by Richard Hall - East Anglian Correspondent
Photos by Richard Hall

Despite the weather refusing to recognise it, there were two clear signs that spring was here and that summer was just around the corner. Firstly we were preparing to put the clocks forward and start enjoying bright evenings in the open air after a day’s toil in the office. Secondly, and perhaps more tellingly, the picnic basket brigade had made their annual bid to reclaim the remainder of the point to point season for themselves. They were everywhere. As I drove into the car park it seemed as if I had trespassed onto a film set, and hidden cameras were shooting the concluding shots to The Dawn of the Living Dead.  

Doors to suburban garages had been flung open and Land Rovers, or their foreign counterfeits, had been taken out of winter storage. Into the backs had been thrown Argos tables, chairs, and wicker hampers containing copious quantities of food and alcohol. They parked wherever they could. It did not matter too much if they had a view of the horses, that was not mandatory. All that mattered was being there, being seen to be there, and showing the world that they knew how to live whilst there were there. 

It reminded me why the sport has such an elitist image, and why even racing fans such as Mark Winstanley were driven to a position of inverted snobbery. Each to his own however, and at least the trade stands benefited from the zombie invasion! 

If any of the hoity toities did bother to watch the racing, rather than merely glance at the four legged creatures as they happened to pass by, they would undoubtedly have been impressed. The ground had been well watered, and large fields were attracted. Although the going was officially good, some parts of the course, particularly the final couple of furlongs, became very holding. This caused horses to tire, and was responsible for producing some tight finishes as leaders quickly came back to the chasing pack.

The closest, and most exciting finish of the day undoubtedly belonged to the Confined. Three horses could have been covered by the proverbial blanket at the fourth last. Nigel Bloom on Tom de Savoie, who had patiently sat behind the other two as they had shared pacemaking duties, decided that was the moment to play his hand. James Owen had to work hard to keep Westfield John in contention, but he stuck gamely to his task and was within a couple of lengths as they approached the second last. The favourite, Bard of Drumcoo, had, surprisingly, been tapped for toe, and quickly found himself a further five lengths adrift.

Tom de Savoie looked to have the contest in the bag taking the final bend. He had the inside berth and appeared to be going much better than Westfield John, on whom James Owen was working like a man possessed. Even though the gap was closing it looked as if Nibby Bloom’s mount had more to give, should the question ever needed to be asked. Almost unnoticed, David Kemp had found a second wind on Bard of Drumcoo, and, as the leading duo ploughed through the holding ground, he steadily ate into their advantage.

Incredibly at the final fence James Owen had managed to pick Westfield John up and put him alongside Tom de Savoie, with Bard of Drumcoo only a length behind in third. All Owen’s hard work seemed to be in vain though, when the combination almost came down at the last. It cost them at least a length. Tom de Savoie found little when his jockey finally got serious and the race looked to be at the mercy of Bard of Drumcoo’s well timed final flourish.

James Owen had obviously spent the week watching a video of Tony McCoy’s most rousing rides, and was not letting Westfield John off lightly. He picked him virtually off the floor, found his balance, and threw his entire being into the surge for the line. It was the hardest and, in some ways, most impressive ride I have ever seen him give. It worked. To the surprise of virtually everybody present, he got up on the line to claim the prize from an amazed David Kemp, who must have thought he had done enough.

Unlucky though they may have been, the jockeys of both the second and third did not have to wait long to record emphatic victories of there own. Nibby Bloom’s came in the very next race, the Restricted. His Bunratty’s Sole, an expensive purchase from Ireland last year, came home twenty lengths clear of Just Jove. The winning margin was a touch flattering as Caroline Bailey’s charge had matched strides with the winner until three fences from home, and was only few lengths adrift when stumbling badly at the last. Nothing else ever got into the race, and although Ruth Hayter’s Federal Case was only five lengths behind the runner up at the post, the first two looked to be in a completely different class.

Both should go on to better things. For most of the race Just Jove appeared to be travelling much the better of the two and, to me, showed that he had improved considerably since landing a comparatively soft maiden at the course in February. He cannot remain in Restricted company for too much longer. Despite not looking entirely at home on the tacky ground, Bunratty’s Sole showed a good attitude and willingly found extra every time he was asked. He will be even better on a sounder surface.

David Kemp’s compensation came on the odds on favourite, Cantarhino, in the Men’s Open. Setting off for the second circuit he had only Weaver’s Choice for company and, when that fell at the twelfth, he found himself with a twenty length lead. He was ridden as tenderly as possible from that point, although, even then, the second favourite, Choral Dream, was the only one capable of closing the deficit. When Cantarhino overjumped the third last and almost catapulted his jockey to the turf, it looked for a second as if David Kemp’s over confidence may be punished. He did not take long to sort himself out, however, and once Cantarhino was given the office to set sail for home, he quickly extended his advantage with the minimum of fuss. Dunrig, looking as reluctant as ever, was a distance behind Choral Dream in third. He does not look to be one of Joe Turner’s best ever buys!

Celtic Duke, in contrast, has been a grand servant to the Turner yard. He made yet another contribution to their trophy cabinet today with an all the way success in the Ladies Open under granddaughter Zoe. Fair Kiowa tried to make a race of it but, despite Sam Hodge riding a spirited finish, was always held by the Turner stalwart. Filou du Bois finished third and Mister Audi fourth, without either ever threatening anything better.

There were two divisions of the Maiden. I thought that I had landed a nice bet in the first when my 25/1 selection, Highland Dancer (who had ran well for a long way in Mister Ringa’s race at the course in February), jumped the second last five lengths clear. My luck, and his stamina, were not quite enough to see him home, however, and he was collared at the last by the lightly raced eleven year old Ocki, who had made resolute progress from what seemed an impossible position four fences from the line. Manhatton Storm finished like a train to be just a length adrift in third with the Turner representative, On The Day, who had been outpaced when Highland Dancer had kicked for home three out, plugging on to finish just out of the prize money in fourth.

The big disappointments of the race were King Freddy, who had to be niggled at several times to keep his position, and Artic Snip, who dropped out tamely once passed on the second circuit. I suspect that neither have fully recovered mentally from hard races earlier in the campaign.

The second division went to Olivia Maylam riding her mare Miss Biddy. George Cooper had quickly gone a distance clear on Another Leader and, while the rest of the field waited for him to come back to them, Miss Biddy was the only one with the sense to actually go and catch him. She hit the front just before the third last, where the long time leader eventually fell. By then her lead was unassailable and despite Mr Know What spouting wings to give chase up the home straight, she came home with a bit to spare. Round The Isles finished a remote third and emphasised the day’s under achievement for the Caroline Bailey yard.

A month ago Robert Cundy made his first public appearance as a jockey in the Easton Harriers Hunt Race. He fell at the first. He took part in the Essex Hunt Race today and, despite putting up a massive thirteen pounds overweight, delivered a perfect late run on Rip Kirby to collar course owner Simon Marriage’s debutant, Top Boots, on the run in. It was a fine performance, particularly as his mount has a reluctant mind all of his own!

I shall be putting Top Boots into my notebook for next season. Even though this was a poor race (which he should have won) there was a lot to like about him. He is only a five year old and has a lot of physical maturing still to do. He was on his toes in the paddock and both nervous and unsure when the race actually got underway. To say he was green would be an understatement. Deep emerald would be more apt. He spooked at the starters flag, and leapt like a cat over the first few fences. Andrew Braithwaite gave him a perfect educational ride, though, and allowed his natural speed to bring him to pole position as they headed out for the second circuit. At no time was the horse asked to do more than he wanted to. He did do enough, however, to show that he has that all important raw ability. He can only be a much better proposition next year.