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Mid Surrey Farmers Drag
Sunday 10th February 2008
by Jeremy Grayson

Anyone attending today’s meeting would have been quite forgiven for thinking they had slept through two or three months of the season and emerged at the height of Spring, such was the warm, dry, bright nature of the afternoon. For those of us with trips scheduled to courses more prone to outbursts of filthy weather later in the season (hello again Ystradowen), a few unexpectedly clement days here and there are certainly gratefully received.

The second South East are meeting of 2008 was blessed with a sizeable crowd and what felt like nigh-on perfect going underneath the boot, but only 48 horses took their chance and there was no need for any of the six races to divide. The four-runner turn-out for the concluding short maiden was especially disappointing – heaven knows there are plenty in the maiden pointing sphere nationwide with precious few pretensions of lasting home over the standard three mile trip.

First used as recently as 2002, Godstone is a parkland track with a surprisingly rural feel given the M25 sits barely a mile away. Topographically the course reminded the writer of a cross between Clonmel racecourse in Ireland and a sheet of corrugated iron – sharp and right-handed, but with such up-down up-down pronouncements of gradient that viewing all the fences can only be achieved from well inside the course (as Weatherby’s duty race-readers resorted to). The on-course announcements from Mr J Ball were as clear and concise as the [I]Annual[/I] had promised, the polished commentary from David Rhys-Jones equally so.

In an infant season which has already seen equine greybeards such as Jemaro, Demasta and Bold Navigator (all 17 years old or older) turn out once again, the spotlight this time turned on the human equivalent. At 66 years of age, David Robinson emerged from retirement to (re?)claim the title of the oldest current licensed rider under Rules or in points, and to partner the former Tom George inmate BEE AN BEE on the gelding’s first venture into pointing.

Neither horse nor jockey were seen in any competitive capacity during 2007, but there was little sign that this was the case. No stranger to winning around sharp clockwise tracks, having landed a 3m1f handicap chase at Folkestone once upon a time, Bee An Bee was sent into the lead at flagfall and stayed there throughout, Robinson riding with the brio of a man half his age. The cheer the partnership received after crossing the line 6l to the good confirmed that this was the feelgood story everyone present had been hoping to witness, and as long as his former 123-rated partner avoids the bounce factor Robinson can expect some more fun in Confineds or veteran riders’ events in the South this term.

JACK’S PRESENT, trained and ridden by Nick Pearce, did her best to make a race of it, but the Presenting 6yo, winner of a mares only Maiden during the Barbury two-day meeting after shaping well in Ireland previously, could not make her race-fitness count over the winner’s class. This defeat does not denigrate her previous efforts in the slightest, and she looks as fair a Restricted candidate coming out of the race as she did entering it.

The afternoon’s biggest field of 14 (out of an initial entry of 23) contained just the one last-time winner, but the horse in question, WINTERS BEAU, had won all three of his previous pointing starts around sharp right-handers with uphill finishes (including two here last year) and came here on the back of an emphatic Intermediate score at Ampton.

There looked to be one or two lurking in the contest well capable of lowering his colours if retaining enough of their erstwhile Rules form, however, and so it proved, with former Charlie Mann stablemates MERCHANTS FRIEND and NATHOS separated by 3l in first and second and the Philip Hall runner back in a onepaced fourth. As stated in the Ampton review (q.v.), the Southdown & Eridge Members’ race back here later in the winter looks the likeliest opportunity for him to score again this term.

The winner is clearly not getting any better at 13, but his best Official Rating of 135 (equal that of rival LORD ATTERBURY) was in part gained through some tenacious staying performances in bad ground, so his triumph here suggested there was still at least a little bit of give underfoot. The combination of these slightly smaller obstacles – he could throw in the odd howler in Rules steeplechases – and his move by owner Andrew Wardall to John Dufosee both rated sizeable plusses, and more should follow before the going dries up completely.

Former German Flat middle-distance winner Nathos was still running in pretty classy hurdles until last season, and indeed was last seen under Rules in the Coral Cup. Restricted to just three chase starts in late 2004, lacking fluency and confidence either side of winning a weak Plumpton contest, he has taken a little time to find his feet over pointing fences this winter but was far better here. A speed track is probably what he needs in this sphere, as he was untried beyond 2m6f under Rules and struggled when trying it around somewhere like Sandown.

NEW STREET EXPRESS kept Winters Beau out of the podium finishes with his best effort in three runs since coming over from Ireland, and a long-overdue supplementing of his Maiden win from a while back is starting to look more feasible again. Lord Atterbury, like the winner a faller in the 2005 Grand National (having finished third in that race the year before), really ought to know better than to run as keenly as he did for the first half mile or so, and he offered little fight once headed early on the final circuit. He still finished 20l or more ahead of last-placed OLIVER CROMWELL, whose inexperienced rider was bent on getting the 13yo round, first run in four years or no.

This nine-runner event looked to represent Cotswold raider NOAKARAD DE VERZEE’s best opportunity to get off the mark for the season, with no Irilut and company in opposition as at Tweseldown, no local favourite Honourable Spider as per Detling. In practice it all fell into place rather more comfortably than may be expected in an Open race, David Maxwell sitting the Roakarad 7yo just off ICE COOL LAD’s steady pace before passing that rival (twice the age) four fences from home and quickly putting 8l between himself and the remainder, the challengers simply failing to materialise.

Sterner tests than this are sure to face the Kim Smyly inmate again before too long, and the novices’ route is not an option open to the rider for much longer, if at all, but Noakard De Verzee has time on his side in spades and is basically still improving at a generous rate. He looks as if he would be able to withstand the step up to hunters’ class perhaps by the end of the season.

Bred by the Queen and formerly a 1m6f winner on the Flat for Richard Hannon, it is only 28 months since fellow 7yo TURNSTILE was sold to Andrea and Graham Wylie for 145,000gns. Safe to assume, therefore, that chasing £160 pots in a muddy field in Surrey was never part of the plan, but his efforts in three points since being offloaded by the Wylies have been solid enough without – surprisingly, perhaps – offering a cast-iron case for his effectiveness over three miles. At least three of the other four races run over this trip today were run in quicker times, and his 6l proximity to Noakarad De Verzee belies the fact that the winner was allowed to coast home at his own pace. He looks just a little short of the required to win Opens at present.

Ice Cool Lad’s proximity to the second holds the form down a touch further, as the teenager has not scored in any sphere for five years now, but the ride the deputising Nick Pearce gave him will have been more assertive than many from usual partner Benjamin Bentley in recent times. He remains a safe as houses conveyance and should continue to afford Bentley some more quality schoolmaster sessions upon his return to action.

CLOCK HOUSE and DANAEVE both faded disappointingly on the final circuit, the former tipping up six out. Two circuits earlier, OLD KILMINCHY and Marcus Gorman had had a difference of opinion that saw the rider on the floor and stood down for the remainder of the afternoon. A missed winner would follow in race five.

The ladies’ race was run in a time four seconds quicker than the men’s which preceded it, and it featured an impressive front-running display from the lightly-raced 13yo HEAVEN IS ABOVE, who led or disputed the lead throughout. More or less similar tactics had gained the day in the equivalent contest at Detling a fortnight earlier where, as here, the Hymns on High gelding was partnered by champion lady rider Claire Allen. The partnership just kept pouring on the pressure from the front and induced frantic mistakes from its nearest pursuers on its way to a barely pushed-out 4l triumph.

That makes it two wins from three since Heaven Is Above moved to Jenny Gordon’s yard ahead of this campaign, and the change of scenery, coupled with a more rigourous campaign (he did not run this many times in the whole of 2007), look to have invigorated him anew. Further gains seem likely whilst he remains in such heart, although one failure not repeated since in 2004 suggests against a return to hunter chasing – he is not the most physically prepossessing of specimens to be campaigning over full size Rules fences in any event.

MILLENIUM WAY, instantly off the mark for the season when landing a Ladies’ Open at Ampton with some ease three weeks ago, crept closer into contention from around two-thirds distance, but he proved short of the requisite extra gears thereafter, and whilst plugging on into a clear-cut second never really looked like overhauling the winner and scoring point-to-point career success number 18.The good news in the immediate term for Caroline Taylor’s 14yo is that his beloved Charing opens for business this season in just a fortnight’s time.

LILE NA CASCA, joyously misheard by at least one punter as “Ian McCaskill”, was the one most intent on serving it up to the eventual winner from the second circuit onwards, but Polly Gundry was already niggling the mare six from home and a dive at the fourth last essentially ended her challenge. She still finished well clear of STROMNESS, whose jumping lacked polish throughout and who remains winless (apart from a Catsfield walkover last season) since 2005.

The Turner family brought a handful of charges here ahead of Cottenham, possibly in search of smaller fields, but all their ploy resulted in was it being easier to spot their navy blue and white colours as they dropped back through the field when things started to get serious. FULL IRISH, a point winner at Higham and a hunter winner at Fakenham last season, gave a better account than many from the stable in recent weeks, but was already beating a retreat when turning a somersault four out, possibly distracted by Lile Na Casca.

This was a bit of a ragged affair early on, and the over-keenness of some and bad mistakes of others helped to ensure that only four of the initial nine got round. LADY EDISON was bent on getting the lead and pulled her way to the front by the end of the first circuit, but she hadn’t shaken off the competition with one lap to go and ultimately had too little to offer once heads turned for home.

Eventual winner MERRY VIC was one of four, including BEAREEN LAD and Lady Edison, which passed the post on the penultimate occasion almost in line. Nick Pearce, deputising for the stood-down Marcus Gorman, attempted to kick on from that point, the tactic having worked so well for the gelding’s Larkhill Restricted win five weeks previously. Pearce was never able to put more than 2-3l clear between himself and the remainder from any point on the last circuit, but Merry Vic battles and stays, and he had too many guns for Beareen Lad two out even before that rival jumped over to his left.

Time will tell if anything in the race is of the class required to emulate Bon Accord in last season’s Intermediate Final at Cheltenham (for which this was a qualifier), but in the meantime the Gordons can reflect on having a pretty decent prospect on their hands in Merry Vic, one unlikely to have reached his peak yet at six.

Beareen Lad had laid down an okay marker when second in a Detling Restricted on his British bow, and probably stepped up on that a little here. He finished nicely clear of Lady Edison, for whom this may not have been a stiff enough test in any case but who didn’t travel kindly enough early on for us to find out either way.

Godfrey Maundrell, now interestingly appearing on the Racing Post database as having declared a runner in a Fakenham bumper this week but nothing in the more expected hunters’ chase on the same card, was unceremoniously dumped by THEATRE CALL four out when well out the back. That partnership had stayed competitive for a bit longer than WINAPENNY, who went from disputing the lead to labouring badly inside of a couple of furlongs early on the final circuit. His inevitable pulling-up thereafter capped another miserable day for the Turners.

RACE SIX : 4,5,6 & 7yo OPEN MAIDEN (2m4f)
Numerically this short maiden was the worst-contested race on the card, and they went no particular gallop early on, but there was only half a length to choose between REYMYSTERIO and IPHAR at the end.

Reymysterio, who took up the lead around halfway after a really bad blunder by Iphar, went from being 3l up to practically joined again by that rival between the fourth and third last, evidently not liking being out on his own for too long. Thankfully for his backers Reymysterio was motivated back into taking an interest in winning by James Owen (looks like all those rides on the tricky Hot Plunge weren’t wasted, then), and he responded well in a protracted battle up the short straight to win driven out.

The Luso 7yo’s fourth career start, and first in Britain, garnered a success, therefore, but it has to be hoped that the propensity to stop when ahead today was just greenness on the part of the horse rather than any fundamental flaw.

David Maxwell regained composure quickly and well after Iphar’s terrible error at the ninth, but never quite had this French import right on the winner’s quarters until the last 25 yards or so. The Panoramic gelding seems more of a long-term prospect than stablemate Noakard De Verzee (q.v.), like him also a 7yo, and he would probably appreciate a few furlongs more having competed in many 2m6f+ cross country races back home in the latte half of 2007. The raw material for a maiden win is there.

LILLIE LOU ran a strange race back in third. Jumping slowly and lagging behind for the first half of the contest, Jody Sole had to keep the mare’s mind on the matter in hand as they passed the stable bend the second time. She was flying home at the end having shown negligible interest up to that point, and may have had a bigger say in matters granted an extra furlong. For all that little chink of promise towards the end, she still looks tricky to predict.

CA CONDITIONS: Merchants Friend
MENS OPEN: Noakarad De Verzee
LADIES OPEN: Heaven Is Above
4-7yo MAIDEN: Reymysterio

David Robinson
John Dufosee
Kim Smyly
Jenny Gordon
Mrs C M Gorman
Mr N W Padfield

Mr David Robinson
Mr Ryan Bliss
Mr David Maxwell
Miss Claire Allen
Mr Nick Pearce
Mr James Owen

David Rhys-Jones

© 10/02/08 Jeremy Grayson

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