The opening meeting of the Larkhill season produced some excellent racing when 53 horses took place in the six races at the Hursley Hambledon meeting on Sunday. The going was good and the course was in splendid condition bearing in mind the dry summer that has been experienced. The highlights of the meeting were a first and second for trainer Sally Alner in the Mens Open race where Liam Harrison rode his first point to point winner and a victory for the classy Southfield Theatre in the Ladies Open ridden by his new pilot Lily Bradstock.
The Mens Open race sponsored by Moore Blatch produced a tremendous finish with Tom Barton holding off his fast finishing stablemate Apple's Queen ridden by Bryan Carver with Sarazen Bridge and Nick Phillips a close third. The winner owned by the Four Dames Partnership headed by Anne Tory is well known for his triumphs round Badbury Rings but this proved his versatility in going right handed. It will be a day his 16 year old rider Liam Harrison will never forget on his first ever point to point ride and his initial comment was that 'I have been taught a great deal by my partner'. Liam who works for trainer Neil Mulholland hails from Bath and has been riding at the Limpley Stoke stable since the age of 12 and recorded his first victory for his employer on Magical Thomas in a Hurdle race at Stratford in August, the day he received his GCSE results. Too young to drive at present he is grateful to his mother Heather for acting as his chauffeur and on the basis of this ride she may be visiting many more point-to-point courses this season.
Southfield Theatre recorded his first success for enthusiastic owner Angela Yeoman since winning a steeplechase at Exeter in February 2015 when scoring in the Ladies Open race ridden by Lily Bradstock. Having been trained by Paul Nicholls to win eight races he had rather lost his way and the move to new trainer Sara Bradstock and a different regime seems to have rekindled his enthusiasm. Angela who is a very well National Hunt owner was registering her first ever point to point winner and was delighted to see her King's Theatre gelding enjoying himself in front for virtually all of the race. Explaining how she came to be training for Angela Sara said that she had met her at an eventing day at Nunney when Lily was riding her eventer and this had led to the horse joining her stable about 3 months ago. Sara added that evergreen Carruthers was now retired having been such a great servant to both her and her husband Mark.
Another familiar face from the National Hunt scene enjoyed his own triumph when Drumlynn was a very easy winner of the Restricted race for Luke Harvey. Already the winner of a Bumper when trained by Nicky Henderson he outclassed his six rivals and won by a distance under Darren Edwards. Explaining his bucking on the way to the start Luke did say that he had not been able to do much work with him due to his television commitments at Newbury and as such was very fresh in the preliminaries. Luke who could have kept his horse to National Hunt races said that 'I love pointing and want to keep being involved in it '. Darren reported that his mount has 'a real engine' and could progress through the ranks.
Blackwater Bramble was another easy winner of the Conditions Race and supplemented his win from Buckfastleigh on the opening day of the season. Owned by Katherine Smith-Maxwell and her daughter Ros and ridden by her son John he is trained by Katherine's other daughter Alexandra Dunn at West Buckland in Somerset. The King's Theatre gelding was previously in the care of Jade Barber and recorded two victories last season before being sold quite cheaply in the summer. John was thrilled with the way he had beaten his nine rivals to record his first Larkhill victory. Asked about the colours he was wearing (Green with a red cap) John advised that these were the colours of his grandfather Archie Smith-Maxwell rather than the usual Smith-Maxwell colours that he wears.
The other two races on the card were the Maiden races where there was much drama none more so than in the shorter Maiden Race when Dawn Sunrise unseated his rider Josh Newman at the first fence and then proceeded to cause chaos at the next two fences when three of the runners were eliminated. The fences took their toll on the thirteen strong field with five loose horses passing the winning post ahead of the eventual winner Drake's Well ridden by Sam Lee and trained by Fred Hutsby. Owned by London Fund Manager Stephen Corbett whose first horse this is, he was acquired from Mark Gichero after a couple of runs in Ireland but when he arrived at Fred's stable near Stratford he was in a fairly poor state. However with much care from Fred and his wife Caroline including a holiday stay in the summer in Exmoor he has picked up well and is highly regarded by his trainer.
Sophie Lacey's Airlander was fancied to make a winning debut for owner Lady Cobham in the final race, the Open Maiden, but he could not match the pace of the winner Danilo D'Airy ridden by Zac Baker. Only a five year old he had debuted in one of the Bumpers at Barbury Castle last season but he did not run again. Trained and owned by John Benfield who runs a stud near Heythrop he had been bought in Ireland as a three year old and the plan had been to win earlier than now. The bloodstock agents who were in attendance at the meeting were seen making enquiries about the gelding after his impressive victory.