by Richard Hall - East Anglian Correspondent

For some reason the Essex and Farmers Union are allowed to host two point to point meetings in the year. Perhaps this one, the finale of the East Anglian season, is the price they have to pay for also being allowed the “prime” calendar slot of Easter Bank Holiday Monday? 

The two events could not have been more different. The first made no bones about treating the racing itself as almost incidental. It’s main point of being was to milk as much money as possible from the paying public, and, short sightedly, cared little about the (lack of) value it offered them. This one, though, was a gem. The rains that had swept the county over the previous two days made it uncomfortable for poseurs, and helped condense the crowd to those who cared enough about the sport to actually want to watch it! There was also an “end of term” joviality about the proceedings, which everyone present was determined to enjoy. The result was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and I struck up more conversations with hitherto strangers than I had done at any other meeting this year. This is what real point to pointing is all about; camaraderie, a love of horses, and the competition of amateur sport, it is not the beer tents and the rip off distractions of the so-called showpiece meetings. 

Member’s races have come in for a bit of criticism lately, and today’s offering did nothing to counteract it. Four were entered, three of them coming from the George Cooper stable! Paula Twinn’s Marsden was the odd man out but he ran away with his novice jockey on the way to post and was withdrawn after travelling almost a circuit of the course. The other three, in consideration of the tacky going, set off at pedestrian pace. When the hot favourite, Endeavour, swerved violently at the first fence he left Spring Grove with nowhere to go. The latter responded by coming to an abrupt halt and throwing Robert Cundy from the saddle. Two down, two to go! 

Endeavour and Rip Kirby cantered leisurely to the second. Spring Grove, now free of his rider, raced in front of them. As they approached the fence the loose horse suddenly realised that he did not have to jump it. In celebration he swerved violently left to run round the wings. This caught the other two completely unawares. As a result George Cooper was thrown from Endeavour. Debutant rider Matt Cobbold, however, had been travelling so slowly on Rip Kirby that he was able to come to a sharp standstill and still remain in the saddle!

As the loose Endeavour joined the loose Spring Grove on a leisurely canter around the Essex countryside, it suddenly dawned on Matt Cobbold that he had the race at his mercy. He walked Rip Kirby back up the course in order to get another run at the fence. This time they negotiated it safely. With nothing else on its feet, only sixteen more obstacles stood between him and a debut success. He kept his cool and did nothing rash. Despite jumping the majority of the fences in slow motion, they succeeded in completing the course. James Crispe, in the commentary box, had his prowess tested to the limit as he searched desperately for different ways of describing what was going on. Nine minutes and five seconds later, probably the slowest winning time ever recorded for a three mile race, his agony ended without having to resort to telling the crowd what he had eaten for breakfast!

Having backed Marsden in the Members, I looked forward to the Confined where I was confident of at least getting a run from my selection. I chose Persian Hero, on the strength of his close second to Bard of Drumcoo in similarly testing conditions at Ampton earlier in the season. At 7/2 I considered him to be better value than the 5/4 offered about his Horseheath conqueror, Madmidge, or the 9/2 available about the former King George winner, Algan.

The first attempt to start the seven runners in some kind of a line was declared to be false one. The second was given the green light but, as they charged to the first fence, I noticed that one of them was missing. Needless to say it was Persian Hero. He had planted his feet firmly into the ground and steadfastly refused to budge. I had the horrible feeling that it was going to be one of those days!

Algan made most of the running in the hands of his owner, JJ Ryan. Tom de Savoie, who had looked an absolute picture in the paddock, tracked him purposefully and appeared to be travelling with a lot in hand. A mile from home these two were joined by Madmidge, who had been ridden quietly for the first circuit, and was almost kidded into the race proper. 

Algan was the first one beaten. He has had a relatively hard season and his sixteen year old body was obviously feeling the effects of it. He was not the same horse that won with tons in hand at both Horseheath and Cottenham earlier in the season, and will doubtless benefit from the summer break.

Madmidge and Tom de Savoie were left to slog it out. The gentler ride David Kemp had given the former during the earlier stages of the contest proved to be the deciding factor, and he came home four or five lengths ahead of the gallant second.

The Turner family fielded two of the six runners in the Ladies Open, with Zoe choosing to ride The Wiley Kalmuck in favour of Fair Exchange, on whom Julie Wickens got the leg up. These two led the market along with Fair Kiowa, but, with question marks about all three, I saw little value and looked instead for an outsider to carry the added burden of my selection.

I chose the only horse from outside the region, Lucky Master, and invested a tenner at 16/1. I knew little about his owner, rider and trainer, Gina Swan, but assumed her to be reasonably competent as the horse had always managed to complete. Indeed, his form figures did suggest him to be a bit one paced but, being by Roselier, he should at least handle the ground and may well be plugging on when others had cried enough. The market did not agree. He drifted. First to 20/1, and then to 25’s. Frustrated at not even being able to get the price right, I did a stupid thing; I backed him again.

After General Confusion, who had run in two races at the Northaw meeting five days ago, carried his enthusiastic owner, Barbara Czepulkowski, out at the fourth, the Turner pair were cleared to vie for the lead. After a circuit it was obvious that Fair Exchange had won the battle, and a disappointed Zoe was heard to exclaim that she had chosen the wrong one! Fair Kiowa never travelled well on the ground and, as the leader turned to go down the hill for the final time, it was left up to my selection to make a race of it. Pulling away from the others, Fair Exchange and Lucky Master went head to head from the second last fence. There was never more than half a length between them, with first one holding the advantage and then the other. It was Lucky Master, however, who caught the judge’s eye and propelled my betting bank into a profit of over two hundred pounds! Only then did I discover that this was Gina Swan’s first winner. I would never have guessed it; she had ridden confidently and stylishly, and, in coming round Fair Exchange’s inside at the final bend, had shown both bravery and a shrewd tactical awareness. She looks like one to keep an eye on!

Only three declared for the Men’s Open but they included Hunter Chase winner, Delgany Royal, and Splash and Dash, who had been disappointing this season but had run his best race ever at the course last year when slamming Rob Mine in a similar event. An intriguing battle looked to be in prospect, with the bookies unable to show a clear preference. Delgany Royal went off at 4/5, Splash and Dash at 11/10, with the outsider, Ballad, easy to back at 10/1.   

The intriguing contest never materialised. Matt Mackley sent the favourite off into an easy lead and hotted up the pace from halfway. He soon had the other two in trouble. Splash and Dash, a shadow of his former self, never travelled well and was reduced to labouring into a battle with Ballad for second place.

It looked all over bar the shouting. Not until the fat lady sings, however, and, at the fourth last Delgany Royal, who had not made a semblance of a mistake until then, unseated his rider. The battle for second suddenly became the battle for first. Two tired horses, under maximum assistance from their riders, each felt compelled, like leg weary prize-fighters determined not to fall first, to slog it out all the way to the line.

Approaching the last Splash and Dash had somehow managed to find a length’s advantage over his opponent. He jumped it so slowly, however, that he emerged from it a good half length down. On the final run in both horses, and both riders, gave their last ounce of energy. They were so tired that they seemed to be running in slow motion. It could have gone either way but, on the line, Splash and Dash and Andrew Hickman were adjudged to have prevailed by a neck.

General Confusion made it four races at two meetings in five days when, partnered this time by James Owen, he lined up with five others for the Restricted.  He was one of four horses available, at one time or another, at 3/1, with 8/1 on offer about the other two.

Matt Smith set off on Stick or Bust determined to make the pace a fast one. He got a breather into him at the end of the first circuit, and increased the tempo again as they lapped their departure point. The tactic almost worked. Four of his rivals struggled in his wake. The fifth, however, revelled in the fast pace and, with five fences to jump, cruised past him. From that point Table For Four just went further and further clear to record the easiest victory of the day. They finished a distance ahead of Ardnut, who rallied late to just deprive Stick or Bust of second, and offered some compensation to Matt Mackley and Nicola Pollock for the unlucky defeat of Delgany Royal in the Men’s Open.

The last race of the 2004 East Anglian season was a Confined Maiden and, despite a hefty gamble on Manhatton Storm, was won in convincing fashion by the Turner family’s On The Day, ridden, as usual, by James Owen.

On the Day was not winning out of turn, but he is a frustrating type and will probably struggle to go through the grades. There were a few promising performances in behind to perhaps bear in mind for next season. Lolloping Lad, completing for the first time in three outings, travelled and jumped well and looked a big danger until running out of steam at the third last. A similar remark could also apply to Marsden, who had earlier been withdrawn from the Member’s race after bolting with his owner rider. He was piloted this time by the more experienced Andrew Braithwaite, and looked a different horse for it. Peat’s Ridge was another to catch the eye. The six year old, having only his third outing of the season, ran in snatches but was finishing with some effect and almost took second from the more experienced Manhatton Storm. The runner up was clearly expected to do better and is becoming disappointing. He is definitely one to leave alone. 

And so the season ends. Suddenly my weekends will be “free”. Unlike most liberations though, I suspect that, after the novelty has worn off (in a week or two!) I shall be the poorer for it. To help me “come down gently”, I plan to spend a few hours reliving the last four and a half months in a Review of the Season. Work commitments permitting, I should be able to get it on the site by the end of next weekend. Please feel free to use the Noticeboards on either this or the Pointing EA site to record the highs and lows of your season. Who knows, if we can keep talking about it long enough, the seven and a half months until the first Cottenham meeting of 2005 may not seem quite so far away!