HART TRAINING DOUBLE BRIGHTENS BARBURY
Sunday 14th February dawned crisp and clear at picturesque Barbury Castle, as racegoers enjoyed a day of sunshine and a competitive eight-race card. And fittingly on Valentine's Day, honours went to Claire Hart, who enjoyed a training double with Argentato and Kazuri Kate. The busy Claire rode the mare herself – one of six rides on a day where she also trained four runners – to go into the lead in the Lady Riders Championship with seven winners.
Argentato kicked off proceedings in the 14-runner Fullers Brewery Novice Riders Race under a canny front-running ride from Jordan Nailor, whose fourth success of the season makes him the leading National Novice Rider. Jordan dictated the pace throughout on the much-improved grey, having enough in reserve to hold off the late challenges of outsiders Maller Tree and Louis Pasteur to win by a length and a half, after the fancied Buck Magic was suddenly pulled up by John Smith-Maxwell before the last when in contention. Victoria Pendleton and her mount Working Title parted company at the thirteenth but both horse and rider returned unscathed.
Argentato is owned by the Cotswold Chancers Partnership, headed by his jockey's mother Francoise Nailor. "I'm a proud parent," she confessed. "Jordan's got a fantastic partnership with him and he's a totally different horse this season – it's the way Claire's trained him." Jordan gave a mature assessment of how the race unfolded. "We jumped off quite quickly and I was worried we weren't going to get home," he admitted. "So I gave him a breather and didn't hassle him, then I couldn't hold him down the back straight!" The 17-year-old, who has just passed his driving test (appropriately for someone sponsored by Concourse Tyre International!), has his first ride in a Hunter Chase this week and has ambitions to be champion Male Novice Rider this season.
The Thoroughbred Breeders Association Mares Race attracted just five runners, but was a quality contest, with the prolific winner Executive Benefit preferred in the market to the Claire Hart trained and ridden Kazuri Kate. Lucy Wheeler sent the favourite off in front in the two-and-a-half mile event and went clear after the ninth. However, a mistake at the fourth-last soon saw Kazuri Kate closing on the leader, who she joined at the second last before going on to win comfortably by ten lengths. Rediya made a promising debut in third.
Kazuri Kate is part owned by Claire's uncle, former jockey Simon Hart, who said "We bought her as a yearling for just £1,000 from the classified ads at the back of Horse & Hound. She's won five races now and has hardly ever been unplaced – she's the smallest little thing out there, just 15.1 hands, but is full of heart." The jockey greeted her mount's victory with the words "Bless her – she's tough as nails" and thanked Kazuri Kate's jumping for their success. Asked whether she preferred training or riding, Claire answered with a smile: "Both!"
Feature event of the day was the Jockey Club Estates Mixed Open Race, which had a near-maximum field of 19. Lady Dudley Cup second Stone made most of the running, before Sam Waley-Cohen on the well-backed (10/1 into 5s) Barel Of Laughs made smooth progress through the field, jumping into the lead briefly at the fifteenth before taking it up again on the home bend. The former Jim Culloty trained chaser came home by 12 lengths from the fast-finishing Green Winter, with Stone keeping on for third.
The winner is owned by Peter and Trish Andrews and trainer Philip Rowley joked "It's so nice for them to have a proper winner today!" He was referring to their ownership of Hennessy Gold Cup hero and leading Cheltenham Gold Cup fancy Smad Place, whose trainer Alan King was in attendance today at his local meeting. "Philip has done an amazing job with him," confirmed Peter. "He's been off for two years with two injuries and it's lovely to see him back where he belongs." Asked how he came in for the ride, Sam Waley-Cohen smiled "I begged and borrowed! I've ridden for Philip before and Will (Biddick, who rode him last time) told me a bit about him." Asked about his father's horses, Sam admitted, "I hope the Spring Festivals bring a bit a luck. Warne's being aimed at Aintree."
Closest finish of the day was in the eight-runner Subaru Restricted Qualifier, where Spit, ridden by owner Lucy Turner, got the better of champion Will Biddick on Jack Barber's Earthpower by a head in a driving finish after the pair were neck and neck at the last. The Governor was 12 lengths away in third after an exciting contest in which the lead changed hands several times, with favourite Creative Inerta falling when looking dangerous three out. Interestingly Spit, having won a National Hunt Flat Race, was not eligible for Restricteds last season but is now after a rule change.
Spit is trained by the Herefordshire-based Philip Turner, Lucy's father. His yard also includes the useful Petit Lord (sixth in the Mixed Open) and Pentiffic, as well as Richmond, who has finished second twice in Hunter Chases this season for Lucy. "We're hoping to go for the Walrus Hunter Chase at Haydock," confirmed Philip and we're qualified for the Cheltenham Festival, so we may go there." The winning jockey, recording her sixth success, returned to the enclosure to calls of "You've outridden the champ!" but was quick to pay tribute to Will Biddick. "I've known Will for a while," Lucy told me. "We worked together at Venetia Williams' and he's always helped me. He rode Spit over hurdles once!" Connections plan to target the Subaru Restricted Final at Stratford on 20th May with the 13-year-old.
There were three Maiden Races on the card, the first being for four, five and six year olds over two and a half miles. It was sponsored by Barbury International Horse Trials and acted as a qualifier for the DBS Spring Sales Point-to-Point Bumper. Gustave Mahler started favourite of the 11 runners following his promising debut at Cottenham, and Leo Mahon employed similar tactics to Jordan Nailor in the opener, going straight into the lead from the off and inviting his rivals to catch him. Sophie Lacey's Triodas, who was weak in the market, did his best – moving well into second place at the fourth-last and chasing the leader round the final bend and in the home straight, but Gustave Mahler held on to win cosily by a length. Urban Storm was seven lengths back in third.
"We wanted to make it and let them come to us," explained Alastair Ralph, who was representing his mother, trainer Diana, of the horse's tactics. "His form's quite good and we think a lot of him." Leo Mahon confirmed the plan. "He was a bit keen on his first run, so we thought we'd lead if there wasn't bags of pace. He jumped brilliantly." But it wasn't as easy as it looked to spectators. "I could always hear something at my heels," he admitted. "And I didn't know I'd won until I crossed the line." Alastair, who trained the pointers last year, but now has a professional licence, was non-committal about a repeat bid for last year's Cheltenham Foxhunters second Following Dreams. "He's OK, but we've no plans yet."
The three-mile Ramsbury Vodka Open Maiden was split on the day, with ten going to post in both divisions. The first division was incident-packed – Sophie Lacey's Pinnacle Peter was odds-on but was never jumping fluently or travelling well and Zac Baker pulled him up four out. Looking Glass had led from the third after a slow early pace but looked in trouble when Stan Sheppard on Duke Of Spain cruised into the lead three out. However, Duke Of Spain hung right to the horsebox park after jumping the second last and tried to pull himself up. Stan did wonders to keep the horse going and he regained the lead at the last to win by five lengths from a tired Looking Glass, despite hanging all over the place on the run-in. The De Thaix was over a fence back in third.
"He's got loads of ability, he's just got to keep his mind focused," said winning trainer Nicky Sheppard euphemistically. "He's never galloped on his own at home – he works with (Chaddesley Corbett winner) Black Banjo." Stan Sheppard, who was riding a fifth winner of his most successful season to date, admitted, "I just kept going" when quizzed about his reaction when Duke Of Spain started to veer. The horse was purchased as a yearling by Edward Pritchard, father of former champion jockey Julian. "I bought him from an old lady's estate for £250 and lease him to friends from the Duke of York pub," he confirmed.
The second division of the Open Maiden produced the biggest cheer of the day as locally owned and trained Island Cruise pulled off a gamble from 12/1 to 5/2. Joe Quintin was always going well on the eight-year-old but did not produce him until the last. Dan's Wee Man put up a good fight under Guy Disney but Island Cruise was not extended to win by three lengths, with Young QC a length back in third after looking the most likely winner round the home turn.
It was a first winner for former professional Joe Quintin. "I rode as a conditional for Charlie Mann for a year, then as an amateur – I had about 40 rides but this is my first winner. We were confident beforehand," he admitted of Island Cruise, who runs for a family syndicate including Dad Roger – "You may know me as 'Roger the Fruit'" said the retired fruit-and-veg entrepreneur – and brother Jake, who runs Quintin Catering. "We train him at home at East Garston," continued Roger, "And he's our only racehorse. He was going well when he fell at Larkhill on Joe's first ride for eight years."
Throughout the afternoon, horses were finishing weary in ground that was officially good to soft but described as "tacky" by some of the trainers and jockeys I spoke to. In total, of the 82 runners, only 29 finished – and just two of the five experienced participants did so in the concluding Hunt Members race, sponsored by Penwood Racing. 2012 Grand National favourite Shakalakaboomboom cut out most of the running under Camilla Henderson, before being brushed aside by Page Fuller and Grand Gold at the thirteenth. They pulled further and further clear and eventually won by a fence and a half, with Shakalakaboomboom the only other to complete. Favourite Arthurian Legend was never travelling and pulled up after a circuit.
"The same as we do with all of them – get them fit!" was trainer Charlotte Fuller's response to my enquiry about how she's produced the horse in such fine form first time out for their stable. "We've taken him to Lambourn and he's enjoyed his hunting." Jockey and daughter Page was effusive about the performance from Grand Gold. "I couldn't tell if we were just hacking, but I got a good jump at the third last and then pressed the button… When I pulled up, Shakalakaboom was just coming over the last." Page explained how they came to buy him at Doncaster. "We were looking for an Open horse and he was lightly raced, rated 120+ over hurdles and had won over six furlongs, two and four miles! He shows all the signs of being our best at home and jumps amazingly."