With the course having missed the snow that hit the area two days previously and the frost being less severe than predicted, Witton Castle was in perfect order with going on the soft side of good. There was a superb afternoon’s racing with sizeable fields and compelling action.
The Old Raby Hunt Club Maiden saw 11 horses face the starter. There was a thrilling climax as Pertinax gained a short head verdict over Out To Lunch, with the pair miles clear. Pertinax, ridden by Chris Dawson, dug deep to collect. He had been fourth at Cottenham at the beginning of December over 2m4f, which would seem a bit on the sharp side for him. It is difficult to know if Pertinax is up to restricted company just yet though. Ian Smith tried his hardest on Out To Lunch and the horse didn’t go down without a fight. The seven-year-old performed admirably in his first point-to-point. A former inmate of Kate Walton, it will be a surprise if Out To Lunch doesn’t pick up a maiden. Iron Warrior and Pip Tutty flew up the home run to be third, having got well behind. Staying appears to be Iron Warrior’s forte and he might be able to land a maiden when his stamina can come more into play on a longer track. Esme Rides A Gaine is a nice looker and shaped with some promise in fourth. Oriel Flyer helped set the pace before pulling up in the home straight on the last lap. He’ll come on leaps and bounds for the outing. Perry From Ketton and Sergio Coimbra both came down at the 1st. Sukey Tawdray bled from the nose. Although naturally the first race has the best of the ground, this heat was quicker than both divisions of the open maiden.
The Intermediate brought together 12 hopefuls and Shanteen Lass and Chris Dawson scored by eight lengths. Coming right away from the third last, Shanteen Lass chased the leaders much of the way, but always had matters under control to give her jockey a quick double. Having won a Hutton Rudby restricted in March last year, she was highly tried in hunter chases subsequently. She’ll continue to give a good account of herself. Oliver Williams, taking over from the sidelined Guy Brewer, coaxed Toms Party into second. Toms Party had filled the same spot in a similar contest at Thorpe Lodge a week ago. Third-placed Sandy Gold (Jo Foster) did all right and can usually be relied upon to give his running at this sort of level. Beau De Turgeon in fourth was being driven along by Oliver Greenall with a circuit to go and a better performance would have been expected. He had been a fine third to the useful duo of Ask Bobby and Duchess Account last month. Alittlebitopower dropped out having made the running. Lord Saar ought to be better off the race on this return to pointing.
A field of 13 was present for the Ladies Open and it went to that grand campaigner Interdit in the hands of Pauline Robson. Interdit was produced to challenge at the last and he readily drew away to win by a comfortable four lengths. He was pretty straight for his comeback last year too and held his form to the end of the season. There is no reason why 2008 shouldn’t be a similar story. Runner-up Encore Cadoudal looked to have stolen a march on the favourite, but was running on empty in the closing stages and had no answer to Interdit’s finishing spurt. This was a highly encouraging reappearance nonetheless. Tina Jackson’s charge does seem to have some stamina issues over three miles and it would be no surprise to see him take in hunter chases at a lesser trip, where he should make his presence felt. Putting in his best work at the death to be third was General Grey, under Jo Mason. He found things happening a bit quickly, but steadily picked off most of those ahead of him on the final circuit. There are races to be won with this one, formerly in the care of Henrietta Knight under Rules, when the emphasis is on stamina providing the ground is no softer than this. Fourth-placed Almost Broke couldn’t raise his game when the tempo increased markedly turning for home. Longstone Lass helped force the pace, however she wasn’t able to change gear when it mattered. This was a fair run though. This was a big ask for Nina Chester, exposed as a poor maiden, but she did at least get round, albeit remote. Now with her third trainer, at a more suitable level she possibly shouldn’t be dismissed totally out of hand.
A total of 15 horses went to post for the Mens Open, although it wasn’t quite as competitive as the numbers might suggest because plenty needed the race. However, that’s taking nothing away from Sonevafushi, who put his foes to the sword without too much trouble. Oliver Greenall’s mount was always in a prominent position and didn’t have to be asked any serious questions. His previous two outings had been in the Grand National and Cheltenham Foxhunters so he had kept some exalted company. Whilst Sonevafushi isn’t one to rely upon as he has his own ideas about the game, on his day he is a match for any comer between the flags. Dark Thunder and Ian Smith were five lengths down at the line in second. Dark Thunder hadn’t been beaten too far at Sheriff Hutton in January and also showed the benefit of the better ground here. Andre Chenier took third for Chris Cundall. Formerly owned by David Johnson and trained by Peter Monteith when contesting the professional code, he had never attempted anywhere near three miles before. This was a highly promising display therefore. On a track such as Witton Castle, he’ll stand a decent chance in the future. Montreal in fourth ran probably his best race in points. Although he did have a fitness advantage over many of his rivals, this was a step in the right direction as he had really lost his way. Belem Ranger made a satisfactory reappearance. Like most horses trained by Maria Myco or John Wade, Sir Alf normally needs his comeback, which was the case here, even though he was made the jolly.
There were ten runners for the Restricted that went to Cop Howe and Jacqueline Coward. It is interesting that Cop Howe had the same jockey aboard when he lost his maiden tag at Charm Park last April in an apparently very weak race. Today showed that that was no fluke though as he grabbed the initiative at the second last having been to the fore throughout, and kept on doggedly. There ought to be a bit more improvement in Cop Howe. Oaklands Luis was guided into second by Tina Jackson. It is remarkable that this fellow hasn’t actually managed to pick up a restricted as he keeps going close. Surely he will go one better soon. Limogos, with Clive Storey in the plate, was returning from two years off and came third. Provided he doesn’t bounce, there should be more to come. In fourth was Whinny Bank. Although this wasn’t a bad effort, she didn’t seem entirely happy and might need a longer track. Keep an eye out for her at Duncombe Park or Dalton Park. Fifth Column is normally pretty consistent and might be better off for the outing. Daffi had a reasonable pipe opener.
Ten horses lined up for Division One of the Open Maiden, which saw a slow motion finish and a ding-dong battle on the run-in between Mister Moonax and Liverpool. The spoils went to the former under a power-packed ride from Miles Seston. Mister Moonax, sporting cheekpieces, had only found the potentially useful Always Right too good at Sheriff Hutton. Speed wouldn’t be his greatest virtue and he needs a good deal of stoking along, but he did get his head in front. Jacqueline Coward got Liverpool going in the home straight, however he couldn’t quite peg back the winner. Regressive over hurdles after displaying some ability in a couple of bumpers, Liverpool was staying on as if a longer journey would be ideal. Find The Way, partnered by Jo Foster, was back in third. He hadn’t shown a lot under Rules, but some heart can be taken from today. Only three finished. The well-backed Special Order was extremely disappointing and wasn’t the most fluent fencer either. However, he was found afterwards to have a back problem. Beauchamp Valley showed up for a long way before getting tired, while Saddlers’ Harmony was a casualty at the 9th.
Division Two of the Open Maiden saw 11 horses come under orders. Perhaps surprisingly, it was only a second quicker than the first division, but it did contain the day’s easiest winner in Chorizo. A £20,000 purchase out of Paul Nicholls’s yard, Chorizo strode clear in imperious fashion to give Oliver Greenall a double on the day. Judging by his form in bumpers and over hurdles, he was maybe entitled to do so, but it was still impressive. On this evidence, a restricted should be a formality. Second-placed Alisons Treasure (Andrew Glass) kept on soundly for the minor money. Although there was little under Rules to recommend him, he looked well in the paddock. Alisons Treasure shaped like a stayer and might just sneak one of these races. Euro Lord in third again did OK without ever looking like winning. Fourth went to Banners Flying, who never really got into it. Sea Trader made most, but seemed rather one-paced once push came to shove. Tony’s Pride and Villa Mara departed in an early melee. There was money in the ring for Hedchester, but he was pulled up before three out. His connections know the time of day and he should be capable of better when fitter.