Sunday 20th January 2008
by Jeremy Grayson
Ampton (RH 7F, 20J), Good to soft, some good and soft patches
“Attracts low quality horses and with good reason” – for countless years the Hunter Chasers and Point-to-Pointers annual concluded its write-up for Ampton with this fairly damning parting shot. It is a reputation that still continues to precede the course in the minds of some point-to-point attendees and enthusiasts to this day, if the fact that my inbox was inundated with messages mostly containing the response, “Enjoy yourself at Dumpton” is any guide.
A glance at the Annual over the last three or four years confirms that matters have improved markedly, however, and today’s meeting, played out on ground universally praised by riders (and riding incredibly well given the prevailing wet weather), probably represented the greatest evidence yet of the Suffolk track’s rising stock with racegoers and racers alike. In particular, the appearance of a serious Cheltenham Foxhunters aspirant such as Bon Accord in the Men’s Open would not have happened too often previously.
Abandonments elsewhere, plus the overall paucity of meetings at this time of year in any case, attracted some runners (and winners) from quite some way out of the East Anglia region, helping to take the total number of runners on the day into the 50s. Both the Opens and especially the PPORA Club Members’ event suffered from small fields, but others held up remarkably well given that the original entry was not huge by any means – 11 of the 13 in the racecard turned out for the Intermediate, for example.
RACE ONE: CONFINED MAIDEN
Victory instead went to CAVEMAN, who had won that High Easter contest as well to register a first pointing win at the fourth attempt (then, as here, with George Greenock booting him home in the careworn Countess Cathcart pink and primrose jersey). Courses that finish with stiff uphill elements appear to bring out the best in him, for in addition to that score and today’s, he had won a chase under Rules around the none more severe Towcester 19 months ago. This was an encouraging enough seasonal reappearance, and the next question will be what further improvement he has found in the close season; he was found wanting in all his Open and hunters’ chase starts after last season’s win, but he is hardly too old to have found a bit more having just turned eight.
A 2m Ludlow chase winner in late 2005 for the now evidently estranged Jim Lewis – Henrietta Knight partnership, but latterly picked up by Martin Ward from Sue Humphrey for 1,600gns, TUESDAY’S CHILD managed to register a first completion in his third point of the winter without ever really allaying fears that the pointing trip is some way in excess of his optimum. Short hunters’ chases already look to represent his best chance of winning in the amateur sphere, though his extremely inconsistent form under Rules tempers confidence in him managing to land any such race.
As per last season, BOB AR AGHAIDH had opened his account with a fair enough performance at Cottenham. Unfortunately, also as per last season, his appearance at Ampton next time has failed to build on that effort; indeed, this was more disappointing, as he took in this easier option instead of a Men’s Open. Mollington, scene of his one victory in this sphere, is of course no more, and even on the limited evidence of the season so far this 12yo may struggle to find an opening this term.
RACE TWO: OPEN MAIDEN
The form of the 6yo Gothland gelding’s second in a short Garthorpe maiden when last seen 10 months ago had been advertised well enough subsequently, with the head winner subsequently prevailing in a Towcester bumper and the fifth landing a selling hurdle. Not overfaced in either his first season for Paul Jones, or indeed a two-race campaign in Ireland prior to that, Bravery Scotch looks all set to kick on now, and for all he may have beaten nothing much here, this was still an authoritative enough win to give hope that he should make the transition to Restricted class comfortably.
Of MID DIV AND CREEP’s 2005 pointing debut Mackenzie and Harris had written, “[She] will hopefully get more opportunities than her dam, who made the frame in the only two bumpers she contested”. A mere 32 months later, she finally accomplished that feat here, a career-best second representing a step up on a never dangerous fourth achieved on her long-overdue Higham reappearance a fortnight ago. Apparently trained for a while (but unraced) by Alan King judged on her Racing Post website entry, and a nightmare to keep sound by the looks of her career profile to date, her best opportunities to score this term may lie in mares’ only Maidens.
Take out a 5l second in a 2m1.5f Cartmel novices’ handicap chase 3 ½ years ago, and ALPHA IMAGE’s Rules form was basically awful. Running off an Official Rating of just 57 when last seen at Hereford over a year ago, and even then beaten 27l in a four-runner contest, he appears to have been gifted by trainer Lisa Williamson to one of her jockeys, Derek Laverty, as something to train for his family. His third place here represented only the third time in 10 Rules or point races over 2m4f or further that he has completed the course, but still didn’t look like form to write home about.
RACE THREE: INTERMEDIATE
As mentioned previously, here was a line-up that held up better than any other from the initial declaration to race time, with only two of the 13 original acceptors absent today (compared to six absentees out of the 20 original acceptors for the maiden). Four horses set off as last time winners, but only SUPREME SIR had recorded his previous win this season. He was sent off the 7-2 favourite, but having tried to go on with just over a circuit left to travel was quickly shuffled down the pack from five out and was beaten a long way in seventh.
One could point to the fact that both his career wins, including last time out, have been recorded just in Members’ company at Higham, but the likelier cause of his capitulation today may have been a recurrence of the bleeding which had so impeded his progress when in the care of Pat Murphy under Rules. Either way, he will inevitably be one to tread a little more carefully with next time after this episode.
Supreme Sir was one of a number of horses that tried and ultimately failed to wrest the lead permanently from habitual front-runner JUST JOVE, who put in one of his tidier rounds under Andrew Corbett. Antonia Bealby’s charge did finally meet his match, however, with the Surrey raider WINTERS BEAU, kept well away from the worst excesses of the pace for well over a circuit and half, sent to challenge going down the final back straight. Trainer-rider Philip Hall did not need to get at all urgent on the Star Quest 10yo up the straight, and had pulled out 20l on the fast-finishing runner-up JOHN THE MOLE at the post for this, his third win from as many starts over this season and last.
Winters Beau’s previous two scores had been in poor six- and four-runner contests at Godstone, neither of which had appeared to confirm much more than a degree of aptitude for an undulating right-hand course, which he again encountered here. He is untried at Open level and presumably heads towards that next, but a return to the Surrey venue for another assault on the Southdown & Eridge Members race may yet prove a more accurate future targets notwithstanding the ease of this victory, as today’s was not a great Intermediate by any means.
John The Mole was anchored at the back for at least 2 ¼m of this contest, before being produced with a storming late run by Caroline Taylor to wrest second from Just Jove. East Anglia area regulars will remember that the Glacial Storm gelding was always unwilling to hold onto a lead for too long during his career trained practically on the Ampton track by the Turner family, so Mrs Taylor’s tactics here seemed reasonable enough – the winner simply wasn’t going to come back to her, however. Certainly John The Mole didn’t fail for fitness on this first run since 2006, but the temptation to suggest there will be more to come next time is tempered by a poor strike-rate which now stands a 1-25 in all Rules and point starts.
Andrew Corbett’s enthusiasm on Just Jove late on earned him a £75 fine for failing to allow his mount time to respond to the whip. It was still enough to keep the third place rosette ahead of the sizeable ROUND THE ISLES, who got badly outpaced at around half-distance but stayed on again from five out in a manner to suggest a stiffer test than this would be appreciated.
RACE FOUR: LADIES’ OPEN
Horse and rider were content to let FIND ME ANOTHER cut out the donkey work for the first two circuits before going on into a small lead five from home. It was at that obstacle that the 14yo made his nearest semblance of a mistake, but he got himself out of bother well enough having got too close to the fence and was always going better than that rival thereafter en route to a seventeenth point-to-point victory from 45 attempts.
Things are not going to get any easiest for Millenium Way as he continues well into the veteran stage, and it is perhaps worth pointing out that no race was run slower today than this, apart from the concluding three-runner novices’ race. However, the heart is still very clearly willing, and presumably all roads now lead to the equivalent event at Charing, the scene of five of his career victories, on February 24 th.
Another Charing winner, albeit not quite as prolifically, Find Me Another was the clear pick on looks in the paddock (a view shared by Channel 4 Racing’s Lesley Graham, here to judge the best turned-out competitor in each race) and gave a good account of himself from the front until late on. Having outjumped the eventual winner three out, he put in rather slower leaps at the final two fences as his stamina began to give out, and he may well have surrendered second place to the better-finishing PARSONHUMFRYWEBBER in another half furlong. An unpredictable and untrustworthy sort in spite of a record of 27 podiums – including 11 wins – from 40 point-to-points, history teaches us not to expect the same of him next time, irrespective of whether he gets the run of the race again.
Parsonhumfrywebber was most recently seen winning a below-par renewal of the Fernie Four-Miler at Dingley last May rather in spite of himself, his mind having to be made up for him by Claire Allen to pinch victory close home. Deprived of the champ’s services (despite her being present and in winning form earlier), and looking a little big beforehand, he lacked fluency at several stages of the contest and was the first competitor to feel the warmth of his rider’s whip with over a circuit to run. At the death he had halved the near-25l deficit by which he trailed three from home, having stayed on all too late, and he would count as one of a couple of animals here today that might have been better served by the extra 5f (Ladies’) or 8f (Men’s) of Dunthrop’s two Open races this afternoon.
POLITICAL CRUISE was nothing special under Rules for Rayson Nixon and he faded tamely after blundering four out; whilst the Joe Turner representative MILITAIRE gave notice that his reluctant tendencies have not been eradicated during the summer, as he lost interest completely following a mistake at the final ditch a circuit from home.
RACE FIVE: MEN’S OPEN
A match it looked (despite the presence of three other competitors), and a match it duly proved, with BON ACCORD and BALLYLUSKY 20l clear of the remainder at the end of a terrific contest which had seen them trade blows from the top of the hill on the final circuit. To the delight of those, this writer included, that have him on their shortlist of serious Cheltenham Foxhunters contenders this term, it was Alan Hill’s 8yo Accordion gelding that emerged triumphant under James Tudor, a better jump at the final fence than his rival helping to contribute to the 1l margin at the end.
Hill must know that in Bon Accord he has a serious animal on his hands, and appears loathe to place the current Hiscox Intermediate champion under any undue risk – he missed several engagements at the Barbury two-day meeting the previous weekend, presumably (but not definitely) on account of the going. For all that he is a more progressive horse than Ballylusky, and three years his junior at that, the Sheila Crow inmate is still the sort of solid Open competitor that Bon Accord has to be beating to live up to the loftier expectations of him now. That he was able to do so here despite not having had the benefit of a run already this season was especially pleasing, and for the time being at least, the dream is still very much alive with him.
If one were to crab the form to even the smallest extent, it would be to offer the suggestion that Ampton does not agree with Ballylusky as well as other tracks – he was, after all, turned over at 4-7 by Persian Hero in this corresponding race last year. Nevertheless, this run, along with his 7l dispatch of Full Minty at Cottenham 14 days earlier, confirms the runner-up to have returned this season in good order, and two or three more of these contests should come his way this winter, his yard’s access to the better riders (including today’s pilot Richard Burton, who the day before at Sheriff Hutton had recorded a three hundredth career win) always rating as a plus.
As with Parsonhumfrywebber in the preceding race, DEAD-EYED DICK was surely running in the wrong contest here when other, longer races were available at Dunthrop. The former Summer National runner-up was sent on by owner-rider Guy Opperman, for whom the 12yo Un Desperado was turning out for the first time, as they turned in with just over a circuit to go, but the distance the partnership put between itself and the two market leaders – never more than around 5l – always looked eminently surmountable, even before Opperman charted a far wider course round the bends on the final circuit. Although the front two readily outsped Dead-Eyed Dick once they had passed him five out, as they were fully entitled to do, it was nevertheless a little disappointing that the gelding was too far behind to at least exert a little pressure and attempt to make his boundless stamina come into play as they climbed the hill in the home straight the final time.
He did at least offer some hope for the future, whereas ESKIMO PIE was rarely better than his final fourth on his pointing debut and a bit sticky on several occasions, and the 15yo FIN BEC – sadly not partnered by the acrobatic Bulgarian Emile Imelov this time – went out rapidly and pulled up after racing a shade too keenly in front under Tony Woodward until just under halfway.
RACE SIX: RESTRICTED
The favourite, but a weakish one, having drifted from 4-5 to 6-4 before the off, Shady Minx had swapped the lead with THATMAKESTWOOFUS repeatedly over the last two circuits in a race in which few got involved. Any fears that Andrew Corbett may have been over-cautious following his earlier whip fine were not realised, as he gave an assured display of riding to repel Andrew Braithwaite upon the runner-up. It is almost tempting providence to suggest where Shady Minx goes on from here, as this was only her fourth career start in as many seasons, but this win, and the Horseheath Maiden victory of last February which preceded it, do indicate a very acceptable level of ability around right-hand courses with uphill finishes.
Cold legs in the morning will also have been the primary concern of Tory Hayter after this good reappearance by Thatmakestwoofus, which comprised his first run since burying 14 rivals in a Brampton Bryan Maiden back in March 2005 for another yard. Unlike the winner he was unproven with ease in the ground, so has ticked another box here, and both these first two home appear sound enough jumpers.
There was a gap of 10l back to the third, the rather more exposed JILTED LOVER, who defied a series of sticky jumps under Alex Embiricos to secure that position. He needed three seasons to secure a Maiden win in Ireland, and his podium finish here doesn’t do a lot for the form behind the first two. TOPOL, like Confined Maiden second Tuesday’s Child a Henrietta Knight cast-off, was backed into 7-4 to give Alan Hill and James Tudor a double on the afternoon. However, his Cottenham win last time out had taken seven years of campaigning under Rules and in points to achieve, and some unsatisfactory jumping in the first two thirds of the contest comfortably prevented him from following up, notwithstanding some late progress past beaten horses.
The other two previous winners failed to finish, PERFECT PREFECT probably finding the ground unsuitably deep, and THE LONGEST DAY dropping out rapidly around two-thirds distance on this first outing since an Eyton-on-Severn score all of five seasons ago.
RACE SEVEN: PPORA CLUB MEMBERS’
The market found comfortably in favour of Sure Future instead, backing him into 4-5 favouritism, and that proved the correct call. High Rank cut out a sensible gallop in tandem with RAKATIA and Kelly Smith, but that rival quickly looked in trouble after a couple of sticky jumps on the final circuit and trailed in a distance last, another Joe Turner runner to show little so far this season. Sure Future joined High Rank five out but far from had things his own way from that point. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the two were locked in a splendid battle until the former asserted in the last 50 yards to give Lucy Franks a third career victory and to deprive Watson of his first.
Sure Future looks a kindly ride for an inexperienced pilot, and it would not surprise if he and Miss Franks were to attempt to repeat their 2007 victory in the PPORA Conditions race at High Easter’s Easton Harriers meeting next time out.
© 20/01/08 Jeremy Grayson