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Grafton at Edgcote
Sunday 20th May 2018
by Jake Exelby


A cloudless sky and temperatures in the early seventies welcomed racegoers to the second meeting at the new course at Edgcote, near Banbury. The weather resulted in a much larger crowd than at the first meeting and racing was competitive, with five of the seven short-priced favourites turned over. Hero of the day was owner-trainer Tim Underwood, looking sartorially splendid in red shorts, who won with two of his four runners.

Tim opened his account in the five-runner Beachborough School Novice Riders race with Tempelpirate, scoring for the 21st time in his 35 starts.

Confidently ridden by Craig Dowson, Tempelpirate jumped into the lead at the second open ditch and quickened clear down the back straight. Odds-on favourite Kashmir Peak, making his debut for Alan Hill and Dan Cherriman, tracked him and took a narrow lead four out, but Craig always looked to have something in reserve, went back in front jumping the last and held on by one and three-quarter lengths. Thyne For Ruda was forty lengths back in third.

Tempelpirate's visibly excited owner greeted me with, "The local press say he had a hard race last week and that I run my horses too frequently," referring to a recent conversation we had! "He'll have a week off now, two canters, then run again – I'll probably race him twice more, back here in two weeks, then at Dingley." It was Craig's third win of the season on the 11-year-old and he told me afterwards, "Kashmir Peak came up my inner on the home bend, but I wasn't too worried. I had a good feel and knew he had more to give, so thought I could haul him back. I feel like we understand each other," continued Craig of Tempelpirate. "He's an old pro, very game, and knows what he's capable of." (He could have been taking about Tim.)

Craig was quick to thank Martin Oliver for putting him in touch with Tim in the first place and has now ridden five winners in points and one under rules. "I'm a late bloomer," laughed the 31-year-old, who is stable amateur to Robert Stephens and is hoping to gain his Category B licence to ride against professionals shortly. "I first sat on a horse at 19 at the Northern Racing College so don't have much mileage! Robert's been phenomenal – he gives me the time to ride in points."

The Underwood double was completed in the concluding Framptons Planning Conditions race for ten-year-olds and over, which attracted the largest field of the day. Eight went to post and hot favourite Knockedoutloaded – Gina Andrews' only ride of the day – made the early running. But Phil York, riding as well as ever at the age of 52, took Presenting Beara into the lead with a circuit to race and – like Tempelpirate – went clear on the far side of the course. Knockedoutloaded tried to close the gap but couldn't get closer than 20 lengths of the impressive winner, who was running for the fifth weekend in a row. Breezy Kin never got into the race and was thirty lengths third.

Tim said after the race, "He's got to have good ground and will keep going – he may go to Kingston Blount. He's ex-Irish and I bought him at Ascot, but he got badly kicked and was lame for six weeks, which is why he started his campaign late." My final question was whether Tim had finally hung up his boots after a long career as a jockey. "I'm hoping to be back in the saddle at Kingston Blount next week…" was his parting shot!

Equine star of the show was Dabinett Moon, who took the feature race, the John White Funeral Directors Mixed Open, as a long odds-on favourite should. Three runners resulted in a slow early pace, but the ten-year-old asserted her authority after the first circuit and was never headed thereafter. Second favourite Toby Lerone was close enough for most of the race, but mistakes six out and four out put paid to his chances and the clean-jumping Dabinett Moon won hard-held, coming home 25 lengths clear with We Never Give Up completing for third, thirty lengths away.

Christopher and Fran Marriott's wonderful mare, ridden as she almost always is by Claire Hardwick, was winning for the 16th time in 31 starts. Asked what she had to say, Fran countered with, "What more is there? Didn't she do well under that weight? It was a five star performance – Toby Lerone's not a bad horse." As far as future plans are concerned, the Marriotts are keen on a repeat visit to Stratford for the Skinners Ladies Open Final, which she won last year. Dabinett Moon is the only inmate of their Chipping Norton yard and Fran explained the secret of their success. "We let her do what she wants to. She goes out in the field and Christopher rides her every day. He's a help, not a hindrance… as long as he does what the trainer says!" Claire, looking to finish second in the Lady Jockeys Title, added, "She's so lovely. It was tricky with just three runners – we never make the running but I had to do something. I hope she'll stay in training next season."

Tempelpirate and Dabinett Moon are established stars of the South Midlands pointing circuit, and Benefit Of Luck, impressive winner of the seven-runner Savills Intermediate over the shorter distance of two miles five furlongs, could soon join them in the firmament. Winning his third start on the bounce for absent owner James Henderson, trainer-rider Dale Peters always had the improving six-year-old handy. He first went into the lead at the tenth and, although Dave Mansell on Joey Kangaroo took the fight to the odds-on favourite, Benefit of Luck always looked to be going best and the result was in no doubt when he got his head back in front jumping two out, going on to score by a comfortable eight lengths. Kicker King never really challenged in finishing 15 lengths further back.

The winning owner was represented by daughter Annabel, who explained why Benefit of Luck was transferred from the family yard near Faringdon to Dale Peters at Sawtry earlier in the season. "Dad knows Dale and he's good with quirky ones – the horse was a bit too much for us!" The trainer-jockey, who is enjoying his best season with 17 wins in the saddle and 12 from his yard, expanded on this, saying, "When (James' son and jockey) Freddie said, 'Will you train him?' I replied, 'Of course.' He had a nasty accident as a young horse and used to panic in the lorry, but he's getting used to travelling now." Of plans for Benefit Of Luck, Dale went on, "We'll possibly go to Garthorpe, but I'd be happy to call it a day. He's improving and should be a Novice Hunter Chaser next year."

Another absent owner was Peter Corbett, whose Kinlochspelve followed up her Hackwood Park Maiden victory when taking the Jackson-Stops & Staff Restricted, in which four started, by a fence and a half from the only other finisher, Don't Budge Me. With odds-on Iconic Star looking uninterested, Kinlochspelve dominated throughout under Alfie Jordan, despite taking a breather on the back straight on the final circuit, to score in similarly impressive style as she did last time out.

"He's at Kinlochspelve, his house on the Isle of Mull," quipped winning trainer Fred Hutsby when I asked about the owner. After seventeen defeats before breaking her duck, the nine-year-old has now won two in a row and her trainer admitted that going is the key. "She's tiny, but accurate, jumped well in blinkers and she loves this ground. We'll probably come back here in a fortnight and this may be her last season – I don't know if Peter wants to breed from her."

Winning jockey Alfie Jordan is now in pole position in the local area Novice Rider title but admitted that the race hadn't gone entirely according to plan. "She got a bit keen second time round," confessed the 17-year-old. "Fred told me to take a pull so I gave her a breather and she kept going. She attacked her fences well," he confirmed. Alfie works for Martin Keighley and hopes to turn conditional eventually, although he remains grounded for the time being, saying, "I want to carry on pointing for a while to get experience."

The Bagforce Open Maiden was another four-runner contest and the spoils went to Just Skittles, a first success between the flags since Cheeky Lad (ridden by Fred Hutsby) in 2005, for locally-based King's Sutton trainer Richard Harper, although he has had several under rules since then. With odds-on favourite First Goodnight not enjoying the well-watered ground and jumping stickily, Lizzie The Leopard looking reluctant, and Tigers Eye showing his greenness on only his third start, the contest was tailor-made for the ten-year-old Just Skittles, who has plenty of experience under rules. Always prominent, he won by seven lengths from Tigers Eye, with First Goodnight two-and-a-half away in third.

"I bought him off the late Richard Woollacott about four years ago," said Richard of how he came by the horse. And as for how he got his moniker... "He was broken in late and we couldn't catch him, but we had a packet of Skittles in the box, he came for them, and that's how we named him!" The trainer, who recently competed in the Old & Bold Scurry at Kingston Blount – "It crossed my mind to come out of retirement today," he laughed – has a permit under rules and is known for his tilts at the big time. "We've had a lot of fun running in races like the Christmas Hurdle," Richard admitted.

Winning jockey Guy Sankey, a surveyor who is based near Bridgnorth in Shropshire and who was riding his second winner, described himself as a "True amateur. I can't ride out during the week, so make do with the gym. It was good of Richard to give me the chance," he carried on. "He rang my brother Philip, but he couldn't do the weight, so passed the ride to me!" The Sankeys have two horses at home, in training with Victoria Collins, including popular veteran Galbally King, who was Guy's first winner last season.

The Heygates & Sons Hunt Members race was a match. Simon Gilmore has been trying to win this race throughout his long career and his mare Come On Harriet started favourite to beat Welstonedruid, trained by Karl Green and ridden by Roger Brown. However, she proved no match for the experienced ten-year-old – who had winning form in Opens when trained in the West Country by Robert Chanin. Welstonedruid jumped well, was always going better, and was not extended in winning by seven lengths.

It was a first winner for both Karl and Roger. The former, who trains two horses at Turweston, had his first runners last year and told me, "I'm in my second season. I mostly do hunter liveries and show jumpers and pointing has been a steep learning curve – you have to get the horses fit in different ways, with much more power work. We gallop them either here, or at Heather Kemp's at Adstone. That was the most nervous I've ever been before a race." Roger, who turns 50 in October, has been riding in points since 2013 and, quizzed on the late start to his career, summed it up in one word, "Lunacy!" "I played polo," he continued. "My Dad, Tim Brown, rode in this area and I know everyone locally." Explaining how he came across Welstonedruid, who hunts regularly, Roger admitted, "We bought him from Facebook – Karl found him and my wife went to get him. I had nothing to do with it!"

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