APRIL 2004
by Richard Hall - East Anglian Correspondent

For the first time this season the sun shone brightly on an East Anglian point. Country coats and wellies were left in the car and, in keeping with the season, shirtsleeves, ice creams and picnic tables were the order of the day.

With the better weather came faster conditions. Meticulous watering had ensured the going was officially described as good, although it was a lot less yielding, for example, than the “good” Cottenham had claimed for it’s February meeting! Lulled into a false sense of security by these first signs of summer and the small, one mile round circuit, the early pace in many of the races was a lot faster than East Anglian horses had been used to. As a result jumping errors were more harshly punished than normal, and the final lap of each race was often “slogged” out by tired horses. With the emphasis of the skills needed so widely spread, the enthusiastic crowd witnessed a number of highly unpredictable falls, and a plethora of tight finishes that left the outcome in doubt right up until the post was reached.  

No race illustrated this better than the Restricted. Twelve went to post and David Kemp on Nowornever and Matt Mackley on Troubleshooter were determined that it would be run at a true pace. They vied for the lead for the first mile and a half until the favourite, Russian Friend, who had impressively lost his maiden tag a fortnight earlier when making all to hammer the useful Briery Fox and five others by eight lengths and a distance at Thorpe Lodge, managed to pull himself to the front. Richard Collinson kicked him on, and, as the passed the grandstand with a circuit to go, he had established a five-length lead over Conquistador who was just being put into the race by Nick Moore. With three fences to go, Russian Friend’s lead had extended to ten lengths, and he looked to be travelling easily. When he fell Conquistador was, in turn, left ten lengths clear of the tired Nowornever, with Eco Warrior and Stick or Bust, the only two of those remaining appearing capable of staying on from out of the pack, a further five lengths behind.

As he did when winning his Maiden at Horseheath, Conquistador tired badly in the final quarter mile. Somehow David Kemp managed to rejuvenate Nowornever to close the gap. The two horses jumped the last upsides, but Nowornever had the greater momentum and consequently enjoyed first run to the line. Despite Conquistador’s brave rally, the Kemp horse prevailed, with Eco Warrior putting in his best work far too late to get within a length at the post.

Disappointments of the race were Miss Biddy, who never jumped well, and Tartar Sabre who fell at the ninth after having to be niggled along to go the pace. Stick or Bust, however, displayed improved form to come out of the pack and claim fourth spot. He has had a light season and could well show the benefit of it next year.

The day had begun with a rarity in East Anglian of late, a Hunt Race that was exactly that, a race (rather than an attended walkover). It was, nevertheless, won by the odds on favourite, Tom De Savoie, who, at the second last,  was finally persuaded by Nibby Bloom to overtake the pacesetting Camden Loch and stride on for home. Broad Edge, positively ridden by Rupert Stearn, completed for the first time this year and ran on gamely up the run in to deprive Camden Loch of second.   

Nibby Bloom soon completed a double on Bunratty’s Sole in the Confined. Backed from a mouth watering 6/1 into 5/2 second favourite, the six year old took up the running at the fifth fence and was not long in asserting his authority. Millenium Way was the only one of his eight rivals to keep within three lengths and, although he threatened to make a race of it between the last two, Nibby Bloom had left enough petrol in Bunratty’s Sole to allow him to pull away again when the post was in sight. Persian Hero was a long way behind in third.

The favourite, Mister Ringa, was patiently ridden by Andrew Braithwaite, but made jumping errors throughout the race and dropped away tamely on the final circuit. When he won his Restricted at Ampton he had a high enough cruising speed to overcome the odd mistake or six. As he tackles better company, however, he will need to be a lot more fluent with his fencing if he is to join Bunratty’s Sole in progressing to the next level.

James Owen, who rode Millenium Way, found himself having to settle for the runner up berth again on Militaire in the Men’s Open. Travelling off the bridle from a long way out, he could never get in a serious blow against the pacemaking Bard of Drumcoo, on whom David Kemp stylishly completed a double on the day. Homme de Fer, who had sat just behind the leaders throughout the race, finished with some purpose to fail by only a neck to force Militaire into third.

The enigmatic The Red Boy was the only other of the nine strong field who ever had any chance of playing a hand in the finish. Tucked in alongside Homme De Fer he looked, as always, to be travelling as well as anything with two to jump. Just before the last, when Bard Of Drumcoo had flown, he had moved into second and appeared to have the measure of the other two. Not for the first time this season, he stopped to a walk on the short run in and was eventually deprived of fourth by Avalon Buck, who must have been a hundred yards or so adrift at the last! Chatting about this to a couple of friends after the race, they came up with the theory that The Red Boy has leant to be frightened by the noise of the crowd! This may not be as daft as it first sounds?

James Owen rode the favourite, On The Day, in the younger horse Maiden, and set off determined to rid himself of the seconditis that had plagued him all afternoon. He only had one serious rival throughout; that being Montenegro on whom Nibby Bloom was looking for a treble. The latter, having only his third ever outing, ran in snatches and was outjumped at every fence by the Turner horse. He did, however, look as if he had the race in the bag when cruising past the hard ridden favourite with only two left to jump. James Owen is never one to give in lightly and, as seen several times this year, galvanised a seemingly beaten horse into finding that last drop of energy. On The Day and Montenegro jumped the last fence in unison. On the run in On The Day forged himself in front. Nibby Bloom, however, is also not renowned for his willingness to embrace defeat, and, when he got serious with his mount, he too found something extra. Twenty yards from the post they were level. At the line he had got back up. Montenegro had won by a neck. It was three winners on the day for Nibby Bloom, and three seconds for James Owen. The third horse, Mr Know What, was in another parish.

The Ladies Open looked a two horse race with Alex Embiricos’ vastly improved Highland Rose going off at 4/7, and Zoe Turner’s multiple course winner Celtic Duke her solitary market rival at 6/4. The other four runners were all available at 20/1 or better.

Highland Rose did not seem comfortable at any stage and, unusually, made a high number of jumping errors. She was nevertheless still in contention at the second last when, albeit hard ridden, she tried to form a line of three with Celtic Duke and Sheskingqueen. Another indifferent jump put paid to her chances, however, and it was left to Celtic Duke to single handedly assert superiority over the Fernie raider and claim the spoils.

The concluding race, the older horse Maiden, must surely have been one of the worst ever staged at Fakenham. Five went to post. A Fine Story was priced at 5/4 and was marginally preferred by the bookmakers to Man At The Top at 6/4, with the other three all optimistically offered at 10/1. A Fine Story set out to make all the running, a task made easier by the third fence exit of Marsden and the persistently chancy jumping of  his main market rival. When Man At The Top eventually fell at the fifth last, A Fine Story found himself over thirty lengths clear of the Patrick Millington owner ridden MacRobert’s Reply. He, in turn, was ten lengths clear of his stablemate, Society Scandal, on whom Louisa Fear appeared to be preparing to pull up. The realisation that third place prize money was there for the taking persuaded her to change her mind and continue. She made the right decision. Just as Ian MacKenzie in the commentary box made the obvious statement that all A Fine Story had to do was stand up, he took a crashing fall at the third last and, from being remote stragglers, the Millington pair suddenly had the race between them. 

In utter amazement Ian MacKenzie found the words I suspect he had never before used to describe the finish of a horse race…”Now it’s left to the comedy duo!” When Society Scandal came through to devour his stablemate between the last two he commented that Louisa Fear was riding a quietly stylish finish “although there’s an awful lot of bouncing and bobbing going on behind her!” God bless Patrick Millington though. The world would be a lot poorer place without him. It is a sentiment that most of the crowd must have agreed with, as both he and Ms Fear got the biggest cheer of the afternoon when they led their charges back to the unsaddling enclosure! The stable’s first ever one, two.