Yorkshire's opening meeting at Sheriff Hutton began its day with torrential conditions in the morning, however an hour before the first race, the heavens cleared and blue sky and sunshine shone down for the remainder of the day and the seven race card. Numerous horses emerged from up and down the country with one contender in paticular getting his season underway, that horse being Hazel Hill and he looks well on his way back to Cheltenham in March.
Hazel Hill was the star on show as he took part in the Mens Open with usual partner Alex Edwards. Hazel Hill is a previous winner at the track and has worked his way through the point to point ranks culminating in winning the Cheltenham Foxhunters last season. Spectators were delighted to see the Cheltenham hero get his season under way in emphatic style. The Philip Rowley trained 12yo never looked in danger as he travelled strongly in behind the leaders and it was be the Dale Peters trained and ridden Rocklander who threw down the main challenge on his point to point debut, however Hazel Hill pulled away easily near the line to win and justify his odds of 4-11 with Path To Freedom, who did best of the Yorkshire contingent, back in third under John Dawson.
The Maidens produced some exciting looking prospects. The Open Maiden saw Classic Lady bounce back to form under Tommie O'Brien for trainer Ollie Pimlott, she has put a disappointing effort at Alnwick well behind her, where she struck into herself, staying on strongly and putting in a decisive performance. "She pulled up quickly two out at Alnwick where she struck into herself... we changed tactics here and didn't make as much use of her. We think she's a better horse than Uptown Harry who we sold last season and he went on to win over hurdles" said Ollie Pimlott, who sends the 5yo daughter of Flemensfirth to the Goffs sales at Doncaster next week. Dragonfruit was well fancied on his racecourse debut under Ed Glassonbury and ran with great credit in second, whilst the experienced Ballygown Bay was back in third for the Tom Ellis stable.
The final 2m4f Maiden saw a very exciting prospect in Ripper Roo under James King from the Francessca Nimo yard. The pair settled well off the early strong pace and gradually came to lead approaching two out, scampering clear in very good style and will no doubt be set to go on to bigger and better things. "He came to us 12 months ago from France, he's very professional and better ground along with going right handed will bring about further improvement in him" said James King, who is based with the Nimmo team. Another team who is well known for their youngsters is Tom Ellis and Gina Andrews, who saddled the runner up Commandingpresence, a well bred son of Kalanisi, but he couldn't match the turn of foot of the winner, whilst the Pimlott team were a well held third with the ex-Irish pointer, Tout Paris, who made the early running.
The Restricted race saw Omar Merreti return to the track at which he crashed out last season when holding every chance. Trained and ridden by Dale Peters, the pair looked to hold every chance at this track last season until falling behind subsequent Heart Of All England winner, Hafajay. The pair led three out and was always holding the only other challenger Scarlett Peak until the last where the winner quickened clear in impressive style. Joe Wright partnered the runner up Scarlett Peak for Ian Mason whilst the Jack Teal ridden Robins Legend was a long way back in third. Connections seemed very confident about the winner and better things could be on the agenda, "He's a proper horse" said winning connections and he could be one to follow in the future.
The opening race was divided and Division Two produced the most exciting finish of the day as Cup Final battled it out with One Conemara right to the line. Always to the fore, Cup Final and Ross Wilson were joined after the last and it was a bob of heads at the line that sealed it for the Sarah Dent trained runner. John Dawson partnered One Conemara back in second. "He doesn't do a great deal in front, but everytime he was headed, he battled back" said winning rider Ross Wilson, who's charge had only a single run last year at the Middleton meeting and was then sidelined for the remainder of the season due to the quick ground. He was a 140 horse when in the care of Nicky Henderson and produced a win at Punchestown in his prime and looked to be back to his best.
Division One of the Club Members race went to the Midlands based Smoke Man for the Chatfield-Roberts family. He looked to relish the heavy conditions and stuck on very well to beat George Fernback, who was running a huge race for his jockey Ben Love, who was having his first ride in point to points. Partnered by Tom Chatfield-Roberts, the 7yo winner looks to appreciate a stiff test of stamina (he won a restricted at the Holderness last season), he's on the upgrade and should have plenty more to give.
The Ladies Open saw a very tidy performance from The Dellercheckout under Immy Robinson. The pair had already won in December at Barbury Castle and this former Paul Nicholls inmate looks like a useful recruit to the pointing field after quickening away from last years winner and favourite Haymount under Gina Andrews, with pace setter, Irish Anthem, well held back in third.