SUNDAY 16 MARCH 2003
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
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.
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.
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!