by Arthur Shone

The opening meeting of the new 2004 season by the Albrighton Hunt at Weston Park was dominated by huge fields, good competitive racing and a few class horses thrown in for good measure. 

It was just the sort of start to whet the appetite for point-to-point enthusiasts for the rest of the season. Despite the recent bad weather leading up to this fixture it was never in doubt according to the Albrighton clerk of the course, Martin Kemp, who had told everyone who enquired from Thursday last week that there was no plans to inspect and he did not anticipate any problems. He was spot on; I walked the course beforehand. The official going by Kemp was soft but there were plenty of good ground out there.

Last seasons’ national and area champion gentleman rider Richard Burton got off the mark in this neck of the woods by winning the opening Members race on Ashgan, a shade comfortably by a couple of lengths from Sharlom, which was Burton’s fourth winner of the season. This victory was sweet revenge for Burton as Sharlom was given a short head victory over his mount Uncle Ada at this meeting last year when his mount had clearly prevailed by a neck to half a length. The winner is trainer at Shifnal by another former champion rider Andrew Dalton and is owned by Alan and Liz Brazier from Inkberrow in Worcester. With the exception of a year with Ian Williams, Ashgan has been with the Daltons since he was a four year old and he used be trained under rules by Andrews’ wife Heather.

Bay Island, a former inmate of the Daltons, made every yard a winning one in the Mens’ Open under Adam Wadlow to win unchallenged from the jolly, Irilut, by 8 lengths with Sam Waley-Cohen in the plate, with An Capall Dubh under Alistair Crow finished a distance behind in third. The winner is owned by Bernie Perkins from Shifnal and trained by Tom Forge at his Shifnal yard, which was formerly owned by trainer Willie Jenks. Bernie had his winner under rules with the Daltons before deciding to go pointing and this was his first winner with his first ever runner between the flags. Not a bad start and all-in-all Forge will have 6 pointers to train this season.

Sam Waley-Cohen and his trainer father Robert did not leave the Shropshire course empty handed as they landed the Intermediate with the former Newbury bumper winner Mel In Blue, who had too much in hand for the runner up Finders Keeps. It was a good training performance by the Warwickshire handler as his charge had been off the track for almost two years.

The prospect of a Paul Nicholls owned horse running at the Shropshire course had semi professional punters coming out of the woodwork including the Shropshire Star’s racing correspondent Sam Turner who turned up with more readies on him than a football agent and got on at 8-11. The horse in question was Ask The Natives who hammered the opposition in the Ladies Open under Chloe Roddick, winning by 10 lengths from the fast finishing Cascum Lad from the Bishops castle yard of Pam Sykes, with Euro Bob from the Sheila Crow yard a further 12 lengths back in third. This was the winning riders first success as a trainer from her yard at Wellow, Nr Bath and Nicholls said afterwards that if the horse stays sound, he has had dodgy legs in the past, the plan was to qualify him for the Cheltenham Foxhunters at the Festival.

Jimmy Cricket landed a good old-fashioned gamble in the Restricted race under young Henry Oliver. The son of Primitive Rising was backed off the boards from 20-1 to 4-1 and duly landed the touch by a distance from Sutton Courtenay. The winner is trained at Kington, Nr Hereford by Caroline Walker for joint owners Ron and Stuart Addis from Lyonshall, Nr Hereford. This was their first winner at the course. 

Shropshire rider Sammie Beddoes owed much to her success as the area champion rider last season to riding winners from the Heidi Brookshaw yard at Shrewsbury. The combination were on form again in 2004 when Home Tor held on grimly by a neck from Welcome News to land Beddoes’ first winner of the season. Heidi will have only two horses in training this season, the other being the prolific home bred winner Pennyahai.

The second division of the Maiden was the fastest of the day by 8 seconds which was won by Master Club Royal under Gary Hanmer, finding a second wind to run on again to beat Benbow by 4 lengths, who looked all over the winner two out. The runner up is trained by Gordie Edwards at his Sommerton Stud, Nr Shrewsbury and on this evidence he should soon find the winners enclosure soon. The winner is trained by Don McCain Junior at Cholmondley for the flamboyant entrepreneur Derek Malam, who plans a possible tilt at the Bangor Final with his charge in May. Malam has won the race twice previously with Warleggan and Nodforms Wonder.