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West Street Tickham
Sunday 7th February 2010
by Simon McInnes

This was a lovely winter's day, as long as you ignored the freeing fog and occasional sleet. It certainly was not nearly as windy as can be the case on top of the hill in East Kent, and there was far less risk of suffering ill health as a result of attending. Unfortunately, the crowd was decent but not as good as it can be, which suggests that some lily-livered souls felt that they were too sensible to be here. Shame on them, but not those who went to the eleven race all-dayer at Whitfield.

In fairness, for some of the meeting it was not that dismal, showing off this corner of the country at it's marvellously bleak winter best. But when the hill on the other side of the road quickly disappeared into a shroud of fog, it was time to reach for an extra jumper or four.

Going: Good

Race 1: Giles Hopper Memorial Open Maiden, Div I
1: Scholar George 2: Fealeside Lord 3: Heynewboy
Winner owned: Simon Tindall, trained & ridden: Nick Pearce
Fealeside Lord appeared to be taking the field along at a decent clip in this, but my not 100% legible notes suggest that the winning time was unexceptional in the end and that the appearance was deceptive. That timing oddity should not detract from the impression created by Scholar George, which was favourable, and his jumping was good as well, apart from one which he seemed to get a bit nonplussed at. Fealeside Lord can probably get away with his front-running tactics at a course without the long uphill run to the line. Heynewboy found the rising ground a bit too much, but he did also look as if the race would bring him on. Fourth was And Your Point Is, who lost his way under Rules very badly, until enlivened by either a thirty pound drop in the weights or the first use of a visor. He did enough here to think putting the headgear back on might do the trick.

Race 2: Giles Hopper Memorial Open Maiden, Div II
1: Commander Kev 2: Badgers Cove 3: Tarbrook
Winner owned: KP & Nuts Racing Club, trained: Karen Hobbs, ridden: James Banks
This was a very easy victory for Commander Kev, who was eased having been miles clear two out and still knocked spots off of the time from the previous race. Unfortunately a couple of runners pulled up lame, but everything else not in the first three threw in the towel well before the temptation of the paddock exit. Badgers Cove strove manfully (or perhaps badgerly, if that is a compliment) and will come on for the run. Tarbrook was held up and never managed to get in the race competitively, so although he was a long way behind the winner, he cannot be dismissed until he is ridden, and fails, more prominently.

Race 3: South East Bookmakers SE Hunts Club Members
1: Master Alf 2: Unleash 3: Pass Me Winner owned: Mr & Mrs P Bull, trained: Suzy Bull, ridden: Peter Bull
Thirteen lined up, and there were plenty who could entertain thoughts of victory. One of the more likely was Master Alf, who either led or stayed within a whisker of it (see below) all the way, and just about clung on as what looked a winning lead at the last was rapidly whittled away by Unleash (one Rules win and one pointing one since 2003) and Pass Me By (a useful staying chaser in 06/07 who lost his way quite badly). Connections of Master Alf have been a little shy of upping him grade from this, apart from a stab at getting him qualified for handicap chases, and the narrow margin by which he prevailed does nothing to invalidate that approach. Perhaps an intermediate is in his range. Better might have been expected of fourth placed He's On His Way and Man From Moscow behind him, but they were close behind the first trio and will no doubt find less difficult challenges, plus could have been fine tuned for fitness by the run. Forget The Ref, who had a couple of runs this season under his belt that others did not, had a forgettable day.

Race 4: South East Bookmakers Restricted
1: One Cool Knight 2: Maglinn River 3: Keel Road
Winner owned: KP & Nuts Racing Club, trained: Karen Hobbs, ridden: James Banks
The same owner, trainer and rider as Commander Kev, and the same outcome derived from pretty much the same tactics. It was a good double from James Banks as some riders unfamiliar with the track have in the past underestimated the rise to the finish and found their horse unable see the race out, but he had it spot on both times. Maglinn River, on the other hand, initially looked to be given a lot to do, but after he got himself in contention for second, which was eventually nabbed, his effort became rather laboured, and an earlier forward move would not necessarily have made any difference to the result. The Humbel Monk was running a good race until he unseated at fence thirteen - too far out to predict where he would have finished, but Star Gift, who looked to be on the up when the 2009 season ended, had a low key start to this year, being well beaten when pulling up after the second last.

Race 5: Classic Security (UK) Ltd Ladies' Open
1: Which Pocket 2: Top Ram 3: Badger
Winner owned: Brendan Laverty, trained: Derek Laverty, ridden: Sue Sherwood
The smallest field of the day and the oddest race, as third placed Badger and Roaringwater in fourth were tailed off and surely destined to pull up going down the far side. Instead, Xila Fontenailles' effort ground to a rapid halt, and the race to the line was such that as they crossed it, the first pair were nearer the ambling Badger than they had been at any point in the last mile. The first two were both migrating from Rules and given that Top Ram stuck to hurdles there and Which Pocket proved his stamina more clearly in chases, it was no surprise that Which Pocket had the tools to come out on top, but it was not by very far at all. And Top Ram probably has more scope for improving for the experience.

Race 6: South East Bookmakers Men's Open
1: Reach For The Top 2: Penny Doc 3: Honourable Spider
Winner owned & trained: MJ Tuckey, trained: Ben Tuckey
This was a strong Men's Open for the area, perhaps with some people scared away from Whitfield by the sheer volume of entries. My entire notes for the race on Reach For The Top are, "Led, jumped well." With a proven track record in open company, what more was needed? Just a little forgiveness that he did refuse in a race last season, but there was nothing but total enthusiasm on offer here and an eye-catching win. Penny Doc won four points in Ireland and was runner-up at Cork in a hunter chase. Having got this under his belt, there should be races to be won, but the history that he boasts suggested he ought to have not lost this by as far as the ten lengths he did. On the topic of history, deposed area star Honourable Spider was not back to his best (unless Reach For The Top is poised to do just that) but it was better than most of his 2009 runs, and his fans, e.g. me, will be thinking that he could be on the way back. Save your money for Aldington. With promising horses such as Go North and Highland Chief out of the frame, there will probably be quite a few people with their fingers crossed that Reach For The Top endorses the form dramatically.

Race 7: South East Bookmakers PPORA Club Members, Novice Riders
1: Myson 2: New Team 3: Theatre Knight
Winner owned: Random Optimists Partnership, trained & ridden: Rose Grissell
It was getting both chilly and foggy (and thus dark) by the time the final race came around, and getting things over and done with was clearly of the essence, as only one runner could be dismissed as an aged schoolmaster. Trusting entirely what the commentator* called, Myson and New Team led into the home straight, with It's Showtime giving chase. The first pair kept on in that order, with Myson asserting before the last, and favourite Theatre Knight plugged on for the minor place. Bunratty's Sole was disappointingly non-competitive, but perhaps he has an unreasonable expectation of being able to see what he is doing.

* It must be noted that after making an uncharacteristic fluff in the first race, when suddenly switching identities late in the race of the first two horses with a couple that were out with the washing, the commentator's handling of the near impossible conditions that this was run in was spot on. Although had he said that Napoleon Bonaparte was in the lead on a purple llama, hardly anyone could see enough to have disputed it.

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