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Old Surrey, Burstow & West Kent
Sunday 20th March 2011
by Simon McInnes

The first great "watch some dogs misbehave in a field" session of the spring, and in this case it is the canines on leads being referred to, rather the the horses. That is not always the case here! Fifty-two runners on one card is a lot by Penshurst standards, and the standard of the extra runners were on the upper end of the quality measure. The south-east has done well in attracting bigger and better fields so far this season - it will be interesting to see if it can be sustained when the ground dries out. Talking of which, the going was not especially testing here, yet the climb to the winning line (noticeable, but hardly a candidate for the most ferocious in the country) seemed to prove particularly challenging today for some reason - perhaps that was where the soft places were? There is an element of presumption about this, as the sponsors' oversized marquees by the parade ring left racegoers with the option to see the run-in and none of the race, or most of the race, and nothing after the last. Not ideal.

Going: Good (Soft places)

Race 1: Court Group Members
1: Rio Novo 2: Elsie's Pride 3: Himba
Winner owned: Messrs Gurney & Adams, trained & ridden: Phil York
After winning his maiden at Godstone a week earlier, Rio Novo was favourite for an unusually 'large' field of six in the members race. When he kicked clear going to the second last, the race seemed all over, but the effects of a hard race in sticky ground so recently began to tell, and Elsie's Pride was reeling him in rapidly, having emerged from a clump of four that got to the final fence together. It may be a bit of a reality shock for Rio Novo after breaking the maiden tag, as Elsie's Pride had won a couple of handicap chases (extremely modest ones), but pulled up in both previous points. Perhaps tactics helped the runner-up, as he was restrained in the rear early on and seemed the only one with any energy in reserve late in the race. Himba, who has also failed to live up to potential in points, struggled on for third.

Race 2: Warners Solicitors Restricted
1: Kingsun 2: The Architect 3: Some Story
Winner owned & trained: Mrs HE Grissell, ridden: Ed Grissell
The betting made this a duel between Hoola and Louisthenineteenth, but that angle became suddenly very outdated when Louisthenineteenth ran out at the sixteenth fence, carrying Hoola with him. At the time, Hoola was being scrubbed along and seemed an unlikely winner, whereas Louisthenineteenth was still ambling along in comfort - perhaps he needed some harder work to keep his attention on the race? After this, the crowd were witness to an incredibly slow finish, which is not surprising as Kingsun is now fourteen years old and having his first run since 2009, and The Architect had pulled up on his only run this season (but did look especially well in the paddock). When it is all considered, the race hardly looks a source of future winners - a teenaged winner, a younger horse that looked splendid and still could not handle him and of the two that could have been ahead of them, one showing an attitude problem, and the other not running especially well. A classic restricted for the area.

Race 3: Friends Of The Hunt South East Hunts Club Members Conditions
1: Little Legend 2: Dawn Display 3: Thenford Ryde
Winner owned & trained: Michael Haydon, ridden: Cynthia Haydon
Little Legend is not a totally reliable conveyance, but on a going day he is fairly decent, and today he was very much on song. He did jump right at many of the fences, and got the fourteenth significantly enough wrong to draw an ooh from the crowd. Despite having made much of the running, he had plenty up his sleeve later in the race and won comfortably enough. In his last five runs, Dawn Display has managed to unseat once and run out twice, whilst showing that he can perform quite well when bothered, but his threat to Little Legend had gone by the second last. The veteran Soldershire, another who has never heard the word "consistent," was the only one challenging the first pair at the fourth last fence, but he was condemned to third when he unseated at the next. This allowed Thenford Ryde to inherit the minor place from a safe distance. Hurdle winner Captain Crackers did seem to need the run, but failed to show much promise before calling it a day. In his younger days, Glenbower Woods would have been the likely winner of this, but having missed last season, he pulled up for the second time in two return races. He is only a ten year old, so he has time to find his way again, if the ability is retained.

Race 4: Polebrook Men's Open
1: Freddies Return 2: Honourable Spider 3: New Street Express
Winner owned: R Gurney, S Fisher & D Rhodes, trained & ridden: Phil York
Win number five of the season for Freddies Return, who has proved an inspired acquisition. A 102 rated chaser might have been expected to win a race or even two, but this unrelenting devastation of all opposition is a bit beyond what anybody could have forecast (especially considering he failed to finish three of his six chases under rules). Is he finished yet? Well, the former area star Honourable Spider is now twelve and had not really hit form so far this year, but made a race of it with Freddies Return until the second last, from where he could only meander on at one pace. Last week's winner Flowersoftherarest could not repeat the tactical masterstroke(?) of getting nearly detached and then rallying madly, which worked in a novice riders' race but not here. This time it was not even enough to pass New Street Express, who does have a knack for nabbing places at this level, whilst rarely threatening to win them.

Race 5: Savills Estate Agents Ladies' Open
1: Master Alf 2: Fantastic Champion 3: Jack's Present
Winner owned & trained: Mrs HJ Cobb, ridden: Gemma Cobb
This was a first win for Master Alf's diminutive rider, and it came in the most thrilling fashion. The first three home crossed the second last in reverse order to how they finished, but Fantastic Champion edged ahead turning for home, a tribute to the effort he made, as he had not travelled especially well through the race. Jack's Present was clinging to the leader's coat tails under sufferance when he was challenged on the outer by Master Alf, who went to the front with a might spring over the final fence. As they disappeared from view, Master Alf seemed to be going away from his rivals, but the official margins as they crossed the line were a neck and half a length. Race of the day. The winner is perfectly capable of repeating this form, as are Fantastic Champion and Jack's Present, although they are both a bit short of optimum reliability. Ben Alder ended last season with second in a mixed open, but only two ran, and his form both before and since is more in line with today's sloppy jumping defeat.

Race 6: Nick Finegold - Espirito Santo Investment Bank Open Maiden
1: Adept Approach 2: He's Up The Road 3: Aspiring Actor
Winner owned: C Hall, Mrs P Wilkins & Mrs WA Cooper, trained & ridden: Philip Hall
After good efforts in both Ireland and Britain, it was beginning to look as if a win for Adept Approach was as inevitable as anything can be in pointing, and he came good in emphatic fashion today. There were a few opponents that had shown glimpses of promise, and the risk to him in advance was that one of them would find the necessary improvement to deny him one again. Aspiring Actor, who did not seem the most stable of creatures in the preliminaries, made the best stab at it, but after setting a strong pace, he could not see out the race all the way. He's Up The Road did get within a couple of lengths of the winner as they made for the third last, but once Adept Approach kicked on he was made to look pretty slow. Of the others given a squeak, Gospel Oak departed at the tenth (awkward landing rather than inherently flawed jump), Mortar at the fourteenth and Search Me pulled up, having appeared to lose his jumping confidence as the race progressed. All of these misadventures allowed newcomer Bernie's Weapon to gain fourth by completing - quite a way behind the placed horses.

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