THE current Devon & Cornwall title holder Robbie Henderson started the new campaign in great style with a first and last race double as the new British season got under way at Black Forest Lodge.
Perfect ground, blue skies and a good crowd heralded the opening meeting, and 25-year-old Henderson lost little time in defence of his title when steering Jepeck to victory in the opener.
This Dulverton Farmers qualified five-year-old looked the paddock pick of the 15 runners and ran on strongly from the second last to hold Captain Camelot and Loves Blind. with the Will Biddick ridden favourite High Priority well held in fourth. The winner is owned by John Pike and trained by Kayley Woollacott, who has her 23-strong string, "pretty forward." "He hung right when placed in a Uttoxeter bumper for Richard (Woollacott) and it was decided that he should go pointing and would appreciate a right hand course", explained Kayley.
Robbie Henderson completed his double in the Intermediate with a very easy win on The Mythologist, owned by his parents Guy and Sophie, and trained by Guy near Shaftesbury, Dorset. An imposing chestnut by Derby winner Motivator, the winner won both his English point-to-points last season and made all the running to score easing down here. "He is progressing nicely," said Guy, who is due to take up his new role as Ascot chief executive in the New Year. When asked about the front running tactics Guy said with a smile, "when the horse box ramp goes down I leave it all to the jockey."
Glacial Oscar made a bold bid to give Robbie Henderson a treble in the Restricted. This family owned six-year-old raced neck and neck with Raffa, but got the penultimate fence all wrong, unseating the jockey and leaving Raffa (John Mathias) well in control. The Taunton Vale qualified Raffa is a Milan gelding, home bred by Lucy Fielding-Johnson, who owns the seven-year-old in conjunction with "Ces" Mitford-Slade. "He is straightforward, game and honest and I train him on his own," explained Ces. The owners run the Pontispool Equine Sports centre at Norton Fitzwarren near Taunton, and sponsor jockey John Mathias. "His blunder at the last was jockey error. He was flat out but I knew he would run to the line," reported the rider.
The useful hunter-chaser Penmore Mill started odds-on to win the Mixed Open, but could only finish third behind 12-1 outsider Baresi and Gale Force Oscar in a driving finish. Despite winning over hurdles and fences in Ireland and earning a rating of 135, punters overlooked this nine-year-old, another winner sired by Milan. Mike Hawker trains the gelding for a five-strong group called The Dog Foxes, and he was well ridden by his nephew Rob. "We bought him at Doncaster in September without looking at another horse. He had got too high in the handicap in Ireland," said the trainer.
Whenharrymetsally continued her upward curve when just holding off the Warwickshire challenger Killimore Cottage in the fastest time of the day in the Club Members event. This six-year-old King's Theatre mare was scoring for the fourth time in succession. She was bought as a four-year-old at Fairyhouse by her trainer Keith Cumings on behalf of owners Andrew and Hannah Broggio. "She stays and stays and will make a lovely brood mare eventually," said the Bishops Nympton trainer. The mare proved a welcome change of luck for her jockey Matt Hampton on his first ride back from injury. "I had a plate inserted after breaking my collarbone in a fall at Holnicote in 2013 and bent the plate when I broke my collarbone again in a fall at Bratton Down this May. I had another operation when my shoulder had to be re-plated." reported the 23-year-old jockey who is assistant trainer to Victor Dartnall in North Devon.
A healthy total of 84 runners contested the seven races, with a dozen facing the starter in each of the 3 miles Maidens. Icthec took the first division for owner Martin Rice and jockey Peter Mason, who also trains the seven-year-old at Ablington. The Heythrop gelding was runner up in this race last year when his season was curtailed with a pelvic injury. "He had physio to correct his pelvis and is much more relaxed now," reported connections.
Welsh stables rarely leave this track empty handed, and Railway Benefit obliged under a good ride from Nick Williams in the second Maiden. This ex-Irish six-year-old by Beneficial is owned by Steve Whistance and trained by Gareth Moore at Pyle near Bridgend. "I bought him out of the ring for 1500 euros at Tattersalls, Ireland in August. He was lame then and everything was wrong with him – sacro iliac joint, ulcers, hock, you name it," said the owner. His yard has done well to bring him to the races looking sound and fit.