The sun shone and even a cool northerly breeze failed to prevent a huge crowd for the feature race of the Yorkshire season, the Grimthorpe Gold Cup, which is also one of the four pointing “classics”. The quality of the racing overall was second to none and Racing UK must have been impressed on a rare trip to the north. Regular Catterick commentator Martin Harris was also in the hot seat, making his first visit to a Yorkshire point-to-point in this role.
Vandalism the night before forced the single fence in the back straight to be omitted (half of it had been burnt to ashes) and some remedial work was required following an attack on the running rails. None of this should detract from a supreme effort from Nicky Tinkler and his team that produced genuinely good ground and well built fences. The start for the 2m4f and 4m1f races was moved so that the omitted original first fence didn’t have to be bypassed. This meant that those races were over a slightly shorter distance than advertised.
The Hunt Members is always an above average contest for this type of event and there were six runners. Sevensider got back to winning ways in the hands of Joanna Mason, powering clear for a decisive victory. Having gained her fledgling triumph at Brocklesby Park a fortnight ago, Jo was quickly adding to her total. Sevensider missed 2006 with injury and reappeared at Duncombe Park in February to blow away the cobwebs. Given time since then to avoid the dreaded “bounce” factor, Sevensider has come back in good shape and would be a major player in an intermediate or confined. Jackson gave chase, but the winner had flown and he couldn’t reel him in. Jackson continues to go close for Jack Newitt and he must surely pick up a confined or novice riders race before long. Potoffairies and Jacqueline Coward were a one-paced third, just pipping Sikander A Azam, who isn’t the force of old, under Toby Greenall in fourth. The useful Trooper Collins made one bad mistake and was readily left behind when push came to shove, while the fragile Zygomatic will no doubt strip fitter for this initial foray in points and first start under any code for nearly three years. The stewards enquired into the apparent improved form of the winner, but it is hardly surprising that Sevensider would step up on his reappearance from a year on the sidelines.
Ten horses went to post for the Ladies Open and the finish was fought out by a duo that would have taken part in the Grimthorpe if it had been a mixed open as they have stamina in abundance. Interdit stayed on resolutely under maximum assistance from the excellent Pauline Robson to fend off the customary late thrust of Duchess Account and Emma Brader by half a length. There are very few horses and jockeys that would have done so. Interdit had done exceptionally well to get the better of Iron Express over an extended three and a half miles at Corbridge in March. A solid chaser until relatively recently, Interdit is already well on the way to following in the footsteps of Billie Thomson’s great pointing champion Balisteros. Cutting every corner pinched vital yardage, but Duchess Account lost a lot of ground when badly squeezed at the second of the ditches. Provided the going doesn’t get too fast, she’ll earn top prize again in the next few weeks. Third went to Wilfie Wild under Lynne Ward. With positive tactics being adopted, Wilfie Wild performed with a bit more zest than previously this year and he should find a race when the big guns aren’t present at somewhere like Witton Castle. It was no disgrace to go down with credit against Interdit and Duchess Account. Madison De Vonnas (Freya Hartley) belied his odds of 50-1 in places to be fourth. Still only seven, Madison De Vonnas was making his debut between flags, having won over hurdles at Plumpton. Thought to prefer two miles under Rules, he made several mistakes and this was therefore a promising effort indeed. With a better round of jumping and an easier track, he would be worth a look. Billie John would certainly have been in the first handful if he hadn’t come to grief at the third last, but Noggler got rid of Charlotte Brown before the end of the first lap.
A field of 13 was present for the Restricted and Dannymolone showed his liking for decent ground to gain a six length verdict without Simon Walker having to get too serious with him. Trainer Chris Pimlott is in good form at the moment, having had maiden winners at Garthorpe and Dalton Park in March. The eight-year-old had bumped into Fair Doo at Brocklesby Park last month and that one is very much on the upgrade. Dannymolone has more to offer. He tended to get bogged down on an unsuitable surface in a spell novice chasing. Brown’s Beck had no answer once Dannymolone swept past, but he didn’t cease trying for Steve Charlton. He took a while to get off the mark and is equally consistent in restricteds. Surely, there has to be another race in him. In third, Master Jackson (Mark Bennison) did considerably better than he otherwise had done in 2007. Toms Party (Guy Brewer) was held up and responded to pressure to take fourth, but made no further progress in the short home straight. Kindle A Flame could find no extra and Royal Return never reached the leaders. Victor One should come on for the run.
The Grimthorpe Gold Cup Mens Open attracted 14 runners, but turned into a one horse race. Iron Express looked on from third for much of the journey and once the two pace-setters had beaten a retreat, he always held all the aces. Iron Express barely came off the bridle, let alone cause Oliver Greenall to pull the persuader, as he sauntered along the home straight in splendid isolation. The combined efforts of Annabelle Armitage and Cherry Coward have nursed this fellow, who has not been without his physical problems, to reach his peak here. Annabelle managed a second in the Grimthorpe as a jockey three years ago. Iron Express’s only defeat in four appearances in 2007 was at the hands of Interdit at Corbridge, which after that one’s heroics earlier in the afternoon must have been a sign in itself. Ollie was winning the great race for the second renewal in succession as he had been aboard Shackleton in 2005 (2006 was abandoned). Snizort grabbed second in the closing stages, but couldn’t make any inroads on Iron Express. Steve Charlton had Snizort anchored at the back and the gelding stayed on bravely through beaten horses to be nearest at the line. Snizort held every chance when falling at Dalton Park at March and his two completed outings this year have seen him have a rear view of the exceptionally talented Fiori. Keep an eye out for Snizort at Heslaker in May. Major Shark, with Chris Cundall in the plate, excelled himself and only hit the wall on the run to the last. To come third was a big step up on anything he had shown before between the flags. Major Shark appeared to finish distressed, but he did seem all right when he eventually left the unsaddling area. Fourth-placed April Spirit was fancied, but burnt herself out at the head of affairs and was a spent force five out. Steve Magee sensibly wasn’t hard on her once her chance had gone. Young Claude was being niggled along with a full circuit left and the ground might have been a bit lively. To be fair, although he is improving quickly, he was a short price for a horse that had only picked up a maiden and a restricted on his previous two attempts. The other horse to help cut out the merciless gallop was Briar’s Mist, who made the long haul north having taken in the southeast’s feature race last month, when he only yielded in the dying strides to be a close second over four miles. He was extremely tired when pulled up before the fourth last in this encounter. David Cottle unwisely kept the slow maiden Silver Sovereign going hopelessly tailed off to complete. The stewards not surprisingly fined him £175 for continuing on an exhausted horse. There was a delay before the race as both Iron Express and Briar’s Mist’s jockeys had weighed out incorrectly. This was in no small part due to the inaccuracies on the racecard. Quite why the organisers imposed conditions on the Yorkshire feature race that involved penalties is a mystery. It will not have escaped regular racegoers’ attention that the one-two of Iron Express and Snizort are usually partnered by lady jockeys, Jacqueline Coward and Freya Hartley respectively. Yorkshire’s champion lady rider must have been cursing her luck that she was denied victory in the Grimthorpe. This, coupled with the fact that Interdit and Duchess Account would undoubtedly have taken part in the four miler if it had been a mixed open, is compelling evidence that a return to a mixed open would be in the interests of fair play in the sport.
The Hiscox Intermediate had six participants and Banchory Two continued on an upward curve. Oliver Greenall didn’t have to get particularly animated in the saddle and Banchory Two had little difficulty in disposing of Charlies Memory. Banchory Two goes from strength to strength and it will be a surprise if this sound jumper doesn’t continue his climb up the ladder. Jacqueline Coward guided Charlies Memory into the runner-up position on the horse’s seasonal debut. Charlies Memory kept battling away and there are more races to be won with him. Lucy Carr encouraged Just A Man into third. Finishing strongly, Just A Man hinted at a revival. West Coaster (Joanna Mason) was fourth and not beaten out of sight. The Graduate still has plenty of talent and looked likely to be placed until getting very tired late on. He will make his presence felt on a sharper track before the end of the season.
The biggest field of the afternoon was 16 for Division One of the 2m4f Maiden and there was a simply breathtaking display from Eliza Doalott. As soon as Guy Brewer gave her the office at the penultimate obstacle, she left her rivals for dead in a matter of strides. Eliza Doalott travelled like a dream and jumped from fence to fence. She had made an unusual debut in a strong open at Charm Park last month, but proved entirely capable of keeping tabs on seasoned campaigners for over two miles of that contest. The five-year-old has bags of scope and ability and it would be interesting to see how she would fare in a bumper or over hurdles. In second, Mandalay Bay stuck to his task for Nigel Tutty and showed that his close third at Hutton Rudby in March had been no fluke. If he manages to steer clear of a race containing an opponent as talented as Eliza Doalott (which won’t be difficult), a maiden can come Mandalay Bay’s way. Third went to Indian Blizzard and Chris Dawson, who were putting in their best work at the finish, indicating that the step up to three miles would see Indian Blizzard in an even better light. Whilst well beaten, Dr Hellier (Richard Wakeham) in fourth was another that was running on when most of the others had cried enough. He’d shown distinct signs of ability when not knocked about in midfield in a Wetherby bumper and he should have a role to play at this level. Castle Gunner might not have been suited by the drop back in trip, whilst Sales Flow had a rather soft departure at the 5th. Lescer’s Lass, making her debut, was a long way behind when asked to take the open ditch. Given that the ditch at Whitwell is deep and often resembles a stream, this wasn’t the brightest piece of riding. The stewards had every reason to fine David Thomas £150 for continuing on an exhausted horse. The stewards enquired into the apparent improvement in form of the winner. The drop in grade from the highest level in pointing to the lowest would be a reasonable explanation.
Division Two of the 2m4f Maiden saw 13 horses come under orders. Welham scored by ten lengths to give Oliver Greenall a treble on the card. Oliver had gained his initial success in the saddle in the hunt members at this fixture in 2004. Welham hadn’t been seeing his races out over three miles and maybe the shorter distance helped him a lot. He might find the going tough in restricteds and could turn his attention to a hunter chase over about today’s trip. Runner-up The Real Alydaly got the second last all wrong or he would have been involved at the business end. Jo Foster’s Irish import took a fair hold, but displayed enough ability to suggest a maiden was within his capabilities. In third, Chinese Ambassador (Chris Dawson) is heading in the right direction. .The four-year-old Best of Friends filled fourth spot under John Dawson. This was a promising first offering over jumps. Differentgear didn’t jump very well and will need to improve in that department to figure prominently. Seek The Truth, bidding to give trainer Maxine Stirk a quick double and become the first Yorkshire four-year-old winner, came to take the race as he moved alongside Welham at the last, but he hit the obstacle halfway up and gave Guy Brewer no chance of staying on board. With a clean leap, he would surely have prevailed.
The 3m Maiden was split at declaration and ten horses took part in Division One. There was a highly taking performance from Crake Way, who had matters under control from the moment he went on at the third last. Given the perfect waiting ride by Clive Mulhall, Crake Way’s jockey was looking round for non-existent dangers on the run-in. Crake Way is owned by the enthusiastic Jumpingforfun Partnership, who have given this fellow time to mature without over-phasing him and today was probably the first occasion that Crake Way has had optimum conditions since he has had sufficient experience. Runner-up Artic Omen found plenty under Guy Brewer’s urgings to win the battle for the minor honours. He ran very wide entering the back stretch for the final time and had no hope of regaining all the ground that was lost. Artic Omen should gain due compensation. Third-placed Killnascully King doesn’t really have a change of gear for Oliver Greenall. If he gets his head in front, it will be a weak affair. The fourth, Northern Rambler (Katy Bannon), is only of a modest standard. Avanti Tiger hit the deck before the race had begun in earnest. Off the bit virtually from flagfall, Fromragstoriches doesn’t seem an easy ride and isn’t one to place any faith in. Areyacoddinmee folded tamely having raced prominently.
With the withdrawal at the start of Finkle Street, eight horses were left to contest Division Two of the 3m Maiden. West End Rocker kept finding more for Chris Dawson when he started to be pushed along leaving the back straight. A mighty leap at the last took him into the lead and there was nothing coming from behind to trouble West End Rocker on the run-in. He’s been brought along steadily and has a bright future. Rising Whip in second held a narrow advantage at the final fence, but a mistake lost her all momentum and there was no time for Richard Wakeham to conjure a concerted response. She had jumped superbly up to then and can lose her maiden tag soon now that blinkers have allowed her to achieve a decent level of form in each race since they were applied. Tony’s Pride (Chris Cundall) was third and ought to be able to pick up a small heat. Culbann gave a respectable account of himself. In Miles Seston, he has a capable pilot and might just sneak a little maiden. Dentali crashed out, while Kismet is decidedly one-paced. Jofi, generally poor under Rules, shouldn’t be written off yet as the outing will have been of benefit.