by Simon McInnes

Not being accustomed to pointing over Easter, the crowd for this meeting seemed huge compared to regular Charings, although it did at least rain briefly to make it seem normal. The entries for the day were ominously low (63 over six races, with several horses appearing more than once), but the fields themselves stood it quite well, with the runners counting 8, 5, 3, 5, 5 and 5. Although good betting opportunities, and even close finishes, were thin on the ground, the overwhelming nature of the meeting was that of a pleasant day out.

What was not well publicised in advance, but seemed to boost the crowd anyway, were two pony races, which as a consequence I missed. The opener, for riders up to 12 years old, claimed to have a runner owned by Notorious B.I.G. Implausible as this may seem, fear of having a cap popped in their "mofo ass" may have intimidated a few rivals. Less tactically threatening, in the older riders’ (and bigger ponies’) race, one had its colours declared as Cranbrook RFC’s tight-head prop shirt. Either it put up over-weight or the pilot sacrificed a degree of aerodynamicity.

Susan Boyd Memorial Restricted
A bit of a surprise winner emerged from this, in that Charing regulars will recall Kilvoydan throwing away a golden winning opportunity last season when hanging in behind the struggling leader approaching the last, and steadfastly refusing to overtake. Today he was beneficiary of a shrewd tactical ride from Dan(?) Phelan, who took the running up at the seventh fence and ensured that Kilvoydan did not see another rival ahead of him all the way to the line. With nothing to duck in behind, he kept up to the task with apparent enthusiasm. A triumph for innovative thinking on a horse that formerly, it seemed, was unsuited to both making the running and not making it. A big aid in the success came when Trumper got the second last all wrong and did well to survive. He was poised to stick a neck in front at this stage, and not being able to do so conceivably made all the difference. The only other finisher was Master Chief. He was a long way back, but ridden to complete once his chance had gone, and not for the first time hinted that he could find a winnable race in a small field at some stage.  

Grants Cherry Brandy Open Maiden - 5-7 year olds, 2m 4f
At this time of year, with reasonable ground on offer, it was disappointing that only seven were entered for this. And the five that were declared were a nightmare to sort out. Almazard and Lord Of The North had both started the year with modest finishes and then failed to jump round in their next two. Naughty Noah was similar, but one incompletion was a pulled up instead of an unseated. In contrast, Worth A Shot had pulled up in all three, and the shot was probably a swift brandy for the pilot. The other runner was a York family newcomer, who looked distinctly unnerved by the occasion in the preliminaries. Amazingly, the four with a history of not finishing all got round, even though they set off so slowly that negotiating the first was an small achievement in itself. Lord Of The North eventually ran out an easy winner, and Worth A Shot finished strongest of all - a novel, indeed, unique, experience for him - to get the runner up spot. The debutant, Lady Mordaunt, ran an interesting race. She was not foot perfect early on, and sitting at the back, it looked like she was on for an educational. However, in the second half, she made progress to lie behind the leading pair and was a definite threat when falling four out. One to bear in mind if not phased by hitting the deck. Having both failed twice over course and distance, the other pair are not providing encouragement. Naughty Noah ran like a non-stayer even at this reduced trip (although he at least has jumped round both times!), and Almazard went violently left for most of the race, with Jenny Gordon doing well to get him round.

Piper’s Mens Open
Only three lined up and ultra-veteran jockey David Robinson won the spoils with the evergreen Struggles Glory. As the horse pretty much operates to his own convenience, he was allowed to sort himself out at the obstacles, which meant he tended to go right at the fences, especially the uphill ones. But he led all the way, and his only realistic rival, Belvento, unseated Mick Sheridan when pecking at fourth last. At this stage it was neck and neck, with the suspicion that the younger and more athletic jockey may have given Belvento an edge if it had come down to riding a finish, but Belvento had nudged the turf at three earlier fences and the eventual disposal of the jockey was not unforeseeable. The greatness of Struggles Glory, however, is that at any meeting he appears at, he is the popular choice to win, and his fans got what they wanted today. Early on, the betting on this race was a near criminal 4/6 joint favourites, with the outsider Russian Connection at 6/1. Fortunately, near the off, this had settled to 4/5, 5/4 and 6/1. Not exactly generous, but not the rip-off the ring initially offered.

Eastwell Manor Ladies’ Open
The ladies provided an odd spectacle for the racegoers, as the in-form Cedar Chief had the race totally in control from a long way out, but in the end found his four rivals closing on him as they battled for the minor honours, and he was finally not quite as impressive in success as was on the cards as late as two out. There was never much danger of defeat as Lisa Stock was in no way complacent in the saddle, but the gut feeling is left that Cedar Chief is vulnerable to anything that sticks with him mid-race. Also, it should be observed that a couple of years ago I commented that Lisa Stock tended to give everything a waiting ride, whether it suited the horse or not, so in fairness, I have to mention that this is no longer the case, and recent winners have come from more positive tactics. For much of the last mile Commasarris looked set for second, but the ‘pack’ of three was closing fast when he hit the wall after two out, and jumping right at the last lost sufficient ground for Glory Trail to overtake. At halfway, that horse seemed the least likely candidate to fill the forecast spot, and he seems to have more determination than speed. The trail is long, steep and more of a participation than a spectator sport. 

Rocking Horse South East Hunts Club Members
There was an additional trophy for the first Ashford Valley horse to finish in this. Only one was ever entered and he I) was not declared and ii) had amassed no completions in three years, which covered just three runs. Algan was also a no-show, but quite a competitive little affair was generated. Grey youngster Charlies Angel, who won three races last season, came home first, but she was under a big threat from Kenny Davis when he unseated three out.  When first running in this country, he looked like he could not jump to save his life, but he turned up at almost every meeting that I went to, and it was pleasant to watch him slowly get his act together, and end up being placed in Opens, admittedly in little danger of winning one. Sadly, this season, Kenny Davis seems to have forgotten everything he learned, as this was his third straight accident. The engine still runs, if he puts it together again. This left Rainbow Ranch in second. When he inherited that spot, he looked a spent force, but rallied under pressure to at least give Charlies Angel no room for error in the latter stages.

Hobbs Parker Hunt Cup and Farmers’ Race
The most one-sided event of the day, and reformed (for now?) sulkpot Dick McCarthy scooted clear from the fourth last to rack up another comfortable win. Those who watched him towards the end of his Rules career will always think he could spit out the dummy at any stage, but he may have got away with it today even had he done so. The main rival, who set a good pace and challenged Dick’s temper, was Nicodemus, who last ran in 2002. He looked nearly fit, but not 100%, and slowed up a lot from two out. This enabled Oxendale to overhaul him. Never the most committed of participants, Oxendale has not even travelled as well as usual this season, and this was not really a complete return to form. On the other hand, Nicodemus is far from a spent force, although opportunities in the area this season are rapidly running out.