by Simon McInnes

Some powerful weather controlling entity (ancient gods? the Met office? George W Bush?) put a lot of effort into this meeting being abandoned. The fearsome morning winds were a big hindrance, especially when they blew down the riders' changing marquee. Then a sleet/hail burst in mid-meeting was a threat that proved more uncomfortable than dangerous. Finally, in a desperate attempt to punish those who saw out the distance, there was an alarming temperature drop over the last two races, not helped by a significant wind chill. The effect of this was that the decent going was getting faster as the afternoon went on. The evil spirits also had a bash at the overall organisation of the day. After both of the open maidens that began the meeting were further divided, the stewards decided that there was not time for any further divisions, which resulted in horses being balloted out of the novice riders race. Sods Law meant that the four unlucky horses included travellers from Robertsbridge in deepest Sussex and Slad in Gloucestershire. To further gall the disenfranchised, the second division of the maiden only exceeded the safety limit by one, and there was a runner in it with an entry in the Countryside Alliance club members race later on,
plus the withdrawal at the start of a horse that shed it's rider going to post. A word of praise goes to the local scouts who not only had the most solid and dependable marquee around for their refreshments sales, but had rigged it up in a way that the way in was sheltered from the wind. Takings were no doubt high.

Grainfarmers Plc Maiden, Division I, Part A
One thing that became clear as I began this write-up is that the incessant hammering from the gales had caused the number of notes I took along the way to be greatly reduced. Presumably I was writing into the wind and it slowed down the pen strokes. Unsurprisingly, known front-runner Sovereign Gale took them along at a pace that appeared quick, especially when the field had a tail wind on the far side. The commensurate headwind in the home run meant
that for most of the day, the early leaders were overhauled late on and this race set the pattern. In fact, no criticism can be levelled at Sovereign Gale as he eventually finished second, well clear of the bilk of the field. The winner was Charango Star, under Philip York, who had been an early departure on his debut. He is not the biggest of creatures, but seems to have plenty of ability, as he did not give the impression that he was at the end of his tether. Way back in third was plodding mare Golden Shred, who may get sympathy backing from marmalade buffs but is no more than place prospect in competitive maidens. In fact, she may not have got third had Madmidge not called it a day at the third last. Whether this was decided by the jockey or the horse was not clear from where I was standing, but it is odds-on the latter.

Grainfarmers Plc Maiden, Division I, Part B
On my visit to Higham last year, Asthefellowsaid caught the eye in the paddock, and he did the same this year. Having pulled up lame on the previous appearance, he had not run in the meantime but looked plenty fit enough. In the early stages he was at the rear and jumping discouragingly ponderously, but Andrew Hickman was patient and the fencing got better as the race went on, resulting in a win a bit more convincing than the three length margin implies. Rather like the first race, the long time leader stuck to the task bravely for second place, but in this case Troubleshooter only capitulated between the last two fences. His history says that he pulls too hard to get home, but in two runs this season has shown a modicum of improvement and is still only six. Castle Diva was not travelling as well as the winner, but may have had too much left for Troubleshooter, when she hit the deck four out with nothing else left in serious contention. A big feature of this race was the confused market, where the winner was once available at a choice of prices between 4/5 and 3/1 and several runners appeared as favourite on a board somewhere.

Grainfarmers Plc Maiden, Division II, Part A
The initial assessment was that this part of the maiden quadruple header was not as strong as the previous two, but the announced winning time was comparable, even though only three finished and they were well scattered. Youngster Greybrook Lad showed that he has grown up a bit since two uninspiring Irish runs, as he was market leader and took the race with aplomb. This was despite looking a bit of a handful in the preliminaries and also a fraction off peak fitness, with Vivaldi Rose pursuing at a respectful distance, and Bebe Bleu the only other finisher. She also will come on for the race but as this was only her second completion, the progress may be hard to exploit. The main feature of this event was the chaos at the start. Both Rumour Has It and Marsden got loose going to post and took some time to recapture. Marsden was eventually withdrawn, but Rumour Has It started and jumped badly on his debut.

Grainfarmers Plc Maiden, Division II, Part B
Another race that had the bookies confused, as it had more lightly raced horses than the earlier three, and most of the field were at the start before the prices went up. This was in part due to Morph going in at 4/7 or shorter, and he won like a long odds on shot, to complete a double for Philip York in the maidens, and a clean sweep for the south-east. Second went to Half A Story, who could not go the pace mid-race but finished like a train to deprive Play Alone of another place. This was only Half A Story's second appearance, and she shaped as if a greater stamina test, run at a steadier pace, might suit her better. No Penalty was in contention when taking a crashing fall at the twelfth - horse looked OK, jockey rather more battered, and No Penalty might be ready to get involved for the honours if his confidence is intact. The eye-catcher in the paddock was Tartar Sabre, but he dumped his rider on the bend after the eighth fence.

Dodson & Horrell Ltd PPORA Club Members for Novice Riders
The full house of fifteen lined up, and the bookies responded with some absurd prices, one quick count on a board finding an over-round of 190%. The race was another comfortable victory, with Paul Chinery looking well up to the job on Royal Action, being towards the van early and making the decisive move at five out. Something happened at the next, but my note is indecipherable. One serious threat (whom the winner had already defeated this season) was dismissed when Brown Chieftain got the eleventh wrong and came to grief. After being adrift early, Pampered Gale went into second in the home straight, but then lost that position to a late charge home from Naughty Dandy. He finished so rapidly that it was hard to ignore the thought that he would have been best served by being a bit closer to the front to begin with. Another runner who threatened to make the frame was Village Copper, but he faded late on. At least he showed that he had put behind him the last run, when he lost his 'never fallen' record at the age of twelve.

Annie Campbell/Laser Grafix Mens Open
This saw a less than prolific handicap chaser make a quite encouraging pointing debut. Homme De Fer joined Glemot, his former stablemate at Kim Bailey's, in the line up, and he was in the firing line all the way, before skipping clear two out. It will be interesting to see if this run was due to the novelty value of a different scene or if Homme De Fer's kinks have been ironed out. Front-running Philtre burnt off enough opponents to hang on for second. He may have been not quite race-fit, but was so well rugged up (not
unique on the day) that it was hard to be certain. Veteran Shanavogh plodded round for third, ahead of Fine Times, who was never seriously put in the race.

Robins Row Ltd Ladies Open
The most spectacular performance of the day, as Alex Embiricos on the inappropriately named Placid Man set a furious pace and sustained it to win and break the six minute barrier in the process. At times, the speed was too fast for some of the tighter turns, which resulted in some hairy moments. The horse that tried to live the leader, Paradiso, hit the wall late on and lost second to Celtic Duke over the last fence. But back to the winner. My recollection of his runs under Rules was that they were infrequent and that I saw him easily win a dodgy novice chase at Fontwell. If Placid Man stays sound, he may have found his niche, and is not to be underestimated if stepping up in class.

Stevensons of Norwich Countryside Alliance Club Members
A field of varied talents and the hardcore of serious contenders had
consolidated quite early in the race. At the fourth last, only three were in serious contention, and one of those, Tea Box, stopped late on and was pulled up after two out. Although ominously dismounted on his return after a spell on the sidelines, he did not appear too distressed and might yet return to his prolific old ways. This left the spoils to be fought out between the fragile Martha's Boy and erratic Lord Kilpatrick. Three out it looked an even chance for each of them, but Martha's Boy came back on the bridle to make it number five on the day for the southern visitors. Highand Rose struggled on for third, ridden by Alex Embiricos, who trained her under Rules. On known form, her chances of staying a truly run three miles look fairly small, despite having won a members last time. The same can be said of pointing debutant Santi, who dropped away quickly after two and a half miles.

Barratt & Cooke Restricted
The ninth race, in gloomy and freezing conditions, produced the best finish of the day, with further confusion caused by Adrian Wintle being unseated from Snowtre (Philtre's half-brother) as they crossed the line. Was he in front at the line? Was he on board at the line? Standing by the second last I had no idea, and I was busy looking to see where my selection had pulled up. Back to the principals, and whatever the outcome, it showed what Snowtre can do on the rare occasions that he puts his mind to it, as his rival on the post was Cantarinho, who seemed a very promising youngster last season, and close third Captive was no mug either. After winning on his debut, Jacob's Choice ran a second straight stinker, and rare visitor to the track Henry Henbit dropped away after travelling well for the first couple of miles. The proviso for this race was that by now I felt so weather-beaten, that instead of making any notes on the race, I assumed I would remember it without difficulty.