by Richard Hall - East Anglian Correspondent
Photos by David Ruddle

It is not often I am denied the opportunity to bet. The opening hunt race on today’s card, though, was one of those rare occasions when, even an old addict such as I, could not bear to take the money from his pocket and strike a wager.

A disappointing three horses were declared. All the bookies present went, almost to a man (some were even worse), 2/5 Fine and Dandy (from 1/2), 6/4 Village Copper (from evens), and 5/1 Neronian (from 4’s) – an over-round of 130%. The scene around their stands reminded me of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western as the two groups (bookies and punters) stood facing each other, both ready to do battle but each waiting for the other to open the exchanges. As the clock crept to the high noon of post time, the dubbed music underscored the drama. It built the anticipation, masked the foot shovelling, and replaced the frustration and anti climax with long, cold, steely stares. Dress it up how you will, there was no movement from either side and certainly no action. As the starter called the miserly field under orders, the prevailing silence stayed undisturbed. Punters turned away, bookies wiped their boards clear of the unwanted prices, and everybody returned to where they had come from. It was a complete waste of time. Probably less than fifty quid in total was traded on the race.

The event itself offered drama of a less understated kind. The saddle on Neronian slipped after jumping the first, causing the early exit of jockey Helen Edwards. This left Village Copper a half dozen lengths ahead of his solitary rival. That lead prevailed until the loose horse baulked him at the seventh fence, thus arresting his momentum to an abrupt standstill. Village Copper recovered to continue but, by then, Fine and Dandy had cruised passed and helped himself to a fifteen length lead – a margin that was comfortably maintained for the remaining two circuits.

Like the three horse Hunt race at Higham a week earlier, the contest was severely lacking in thrills, tension, or excitement, and kicked off proceedings in a very downbeat way. It was such a contrast to the early part of the season, where the glut of declarations had regularly provided racegoers with eight well contested races for the price of their entrance fee. This sudden slip back to five, plus an egg and spoon race, has caused many to wonder whether the value remains. Sadly, however, I fear this will now become the norm for the rest of the season. Perhaps, if it is, these “mickey mouse” contests could be placed as the final event on the card? That way those of us who do not appreciate them could at least beat the traffic on the way out!

Fortunately the remaining five races were more hotly contested. The first of them, the Confined, saw a thrilling finish involving probably the two best riders on the East Anglian circuit at present; James Owen and David Kemp. Riding Persian Hero, in the familiar Turner colours that were successful on Fine and Dandy, James Owen had confidently stalked the front running Bard of Drumcoo for most of the contest. Between the last two fences he cruised upsides to steal a half length advantage. David Kemp, however, had not used all his ammunition and galvanised more from his gallant charge. Two pairings of horse and jockey charged, all guns blazing, for the glory of the post. Where it mattered most, Bard of Drumcoo prevailed by a head.

Nordic Spree, after a long absence, ran a decent race to take third. The Glen Road, in contrast, seems to be regressing, and was niggled at a long way from home. He did not respond to Andrew Sansome’s urgings and finished a tired horse in fourth. A sad postscript to the race was that Musical Hit collapsed and died in the process of being pulled up before the last.

The fact that four of the eight runners in the Ladies Open had, at some time in their career, been inmates of the Turner yard underlines the dearth of runners that East Anglia can conjure up in this sphere now that the season is underway around the rest of the country.

One of these ex Turner charges, Corston Joker, set off at lightening speed in his bid for victory. This fourteen year old, who had often appeared reluctant to even take part during the previous two seasons and had earned the pointerform “quirky” squiggle, showed real enthusiasm in the hands of Lisa Spence. He quickly strung out his field and, on the final circuit, the effective opposition was down to just one, that being the current Turner representative, The Wiley Kalmuck. Zoe (Turner) always appeared to be travelling like an odds on favourite should but, to his credit, Corston Joker did not give in easily. He battled all the way to the third last before his advancing years forced him to yield. He still, nevertheless, had fifteen lengths to spare over the third horse, Grand Ambition, who, fitted with cheekpieces for the first time, kept on gamely enough to suggest that a return to form (on a less taxing course) may well be imminent.

I was (again) disappointed in the running of Pampered Gale. I suspect, though, that his poor showing had more to do with an inability to travel with the fast early pace rather than that of a negative attitude. From a hopeless position, he made up some ground on the final circuit and was allowed to pull up before the final, spirit sapping, climb.

The Men’s Open, although only attracting five runners, set a tricky puzzle for punters and bookmakers alike. Both the admirably consistent Royal Action and the Turner’s Millenium Way were backed at around 2/1. The honour of favouritism, however, was reserved for the (truly) quirky Minino, who had won on the course earlier in the year, and whose chance seemed to rest largely on whether or not Christian Ward Thomas could obtain his consent to taking off with the rest of the field!

When the tapes went up Minino decided that he would not merely acquiesce to those trying to persuade him, but that he would assume the role of pacemaker as well! For a couple of circuits the field were tightly packed. When they set out for the final one Christian Ward Thomas decided that it was time to go and win the race. He injected an upward change of pace and the combination quickly established a healthy looking lead. As they turned to go downhill, however, something went wrong, and the horse was immediately pulled up lame.

With Exclusive Air and Ballad struggling, the race turned into a match between Millenium Way and Royal Action. The pair shared the lead as, in turn, each sought to repel the other. In the end fitness, and a true liking for a test of stamina, told as Royal Action finally shook off his rival up the final hill to record his third victory of the current campaign. Millenium Way, though, will improve for the run and his yard will obviously have already lined up a series of end of season targets for him.

The Restricted attracted eleven runners, but returned the easiest winner of the day in Mister Ringa. The seven year old, who was recording only his second ever completion, survived a couple of horrendous jumping errors to win by a comfortable fifteen lengths and thus go some of the way to living up to a lofty home reputation. His victory earned his jockey, Andrew Braithwaite, yet another visit to the stewards room – this time to explain the apparent improvement in form after being pulled up at Horseheath the previous week They accepted his explanation, which, incidentally, was posted on the East Anglian website last week, that he got left at the start whilst his saddle was being adjusted! He made no such mistake this time and was always in the first three. When he took up the running, with over a circuit to go, he quickly saw off the rest of the field bar the improving Camden Loch. The David Wales horse stayed with him, and looked like making a race of it, until his stamina gave way three fences from the finish. He was eventually overtaken on the run in by Paul Chinery on the fast finishing Ginger Bug (surely his best performance to date?), and Federal Case, who had won an Irish maiden on his only start last year.

The Open Maiden concluded the day’s racing. In what looked like a numerically strong but not particularly competitive event, punters made Artic Snip the 5/2 favourite to finally better his prolonged series of placed efforts. John Buckle’s nine year old gelding, ably partnered by Nick Moore, duly set about making every post a winning one. On the first two circuits he led everywhere accept up the hill, where, on both occasions, Jackie Stevens five year old debutante, Eurogaedel (Rupert Stearne) overtook him, only to drop tamely back into the pack once they were back on level ground!

After Artic Snip had recaptured the lead for the second time, Nick Moore kicked on to establish a five length lead. Only Carvilla looked a danger at that point, and his challenge evaporated tamely when they rounded the final bend. As he swung into the straight to make the final uphill climb, Artic Snip looked to have finally shed his maiden tag. Eurogaedel, though, had a different outcome in mind and, clearly relishing the incline, sproughted wings to replicate what he had done on the previous two circuits. At the last fence he had overturned the deficit and established a two length advantage for himself. Artic Snip responded on the run in but by then the winner had flown.   

Eurogaedel appears to be a relentless galloper and could be an exciting prospect. He ran in snatches, jumped extremely greenly, and, as well as not seeming overly comfortable going downhill, he also found difficulty in negotiating the sharp bends at the top of the course. His victory, however, was no fluke and he can only improve for it. The runner up again performed with credit and must surely find a race before the season ends?