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Old Surrey, Burstow & West Kent
Saturday 21st April 2007
by Simon McInnes
photos by Adam Goodburn

Plenty of work had been put in to avoid the sparse fields that had afflicted the last couple of meetings in the area (the official going was ‘easy side of firm’ – it’s marketing gone mad), and although the biggest field was only six, none dropped below four, which is a bit better than average for this meeting. The traditional bumper crowd appeared, and witnessed racing that was perhaps most memorable for some heroic efforts by the runners-up in keeping tabs on horses that form suggested ought to be out of their sights. Plus they saw something amazing in race two, although few probably appreciated how extraordinary it was.

Hop Farm Country Park with All Occasions Marquees Confined
1: Pristeen Spy 2: Native Performance 3: Westfield John
Winner owned: Libby Harrison, trained: Chris Lawson, ridden: Nick Pearce

In a race where all four runners looked a picture in the paddock, any betting enthusiasm was tempered by bearing in mind their modest strike rates. The favourite, more clearly than might have been expected, was Pristeen Spy, conqueror of a below-par Copeland last time, but who today looked unlikely to deliver for a long way. Ridden at the tenth, the urgency was stepped up at the twelfth and had to be maintained even after he got to the front five from home. Pristeen Spy may not have been especially impressed with it, but the win was deserved for the strength of ride that Nick Pearce gave him. It was helped by Native Performance seeming very one paced once his lead was seriously challenged, but he may have been a little unwilling to let himself down on the fast going. Westfield John was knocked out of serious contention when he hit the twelfth and Blazing The Trail could not do so as he lacked fluency at most of the fences.

Knight Frank South East Hunts Club Novice and Veteran Riders
1: L’Etang Bleu 2: Beggars Brook 3: Owenabue Valley
Winner owned: Mrs JA Donegan, trained: Veronica Park, ridden: Peter Bull

One of the most illustrious pairings in racing history, Pipe and McCoy, are now joined on the roll of honour by Park and Bull, as the only people able to coax a win out of L’Etang Bleu – quite possibly the most reluctant hero running in the country. There is no malice or madness in his approach, just a complete unwillingness to try. Career win number two came because he had the in-form jockey of the race and a very motley bunch of rivals. As they approached the thirteenth and L’Etang Bleu (my French dictionary actually says Etang: pond, or colloquially in SE England: pest) was in contention and on the bridle and suddenly the unthinkable seemed possible. I do not expect to see such a thing again in my lifetime. After two wins last year, Beggars Brook has not finished very often this season and given a hint or two that L’Etang Bleu is his idol, and whilst bustling away never quite convinced that he would worry the winner out of it. The other real threat, Midnight Lord, found the fuel tank emptying quickly after a mistake three from home and lost the third late on. The other runner to demonstrate a sense of humour in this was Celtic Bounty. Having been slowly away and soon fifteen lengths off of the pace and jumping erratically from fence one, his rider let him warm up gradually and after one lap they had just made it onto the heels of the pack when Celtic Bounty made his worst mistake and forced an unavoidable unseated.

Hiscox Insurance Intermediate
1: Supreme Vintage 2: Celestial Heights 3: Winapenny
Winner owned: Mr S Laurie, trained: Chris Lawson, ridden: Nick Pearce

This provided the upset of the day as the wildly inconsistent Supreme Vintage beat off the in form Celestial Heights for a second win in a row, when he is the sort of horse for whom a win last time out (even though it was a three runner race) would be the best reason not to back him this time. There was no fluke about it as Celestial Heights, despite jumping right, had overcome early hints of an off day to have every chance at the business end and not be good enough. The sedate pace and fast ground helped Supreme Vintage see out the trip but did not play to the strengths of Winapenny, who shapes more like a relentless stayer.

Polebrook Elizabeth Champion Memorial Ladies’ Open
1: Carryonharry 2: Persian King 3: Pampered Gale
Winner owned: Mrs H Silk & Mr R Purkis, trained: Emma Leppard, ridden: Cynthia Haydon

As his only reverse in his last eleven runs came at Cheltenham, this looked set to be a lap of honour for Carryonharry, and although the prize was landed, nobody had told Persian King that he was just playing a supporting part. Even when it looked as if the winner had asserted after two out, and mighty leap at the last gave Persian King one last squeak, which did not pan out but he was beaten with honour at least intact, if not slightly enhanced. Pampered Gale was lost touch with a lap or so to go and pinched third off of a tired Militaire in the latter stages.

Marco Weighing Systems Mens’ Open
1: Cape Stormer 2: Thoutmosis 3: The Grey Baron
Winner owned & ridden: Marcus Gorman, trained: Carolyn Gorman

This was a replay of the Ladies’ race, with Cape Stormer the odds-on cert this time and Thoutmosis playing the part of potential spoiler. The heat was really on Cape Stormer two from home, as Thoutmosis was proving a very stubborn rival, but again the leader never quite looked as if he would do little enough to lose. The Grey Baron plodded on for third, another run that indicates he has not sparkled as he did in the last couple of years – his Easter win came when beaten only for the clear leader to pull up lame.

Grants Cherry Brandy Open Maiden
1: Kings Linen 2: Young Rocky 3: Accademia
Winner owned: Dudley C Moore, trained: Paula Twinn, ridden: Rupert Stearn

Some may wish to crab the form of this four runner maiden, and they are probably right, but the fourteen and the sixteen year old (jockey having his first ride) were no real threat to the main pair. It is arguably less than ideal that the winner was having only his third run, at the age of eleven, but the positives are that Kings Linen had shown some ability in his previous runs and runner-up Young Rocky, a stripling of six, has also not been a waste of time – although he has tended to trip over his own feet somewhat since going pointing. The race unfolded oddly, with Kings Linen in control at the eleventh, but pressurised from the third last when Young Rocky rallied dramatically, leaving the winner to work hard at what looked like a shoe-in at one stage. In fairness to his rider, Kings Linen did not jump well, often going out to the right, and the tactics over the last few seemed to be to minimize risk, and as long as that worked, he was always likely to last home the better of the two.

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