uninspiring and probably did not put the favourite under the greatest of pressure. To the naked eye, it seemed by far the slowest finish of the night.

Old Kimboltonians Lodge No 7204 50th Anniversary amateur riders' Handicap Hurdle [2m 5.5f]
A nip and tuck finish to close the meeting, with Kim Bailey's Veneguera just getting the nod, from hat-trick seeking Stars Delight. The winner attracted some support, and although the delighted winning jockey, Mr J Newbold, was obscure - according to the stats in the Post this was his eighth ride the fact that there was no evidence of having got the ride simply be being related to the owners was a plus, as Kim Bailey still has a strong enough string (or string enough strong?) to attract capable amateur and conditional riders to his yard. In the end, these two were well clear of the pursuit, as New Perk, who tried to go with them, faded as they turned for home.

Ones to Note
Sparkling Water: can do better when learning to settle, probably helped by a big field and strong pace.

Pangeran: always worth an each-way when long prices as he every so often pulls a huge run out of the hat

Ones to Avoid
Mr Mighty: has the engine but not the grey matter, and is best overlooked until he gets his brain in gear

Pharly Star: on the evidence here, he is not as good as form of 1212 suggests, and merits opposing in anything but the weakest company