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Saturday 25th March 2006

by Ian Marshall

The meeting went ahead on heavy ground with a little bit of standing water following torrential rain the previous day. A hundred yard area around the winning post was entirely covered by wood chippings or the track would have been unraceable due to being coated in deep, thick mud. The extreme conditions mean that much of the form cannot really be taken at face value and should be treated with caution with the future in the mind. It generally paid to be up with the running as very few of the “hold-up” horses got into their races.

Nine horses lined up for the Confined with Donnybrook, Emperor’s Son and Trooper Collins vying for favouritism and all other runners at double figure prices. The former came out on top for Ben Woodhouse in unsurprisingly the fastest time of the afternoon, even though he was carrying a seven pound penalty. Donnybrook exhibited a good attitude to slosh through the mud and pass the post first. Three lengths back in second were Dolphin Square and Harriet Bethell. Dolphin Square had looked less than enthusiastic on his three previous efforts this year, however blinkers were put on the 13-year-old today and they worked the oracle. He was well to the fore throughout, only gave best late on and if the initial effect of the headgear doesn’t wear off, he could be of interest in the next few weeks. Third was Trooper Collins, who wasn’t knocked by Oliver Greenall once he was beaten. He did receive a couple of reminders as early as the 5th fence, but this was not his favoured going. Londolozi Lad (Rachel Clark) in fourth was more assured with his jumping than is often the case. Emperor’s Son was being niggled along by Serena Brotherton from an early stage and was never happy. This run can be written off. Petrouge had refused to come under orders at Whittington last week, but was more amenable on this occasion and blew away the cobwebs on his seasonal bow, before being pulled up.

The biggest field of the day, 16, turned out for the Restricted, although 13 of them failed to finish. It was a real war of attrition as the combatants gradually fell by the wayside, leaving three horses to make the approach to the last. Patiently ridden, Alfie Twofourtwo made steady progress during the final circuit to lead with a furlong to go and was soon in command. It was jockey Abi Hutchinson’s first ever ride, but she timed her challenge to perfection like a seasoned pro. Green Admiral remains the lone horse to finish ahead of Alfie Twofourtwo in 2006 and that one’s credentials are well known, while his Duncombe Park maiden victory is all the more meritorious now that the second from that day Ask Bobby has gone on to take a Brocklesby Park maiden. Alfie Twofourtwo will be hard to overcome in an intermediate. Black Rainbow, partnered by Tina Jackson, kept on to be runner-up and was another to ignore a fast pace. If she can stay settled in the first mile, she can build on this. Master Jackson was looking held in second when falling at the last. He has taken time to come to himself, but ought to bag a restricted for Serena Brotherton. King’s Echo gave more than he has for several years.

The Mens Open had a ready winner in Sikander A Azam, who beat off eight opponents under a fine ride from Oliver Greenall. Tucked in behind the leaders and cutting every corner, Sikander A Azam needed just a simple shake of the reins, once he was given the office, to bound on by four lengths. He’d had a short break since scoring at Alnwick in January. Despite Ben Woodhouse’s urgings, Mr Mahdlo was always being held at bay. He has been a fantastic servant over the years and, at the age of 12, still retains the majority of his ability. In third was Chaos Theory, with David Thomas in the plate, who is more than able to hold his own in points, but yet seems outclassed in hunter chases. Mr Pendleberry (Nicky Tinkler) was far from disgraced in fourth, while Victoria’s Boy should come good in the next couple of months. The connections of Ballinclay King were fined £55 as he was exceptionally late into the paddock. He never got competitive during the race and might be worth trying in a ladies contest.

Division One of the Maiden had minimal strength in depth among the nine participants and it was Colonial Gunner that got off the mark, with Nigel Tutty in the saddle. It is hard to know what was achieved as he had been well beaten in the past. Runner-up Abbey Whin had the run of the race out in front under Michael Morley, but did jump appreciably better than on all of his previous outings when he had been restrained in rear. At Dalton Park last time, he set off about 100 yards behind everything else, possibly to instill some confidence in him. It certainly appears to have done him the power of good and he might now be starting to get the hang of things. Another Bally was pulled up at the final fence, leaving Primitive Rhythmn (Guy Brewer) to take third from Croghan Lord in fourth. The latter could come on for the experience.

Six horses faced the starter in the Ladies Open and the spoils were claimed by Jacksonville and Vicky Simpson by the narrowest of margins from Ledgendry Line. Showing great resolution, Jacksonville was not to be denied. His form when placed in four appearances earlier this season stands up to the closest scrutiny, as the latest was behind Barryscourt Lad in an Ayr hunter chase and all of the other three were against Web Master who has taken all before him in ladies events in 2006. Ledgendry Line stayed on all the way up the run-in in first-time cheek-pieces and wasn’t headed until the shadow of the lollipop loomed. Serena Brotherton’s mount was bouncing back from a below par display at Dalton Park a fortnight ago. Claire’s Nomad was third under Rachel Clark and can be excused running on at the one pace as his other performances this campaign have been top drawer. Fourth-placed San Francisco (Freya Hartley) was left behind from the third last, but his time will come. Primitive Rites was still in touch when departing and Ikdam Melody had yet to be asked any questions when he got rid of Jo Foster four out.

Five runners took part in the Intermediate, which went to Noggler and Charlotte Brown, just from Purple Jean and Guy Brewer. Highly tried in hunter chases so far this year, this was much more to Noggler’s liking and he might progress now that his sights have been lowered. Purple Jean has performed at her best in smallish fields on this sort of ground, when she has been able to adopt her preferred front-running tactics. Queenies Girl (Paul Frank) in third has also been plying her trade this season in hunter chases. Unfortunately, Paul Frank failed to weigh in, incurring a £40 fine, and Queenies Girl suffered inevitable disqualification. Fourth past the post was the odds-on favourite Charlies Memory, partnered by Jacqueline Coward. Held up to begin with, Charlies Memory was never placed to challenge at any time, which caught the eye of the stewards, who launched an enquiry, however there was no announcement as to the findings. It was soon obvious after proceedings were underway that Charlies Memory was hating the conditions and it was somewhat surprising that he wasn’t actually pulled up around halfway.

Division Two of the Maiden was difficult to evaluate, the ten runners having precious little to recommend them, although they did include a couple of newcomers. And it was one of these debutants that prevailed, the nine-year-old Sessay Miller under Richard Wakeham. Making light of the surface that had deteriorated even further, Sessay Miller quickened nicely and was soon in command from the penultimate obstacle after being prominent from flagfall. While you wouldn’t be confident when he tackles a restricted, Sessay Miller couldn’t really have done any more than he did. His pilot feels that he will also be more suited by better ground. Moraira couldn’t change up a gear for Simon Walker when the winner swept clear, but was second. Royal Friend, with three letters and no digits to his name among his figures under Rules, was third in the hands of Steve Charlton and might improve a bit, ahead of Eisenhower in fourth. Bracken Run set the pace before dropping out tamely.

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