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Avon Vale at Larkhill
Saturday 31st March 2018
by Bob Bracher

A grey and somewhat chilly Easter Saturday at Larkhill was enlivened by some good quality racing when the Avon Vale held their meeting in which friends and family celebrated the life of James McNeile who lost his life after a fall at this meeting twelve months ago. The inaugural race in his memory was won by Railway Storm ridden by Ryan Withey whereas the other highlights were riding doubles for Will Biddick and Tommie O'Brien and training doubles for Ed Walker and Sophie Lacey.

Sarazen Bridge ridden by Nick Phillips made all of the running to land the opening race, the Confined race, with the winning distance of four lengths from Carrig Dubh ridden by Charlie Dando. Owned by Alice Dolman and trained by Elizabeth Brown he was supplementing his victory at the Royal Artillery meeting in January. Nick admitted that he had left his challenge at the Combined Services meeting too late so this time made no mistake by setting off in front and remaining there at the finish. Alice revealed that the horse will be staying point-to-pointing as he has a non- racing agreement in his passport and is looking forward to running him in higher grade races.

Owner Tom Lacey introduced a smart four year old by Getaway called Muse of Fire who was a narrow winner of the two and a half mile Maiden race beating the only other finisher Hugos Horse by three quarters of a length. Tom reported that the horse did not enjoy the soft ground and his cause was not helped by a loose horse galloping across him on a couple of occasions and crossing him again on the run in. Paying credit to his jockey Tommie O'Brien who he described as 'doing a great job on him' who in turn said that his mount was' rather green but toughed it out at the end of the race'.

Punter Friendly was a very narrow winner of the Conditions race under Will Biddick who just got the better of the only other finisher Crackacan ridden by Tom Doggrell. Ridden by Will for the first time he was not helped by mistakes at two of the last four fences but Will's strength in a finish was a decisive factor. Owned by Richard and Sylvia Francome and trained by Ed Walker Sylvia affectionately described her horse as 'an old bat who dislikes hunting who usually is a brilliant jumper 'but is normally ridden by Josh Newman who was riding at Buckfastleigh.

Will secured his double in the next race, the Mixed Open race, aboard Different Gravey also trained by Ed Walker. The race was developing into a duel between Different Gravey and Thereyarsee ridden by Lorcan Williams when the last named blundered badly at the third last giving Lorcan no chance of remaining in the saddle. This allowed Will to coast home to secure a twelve length victory over Asockastar. Owned by Richard Kelvin-Hughes he reported that the gelding had lost his confidence under Rules and also was suffering from ulcers and his trainer Nicky Henderson had suggested that a change of scenery might recapture his former good form. He has hunted on a regular basis by Polly Walker and he seems to have greatly benefited from this.

Tom Lacey secured his second victory as an owner when his King Roland was an impressive winner in the Open Maiden race. Drawing clear from the second last he had fifteen lengths in hand from runner up Imogens Thunder and newcomer Foxworthy and rider Tommie O'Brien had some difficulty in pulling up his mount and had to travel some three furlongs after the winning post before bringing him to a halt. Tom described his win as ' an exceptional performance' and 'a debut as good as I have seen in 10 years of having pointers' and he is a big horse for a four year old and still has more growing up to do. He may be going to the forthcoming Aintree sale and if so will attract a great deal of interest.

The Conditions race for Veteran and Novice Riders sponsored by the James McNeile Fan Club provided a surprise winner when the outsider of the four runners Railway Storm ridden by Ryan Withey proved to be too good for his rivals. Leading from the ninth fence he stayed on well to beat nearest rival Minellahalfcentury owned by James McNeile's estate by twelve lengths. Owned by Christopher White from Sparkford the gelding had been acquired from Jimmy Frost who had won a steeplechase at Exeter under Bryony Frost in 2016. Reminiscing about his own riding career he said with a smile that' I had over 100 rides but only had a single winner called Knigh Lover a long time ago'

Kit Barry was a cosy winner of the Intermediate race when collaring leader V Neck at the last fence and drawing away on the run-in to record a five length victory. Owned and trained by David Dando and ridden by his son Charlie he has been gradually improving and was recording his third win in a row. Charlie explained that he needs to be held up for as long as possible and the partnership are unbeaten this season after two starts.

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