by Simon McInnes

Although a total of thirty-nine runners between seven races is not great, the memory of how quickly the course dried out last year once the rains stopped did give cause to fear that the turnout could be worse. Quality was a bit thin on the ground, but most of the races were competitive, even when long odds-on favourites lined up. From a positive point of view, some new names appeared on the jockey's score sheet, although as far as the area title is concerned, the absence of Philip York and injury to Andrew Hickman left a field day for The Great Man. Inspired by the rapid times posted last year, the start has been moved to the bottom of the first of the three hills that the course breasts. This added two extra fences, but one has been removed from the A25 straight leaving eighteen in all. The access from the paddock to the starting area involves a very sharp descent, and one or two of the more excitable contenders strived to take full advantage. A big bonus on the day was that John Beasley was throwing in a free copy of last year's Big Green Annual for anyone buying the current version. Thus anyone cramming six into a car could get seven races and two Big Green Annuals for fifteen quid a piece. Unbeatable value. As for picking winners once in, that's a different matter entirely. 

Wilkins Family Hunt Members Race
Lively Lord, who fell at the first fence of the first ever race here in this event last season, made amends by winning a touch more easily than the three lengths (or so) margin implies. He was entitled to do so on known form, but was given a challenge three out by Find The Lady - whose recent form suggests she should have been a bit surprised not to have pulled up by this stage. Would it be harsh to think that there was a hint of Lively Lord's rider (Chris Gordon) teasing Find The Lady's (Mrs Gordon)? Having her first ever ride, Kate Pegram sat tight when Macs View made a couple of errors and eventually managed third. Based on the size of the jockey, the 12 stone 5 weight probably involved using every last scrap of lead in the weighing room. Jack Hackett, reigning title holder in this division, was last of the five and is beginning to look as if his namesake has inspired him to prefer a drink to any form of physical exertion.

Monument Securities Restricted
A tight finish nearly produced a minor upset. Sendonthecheque followed up his maiden win - the form of which had looked solid - but he had to work very hard to do so, and only stuck his nose in front on the short run-in. The threat came from Ishma, who is usually one of the first to be eliminated from the win possibles. He had secured his maiden back in 1997 and since then had only tasted glory once, in a Members race. However, Darren Page kicked on a lap out and it was clear with half a mile to go that Sendonthecheque was not in for a cakewalk. However, Ishma ran wide on the sharp turn after three out (which catches out plenty of horses) and then blundered at the next. He still held a slight advantage at the last but was out jumped and lacked the pace, or perhaps resolve, of the winner. Hurricane Harry took third on the run-in but it was well behind the main pair and at the expense of Mr Chataway, who would have been in that position had he not finished lame. Irish maiden winner Double Thatch was pulled up for the second time in a row, but still appeared as if he would come on for the race.

Mitchell & Cooper Confined Race
In a race littered with slow jumps (but few bad blunders) pointing debutant Supreme Irony, who looked in fine fettle before the race, won the day, and as a Mike Roberts horse, his destiny surely lay here, even when he won his bumper. His main threat came from Tell The Nipper, who was slower over two out and lacked the oomph to get back upsides Supreme Irony. Back at his level after failing under Rules, Tidal Reef ran reasonably until fading late on, and he was overhauled for the third prize by White Smoke. The latter was having his seasonal debut and will definitely strip fitter for the run out. 

Highfields Farm Ladies Open
Glamorganese raider Toskano, under Victoria Flood, took the honours here. His best form in handicap chases marked him as a potentially decent pointer, but this is the first time that he has lived up to that potential, and he dismissed the challenge of Bitofamixup readily. That horse displayed the best and worst of his character as he seemed to lose interest at the fifteenth and fell a few lengths off the leader, but changed his mind and ran on again until a mistake at the second last sealed his fate. Normally, the reduced pressure of a small field helps his frame of mind, but today the moods fluctuated from stride to stride! Tom Cobbler was a one-paced third.

Fine Art Auction Group Mens Open
The race was a landmark in one respect, as in completing a treble on the day, Chris Gordon notched his 100th winner. Having cashed in when he was riding, and winning, on more relative outsiders, I would have gone to pay tribute at the presentation, but it was a very warm afternoon and acquiring an ice cream was a higher priority at the time. Nice day plus fair crowd equals ruthless in the pursuit of refreshments. Being on the classiest contender in this race meant that number one hundred will not rank amongst the toughest of the wins. The horse that played his part was Ballinure Boy, who will be competitive in tougher company. In one of those can-I-quickly-retract-my-words moments, I commented as they cleared the seventh that Brackenheath was jumping better than usual. He immediately got the eighth badly wrong and made a pig's ear of the eleventh. With his history, I-should-have-known-better lessons were finally learnt, not made up for by the plethora of hyphens. To their credit, Brackenheath and Philip Hall got back on the same wavelength and kept at the job in hand for second. They just held the late challenge of five-year-old pointing newcomer Lunardi, who looked to be given far too much to do and was not asked for a huge effort. At the subsequent inquiry, jockey Tom Faulkner explained that he had got behind with a mistake six out and that Lunardi resents the use of the whip, so could only be nudged along. The mistake did not appear terribly drastic, but my vague recollection of Lunardi as a hurdler is that he was a less than straightforward ride who often flattered to deceive, and it may be unwise to get too carried away about an eye-catching performance. 

Charlie Corbett Countryside Alliance Club Members for Veteran & Novice Riders
The regressive Glacial Enterprise showed his dark side, getting loose before the start and doing half a lap. The disruption did not over stimulate some of those waiting at the start, but there were some very experienced horses in the race, who surely know the routine by now. By the thirteenth fence, the race was effectively between three horses. The front-running Kiltulaa Lad, the dour plodder Master Jake and the oft-placed Legal Storm. Within a couple of fences, they had dropped Master Jake and another decent duel looked on the cards. Kiltulaa Lad made a mistake three out, and Legal Storm returned the favour at the next. But the complexion of the race was changing as it became obvious that Tooth Pick, who had been almost tailed off a mile out, was staying on rapidly, and the strong early pace was finding out the leaders. On top of this, there was a more than a hint that the first two had not heard him coming. Another mistake, at the last, slowed Kiltulaa Lad further, and a smooth jump saw Tooth Pick land on their heels and with more momentum. He won, giving what was probably a first winner for owner-trainer-rider Miss K Blatcher. Legal Storm failed to pinch second, yet another tried hard but cruelly foiled run on his CV. A word of commiseration for Mark Caldwell, who came all the way from Cheshire to ride and was unseated at the second. Open Maiden
A steady pace resulted with the six remaining runners in a bunch with a lap to go, and four still fighting for honours at the fourth last. Yet another close decision for the judge saw The Wee General prevail, having laid up much closer to the pace than in recent appearances, although putting in the more fluent jump at the last made the difference between victory and defeat. He just saw off Rainy Day, who fell on his latest run, in Ireland last year. By shrewd placement, The Flying Dragon, who was third, took home prize money
for the second time this season, but no improvement in ability should be deduced from this miraculous occurrence, and her jumping still leaves a bit to be desired.