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Southdown & Eridge
Sunday 4th March 2007
by Simon McInnes

photos by Adam Goodburn

Whilst the organisers will be ruing the small crowd, in all other respects this was a thoroughly splendid meeting - the best Godstone ever. The rain will have kept many away, but the advance going report, which more or less said 'raceable, and the rain is not due until afternoon, so we should be OK,' would have led some to think that the meeting was doomed when the precipitation began early in the morning. Beyond that, the spectators can feel pleased with themselves for showing the commitment to get there, the tractor drivers performed heroics in the car park, towing people both in and out. The riders went round sensibly and, in tough conditions, no horses were asked to do anything beyond their capabilities. The beer tent was well stocked, and the bookmakers put up competitive offers to drum up business - best being SW Racing's one for the Restricted, in which any beaten finisher saw half of stakes refunded.
As far as the racing was concerned, superior fitness was able to take advantage of some significant gaps in natural talent. The course had also been redesigned, to avoid the horses starting with a steep uphill rise to fence one. This saved one of three testing climbs (the king of the mountains title is not what it used to be), but the new chute also looks to lop half a furlong or so off of the distance. As the track has not previously had going anything like this, time comparisons with earlier years are totally spurious.

Churston Heard 4-7 yo Open Maiden, 2m 4f
1: Pagans Dancer 2: Pipes A'Calling 3: Marlion
Winner owned & trained: Ian Howe, ridden: Will Telfer

As they approached the fourth last, this all seemed to be resolved, with the five survivors strung out in single file. The line up of seven, with one newcomer in it, did not suggest so many would get that far. Favourite Laguna Beach had run well last week, but not completed in his other two starts, and three other runners had no finishes between them in eight runs, whilst Marlion had come to grief in his last three appearances. At the third last, it all changed behind the leader. Pagans Dancer was well in control, surviving a mistake at the ditch four out and a tired flop two later. Behind him, Laguna Beach fell at the third last, and Pitton Mill tried to refuse and unseated. Marlion then came along and lost momentum in the chaos, enough for him to later forfeit second on the run-in to Pipes A'Calling, who had been reluctant to go away from the horse box park and been detached most of the way, presumably the rally being inspired by knowing that he was going back towards the lorries. Boasting a fall and two unseateds before today, Pagans Dancer did show some progress to win this, and despite the unpromising circumstances, it should be noted that he was becoming a very convincing winner even before the bedlam. After the problems in this, the third last was omitted, as it was deemed that the approach was too waterlogged to be practical. The swimming ducks were a clue.

Mitchell & Cooper Confined
1: Arthur Daly 2: Durlston Bay
Winner owned & trained: NW Padfield, ridden: Chris Gordon

A disappointing field of four, from 22 entries, went to post, and from the punters point of view, Arthur Daly had a clear fitness advantage even if having travelled away from his usual manor, and was second favourite to boot. He made a couple of mistakes that gave serious concern, almost stopping six out and fluffing the second last. He also ran down the final fence and only just stayed inside the wing, but the race was won well before that, so the only threats were a fall or stopping to sell a used motor to someone whose original had sunk without trace in the car park. Durlston Bay had made a good job of giving Arthur Daly something to think about until he began to lose touch from four out, at least lasting out for a deserved place. Favourite Jac An Ree (looking not 100% tuned up for this but I have a recollection of thinking that about him once before when he had more than one run under his belt), had been struggling, along with Steve The Fish - who on name alone should have appreciated the weather - as early as halfway, and although Jac An Ree did keep going, he barely clambered over the last and was immediately dismounted, looking unharmed but rather fed up and weary.

Highfields Farm Ladies' Open
1: Carryonharry 2: Lady Baronette
Winner owned: Mrs H Silk & Mr R Purkis, trained: Emma Leppard, ridden: Cynthia Haydon

This was quite a decent Ladies' race, although with proven stamina, the winner was a very short price favourite. He was always going better than the main challenger, who stayed in better touch with this slow pace and on whom Claire Hart was thoroughly persistant. Slow jumps at two of the last three were not significant for Lady Baronette as Cynthia Haydon had the situation in control and had a willing partner when Carryonharry was required to put a touch of effort in over the last furlong. The second favourite was Fiery Ring, who has seen out three miles in the UK better than many of us expected. He had not been asked to do so in conditions like this, but was still in touch when he disappeared at the hidden fifth last. The case remains unproven. The rest gave up quite early, with Galapiat Du Mesnil being the only one whose best form entitled him to have been mixing it with the leaders.

Ward-Thomas Removal & Moves Group Men's Open
1: Valley Henry 2: Lucky Leader
Winner owned & trained: R Gurney, ridden: Philip York

Cedar Chief set off in front as he is wont to do, but his free running style was not ideal for today, and he also took that point of view, refusing at the third. He was asked to give it a couple more tries but was not up for it and did not even threaten to take off. Boundary House fell at the same fence, quite possibly distracted by his unhinged rival. This left the other two to go around together. Philip York was determined to win as cheekily as possible, and although the margin was officially a neck, it looked tighter than that. The difference being that Lucky Leader was hard ridden from two out and Valley Henry was never off of a tight rein. Risky stuff in mud that could stop a charging hippo.

CBRE/Kenmore-Peterlee Restricted
1: Winters Beau 2: Forest Fortress
Winner owned: Mrs PA Wilkins, trained: Susanna Hall, ridden: Philip Hall

Winters Beau and Future To Future stood out on fitness, but Winters Beau had the advantage of running quite a lot faster when the race was under way. In contrast, Napolito, the favourite, looked in need of the race, and he drifted out of it after four out, pulling up rounding the omitted fence, when still in second. As he missed last season, Forest Fortress was facing a tough challenge, and whilst mostly tailed off, he was able to keep plodding on to finish. There was not much from the form of the other non-finishers to think that the ground was the sole source of difficulty for them.

Wellingham Members, Farmers & Subscribers.
1: Westfield John
Winner owned & trained: Mr A Coveney, ridden: Fiona Coveney

Even though it was only a match, some bookmakers lose one gold star for going home early. After a game effort last week, Westfield John looked more ready than sole rival Sanamour, but was second favourite. The inconsistent jolly, who either wins or pulls up, varied his theme by unseating early on, leaving Westfield John to amble round in a time I think was 9m 18s. And it stopped raining just as he crossed the last. For a bloke who had been dashed to the ground by the sea of mud at the course crossing, Harry Fowler wandered back looking surprisingly clean.

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