by Richard Hall - East Anglian Correspondent
Photos by Richard Hall

In many ways this was very much a mid season fixture. Postponed due to inclement weather, it was hastily squeezed in before the next scheduled stop on the merry go round – Higham, due on the very next day. It had none of the frenzy and excitement of the meetings held during the first few weeks of the season, nor any the of the social snobbery associated with those held in the later months of the year. The horse numbers were considerably less than those gatherings in January and February, but a lot more than will be seen bouncing off the firm ground in April and May. The atmosphere amongst the comparatively small number of spectators was one of fulfilling a sense of duty, like an all weather meeting on a wet Tuesday. To the true enthusiast, however, it was yet another great day in the pointing field – even though there were only six races!

It was difficult to select a highlight. To me there were two heroes worthy of top billing. One was a sixteen year old, who, at the peak of his career had won one of the country’s top steeplechases, and the other is ten years his junior and surely destined to be one of the stars of the future.

Algan had not seen a racecourse for four years. The Horseheath Confined must have felt to him like a School Sports Day would do for a fifty year old Linford Christie bought out of retirement to compete in the parents race. He was easy to back in the betting ring, generally available at around 8/1. I even saw one shrewd punter avail himself to a score at twenties!

Lord Euro made most of the early running, but when he got in too close and fell at the eleventh, Algan cruised past the odds on favourite, Bard of Drumcoo, to take it up. Without being extended himself, his lead just kept growing throughout the final circuit. He eventually came home a distance ahead of the favourite (himself an impressive winner at the previous meeting), with the Turner, horse, Leatherback, a long way back in third. To all of us feeling that time is eroding our ability, he demonstrated that, in the right grade, class can defy the ageing process. This performance showed that there is life in the old dog yet, and a season or two in Open races could well see him add to his already impressive tally.

The six year old, Fane Counsel, had earned rave reviews in his previous two outings, and his victory in today’s Intermediate will only add to his burgeoning reputation. He led from start to finish in what was, by far, the fastest time of the day. Although, with the exception of the runner up (an impressive winner at Higham in February and of a Hunter Chase at Fakenham last year), the opposition may have been weak, he could do no more than win, and he did so without ever coming off the bridle. David Kemp’s Cantarhino, also still a six year old, lost nothing in defeat and, in being only three lengths down at the line, got a lot closer to Shelia Crow’s potential star than anything else has so far managed. He responded well to his pilot’s nigglings, but was wisely not given a hard time when it became obvious that the winner was still travelling well within himself. He too has a bright future ahead of him.

One sad note was the first fence fall of Prologue. Despite doing a somersault, the horse got up and cantered back to the stables. His jockey and owner, Craig Jarvis, however, did not. He laid motionless for a long while and eventually left the course in an ambulance. I fear it will be a long while before this sporting Corinthian, who frequently put up twelve pounds overweight, will be in the saddle again.

Fair Counsel’s connections, Shelia Crow and Richard Burton, were not long in completing a double on the day when their Templebreedy emulated the pillar to post tactics to take the Men’s Open. The race was run in a hailstorm and most of the crowd (including me) watched it from behind glass! Course specialist, Weavers Choice, disappointingly surrendered all chance when deciding to give the rest of the field a twenty five length start. Although he made up the ground after a circuit, the effort in doing so sapped too much energy and he was soon a spent force. His stablemate, Teeton Priceless, however, ran her best race for a long while and showed a lot of resolution in sticking to her task in the home straight. She finished just two lengths behind the winner, with the Turner’s Militaire, who also kept on pleasingly, in third.

The same team were represented in the fourteen strong Restricted by Pristeen Spy, who had disappointed in 2003 after winning a Brocklesby maiden as a five year old in 2002. On the basis of not changing a winning formula, the tactics were, once again, to race from the front. They were accompanied for most of the three miles by Caroline Bailey’s Agua Ardente, but found themselves deprived of his company when he sent Rowan Cope sprawling to the rain softened ground four fences from home. By then all other competition had disappeared, and Pristeen Spy came home alone to win by an easy twenty lengths from Jenny Tice’s Teeton Fizz, who re-emphasised the stable’s probable and imminent return to form. Present Moment finished third with Camden Loch fourth.

The big disappointment of the race was the performance of Mister Ringa. He was held up right at the back on the first circuit, almost a hundred yards behind the pacemakers. When he was eventually asked to get into the race he was faced with an impossible task, and was allowed to pull up when Andrew Braithwaite realised and accepted it. His running was little more than a public schooling, and the formbook should ignore it. He is clearly better than this, although, equally clearly, he is not good enough to give the likes off Pristeen Spy and Agua Ardente a thirty length start!

The Ladies Open produced the closest finish of the day, and underlined the improvement bought about to MacFin by the fitting of cheekpieces. Louise Allen’s mount, who bellied odds of 20/1 with an all the way victory at Horseheath’s last meeting, set off in a fashion that suggested he was once again in the mood to do himself justice. On the second circuit the favourite, Spring Gale, looked to be travelling much the better and menacingly stalked the pacemaker into the home straight. When Zoe Turner gave the license to go, Spring Gale willingly responded and effortlessly cruised past the long time leader at the second last. As they approached the final fence it looked like one of those “Betfair 1.01 moments”, but MacFin wasn’t giving up. Despite a two lengthy deficit he fought back like a lion to collar Spring Gale at the line and win by a neck. Borrow Mine ran on well, but too late, to take third with General Confusion, on whom Barbara Czepulkowski was enjoying her first race, showing that staying is his game with a late rally to take fourth.

The opening race, the Maiden, initiated the nap hand for front runners when Germany Park (unluckily carried out by a loose horse when leading at High Easter three weeks earlier) never allowed anything to get in front of him this time. Although he tired from the second last his field had already been well and truly broken, and Caroline Bailey’s debutant, Round The Isles, was a long way adrift in second. Coming up the hill, Divine Mist looked the one who might make a race of it, but what faint chance he did have evaporated with a mistake three fences from home. The one to enter my notebook, however, was Northall Lad. The subject of a mini gamble travelled well in Germany Park’s slipstream for the first circuit, The pair had gone well clear of the third when he came to grief at the fifth last, where Paul Cowley had asked him to go upsides. If his confidence is not too badly dented I do not expect him to remain a maiden for long.

One sad reflection of the state of relations between punter and bookmaker was the refusal of the man I had backed Germany Park with to pay me before the “Weighed In” announcement had been made. Apparently he had been stung at Marks Tey in No Penalty’s race (he had paid out before the weigh in, and no one had returned the money when the winner was disqualified) and he was determined that it would not happen to him again. Whilst I could understand his sentiments I did not bet with him again that afternoon – there are just too many other things to do between races and waiting fifteen minutes or so for the “all clear” erodes too far into the time I have to do them. I guess there were one or two punters who shared my thoughts. To the poor bookie, however, it was the classic case of “damned if I do, and damned if I don’t”.