by Richard Hall

Twenty-five years ago my more politically intense and correct self would not have liked the older, cynical, creature that walked the Ampton course in his body before (of all things!) the start of a point-to-point meeting.

My younger self would not have been there in the first place. He would have seen the event as a frivolous playpen for the over privileged and idle rich, and avoided it like the plague. With the arrogance of youth he would have believed that he could have made a difference, and his grand political gesture would somehow bring about the end of all class division. He would have been more concerned about the impending war with Iraq, and the far reaching implications British military involvement will undoubtedly provoke, than he would about who was going to win that afternoonís Menís Open. He would not have looked with the same eyes as I did at the massive parcel of private land in which the course is set, complete with itís own church and scatterings of farm cottages where the patriarchal lord of the manor once provided shelter for the hired help. He would have been too preoccupied to sense the history of a whole generation, some probably from that very estate, who were despatched to war, nearly a hundred years ago, filled with the great lie that it was ďa grand and glorious thing to die for oneís countryĒ. He would not have felt the calm and the serenity that I felt as the raw sun and the budding daffodils signposted the dawning of another English summer. He would have been so full of the injustice of it all, and worried for the outcome. He would not have seen, and I would not have been able to tell him, that, providing we at least maintain a democracy, nature and culture exert a far greater influence on our lives than any short term politics. In a few months time the crisis will have passed. Maybe, I wanted to suggest to him, the timelessness of a point to point on a Sunday afternoon in the English countryside offered far more reassurance for the future than any UN resolution ever could?

As it happened, with Silver Spider failing to declare, the Menís Open was not quite the mouth watering prospect that I had hoped for. Five did line up, nevertheless, including Fair Exchange and Endeavour, who had both shown a liking for bowling along in front. With the belief that they might just cut each otherís throats, I invested my tenner on the improving Royal Action at odds of ten to one. He has shown that he stays longer than the proverbial mother in law, and if the pace proved too hot for the others, he would still be going at the finish.
As usual I read the race all wrong, and Paul Chinery set Royal Action into an early lead, which Paul Taiano on Fair Exchange and George Cooper on Endeavour were perfectly content to let him have.
At the fifteenth, with Fair Exchange mounting a serious challenge for the pace making role, Royal Action stumbled on landing and sent his jockey halfway round his neck. Paul Chinery did remarkably well to get back into the saddle but had to spend the next few fences searching for his irons. Any chance of winning disappeared at that point. As it was he kept on bravely for third, ahead of Corston Joker and Hatcham Boy.
Fair Exchange took advantage to extend a four length lead and charge for home.  Endeavour, who had jumped sketchily until then, was alert to the tactic and also changed gear. Coming round the final bend he had reduced the gap to a couple of lengths. As they jumped the last it was only half a length. On the short run in both jockeys went for their whips. They passed the line seemingly together.
As Ampton regulars know, it is dangerous to assume the result of a tight finish unless you are actually standing on the line; the angles, from virtually any other viewing position on the course, are deceptive and generally favour the runner on the outside. Even the commentator wisely refrains from offering an opinion, preferring instead to ďleave it to the judgeĒ. This time the declaration was that Fair Exchange (on the inside) had prevailed by a head.

The tight finish scenario repeated itself in the following race; the Restricted. Nine went to post but, in what was a trait of the afternoon, only the market leaders were involved in the finish. Augmor River, the favourite (and up with the pace throughout), kicked for home at the second downward fence. He quickly opened up a four length gap but, as they rounded the bottom straight, both Holy Moses under Nigel Bloom, and Westfield John, under James Owen, had closed the deficit. Holy Moses, on the outside, jumped the last in the lead but Nick Moore galvanised a renewed effort from the favourite to get up by a head on the line. Westfield John was a further three lengths back in third, with Glad All Over a distance away in fourth.

The second race of the day, the Confined, saw the return to the saddle for the first time this year of Andrew Sansome, for many years the leading rider on the East Anglian circuit. He, apparently, had persuaded the Jockey Club doctor to renew his license. He did not ride the Turner horse, however, or, come to that, any of the Turner horses that afternoon. He was strictly on outside rides, on this occasion Pendilís Charm who was pulled up early on the second circuit. Pampered Gale, the Turner horse on whom he had such a profitable partnership last year (and who has failed to sparkle at all this season), was ridden again by Zoe Turner. He ran out at the fourth fence.

The race was won by market leader Native Status, ridden by Andrew Ayers. He was prominent throughout , kicked on three from home and quickly put daylight between himself and the pack. Step In Line, as at Cottenham the previous week, weaved his way through beaten horses to finish a clear second without ever looking like getting to the winner. Ballyea Boy, ran well for a long way before lack of finishing speed told and eventually finished third. A couple of fences back came Society Lad who was the only other finisher from the ten that set out.

The Turner family, who normally like to get a winner or two on their own course, had begun the day with a disappointing third in the Hunt race. Millennium Way, who had started his seasonís campaign a fortnight earlier with a promising second to Sense of Adventure at Horseheath, was one of three who jumped the last with a chance. It was the Ruth Hayter trained grey, Gatchou Mans (so often let down by his jumping) who took it best however, gaining two lengths in the air to pull away from the long time pacemaker, To Milan on the dash to the line. He was not winning out of turn and, with his confidence restored may well score again for Christian Ward Thomas. The runner up, a giant of a horse who was previously second to Cantenac Brown in a competitive Restricted at Marks Tey, lost nothing in defeat and, being very lightly raced, is, still open to further improvement. He must surely find a race before the season ends.

The Turnerís fortunes did not improve in the Ladies Open. Their Spring Gale was short odds on to beat the second favourite, Village Copper; a task that stablemate Celtic Duke had performed so convincingly three weeks earlier at Marks Tey. According to the bookies, the only other of the seven runners with a squeak was dual course winner Earlymorningcall, who had again made the long journey from Bath. Everything else was available at 20/1 or better.
The bookies were correct in their assessment in that, from a long way out, only the three market leaders stood any chance whatsoever. They pulled a long way clear of the also rans. Village Copper (who, incidentally, won the first race I ever saw at Ampton Ė three years ago) cut out most of the running with Zoe Turner on Spring Gale never far away in second. The West Country raider, although always within five lengths of the second, did not have his favoured soft ground and lacked the acceleration at the business end when Village Copper found an extra gear turning for home. Spring Gale could not live with it either and jockey Amy Stennett comfortably completed a double for the Hayter yard. Switching Village Copper to Ladies events was a smart move, given the lack of new blood in the sphere on the East Anglian circuit, and I suspect that this evergreen horse will provide Ms Stennett with a few more victories before age finally forces his retirement.

It looked to most that the Turnerís would realise a happy ending when their Fine And Dandy quickly put five lengths of daylight between himself and the rest of the field, coming away from the third last in the dayís final race; the Maiden. On the home straight, however, the burst of acceleration faded and one did emerge from the pack to challenge. It was the second favourite, Teeton Fizz, from Joan Ticeís yard and ridden by none other than Andrew Sansome. James Owen, the current Turner jockey, demonstrated that he had learnt from his predecessor and refused to surrender the favoured inside berth, forcing his rival to go outside. It looked to many that Andrew Sansome had managed to get his mount up on the line but, knowing the Ampton angle, the crowd had to wait for confirmation from the judge. It was not long in coming.

Fearing a repeat of the Cottenham exit fiasco I experienced last week, and blessed with not having to collect anything from the bookies, I was in my car and away before the horses got back to the unsaddling enclosure. I therefore did not see or hear the warm applause the winning jockey undoubtedly received. Welcome back Mr Sansome, Iím sure you wonít have to wait quite so long for your second winner of the year!