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Berks and Bucks Draghounds at Kingston Blount
Sunday 30th May 2021

by Russell Smith

PHIL York and Nick Phillips joined in Kingston Blount's 50th anniversary celebrations by chalking up half-centuries of their own at the Berks & Bucks Draghounds meeting.

York, the course's winning-most rider, took his tally to 50 at the track with a typically bold effort on Thomas Junior in the Oriental Club Owner-Trainer Conditions Race (Level 3) in front of a limited crowd following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

Phillips, meanwhile, brought up his career half-century - 47 point-to-points and three hunter chases - with a positive ride aboard Ifyoucanseemenow in the Restricted, sponsored by Pangbourne Asphalt, before announcing his retirement from the saddle.

York, who is based at Effingham in Surrey, made his move on Nigel Benstead's 12-year-old coming down Crowell Knoll on the final circuit of Sunday's opening contest.

Thomas Junior looked to have the race in safe keeping approaching the last fence only to make a mistake, but York wasn't to be denied and drove his mount home by half a length from Waterloo Warrior.

"Everything was fine until he got to the last," said the 55-year-old rider. "I think if he had winged the last it might have been an easier task."

Reflecting on his half-century of winners at Kingston Blount, York added: "It's absolutely brilliant. I had no idea until Stewart Nash (clerk of the course) sent me a text in the week saying it is our 50th anniversary and you have had 49 winners at the course - it would be nice if you got your 50th."

Benstead, who trains at Firle, near Lewes, was delighted to provide York with a landmark winner. "I have known Phil for 40 years and he has probably ridden 25 winners for me," he said. "He is totally committed and does nothing for money, just for the love of it."

Phillips's 50th career success on Ifyoucanseemenow in the Restricted also saw Bibury trainer Dibby Brown bow out with a winner.

Phillips soon had the seven-year-old at the head of affairs before his mount sprinted clear to hold off Lucky Lucarno and O'Brien by three lengths.

The 39-year-old rider heads the Kilkenny Racing Partnership, which owns the son of Stowaway, and he said: "That's my 50th winner which is a huge satisfaction. When I read in the press about Yorky having his 50th winner at Kingston I thought I am certainly not going to do that, but I thought if I can have 50 winners overall and finish at Kingston that will be me for riding in point-to-points."

Brown and Phillips have enjoyed some memorable moments, notably with Cousin Pete, who scored at Cheltenham's evening hunter chase meeting in 2016 before finishing third in the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase at the 2018 Festival.

Having saddled 32 winners from 85 runners between the flags, the trainer said: "We have been very lucky. That's my last ever runner and I just thank the horse for running so well for me.

"I do a bit of amateur eventing and I want to have another go at it. I did it in my twenties professionally, and I am also doing garden design."

Gabrial The Great provided owner-trainer-rider Thomas Murray with a poignant winner when romping home by 25 lengths from Tangoed in the PPORA Club Members Conditions Race (Level 2) for Novice Riders, sponsored by Mark Goggin.

The 12-year-old's success in the 2m 5f contest came at the end of a week that saw Eamon Bull, father of Murray's wife, Jessica, pass away, and he was clearly in the rider's thoughts as he raised his arm to the skies on the run-in.

Even a blunder two from home couldn't stop Gabrial The Great, and Murray, who is based at Elmley Castle, near Evesham, said: "It is a bit of an emotional day. My wife, who led up the horse, lost her father two days ago. I think he was looking over us when we jumped the second-last."

Gabrial The Great won at the course two years ago before finishing second in this race that same season, and Murray added: "He has actually been sick recently, so I was not sure what horse would turn up."

Ballykan and Ben Bromley took advantage of odds-on favourite Don Bersy refusing before the second fence to take the Mixed Open, sponsored by AMG Asset Solutions.

Ryan Potter's market leader was strongly fancied to follow up his impressive success at the last meeting here, but Don Bersy was reluctant to set off and, despite Bradley Gibbs's urgings, his mount ground to a halt.

That left Bromley to bide his time on Ballykan before sending the 11-year-old, owned by his father, Anthony, and trained by Phil Rowley at Morville, near Bridgnorth, into the lead coming down the hill for the final time.

Galloping on strongly, Ballykan flew the last to pass the post eight lengths ahead of The Brassmoulder, who was one of three seconds for Tommie O'Brien.

"He was wicked!" exclaimed the winning rider. "He has jumped brilliantly. I like this course - it suits a quick horse and you have to stay as well."

The stewards held an enquiry into the running and riding of Dom Bersy, but took no further action after accepting Potter's explanation about the horse's behaviour.

Aston Rowant trainer Alan Hill's decision to miss Stratford on Friday night with Getting Closer reaped reward with victory in the Intermediate, sponsored by Mettal Ltd.

Izzie Marshall always had the seven-year-old well placed before striking the front at the second-last, and her mount bounded clear to beat Robin Why Not by six lengths.

The winning rider commented: "I didn't want to hit the front too soon because he likes to have a look around."

Getting Closer is owned by The Three Off The Tee Partnership, a nine-strong group of golfing enthusiasts headed by George Cranfield.

Hill said: "David Minton bought this little horse and he is proving to be a superstar. He will go into the field now and I would say next season he will run in conditions races with the thought of going hunter chasing."

Raleagh Flora showed the benefit of his debut fifth here three weeks ago for Martin Wanless's Ettington stables, near Stratford, by landing the Maiden, sponsored by Tyreteam Limited.

Formerly trained in Ireland by Colin McBratney, the six-year-old hit the front at third-last under Tristan Durrell, before storming home by ten lengths from Misstree Song and Gina Andrews in the fastest time of the day.

Wanless, who owns the son of Red Rocks with his wife, Jane, said: "It was his first run for us the last time, so we didn't know what to expect. He will come back here in a fortnight."

Durrell added: "He ran a little bit keen the last time, but he settled well today and bounced off the ground."

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