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North Norfolk Harriers at Higham
Sunday 24th January 2016
by James Crispe

Top trainer Alan Hill experienced a roller-coaster day at a North Norfolk Harriers Point-To-Point meeting played out in remarkably mild and dry conditions at Higham, near Colchester, on Sunday.

Hill enjoyed two outstanding successes with Start Royal and Broken Eagle but also suffered the trauma of seeing his top horse, Harbour Court, put down after breaking a leg while leading in the closing stages of the Mens Open.

Start Royal's Ladies Open triumph gave him a huge amount of pleasure as it meant that this Starborough gelding, who is well into the veteran stage of his career, has now managed to register at least one victory for Hill in no less than nine consecutive Point-To-Point seasons – a remarkable achievement.

Ridden with perfect judgement by the National Champion Lady Rider, Gina Andrews, Start Royal stormed up the home straight to beat his old rival, It Was Me, by four lengths.

And Broken Eagle, who at eight years old is four years younger than Start Royal, looks a real prospect for the future having demolished his 16 rivals in the Club Members, in the process clocking by far the fastest time of the afternoon.

But these two highlights were overshadowed by the tragic demise of Harbour Court, who boasted two Cheltenham hunter chase victories among his 11 career victories.

"Harbour Court was an incredibly tough horse who I felt was back to his best today," Hill said. "It was an awful thing to happen but had absolutely nothing to do with the condition of the course, which was perfect and a real credit to the organisers."

On a day when a mammoth 89 runners contested the seven races, nobody was busier than Hill as he is also trainer and mentor to dual Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist, Victoria Pendleton.

She is taking on an ambitious 'Switching Saddles' project which aims to transform her from a non-rider to competing in the pinnacle of this sport – the Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase - in the space of just 13 months.

Pendleton furthered her education by completing the course safely, albeit without threatening to take a hand in the finish, on both her Hill-trained rides.

Harbour Court's exit left the way clear for Brackloon High to repeat last year's Men's Open success and notch a first training double for his Buckinghamshire handler, Michael Kehoe.

Kehoe currently houses only two pointers in his Stewkley yard but the other one, Fort Gabriel, got the meeting under way with a half-length victory in division one of the Maiden. The other division saw Nandini, trained just outside Thetford by David Kemp, caught close home by the Oxfordshire raider, Don't Budge Me.

The only wins for East Anglian horses were provided by Done A Runner, in the Novice Riders Race, and the bizarrely-named Burtredgipandgump in the Subaru-sponsored Restricted Race.

Done A Runner is trained at Sawtry in Cambridgeshire by Dale Peters while Burtredgipandgump brought to an end a run of near misses for his handler, Nick Wright, who hails from Badlingham, near Newmarket. Wright had earlier saddled no less than three runners to finish second, including in both Open races.

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