APRIL 2004
by Geoff Handley

Over 9mm of rain fell overnight and with the heavy rain not relenting throughout the day at this North Oxfordshire venue, the going was quickly changed to good with good to soft in places. Crowds are often huge at this popular spring meeting however the poor weather kept many away, the viewing is good although unfortunately the first fence was obscured by trees next to the house.

1. Hunt Members
Only 3 runners were declared for the opening race with the Owen family accounting for two of the runners with James riding True Chimes for Jenny and father Herbie riding in his first point riding the 15 year old Tellaporky for Emma. The remaining runner was the odds on favourite Shortcut Shorty ridden by Charlie Wadland and bidding for his second members win at the course this season.

Amazingly at the off the three runners virtually walked up the Mollington hill (they went quicker to post) and the pace didnít improve that much for the rest of the race. It turned out to be a sprint from the final two fences with True Chimes just getting up to beat the fav by half a length with Herbie just 5 lengths behind. The time was 8m 18 secs which must be one of the slowest races at this track. However it proved a memorable race for the Piddington team.

2. Confined
Another odds on favourite bit the dust here as the Caroline Bailey My Best Buddy could only finish third of seven behind the Joan Tice trained & market rival Teeton Priceless. Well ridden by Paul Cowley, he was always up with the pace & held off the determined effort of Tim Underwood on Mister Pepper. The favourite made a number of mistakes and jockey Nick Pearce did well to keep the combination together. He had finished a length up on the winner when second in the Pytchley members at Guilsborough. A double bonus for connections was that the winner also won the best turned out award. The time of the race was 6m 38 secs some 100 second quicker than the first.

3. Mens Open
The combination of Caroline Bailey/Nick Pearce wasted no time in gaining revenge for the previous defeat when the odds on favourite Choral Dream battled gamely up the hill to defy challenges from Romany Pearl/James Owen, Bullfinch/Paul Cowley & Paddies Boy/Jack Young.

Choral Dream, an easy winner of the Oakley confined & a gallant second last time at High Easter, is improving and is one to follow. The runner up Romany Pearl was also a winner at the Oakley. He was slightly outpaced on the final circuit but finished to some effect. Bullfinch ran well and was also entered in the Ladies Open and surely would have been a cert there. A close fourth was the Jon Trice Rolph Paddies Boy, trained in Ireland last season by Jim Lambe. He won hunter chases at Downpatrick & Gowran Park and also finished fifth behind Lord Atterbury in the novice Hunter Chase at Aintree on Grand National day. This was his first glimpse of form in Britain and should not be long in winning.

4. Ladies Open
Only four went to post with the two market rivals dominating proceedings. The odds on favourite was Kentford Busy B a promising course second behind Freedom Fighter and brought down at the third last week (after 3 very slow jumps) in the action packed Towcester Hunter Chase and ridden by Sarah Phizacklea, fresh from her success the previous day in a Bangor On Dee Hunter Chase. The favourite  & market rival Ryans Star (Jo Parris) jumped the last together but a slight mistake by Kentford proved costly as he she went down by half a length. Ten lengths back in third & the only other to finish was Ela Agapi Mou ridden by Dawn Ball. The fourth runner Handley Park (no connection!) crashed out on the final circuit. The winner could well win another Ladies Open particularly given decent ground as this 11 year old gelding didnít seem to relish the underfoot conditions.

5. Restricted
With the rain still falling and conditions deteriorating, two fences were omitted due to water lying on top of the ground. Six runners went to post with the odds on favourite Teeton Fizz trying to give trainer Joan Tice a double on the day. However she had to settle for the runners up spot with victory going to the Jimmy Tarry trained Crested Manor well ridden by Andrew Sansome. Fifth in the Grafton members over course & distance, this 12 year old gelding amazingly didnít make his debut until last season when the same combination pulled off a 33-1 shock at Dingley. Jimmy Tarry opted to ride stalemate Lah Di Dah Lad but could only run on at one pace to be third.

6. Maiden
With the rain still pouring down, only the brave or foolhardy were left & only a handful of bookies braved the elements to the end. Ten went to post in the Maiden and this time three fences were missed out. There was a sixth successive odds on shot in Simply The One trained by Jenny Pidgeon at Helmdon in Northants and ridden by Harry Fowler. The favourite duly obliged (heavily backed despite the shortage of bookies). This came on the back of his promising second behind Agua Ardente at Twseldown. The one to note here was the newcomer Sovereign Dove ridden & trained by Fred Hutsby. He made eye-catching headway to finish second just under 3 lengths behind the winner. The only other finisher to complete was Teeton Diamond. Rockford was up with the leaders when he slipped up before the third last giving Charlie Wadland a nasty spill. Conditions were rapidly getting worse and it is extremely doubtful that any more racing could have taken place.

Credit goes to the course executive for managing to complete the day under very testing conditions.