The exciting climax towards the riders’ National titles occupied the centre of attention on a warm and sultry afternoon at Bratton Down. The Men’s title was settled thanks to a James Tudor double which lifted him into an unassailable lead, but the Ladies’ crown is still up for grabs, with Polly Gundry’s Maiden victory putting her just one behind the current leader Claire Allen.
For James Tudor it was a memorable occasion. It seemed that the whole of the Welsh pointing fraternity had turned up on Exmoor to support him in his bid for championship honours. Needing just a single winner to take the title away from the sidelined Richard Burton, and with only this meeting and next week’s Umberleigh finale left, the 24 year old from Cowbridge, South Wales, achieved it in style, winning on both his rides.
Tudor’s first mount, Itsalf, came home with 25 lengths to spare over the favourite Delgany Gale in the Intermediate. While the winner jumped impeccably out in front, his Sussex based challenger was never jumping with any fluency, and Itsalf strolled clear from the final ditch to give his rider his most vital success of the season.
Nine year old Itsalf, who was getting his head in front for the first time this season after several placed efforts, is trained by Marcella Baylis at Naunton, Gloucestershire. “I hadn’t ridden Itsalf before, but Marcella had him spot on” said the elated jockey, surrounded by TV cameras and press after achieving his goal. “We had to rescue him out of some wire as a foal, and he still has the marks on his hind leg” said owner David Morgan of his lengthy chestnut, who certainly rose to the occasion.
James Tudor’s 35th winner of the season thus edged him ahead of reigning champion Richard Burton, who had looked certain to take his third successive title until breaking an ankle at Garthorpe in mid May. “With five weeks to go I needed to ride eleven winners to catch Richard, but I hit a purple patch and have not gone one race day without a winner in that time” said the new champion, who had finished third and second for the title over the past two seasons.
Win number 36 for Tudor quickly followed when the much improved Johnsair just held off Shobrooke Mill to win the Men’s Open. Johnsair jumped to the front at the 15th fence and looked to be travelling better when the runner up blundered at the second last. Despite rallying gamely, Shobrooke Mill could not peg back the winner, who had four lengths to spare at the post, with Touch of Flame unable to make any impression in third. Johnsair, who acts well on fast ground and has now won his last three races, is owned and trained by Gareth Perkins, who is based at Llancarfan, near Cowbridge.
The Ladies’ Open changed shape dramatically in the closing stages. The eventual winner Double Honour was lying fifth, some 20 lengths behind the leaders at the third last, but stormed up the long final hill to give Katherine Hobbs her 7th winner of the season. Katherine’s sister Diana forced the pace on Koquelicot until joined by Harnage (Lucy Gardner) at the final ditch. This pair did battle until Double Honour swept past after jumping the last. The winner then drew well clear to beat Harnage by six lengths, with Claire Allen’s only mount of the day, Snowtre, eventually filling third place.
Harnage’s owner/trainer, farrier Rodney Grant, had earlier enjoyed success when Spinning Silver repeated last year’s victory in the Hunt race at the expense of odds on favourite Punchy. Merv Woodward was partnering his first winner of the season on board the 12 year old. “He needs top of the ground to show his form and we train him on the roads, on tracks and in the woods” said the owner.
Polly Gundry had an up and down afternoon in her quest to regain her Ladies’ title. Lady Purton put her on the floor when stumbling on a bend in the Intermediate, before she pulled up Gemster when well beaten in the Ladies’. Blackcomb Mountain could then only manage third of the three runners in the Restricted behind easy winner Castle Cazza, who was following up last week’s course win under Rachael Green.
It was left to Craigmor, a gelding she trains herself near Ottery St Mary, to maintain her championship hopes with her 25th winning ride of the season in the concluding Maiden. Craigmor looked to have it all to do when tackled by the gambled on The Harrow (Philip York) jumping the last, but the seven year old stayed on well up the final climb to fend off The Harrow by three lengths, with Hooray Henry fading into third after leading until the penultimate.
Seven year old Craigmor is owned by Roger Maggs and Paul Connibeare, and “had done two years of eventing and show jumping after failing to cut any ice on the flat and over jumps”, explained Polly. “He came to me in mid March and was hurriedly qualified with the Cotley”, she added. “I hope he is able to run again at Umberleigh, and I am also hoping to ride Let’s Fly next week” she added – obviously ultra keen to wrestle back the Ladies’ crown she relinquished to Rachael Green last year after holding the title for six successive years.