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Cambridge University Draghounds
Sunday 28th January 2007
by Jeremy Grayson

There was no sign of the East Anglian double-header brought about by High Easter’s rescheduling to Saturday affecting Cottenham’s second meeting of the season, either in terms of attendance or number of runners – in respect of the latter 114 animals stood their ground, including 18 in the Men’s Open and enough in the 2m4f Maiden to necessitate a division.

Brisk drying winds, still very much in evidence on an otherwise mild January afternoon, ensured that the going was good for the second consecutive meeting, but for all that you could still get a boot heel into the turf without too much effort and there will not have been any jar – essentially this was as perfect going as one could hope for given the time of year and there couldn’t be too many excuses realistically proffered on the grounds of underfoot conditions.

On a personal note, this was this writer’s first visit to the venue, and it is unlikely to prove the last, with a favourable impression given by the provision of an old but still perfectly serviceable grandstand left over from the track’s former days as a National Hunt course, covered toilets and at least twice the number of eateries of most point-to-point venues. Only the smallish paddock and the course’s location in a fairly characterless piece of Cambridgeshire countryside detracted from the enjoyment to any particular extent.

Away from the racing, the most heartening sight of the whole afternoon was the official handing over of an all-terrain motorised wheelchair to Paul Taiano, paralysed in a fall two years ago. The combined fundraising efforts of, among others, James Crispe in riding a stage of the Tour De France, and Steve Marriage, had helped meet the £15,000 price tag for a piece of equipment that will prove an absolute godsend to this popular former rider.

Most point-to-point meetings would give their eye teeth for a members’ race that attracts 12 runners – the entire field that had been declared earlier in the week, as a matter of fact. And most yards would be delighted to have something still as capable and willing at 16 years of age as DEMASTA, who proved his enthusiasm remains undimmed with a gutsy neck victory over fellow teenager QUALITY FIRST.

The drying conditions had fallen into his lap somewhat here, and his days of being that competitive in Opens are almost certainly long behind him, but he clearly has plenty still to offer in Members’ and Confined contests, particularly granted sharpish courses off whose bends he can happily spin out in front; and Peter Johnson, for whom this was a third victory on Demasta, is increasingly alive to the gelding’s occasional predilection for a bad blunder.

KRAC D’ARGOS was adjudged 11 points superior of all else according to The Pointer’s ratings in the racecard ahead of this qualifier for the Hiscox Intermediate Final at Cheltenham, and the market agreed with that assertion. However, whilst he led or disputed the lead for the first 2m7f or so of this contest, putting in some exceptional leaps on the way round, there were some tougher opponents queuing up behind this time than those he buried 15l and upwards in a C&D Members’ race on New Year’s Day, and it was SPREAD THE DREAM who went on from the last to record a third win from six starts between the flags.

A former Nicky Henderson inmate, this 9yo Alflora has no miles on the clock at all and has looked to need his first run back this season and last, though a 2l second at Higham in this grade three weeks earlier was no disgrace. In what is shaping up to be a predominately wet winter he may be compelled to try to exorcise some demons on a really deep surface before too long, having been beaten over 30l in a Huntingdon novices’ hurdle the last time he raced on soft three years ago, but his generally strong finish would be an asset if he were to make it to Cheltenham in May and underfoot conditions fell in his favour.

Krac D’Argos certainly ought to collect more races at this and Open level, but a big, galloping chaser he is not, and if he were to be tried under Rules he would rate a more interesting proposition around Huntingdon or – especially given the likelier quicker going – Ludlow than Headquarters.

POLLY FLINDERS completed the trio who had pulled out around 6l on the remainder at the death and she helps to give the form of this race a solid look. The winner of the Panacur Mares’ Final at Garthorpe last May, there ought to be a Restricted in her at the very least this winter. GILLIE’S NEPHEW just held on having been in front from a long way out in a C&D Restricted at the previous meeting, but the response when driven into second seven out on this occasion was far less decisive and he never looked like following up. SCARE LOTTE was doing her best work late on once again, and for all that her maiden win came at this track, a stiffer test would seem to suit better – were it not for Series Final qualifying purposes, surely her time would have been more profitably spent at High Easter a day earlier.

This was a line-up long on quantity, but ultimately relatively few were involved in the latter exchanges and two of those could be called Jekyll and Hyde characters without too much fear of contradiction. Godfrey Maundrell’s faithful servant RHYTHM KING was sent off favourite, given a chance to atone for his third fence departure here at the previous meeting, but after a slow jump at one-third distance earned him reminders he was then readily outpaced from four out as the taps were turned, and his well-held fourth place finish – which brought to an end a record of 15 wins from his last 15 completed starts in points – looked as good as he could have hoped for from that point on.

It is to be hoped that such reversals in hunter chases and Opens at the end of last season and the beginning of this will not see Maundrell, who had campaigned the gelding so cautiously for so long, revert him back to seeking largely pointless wins in weaker Confined company to the exclusion of all else once again.

This was the fastest-run 3m contest of the day, thanks to the initial trailblazing of BOB JUSTICE (who along with the terminal headcase MOVING EARTH was very headstrong on the way to post), and when he started to lose his pitch just after halfway it was Sheila Crow’s GO FOR BUST who went on at much the same searing pace. He put together a succession of terrific jumps on the final circuit, had at least 10l on the field with a couple of obstacles left to take, and wasn’t running out of puff at the end, for all that GALWAY closed the gap to 4l at the line.

A 20,000gns purchase at the Doncaster sales by owner Derek Pugh last May, Go For Bust had only managed to complete one of three chases under Rules, and that a 40l thumping at Doncaster, but he had taken three handicap hurdles for Nicky Henderson during 2005 and 2006, the last off 120, and significantly all of these had been gained around sharp right-hand circuits. The combination of a winter spent hunting and the magic touch of the Crows has emphatically eradicated the jumping errors that were clear for all to see in those chase starts, and if he can prove a safer conveyance tried back over regulation fences, as this emphatic win on his pointing debut suggests he can, collecting a novices’ hunter at the least should prove a formality. Having a heart shape shaved into his hind quarters by connections clearly hasn’t done any harm, at any rate.

At 14yo Galway is not getting any better, and this moody character’s overall profile in recent seasons suggests this effort is not guaranteed to be repeated next time out – indeed, this effort came off the back of a well-held sixth at Wadebridge before Christmas. He is, at least, a reasonably safe conveyance for young Michael Scudamore, but he has not won a contest for nearly two years now and remains one to take on.

HONEST YER HONOUR had similarly shown absolutely zip on his seasonal bow at Larkhill three weeks ago, but that was his first start since the end of the 2005 campaign, and, whilst never looking like repeating his victory in this race two years ago, he recorded a far more pleasing effort. Like Galway he continues to cultivate his own ideas about the game, though (Julian Pritchard was getting at him quite markedly from at least four out), and he would not be one to follow over a cliff nowadays either.

What otherwise looked like a pretty ordinary Ladies’ Open revolved around what ability former high-class hurdler COPELAND would still be able to display after a prolonged absence and taking on fences of any description in public for the first time ever. Last seen on a racetrack when well beaten in the 2005 Chester Vase, and a winner of over £350,000 in a Rules career that had included wins in the Tote Gold Trophy and Scottish Champion Hurdle (to say nothing of falling three out when still bang there in the 2003 Cheltenham equivalent), he had class that any other horse on the entire card would have killed for.

Like fellow former Martin Pipe inmate Carryonharry, he has remained in the ownership of the Silk family throughout his British career, and, no doubt inspired by the wonders trainer Emma Leppard and rider Cynthia Haydon have performed with that lazy grey (including a win on seasonal bow at High Easter 24 hours earlier), Heather Silk has opted to press this former 157-rated performer into action between the flags.

Jumping the last, it looked as if any doubts surrounding his fitness (first run for 20 months) and stamina (never tried beyond 2m5f under Rules and better over shorter) had been shrugged off sufficiently for him to emulate Carryonharry and make his first try pointing a winning one. However, in the most exciting finish of the day he found himself involved in a five-way scrap for victory up the run-in and ultimately came off worst of all, albeit beaten by perhaps no more than 2l. A disappointing end to what looked, for the greater part, a fair first run for all concerned, then, but Carryonharry’s ongoing exploits are enough to convince that he is in terrific hands to progress from this effort – for now, anyway.

Victory instead went to an evidently resurgent BELL ROCK, a handicap and hunter chase winner for Lawney Hill at 2m5f in summer 2005 but regressive enough since then to have wound up in selling hurdle class when last seen four months ago. A return to the hunting ranks under the tutelage of Lawney’s husband Alan (also on duty here as the assistant starter) seems to have done the trick, and indeed this was the first time in memory that the 9yo had seen out the 3m trip with any degree of conviction. There is always the option, of course, for him to move back into the care of Lawney to resume his handicapping career from more or less the same mark as his last win came off, but it may be more prudent to wait for further signs he is back on an upward curve first of all given how badly out of form he was in the autumn.

VISCOUNT BANKES’ overall profile does not please, and he remains winless in any sphere beyond an extended 2m4.5f. This head second must be as close as he has come to scoring over the regular pointing trip in his career, but he has had as much in his favour as the sound surface and right-handed course today on many previous occasions without capitalising (including when pulling up in the equivalent contest at the previous meeting here), and not much store should be placed in him going as close next time out, even with as much in his favour.

ANOTHER CLIENT’s third here represented a second improved effort so far this winter, having chased home Interdit by 3l in that Ladies’ Open here on New Year’s Eve, and trainer Anne Hewitt seems to be bringing him to the boil now after a quiet first season in Britain. It will not be an especially classy Ladies’ race he eventually wins, though, if he does.

The short price about SHAREEF may well have been on account of how a 10l third to Red Brook Lad at Larkhill last time read on paper, but that alone wouldn’t have betrayed the fact that he looked a short runner that day (and not for the first time this winter), and whilst he lasted the trip better today he never looked the likeliest of the quintet to score as the battle up the run-in progressed. FANTASTIC CHAMPION, just ½l second at Barbury on his first start for Steve Flook a fortnight ago, regularly put in poor rounds of jumping under Rules for John Cornwall, and his old problem raised its head again here as he departed just two fences into the contest.

The clearest-cut winner of the day was FERGAL’S FIND, an appropriately-named winner for trainer Fergal O’Brien who followed up a second at Kenton back in Ireland at the start of December – to all intents and purposes the first bit of form he had shown since his Maiden-winning days – with a 15l success here. Julian Pritchard switched him off towards the rear for the first two-thirds of the contest before bringing him through quietly leaving the final back straight and picking off leader INSTANT APPEAL after two out. He seems to be back on an even keel after some especially poor performances during winter 2006, and there could be more to come at this level at least.

Instant Appeal’s distance win in a Higham Maiden three weeks ago was his first of any description and did not look like form that amounts to very much (favourite departed halfway, left unchallenged). The 10yo confirmed the impression of several of his Rules runs for Peter Winkworth previously that he is generally devoid of late tactical speed by being left entirely for dead once headed by the winner here, as he was mugged by both VIEW HOLLO and LUKE LIVELY for a podium finish close home. The former was registering only his second finish in 10 starts since wining a match on debut at Larkhill three years ago, and needs to string together a few more completions before convincing more; however, the latter registered a fair reappearance having gone missing following a win at Brocklesby last March and is entitled to come on for the outing.

Disappointments of the race included SUNDAY LUNCH, who shut up shop completely after a mistake three out, and NOMINATE, who was going as well as anything four from home but declined the invitation to put his best foot forward thereafter.

Half-brother to Mister McGoldrick but possessive of neither his physical fitness nor a fraction of his ability, ARTHUR SYMONS was nevertheless sent off the favourite for this contest. Backers could have guessed their fate a long way out, however, as the unruliness that impeded him in two hurdles back in 2004 (prior to a brief glimmer of something better in one run for Ian Williams last summer) saw him tank off with Jacqui Coward for one circuit here before his stamina inevitably gave out with around a mile to cover. TOU CHARMING took up the running from that point, and despite charting perhaps a wider course around the final bend than was strictly necessary scored with some ease under Gary Hanmer.

Winless in 14 starts under Rules in Ireland and acquired for only 1,000gns 18 months ago, Tou Charming belonged to that huge primordial mass of runners frequently spotted finishing no better than midfield in big handicap fields back home (basically, the kind of animal that Evan Williams has acquired and placed to good effect in small contests), and although he probably beat little of consequence here, this was arguably one of the few realistic chances he has ever had to shine outside of the suffocating confines of such contests. All his form, including this win, has been on good or faster ground, which ought to mean he can be found opportunities right to the end of the season, if maybe not quite as many in the immediate term.

Newly turned eight and therefore ineligible for younger horse Maidens from hereon in, AVANTI TIGER proved too onepaced in such a contest over 2m4f here last month but fared far better granted the extra half mile this time. He showed a little over just short of this trip in heavy ground hurdles a year ago, albeit at the lowest level, and on all known evidence will require a substandard Maiden to break his duck.

IRISH PREACHER seemed to be remembering his first fence fall on his recent pointing debut and quickly spoiled any chance of winning this contest by putting in a succession of slow leaps.

This was marginally the quicker of the two 2m4f contests. HILLY BE went down early, took a keen hold and cut out the early lead, but as in most of her 11 previous point starts started to struggle long before the race began in earnest and has no pretensions to staying even this shorter trip. TOP BOMBING and BREEZE TO THE TOP were always prominent, but whilst the former still held a small advantage turning for home, it was the latter under Hannah Watson who had the most left in reserve up the straight and was driven out to a 3l victory.

His debut season efforts - three straight non-completions by last March - are probably best written off, as he was far too green even to hint what he is capable of; and this was a second step in the right direction following his staying-on fourth in an identical C&D contest on New Year’s Day, where he was arguably given too much to do. He will, of course, have to prove himself over 3m hereafter, and his sticky jump under pressure at the last might have been punished in better company, too.

GRANARY HOUSE’s second in a Bredwardine Maiden last summer indicated the raw material required for success in this sphere was basically there, and her second here was a more pleasing performance than that day in that she settled and jumped far better. Unlike the winner this mare from the family of Brown Chamberlain already has some form on the board at 3m, and there should be a mares’ maiden somewhere for her this term at the very least.

Top Bombing was tapped for toe in the latter exchanges, and whilst his third still rates a fair enough effort, this third-season pointer’s time is surely better spent campaigned over longer trips. GALATHEA, in receipt of both 5yo and mares’ allowances, knew her job well enough on this racecourse bow, but conversely CATCH A TARTAR has come back as hopeless as ever and was pulled up at halfway after another rotten display of jumping.

Only five got round in this finale, with just a neck separating KEENANS RESERVE and OUR WHIZ at the end of 2m4f and a faltering LANE MARSHAL back in third having led for much of the final circuit. As with the older horses’ Maiden winner Tou Charming, Keenans Reserve is an Irish import to the Gary Hanmer yard who had shown precious little back home previously, albeit this time in points. His mistake two out suggests he is not quite the finished article, but he is in good hands to realise any further potential he may possess.

Our Whiz had encountered a bit of misfortune in failing to complete either of his previous point starts this winter, being hampered on at least one occasion, but there were no hard luck stories this time. The longer-term concern is that he had looked lacking in stamina in 2m-2m2f hurdles for Dusty Sheehy in Ireland previously, and at some point he is going to have to prove capable (or not) over the full 3m, but there may be one of these shorter Maidens in him before that eventuality.

Lane Marshal held onto his lead a little longer than when a 7l third over C&D last month, but in all other respects this was an identical kind of performance to that day’s. An inconsistent maiden of 23 races’ standing on the Flat and over hurdles prior to this winter, he offers far less hope for the future than the first two home.

MEMBERS: Demasta
INTERMEDIATE: Spread The Dream
MENS OPEN: Go For Bust
RESTRICTED: Fergal’s Find
8+ OPEN MAIDEN: Tou Charming
5-7 OPEN MAIDEN: (Div.1) Breeze To The Top
(Div.2) Keenans Reserve

Ms Alex Embiricos
Guy Landau
Sheila Crow
Alan Hill
Fergal O’Brien
Gary Hanmer x2
Rosemary Gasson

Mr Peter Johnson
Mr Richard Burton x2
Miss Emily Jarvis
Mr Julian Pritchard
Mr Gary Hanmer x2
Miss Hannah Watson

David Minton

© 29/01/07 Jeremy Grayson

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