by Simon McInnes

The South East season opened at an unfamiliarly dry Charing - it now appears that the top of the hill is close enough for a good view when not shrouded in mist and drizzle. Despite being lulled into false senses of security when the wind dropped and the sun came out, it was decidedly chilly, with an icy wind to reinforce that. In defiance of the conditions, no frost had come to threaten the meeting and the reduced entries meant putting back the start for an hour as there was little chance of divided races. This actually enhanced the competition as each of the six races was well subscribed. The downside was that throughout the meeting only one strange event took place, although as it was at the finish of the mixed open, it certainly caught the imagination.

The Goring Hotel Members
Seven runners lined up and the favourite obliged. Given that the horse concerned was Seod Rioga, just turned fourteen, and winner of the Kent National last season, the result was not exactly a turn up for the book. As they struggled into the final straight, Seod Rioga was under pressure from Chris Gordon, but close pursuer Kenny Davis was travelling no better, and after clearing the last fence, the winner prevailed with a bit more in hand than had seemed likely, almost coming back on the bridle when he realised that the day's work was done. Kenny Davis did nothing wrong in defeat, performing up to the improved standard that he achieved last season. Erins Pride was weakening in third when he unseated three out. This is a bit of a surprise as he usually gets round and has been a reliable prospect for making the frame in Members races. The ex-Charlie Mann hurdler Cock A Hoop had the benefit of a couple of runs and seemed a candidate to be Seod Rioga's main threat. However, he played up at the start and jumped dramatically right at each fence - so far that it would still be a problem on a clockwise course. The engine is there, as he gained ground when there was a break between obstacles, but Andrew Coveney called time on the effort three out. There is plenty of work to be done before Cock A Hoop has that effect on his backers.

Alchemy Marketing Restricted
A healthy roster of fifteen and although most bookmakers were going 4/1 the field as the runners went to post, they did not agree on who was favourite and the selective punter could have got 9/2 about any runner. Anyone with a shortlist below seven runners had come across money for old rope! The race was run at a good pace, initially set by Naughty Dandy, and the Going Primitive. Stick Or Bust and Sound Gossin lurked on their heels, and with a lap left it was the same four in command, having been joined by Glenmont. After the fifteenth, Andrew Hickman kicked Sound Gossin on, and as is often the case, this proved a decisive move across the top of the course. He was quickly five clear and not one of the leading pack produced an adequate response. This left Sound Gossin for a comprehensive win, after a frustrating run of places in restricted company last season certainly frustrating for those inclined to back him, e.g. me. The minor places fell to hold-up horses that stayed on belatedly to nab their spot in the shadow of the post. In fact for a brief moment, it seemed that Sound Gossin might have been taking it too easy and get reeled in, but he was allowed to pop the last and was woken up on the run-in. It enhances his credit that he was able to quicken up when no other rival had it in them to do so. Namron, after a fair fourth at Higham last week, took second, from Gangster, whose form since winning his maiden three seasons ago is somewhat patchy. Naughty Dandy managed fourth, but had the benefit of a run last week and is not an obvious candidate to improve on this. After a recent maiden win, Kilvoydan was near the head of the market, which proved a bad guide as he was soon in the rear and out of contention when he unseated at the twelfth. Stick Or Bust faded rapidly in the last half mile, but appeared likely to come on for the race.

Christine Scott Memorial South East Hunts Club Members
Another race that attracted a stronger quality of entry than is the norm and then proceeded to go as the formbook would suggest. Rustic Revelry, who was not at his best last year, bounced back to form and skipped into clear lead four out. Going along beside the A20, it seemed as if he would win in a stroll, but tied up a little late on and Philip York had to up the work rate from the saddle at a time when basking in glory might have been preferred. His main threat ought to have been Lively Lord, who did not look fully tuned up for his seasonal debut. He was under pressure with more than a lap to go and soon dropped away. Second place went to Camden Road on his pointing debut. He was given a very patient ride and weaved his way through the pack quite smoothly, only to find that the Rustic Revelry had gained first run on him. This was a very encouraging start, but under Rules he was a common sight around the South East and put in a few good performances that were not subsequently built upon. Lovely Lynsey was always prominent, but when it mattered, she suffered her usual lack of a turn of foot. She regained third as Win The Toss ran like a non-stayer. He was held up early on, made quite good progress to go second approaching three out, only to drop away again between the last two. In the preliminaries, Win The Toss looked especially fit, so there is no reason to believe that he blew up.

Classic Security (UK) Limited Mixed Open
A race of more than fair quality, although four runners had an edge in class over their rivals. They were Tubber Roads, Sheriff's Friend, Tough Terms and the inimitable Struggles Glory. It was the first on that list who set the pace, but he was in trouble as early as the fifth and eventually pulled up at the eleventh when well adrift - far too soon for fitness to be an issue. Tough Terms had crashed out with a bad error at the tenth, and this left two horses to battle it out, and the others to go for minor honours. In fact, Our Man Flin was making good progress in closing on the first pair when he hit the fourteenth hard and flung his jockey forward over his neck. It was too far out to know how close he may of got, but he was set for a much improved effort. The main part of the race saw plenty of fluctuating fortunes as Struggles Glory gained a few lengths here and there, only for Sheriff's Friend to get back on terms at will. So the suspense was sustained - would the class of Struggles Glory (and it seemed the universal support of the crowd) see him through, or would Chris Gordon cajole a super-equine effort from Sheriff's Friend. At the last, Struggles was a length up, but he was being worn down on the run-in, and from where I stood after the last, he seemed to have just lost it. And the body language of the jockeys backed up that view although it may be that David Robinson was too knackered to give interpretable signals! After a long wait, the judge called a dead-heat. Suspecting a controversy, I was ready to report that the judge had let heart rule head, but the rumour soon got around that a loose horse had obscured the judge's view of the finish. Without the information to make a decision, there was no choice but to call a dead-heat, although the shameful populist nature of it is discomforting. If I wanted to have the cockles of my heart warmed, I would not have been in a freezing field in deepest Kent in the first place.

Broadbase Marketing Intermediate
This was an odd event as they sorted themselves out into an order at halfway and it barely changed by the time the race was over. After two good places in opens at Higham, Jackie Jarvis was hot favourite and duly obliged. Although never really in great danger, the winner was not as impressive as might have been expected, although like Seod Rioga in the first, she seemed to be labouring more between the last two fences than the on the run-in, so perhaps there was a soft patch on this low point of the course? Dragon Lord, who for a change made only a couple of minor errors, took second. When managing to finish, he has been placed in open company, so perhaps the earlier quibble on Jackie Jarvis' display is slightly harsh. The token overtaking manoeuvre was when Oxendale put in a big jump two out to pass Glory Trail for third. After refusing to race until half a lap behind last week, Brassis Hill did consent to jump off, but was up  and down the field like a yo-yo, finally pulling up at the tenth. He looks like an entertaining horse to follow, but not a vehicle for financial investment. Of the fancied horses, Nubro was most disappointing. He was in touch at the thirteenth, but faded tamely thereafter. Perhaps he needed the run more than it seemed at first appearances.

Spa Hotel Open Maiden
A big field, but only one was making its debut, and the other fourteen had not done much to catch the eye up to now. The winner certainly reversed that trend, although the form may amount to little. Scotch Bob was the paddock pick as far as fitness is concerned (he also had the not inconsiderable bonus of James Diment on board) and he burned off his rivals with ease. The only one to go with him for the last mile and a half was Lady L'Orelei, who was teasingly permitted to lead for a furlong or so, before being dismissed from contention. She held on to second, but as the unreliable Tonrin was the next to finish, that was not a difficult task. There were a small number of stragglers who finished well scattered, and indication that the ground was less testing than typical early Charing's, when most of the maidens pull up. Smokey Robot, whose experience under Rules marked him as a live threat, jumped poorly and is one to avoid until showing more aptitude for pointing.As far as Scotch Bob is concerned, he will find it much harder to in winning company from now on, but he is only eight and further improvement is not beyond the imagination.