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Review of the 2004 East Anglian Season
by Richard Hall - East Anglian Correspondent

It was a good year for…

1. David Kemp
I have not calculated it but his strike rate must be running close to an amazing one in four. He does not wrap his horses in cotton wool, with each running around eight times, and, not only do they seem to hold their form, they consistently improve with racing. The fact that few get injured is ample testament to both their initial schooling and the level of fitness they are kept ticking over at.

As well as excelling as a trainer of horses, Mr Kemp is also a highly proficient jockey. He has always been able to ride from the front, but, this year, as frequently demonstrated on Madmidge, the “waiting game” has been added to his repertoire. He can switch horses off and bring them so gently into contention that they barely know they have been in a race. How many times do you see him flaying the whip around like a mad thing?
Cantarhino is the vehicle through which David Kemp’s talents can be demonstrated to a wider, national, audience. I suspect that they will soon be noticed and, in a few years time, he will be plying his trade(s) around the National Hunt circuit.

2. James Owen
David Kemp’s one serious challenger to the title of best jockey in the region. Very strong in the finish and can get the last ounce of energy from the horses underneath him – as witnessed on Westfield John at High Easter (my nomination for single best ride of the season) and the reluctant Dunrig at Higham (where he collared The Red Boy on the line). When he has the ammunition, James Owen can also sit motionless and either ride from the front (e.g. Pendle Hill – Ampton) or quietly produce his mount from off the pace with a tactically well timed challenge (e.g. Militaire at Cottenham). I notice that James has had a few “outside” rides in the Midlands over the last few weeks, and I suspect that, next season, he will not be short of offers tempting him to stay there.

3. Alex Embiricos
Is another trainer threatening to break down the established order and place herself firmly at the summit. Although she does not (yet) have the quantity of horses that the Turner’s do, she certainly has the quality – as her ratio of winners to runners (similar to the Kemp stable) proves! At the beginning of the season Alex tended to ride most of her horses herself, and successes came mainly in Ladies races. Now, with Nick Moore seemingly established as the regular male jockey to the yard, the horizons have opened up to them. Again, in common with the Kemp’s, Alex and partner Tim Bryce, are looking to expand. With the promising Mr Hawkeye and the maiden winner (and Restricted runner up) Conquistador both up for sale (at reduced prices to stay in the yard), those interested in acquiring a first hand interest in the sport could do a lot worse than look here. 

4. Lucinda Barrett Nobbs
Winner of the Novice Lady Rider’s title, and this year she made the transition from wannabe to genuine contender. Lucinda gained her first win on Lambrini King in the second week of the season, and doubled the tally when steering Tartar Sabre to victory in a Cottenham Maiden in March. In common with the rest of the region’s most promising youngsters (notably Rupert Stearn), all Lucinda really needs to progress her career is a few outside rides!!

5. Patrick Millington
Amongst some he is the object of ridicule, but, for me, he is far more attune to the roots and spirit of the sport than those spending telephone numbers on horses that really should be competing under Rules. In the closing weeks of the season Patrick saddled the first and second in two races, something no other trainer has achieved! On both occasions however, and despite having the pick, he chose to ride the horse that finished second.
As a symbolic figure Patrick is the personification of a slightly eccentric amateur with loads of enthusiasm but very little natural talent. His continued presence reassures us that the sport has not been totally swamped by the semi professional approach, and that there is still room for such Corinthian figures.

Notable “Firsts” for..

Rosina Page
Had her first winner on Glenalla Braes at High Easter’s February meeting, and concluded the season with a flying second on the family’s grand old servant, Ardnut, at Marks Tey

Robert Cundy
Came with a stylish late flurry on Rip Kirby to collar Andrew Braithwaite and record his first victory in the Members at High Easter’s March meeting.

George Greenock
His first victory came on his first ever public ride as he steered Homme de Fer clear of Ballinure Boy in a Higham Men’s Open.

Not such a good year for...

1. The Turners
A quiet season by their standards, partly reflecting the insurgence of the Kemp and Embiricos stables. Whilst Zoe still came out as leading Lady rider, largely due to the old stalwarts Celtic Duke and Spring Gale, she faced much stiffer competition than she had experienced in previous years, thanks mainly to Alex Embiricos (Highland Rose and Placid Man) and Louise Allen on the gutsy MacFin, who was literally unbeatable at Horseheath.
Outside of the Ladies events, success was hard to come by. Militaire was impressive at Cottenham, but disappointed afterwards and, quite frankly, Divine Mist, Persian Hero, Leatherback, On The Day, and Dunrig all fell short of early season expectations.
For years the Turner’s dominance in the region, underpinned by the luxury of annual top ups and disposals at the Doncaster and Ascot Sales, has gone unchallenged. Could 2004 be remembered as the year their grip began to slip, or will it be seen simply a year of regrouping?

2. Ruth Hayter & Anthony Howland Jackson
Despite the large sums of money spent (notably on Colonel Conga and Federal Case), and for the first year I can remember, they did not manage a single success. Further proof, if it were needed, that a large chequebook, on its own, is not enough.

3. Splash and Dash
Went into the season as the region’s great white hope for the Foxhunter’s at Cheltenham, and ended it a very fortunate winner of a 3 runner Men’s Open on the very last day of the season. His performances were simply too bad to be true, and, whilst connections are hopeful that the underlying problem has been diagnosed, it will be asking a lot for the same horse that once made the Sporborg’s stable star, Rob Mine, look as pedestrian as a crippled pensioner to emerge from his summer break. 

4. Paula Twinn
Paula and her husband Ben are two of the most genuine people on the East Anglian point to point scene, and their ability to greet triumph and adversity with the same face also make them two of the most popular. 2004 has been one of their worst ever season’s, and has tested their resolve to the limit. Not only did stable star, Mai Knight, spend all of the season recovering from the injury sustained at Fakenham the previous April, but his half sister, Mai Point, collapsed and died after running second to Spring Gale at Higham. To add to the misery Flaxley Abbey, for whom Paula had gone to great pains to organise a syndicate, “got a leg” after running a highly promising second to Just Jove on her seasonal debut in a High Easter maiden. The other inmates who did see a racecourse, Ballyleeson, Marsden and Coole Chief, all ran well below the levels expected of them.
I suspect that, for the Twinn’s, 2005, and the ability to “have another go” cannot come soon enough.

Personal Highlights

1. Tartar Sabre – Cottenham 20.03.04
I doubt that the first division of a Maiden on a particularly windy Saturday in March would be at the top of too many lists. The fact that it heads mine emphasises both the highly personal nature of this, or any other, review, and the multiplicity of angles that feed into and out of every individual race. What for most people was “a run of the mill contest” was, for me, by far the most memorable moment of the season. In ten precious minutes the hopes, work, dreams, and (let’s not forget) money, invested over the previous twelve months returned it’s first dividend. Until then only optimism and faith had stood between our syndicate and the nagging doubt that we were hopelessly tilting at windmills.
I was unprepared for the emotional impact the victory had on me, probably because I never really expected it (as opposed to hoped for it). When Lucinda (Barrett Nobbs) took our horse to the front and began to pull away, suddenly everything was reversed. We no longer had to steal the prize, it was already ours; all we had to do was stop ourselves from throwing it away, or prevent someone else from snatching it from us.
I suppose my tensions were highlighted when events conspired to attempt both of those, what with losing our lead on the final bend and then Tooley Park rallying strongly on the run in?  The uncertainty was not laid to rest until three or four minutes after the race, when the tannoy finally confirmed that we had prevailed. Only then could the pent up hopes, fears, doubts, and expectations leave the body - which they did with the force of a dam bursting. Had things been more straightforward and seldom in doubt, perhaps the impact would have lessened to a more containable trickle? I don’t know. What I do know is that the experience ranks in the top five of my lifetime’s “emotionally intense moments” (perhaps that is more a reflection on the sad and sheltered existence I have led?). What added to it was the fact that it was shared with people I liked and cared about. Surprisingly, only a small part of my pleasure had anything to do with how it made me feel, and the vast majority came from the obvious joy it bought to everyone else connected with the horse. A genuinely precious day! 

2. Pampered Gale – Marks Tey 21.02.04
Another victory that had little impact on the point to point world in general, but, with a script that could have been written for a Disney film, it allowed me to believe that every now and then, in real life too, virtue is rewarded. The scene had been set over a two year period. In it was the classically tragic figure of a talented horse that had lost enthusiasm and heart through a series of hard races, and a set of new owners and a rider whose perseverance had been tested to the limit with some truly indifferent and uninspiring performances. It had got to the point where the Marriage family, and Nicky Barnes, were virtually ridiculed by the crowds every time they saddled up Pampered Gale for yet another attempt at recapturing his former glory. On February 21st they entered him for a Novice Riders race. His starting price amply portrayed the fact that in most people’s estimation he ranked somewhere between no hoper and time waster.
As in all “feel good” films the desired outcome was obvious but, in the real world, seemingly impossible. That day, however, everything unfolded just as it had been scripted to.
The favourite set off at a furious pace and soon had the field well strung out. Three fences from home he looked to have the race in the bag. For the first time Pampered Gale was mentioned by the commentator, as possibly “staying on for a place”. By the second last Pampered Gale had sprouted wings. He had not only pulled away from the chasing pack but had drawn alongside the favourite. He looked to be travelling much the better of the two and, by the time they reached the last, he had established a three length advantage. I remember feeling the crowd hold their collective breath as he jumped it, and then sigh in relief as he emerged safely from it. He stormed up the run in with the enthusiasm of a two year old. I had backed the favourite but I did not care, the satisfaction of seeing Pampered Gale and his connections triumph over adversity far outweighed anything that could be produced from the bookies satchels.
In his subsequent outings Pampered Gale reverted back to the mulish behaviour he had adopted as protection against hard jockeys and hard races. Nicky Barnes did not try and force anything more from him. I later discovered that he has a back injury. Maybe we will never see the old Pampered Gale again? Maybe we will? What the victory on March did demonstrate, however, was that Pampered Gale’s spirit had not been destroyed and remains very much alive. 

3. Minute’s Silence – Cottenham 04.01.04
This was held as a mark of respect for Gurney Sheppard and David Turner who had both died in 2003. It came without warning and was impeccably observed by everyone present. Time may as well have been frozen. Hats were removed and heads were bowed. Even the horses in the parade ring were bought to a standstill. If a bookie had inadvertently dropped a fifty pound note you would have heard it fall. Not only that, you could also have been sure that nobody would have broken the silence in order to retrieve it!
A quietly emotional moment that said as much about those paying tribute as it did about the men they were paying it to. I was proud to be a part of it.

4. Victories over the Bookies!
At the top of this category has to be Highland Rose’s win in the Member’s race at Cottenham on. The 4/1 I managed to get (and I was probably the only person on the course who did) was, in my opinion, an absolute gift! It is not often the bookies over price horses, particularly the locally trained ones, but this was certainly one occasion where I had the satisfaction of being able to recognise a mistake in their analysis. It was made even sweeter by the horse actually winning!
As well as the numerous times when I was “not quite” right, there were three other occasions where I enjoyed the smug feeling associated with correctly recognising value, and duly investing well above my normal staking levels; Highland Rose’s next course victory, albeit in a Ladies Open, when she was allowed to start at 10/1, Mister Ringa’s runaway success in an Ampton Restricted, for which I also obtained 10/1, and Bunratty’s Sole’s Confined at Fakenham on April 25th where 6/1 was freely available.
These “triumphs” are what makes betting on the horses, and on point to points inparticular, so special. It offers the punter a genuine chance to come out on top. It is all about opinion, the ability to put a mathematical interpretation to the likelihood of a horse winning, the bottle to recognise and invest when the odds are in your favour, and the discipline to leave alone when they are not (something I confess to not being particularly good at – I like to play in virtually every race!). Punters will never make long term gains on the roulette wheel, or on the slot machines, as the odds are always guaranteed to be against them. That is simply not true on the horses, they are such an inexact science; a fact that those who are shrewd enough can exploit to their advantage.
What the observant punter also has in their favour is the lack of technology associated with point to point racing. There are no video replays, and therefore the form is available on a once only, blink and you may miss it, basis. Whilst the representatives from the Racing Post and Pointerform ect obviously do there best, they cannot possibly see everything. This year especially I have noticed some glaringly obvious examples of a horse’s running being misreported (Tartar Sabre’s second against Filou du Bois, for example). A punter who watches carefully will often see things that go unnoticed by others, a can thereby steal an advantage for the future.
A prime example of this was Mister Ringa. After winning his maiden at High Easter he was entered into a highly populated Restricted at Horseheath, for which he was made the 5/2 favourite. He gave the leaders almost a fifty length start, was not asked to chase a lost cause, and allowed to pull up after a couple of miles. I commented on the “gentle” ride in my review of the meeting, and a contributor to the Pointing EA site explained that Andrew Braithwaite had been adjusting his saddle when the starter let the field go, and therefore never got the chance to put the horse in the race. As clear an example as you will ever see of the bare form being meaningless.
Mister Ringa next appeared in a weaker Restricted at Ampton. With the “P” against his name, and the words “disappointing” in his form record, he no longer traded at 5/2 – he was available at four times those odds! He won by a distance.

Disappointments

1. The “Phatic Incident” – Marks Tey 12.04.04
For those that do not know, this concerned a leading jockey who, frustrated at not being able to prevent his exhausted mount from stumbling into a roped boundary, threw the reins to an astonished member of the public and simply stormed off, muttering that it was “a dog.”
The next race had to be delayed over twenty minutes as the horse, having collapsed twice, recovered sufficiently to slowly crawl into a horse ambulance and be removed from the course. His condition was so bad that, despite steroid injections, he remained motionless for at least a further two hours.

I had the (mis)fortune to witness this incident, and, quite honestly, it sickened and soured me. I kept thinking about it for several days afterwards, and eventually decided that I had a duty to report it to the Jockey Club.
The jockey (apparently known to “lose it” every now and then) was warned as to his future conduct. This was less than I was expecting, although his case was helped by the horse’s owner/trainer refusing to levy any criticism at him whatsoever. Whilst I can admire the loyalty, I cannot help thinking that the trainer’s own position must come in for a severe examination.
That suspicion first came to me on the day, but I chose to keep it myself. Now I feel I must share it. When the trainer arrived at the scene (after the horse was down and unconscious) his first words to the vet were “Is this normal?” That one question told me that this man’s knowledge of things equine was limited and, not knowing who he was, assumed him to be just a rather forward, but numbingly insensitive, onlooker.
I could perhaps have excused his behaviour on the day, and put it down to the effects of shock. When, however, after a week or so to consider it in detail, he still refused to accept that the jockey had done anything wrong, I cannot help but conclude that he is lacking in something. But for fate, and quick thinking from the members of the public present, the consequences of the jockey’s actions could have been so much worse. If the horse had not been freed from the ropes in which it was left entangled, it would probably have died in panic. Worse still, it could have severely injured someone as they fought to free it. Yet the trainer still maintains the jockey did nothing wrong! Tell me, if you had a horse would you want someone with his awareness and forethought to train it?

2. “Rip Off” Mentality – Marks Tey 12.04.04
It was Bank Holiday Monday, and were families looking for somewhere to go. As people flocked in numbers to Marks Tey, East Anglia had an ideal opportunity to convert the inquisitive masses into long term supporters. All they had to do was put up a good show by replicating virtually any other meeting during the year, and surely people will want to come back?
Businessmen would pay a lot of money for such an opportunity. East Anglian organisers, however, saw it as nothing more than a short term opportunity to milk the audience for everything they could get. The Hunt organisers even condoned the bookmaker’s ridiculous 200% over-rounds on the grounds that they had paid a decent pot of money to be allowed to trade there!
The small and uncompetitive fields on the day can hardly be attributed solely to the organising Hunt. They were, however, widely anticipated and are a phenomenon that occur every year. On that weekend there are countless other ptp meetings throughout the country, as well as numerous National Hunt meetings. On that same day the Turners, Kemps and Blooms had gone to Fakenham for a couple of Hunter Chases, whilst two days earlier, and at a venue less than twenty miles away, the region had all but exhausted it’s supply of runners at yet another meeting designed merely as an excuse to generate money from people looking for somewhere to park picnic tables.
Good business sense? Not in the long term, but who cares about that when people virtually throw money at them in desperation to enjoy themselves there and then? It was short sighted, and it displayed a cynical contempt for the paying public. Never sacrifice a fiver today for the prospect of fifty tomorrow.

Suggested Improvements for 2005

1. Hunt Races
These have provoked lots of debate on the websites. The general consensus is that they have outlived their sell by dates and are in need of renovation. Suggestions include; replacing with Novice Rider events, moving to the last race on the card (as, I notice, the Southdown and Eridge, did at Godstone on 15.05.04), limiting them to jockeys who have ridden with the host hunt at least x times that season, and barring horses under fourteen years of age who have won a race in the previous two seasons.
I can understand the dilemma that the area organisers find themselves in. Hunt races have been the backbone of the sport since it’s inception, and should be given every chance to survive. At some meetings, notably the two High Easter ones and the Waveney Harriers at Higham, the Hunt Race has arguably been the highlight of the card. At others though it has been pitiful, and as embarrassing as watching wrinkly pensioners in forgotten pop groups singing the songs of youthful rebellion that they first performed forty years previously.
The host hunt has to balance the preservation of tradition against their moral duty to ensure the paying public are provided with at least six competitive races for their money. From whisperings within the hunt itself, they should know well in advance if “their” race is going to fit that criteria. If it blatantly is not, they should give themselves the option, and the time, to replace it with another event (e.g. Novice Riders, Intermediate, four mile Mixed Open).

2. Policing the Bookies
The Area Organisers need to abandon their laissez faire doctrine, and temper their desire to collect as much revenue as possible from bookmakers wishing to trade, to accommodate their responsibility to ensure that the paying public are given value for their money.
Most of the people who pay to go to a point to point do so with the prime motivation of having a flutter. Nowadays, with the internet, televised racing, and Betfair, there are so many other places that they can go to do this. If they feel they are being ripped off at a point to point they will not come back. In the long term, everyone will suffer because of it.
In East Anglia 200% over-rounds are not uncommon, indeed there was one race at Ampton in the early weeks of the season where 254% was recorded! Somebody has to put a stop to this.

If I was responsible for sorting out the problem I would the reduce the permit fees charged to the bookies, limit the number of pitches available at each meeting to (say) twelve, and expel (or at least suspend) any bookie trading outside the parameters we would agree at the start of the season. 

A big “Thanks” to...

1. James Crispe
The time, energy and enthusiasm that this man puts into our sport, without, I might add, any financial reward, is just phenomenal. He not only writes the previews for the local journals, he maintains the Pointing EA website, he commentates on the races, he interviews the winning connections, and his reports are always ready for inclusion in the Monday papers!
He is the perfect ambassador for the sport in that he rarely criticises anyone in public, puts a positive spin on even the most dreary of events, steers all the dirty washing for resolution behind closed doors, and he makes sure that the egos of all the winning owners are massaged with liberal name-checks in the press. Privately though James is far from sycophantic. He has strong opinions which are backed up by an in depth knowledge of the form book and a first hand experience of the characters involved, Add this to a sharp mind and a dry sense of humour and you have a formidable personality. An Area Secretary in waiting perhaps?

2. The Preview Team (Pointing EA website)
Again without financial gain, these gentlemen plough through the formbook and succinctly summarise each race for the benefit of all those who don’t want to invest the five or six hours required themselves. They do not always get the feedback their efforts deserve, but each week the hours are still invested and a fresh preview appears. A service we possibly take too much for granted?

3. The Hunt Supporters
Those who, again without charge, man the totes, take money at the entrances, stand by the fences, and generally ensure that the day runs safely and smoothly. Although a few can be over zealous with the apparent authority they have been given, they are generally both pleasant and efficient.

4. Those who have commented on my reports
As you may have guessed, I enjoy writing. Without the positive feedback though, it would have been difficult to maintain the enthusiasm necessary to sit up into the early hours to ensure the reports were done. Even the negative criticism is valued – it makes me reconsider my opinions and, even if I don’t change my mind, at least it proves that my output is not going unread!

Ten to Follow in 2005 

1. Fane Counsel
The only horse I have included who is not trained within the region. He was mightily impressive in his two outings at Horseheath and I cannot believe he was 100% when beaten by journeyman pointers Minella Silver and The Campdonian in a Men’s Open at Chaddesley Corbett. He will undoubtedly be campaigned in Hunter Chases next season (I cannot believe someone would pay £35,000 just to go after £100 ptp prizes). Keeping on the right side of him may well help the Betfair account stay in the black.

2. Eurogaedel
From the Cherie Cunningham stable. This five year old was as green as the emerald isle itself when prevailing over the perennial runner up, Artic Snip, on his debut at Ampton, and he can only get better. I suspect from his style of running that he will be suited by an undulating course and a thorough test of stamina – Horseheath and Ampton being ideal.

3. No Penalty
One of the few horses to have finished in front in two maidens (he was disqualified from the first after losing a weight cloth half way round). No Penalty “won” both events by a wide margin, and never had a horse pass him. He will be even better when he matures and learns to settle!

4. Montenegro
Had one run under Rules in a Bumper when trained by Ferdy Murphy, Montenegro made his debut behind Madmidge at Marks Tey in February and was given a quiet introduction. He was not seen out again until late April when, still jumping slowly, he showed a good attitude to get up under a hands and heels ride from Nibby Bloom to deprive subsequent winner, On The Day, by a head with the third twenty five lengths behind. Open to plenty of improvement.

5. Mr Hawkeye
I did not see his impressive maiden victory at Higham, but I did hear about it! Any horse that can win like that and still be described as “a frame” by his trainer has to go into any notebook!

6. Bunratty’s Sole
Was on my list last year and did my bank balance a couple of favours when winning at High Easter and Fakenham. He is a relentless galloper and I am convinced that he is still improving, as a couple of literal form lines with Just Jove (at Garthorpe and High Easter) will substantiate. He has not yet been given a hard race and should continue to progress next year.

7. Placid Man
A good winner under rules when with Nicky Henderson. After recovering from a broken pelvis, Placid Man began the season in Ladies Open’s for Alex Embiricos. He won his first two races at Higham under heavy restraint, but he pulled throughout and Alex never looked comfortable on him. After parting company on their third visit to the course, the combination were then fortunate winners of a Fontwell Hunter Chase. Nick Moore took the ride on his next outing, a 20 furlong Hunter Chase at Warwick, and they convincingly beat a good yardstick in David Easterby’s Sikander A Azam. Equally effective on anything between good and heavy, 2005 could see the lightly raced ten year old come into his own.

8. Northall Lad
After a gentle introduction at Cottenham, great things were obviously expected when the money went down on his second outing at Horseheath. He was duly in the process of giving Germany Park, the hot favourite, a run for his money when parting company with Paul Cowley at the fourth last. He then went to Mollington a fortnight later where he fell at the final fence when already well beaten. He returned to Horseheath for his final outing of the season, where Paul Cowley looked after him as protectively as any parent. He was allowed to hunt round at a leisurely pace and, at the end, spurt, educationally, through beaten horses to eventually finish a distant third behind Conquistador. An early season Maiden looks well within his grasp.

9. Fair Exchange
A Hunter Chase winner who will gallop all day. It looks as if he has been bought into the Turner yard to supplement Zoe’s armoury in Ladies Opens.

10. Wincy Spider
After a handful of runs as a six year old during the 2000 National Hunt season, concluding with a close second in a Stratford hurdle, Wincy Spider did not see a racecourse again until devouring a moderate Horseheath maiden field in February. It was, though, his second, and final, appearance of the season that really caught my eye. Always travelling well, he never came of the bridle when taking his Restricted with an easy two length defeat of Ghillies Nephew.  

Images of 2004
I conclude with three photographs that were not included in my original meeting reports. Have a good summer and see you at Cottenham on the first Sunday in 2005!

 

this way to Jumping For Fun