by Dom Bradshaw

The Yorkshire season kicked off last Sunday with the Old Raby Hunts Club holding their meeting at Witton Castle. 

Despite the bleak, biting, wind-chilled conditions, the brave spectators, trainers and riders from “Gods Own Country” and beyond were treated to an eight-race card and a whopping total of 107 runners.

The Old Raby Hunt Club Members Maiden Race (13 Ran)
The opening race proved an eventful affair.
Legenda (Tom Crags), making his racecourse debut, went off in front, but came to grief after a circuit, unseating his rider. This left Nomadic Blaze in the lead on the final circuit. The 7-year-old was leading the field a merry dance and looking all over the winner when he was baulked by a loose horse when behind the trees, reappearing without rider Peter Atkinson on board.
At the business end, Nicky Tinkler forced the favourite, Magic Performer, home to win by eight lengths with Stormy Sunrise (Annabelle Armitage) and Bobby Buttons (Nigel Tutty) filling the minor places.
The winning time of 6m40s turned out to be the quickest of the day, although this may be down to the participants racing on virgin turf, whereas the later runners had to handle the churned up ground.
Magic Performer wasn’t winning out of turn and taking the time into consideration, he must surely be more than capable of stepping up to restricted company.
Both Stormy Sunrise and Bobby Buttons weren’t too far away and should be able to make their mark in this grade.
Peter Atkinson appeared to still have a lot of horse underneath when hampered and Nomadic Blaze must score soon.
A sad post-script concerns Legenda, who suffered what was later to be a fatal injury when running loose.

The interest here was the raider from the other side of the Pennines, the Gary Hamner trained & ridden Just Cliquot, who was heavily supported favourite.
Supporters of the 8-year-old mare never had much to worry about as Hanmer confidently steered his mount home to win by a comfortable six-lengths.
The mare was given a squiggle by Messrs MacKenzie, Selby & Harris in their annual last season. This was based mainly on when she took no part at Chaddesley Corbett, but she doesn't seem ungenuine and she should go onto further successes this season.
The lightly raced Infamelia (Tessa Clark), returning from a two-year absence, put in an eye-catching performance, staying on well to take second. If her legs hold up and she doesn’t suffer from the “bounce” factor, then she'll have little trouble landing a restricted.
Agent Provocateur (Richard Clark) raced prominent for a long way, but found a second wind to take third. He’s seemed to appreciate the cut in the ground and although the time of this race was slow (7m9s), like Infamelia, he should be able to land a restricted.
John Botham did well to get Sledmere home in fourth, as the nine-year-old had refused on each of his final three attempts last season.
T’nightsthenight (Dale Jewett) was well placed when missing a marker turning into the home straight and was followed off the course by Serena Brotherton on Emperor’s Son, who appeared to be travelling very well at the time.

Ladies Open
Texas Ranger, a 15,000gns purchase at Doncaster in 2003, was all the rage here and although still in the lead heading out on the final circuit, he made one mistake too many, unseating Jo Foster. Pharlindo, who was a close second at the time, unshipped Annabelle Armitage at the same fence. Jumping the third last, Hessac (Miss W Gibson) kicked for home and looked to have the race sewn up, but hadn’t accounted for the late run of the popular grey, Silver Groom, who was finishing like a train. Silver Groom met the last running and sprinted away from Hessac to score by a length-and-a-quarter to give Jacqueline Coward her first winner.
Now a fourteen-year-old, Silver Groom may have lost some of his speed, but hasn’t lost any of his enthusiasm and this wonderful horse will hopefully be winning again soon.
Hessac did little wrong here and is still eligible for restricteds, which he should be more than capable of winning.
Wandering Wild (Lynne Ward) was a further ten-lengths away in third and like Hessac, will be more at home in restricted company.
Both Texas Ranger and Pharlindo should be able to make amends.

Mens Open
There were only three finishers from fourteen starters here, with a thrilling “whips at dawn” finish with Mr Pendleberry (Nicky Tinkler), second to J-Okay at Thorpe Lodge last weekend, just getting the better of long time leader San Fransisco (Guy Brewer) by half-a-length, providing Tinkler with a double on the day.
The winner deserved this, as he’s filled the runner-up spot in four of his last five attempts and should continue to go well in points.
This was a pleasing return to points from the runner up and if reproducing this, he should be winning before long.
The veteran Blank Cheque (David Coates) plodded on through beaten horses to take a distant third and is more at home over an extended trip 

Another close finish here with Lee Bates forcing home Irish maiden winner Place Above, unsuccessful when tried under rules in 2003, by half-a-length from Just Fluster (Richard Wakeham) with the enigmatic Claire’s Nomad five lengths further back in third.
The winner will undoubtedly improve for this, but the time (6m51s) was nothing special and he’ll have his work cut out if he’s to score in better company.
Both Just Fluster and Claire’s Nomad have shown moderate form in the past, but may be in with a shout in similar company.
The well-supported Highland Brig (Ran Morgan) was beaten a long way from home and appeared to hate the ground.

Open Maiden – Division One
There was a good word here for the David Easterby trained High Peak, but supporters saw their money disappear at the first fence where Tom Greenall met with terra firma. However, even if they had negotiated the fences, it’s hard to know whether they would have got near the very impressive winner, Ten Bob, who ran out a cheeky two-length victor, under a confident ride from Niall Saville, who’d won the first hunter chase of the season at Wetherby on Star Of Raven the day before.
The six-year-old son of Jurado is trained by Niall's brother, Joss, and owned by NH trainer Sue Smith. He should go onto better things
Ravenscar (Simon Walker) met a tartar here and should be taking a maiden before long.
Back in third came Oaklands Luis (Trevor Glass), who made a pleasing debut as did fourth-placed Indian Rope Trick (Jo Foster). Both should be able to score in this company.
Lethem Air (Dale Jewett) was in contention when departing and should be good enough to take a maiden.
Rocky Fountain sustained a horrible injury in running, which proved fatal and sympathy is with connections.

Open Maiden – Division Two
There was a distinct feeling of “déjà vu” here, with Cross River running out an impressive winner for Saville, Saville & Smith. A good-looking son of Reprimand, this nine-year-old should be able to step up in class.
The lightly raced Sir Alf (Trevor Glass) gave chase in second, but was never going to overhaul the winner. Nevertheless, this was a nice introduction to points by the eight-year-old and he can take a maiden.
Coastal Safari (J. Richardson) was fifteen lengths further away in third, with the favourite, Clonshire Paddy (Tom Greenall), only fourth. 

Open Maiden – Division Three
In Division Three, Sizer was well-supported in the ring to give the Saville brothers a hat-trick of maidens, but their chances literally “went west”, as Sizer dived past the fence and bolted, giving Niall the unenviable task of stopping this looking powerful son of Eurobus before they both ended up in the River Wear.
At the business end, the race went to Northern area raider Miss Royello (Dale Jewett) who stayed on dourly to win by four-lengths from Iron Trooper (Trevor Glass) and Irish Paddy (Richard Clark).
This division was twenty seconds slower than the first division and nineteen seconds slower than the second and the winner will have her work cut out in restricteds.
Of the others, High Fields looked to be in with every chance when jinking and unshipping Tom Greenall two out. He should make amends.
Both Search Party (Simon Walker) and Kindle A Flame (Guy Brewer) were going well enough when departing company with their riders and should be noted in future.
Drovers Road (Clive Mulhall) wasn’t knocked about and was doing his best work at the finish, coming in fourth. He could be ok in time.

In spite of the sub zero temperatures, this was an entertaining and competitive days racing and although I don’t want to end on a negative note, I feel as though I must highlight a couple of concerns.

The seeming lack of intervention by the stewards regarding the T’nightsthenight\Emperor’s Son incident left a slight sour taste in the mouth, especially for those punters who had backed the pair in the ring.
A little more consistency from the stewards wouldn’t go amiss and if any of the stewards would like to comment, I’m sure that everyone would be interested to hear their opinions of this incident.

It was also annoying to see many of the bookies fail to display an early opening show. Despite the fact that the horses had left the paddock and were going down, most of the boards were blank. What was irritating further were some of the over-round books on offer and the lack of decent prices for the outsiders. Only a handful were prepared to put the "rags" up at odds above 20/1 and the largest price I saw all day was only 33/1.
In the past, I have always defended the Yorkshire bookmakers as being fair and generous, but some of the books on offer here were little better than the ones I’ve seen on my visits to the East Anglia and North West areas.
Whether this was due to the fact that there was a number of non-Yorkshire based bookmakers present (from the Northern Area), I’m not sure, but I’ll be keeping a close eye out during the rest of the season.