CAMBRIDGE HARRIERS HUNT CLUB
3rd January 2005
by Richard Hall
For those among the record crowd not spending a significant proportion of the day queuing at the Beefburger stalls for “fast” food refreshment, the opening meeting of the 2005 season served up a bumper nine course feast of all that is best in point to point racing. Promising newcomers, gutsy veterans, and never say die attitudes combined to produce a truly marvellous day’s sport. It almost made both the hassle of Christmas and the thought of returning to work after a lengthy break bearable. Almost.
A field of twelve lined up for the season’s inaugural event, the Club Members race. What looked a Rubic’s cube of a puzzle to the Jumping For Fun team that had congregated around the parade ring to scratch heads, compare notes and search for fitness clues, produced one of the day’s easiest winners in Rhythm King. Godfrey Maundrell’s charge was prominent throughout and was being brought to deliver his challenge when left in a clear lead when Foxey Dove departed at the second last. Airoski, who came from a long way off the pace, threatened momentarily to make a race of it but he had no answer when Rhythm King moved into top gear after the final bend to come home in glorious isolation.
The favourite, Pot Shot, who Richard Burton rode in preference to the runner up, was a big disappointment and, despite looking as fit as anything in the preliminaries, never threatened to play a serious part in the outcome. Lord Euro ran an encouraging race in third, running on again after being outpaced during the middle portion of the race. Foxey Dove was for me, however, the one to note for the future, providing, of course, that he does not suffer any long term effects from his fall. Despite looking as if the race would bring him on, he raced prominently throughout and, had he stayed up, would probably have finished second. He should give his connections a lot of fun in the coming months.
The second race, the Restricted, went to the Sinnington based Just Fluster, who came with a wet sail under Mark Walford to storm past the long time leaders Holywell Girl and Midnight Lord at the last. It is difficult to know what to make of the contest in terms of future pointers as, outside of the first three, most of the entrants ran as if they were being readied for another day. The one exception to this was possibly Lockington, who was travelling easily and looked the likely winner before parting company with his jockey at the sixteenth fence. Compensation should not be long in coming.
The Men’s Open saw seasoned and proven pointers (in the shape of Well Ted, Soundtrack and Always On The Line) take on potentially exciting recruits from the National Hunt yards (the most noticeable of which were Honest Yer Honour, who had been running in Irish Grade A Novice Hurdles, and Motcomb Jam who Richard Hunnisett had purchased from Charlie Mann’s stable).
Helmsley Flier, returning from a year off, ensured a fast pace from flagfall and when he tired after a mile Soundtrack, the only one of his rivals who had tried to keep with him, kept it going. Motcomb Jam found himself caught between two stools – well ahead of the main pack who were content to race a full thirty lengths behind the pacesetters, but well adrift of the leading duo. He paid the price for his indecision at the business end of the contest when he faded tamely away. Halfway around the second circuit Honest Yer Honour, travelling ominously well under Richard Burton, ate into Soundtrack’s lead. Always On The Line, a winner at the corresponding meeting two years earlier, was being scrubbed along by Alex Merriam to accompany him. At the second last you could have thrown a blanket over the three of them. Paul Cowley stole the riding honours by hugging the bend on Soundtrack, thereby forcing his rivals out wide. Despite travelling the furthest, Richard Burton, looked to only have to press the button to send his mount into an unassailable lead. When he did, however, the response he was hoping for simply wasn’t there; Honest Yer Honour had no more gears. This left the seasoned pointers to fight out the finish, and slug it out they did. No finesse, just two tired and stubborn horse and rider combinations summoning every last ounce of energy they could muster into the race for the line. It was a titanic struggle and it went to the judge before Always On The Line was proclaimed the victor by half a length.
In contrast to the fast and fury of the Men’s Open, the following Countryside Alliance Novice Riders Race seemed to be run at a very sedate pace. With the exception of Winter Gale, who was an early faller, less than half a dozen lengths covered most of the field for the first two and a half miles. At the business end, however, Stormy Session and Times Past pulled clear of the remainder to emulate Always on the Line and Soundtrack half an hour earlier and grind out the finish between them. This time the ten year old Times Past, confidently ridden by Jonathon Jarrett, got the better of his fifteen year old rival to earn himself the prime berth in the unsaddling enclosure. Borrow Mine kept on to take third. with Wend’s Day, the short priced favourite from Wales, a long way adrift in fourth.
The Ladies Open, produced a similarly exciting conclusion. Jumping the last any one of five of the seven strong field, looked to have a realistic chance of victory. Only Sailors Folly and Fair Exchange could have safely been written off. Find Me Another had been stalking throughout and Ami Stennett had bought him alongsides, albeit under a bit of prodding. Titus Bramble, who had been up with the pace from the outset, was still there, as were the recent recruits from higher echelons of the National Hunt ranks, Stromness and Wahiba Sands. It was Rilly Goshen on Chasing The Bride who stole the honours though, coming between horses with a late challenge to win going away. Having been content to hunt around at the back, five lengths adrift of the main body of the field, for the majority of the race, it was an extremely well judged piece of riding and gave ample demonstration of why Miss Goshen is consistently earning plaudits. Put quite simply, her mount won without exerting itself any more than it was absolutely necessary to. Under such careful handling Chasing The Bride can look forward to a long and successful campaign.
Both the Maidens divided. Division One of the eight year olds and over went to Dick Bainbridge’s Martin Ossie who was unlucky in his only outing last year when holding every chance when falling at the last in a race that has (so far) produced three subsequent winners. He did not have things all his own way, however, and Northall Lad (who, not for the first time, was tilted at in the betting ring) ensured that he was kept up to his work. These two finished a long way clear of Spider Music in third.
Julian Pritchard’s mount nevertheless won with something in hand and the combination will doubtless go on to take further prizes during the coming months. Northall Lad also seems to have summered well and has obviously benefited from Paul Cowley’s sympathetic handling during his final races of the 2004 campaign. It surely cannot be long before he too loses his maiden tag?
In a day of terrific finishes Division Two of the Older Maiden produced the best of them all. Four runners had put acres of daylight between themselves and the remainder with over a mile to go. As they approached the last it looked to all and sundry that the two that had been content to sit just behind, Euro Craft and Jumping Jack, would swallow the long time pacemakers, Noble Deed and Cmewin, with consummate ease. Once in front, however, neither seemed willing to go through with their effort and Noble Deed, given maximum assistance by James Tudor, rallied to regain the advantage. Half way up the run in he looked home and hosed, but Cmewin, sprouted wings from a seemingly hopeless position in fourth to get up on the line and give his rider, Mark Walford, a Sinnington based double on the day.
Noble Deed looks a difficult ride, but James Tudor certainly managed to get a tune from him and the combination are certainly capable of finding a race when conditions combine to favour front running tactics. Jumping Jack, however, looks a real monkey and he will not be carrying any more of my cash, regardless of the opposition. He reluctantly jogged to post only when Rowan Cope agreed to take his legs from the irons, and he seemed to fight against the bit on a number of occasions during the race. He also seemed to lose his action a few times and I swear that he broke into trot after they jumped the tenth!
The Two Divisions of the Younger Horse Maiden produced two impressive winners in Lord Saar and To The Top.
Lord Saar’s race appeared to be the more competitive, but from the moment Harry Fowler asked him to go and win his race at the third last the result was never in doubt. He won by a good ten lengths without ever coming off the bridle. He had decent form in a limited campaign under Rules (which included a head second in a novice chase) and looks a safe bet to go on to bigger and better things. Gregory Peckory ran on resolutely to deprive Nailed On for second and suggested that he has perhaps learnt to settle better. If so, he will probably be best served by a step up to three miles.
To The Top’s win was achieved in similar style. He squandered a few opportunities last year but did not give his supporters a moment’s worry today. The manner of his victory suggests that he has matured physically and could well be on the upgrade. Kismet, from the in form Lady Susan Watson yard, finished well to claim second in his first outing in points. Nibby Bloom’s Itsallinthestars (not to be confused with Paul Keane’s ex pointer, Allinthestars) was a couple of lengths behind in third and will undoubtedly come on a ton for the experience. Highland Vasco also put up a performance worthy of note, although he surrendered a lot of ground at the bends and will be seen to much better effect on a more galloping track.
I could not help but feel content on the drive home, in much the same way I did after the Christmas lunch was served, enjoyed, and digested. In common with the yuletide meal the start of the pointing season was something I had looked forward to for a long while. The portions were generous and the taste was as good as I had remembered. It was there the similarity ended, however, for after Christmas lunch it was a long while before I could face yet more food. My appetite had been satisfied and all I wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep. Cottenham did not satisfy my appetite. Quite the reverse. It gave me the yearning to point the car in the direction of Higham. Roll on next Sunday!