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WEST NORFOLK
FAKENHAM
Sunday 24th April 2005
by Richard Hall

We have many platitudes to comfort those who fail; “The meek shall inherit the earth”, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”, “It’s always darkest before the dawn”, are just some of them. I am sure Anthony Howland Jackson and Ruth Hayter have heard them all over the last two seasons. Between them they look after a not inconsiderable string of horses, which had been bought for not inconsiderable sums of money, and been given countless opportunities, but had produced absolutely nothing in terms of results. To say they had a cloud hanging over them, would be as much of an understatement as suggesting that a Leonard Cohen CD might not be the best thing to play at parties.

It looked to be business very much as usual today when the starter, at the second time of asking, sent the ten runners contesting the Restricted on their way. Their representative, Present Moment, celebrated by digging his heels in and giving the remainder a good ten length start. When he eventually did get going he did it so reluctantly that I immediately scribbled down the note “not keen, tailed off early” into my programme. He was one that I would not have to bother about again.

Rocja, Pampered Lad, and Socarineau shared the running for the first two circuits, with the former dropping away after a couple of miles. As they passed the packed grandstand with a circuit to go Socarineau made his break and surged into a two length lead. Behind him were only three possible threats; the remainder of the field were already well out of contention. One of them was Pampered Lad, who appeared to be running in snatches. A similar comment applied to the Turner representative, John The Mole. The third threat, however, seemed to be travelling best of all. That threat, believe it or not, was Present Moment. In his quiet way Andrew Braithwaite had not only persevered and coaxed the Howland Jackson/Hayter horse into taking part, but he had bought him, almost unnoticed, with a wet sail to hold a very real chance.

When Socarineau tired, it was Present Moment who had the gears to grab the lead. He kicked on. Behind him the other three were all being vigourously ridden. Two fences out, he looked as if he was home and hosed. As they rounded the final bend, however, the ten lengths he had given away at the start took their toll. His stride began to shorten and the other three closed. On the run in, John The Mole emerged as a serious contender and, under typically strong driving from James Owen, drew alongside. Andrew Braithwaite is no pushover in a finish either, and somehow he managed to find something more in Present Moment’s armoury. It was enough. As the post drew closer Present Moment inched further and further ahead. On the line he had almost half a length in hand. He had done it. The drought was over. For once the platitudes were justified; it had indeed been darkest before the dawn, but dawn had nevertheless broken and, at last, connections could look forward again to a beautiful day.

That day continued in the very next race when their representative, Gatchou Mans, this time partnered by Alex Merriam, contested the Men’s Open. They must have been cheered at the sight of the second favourite, Monty’s Tag, who was returning to points after being campaigned exclusively in Hunter Chases over the last three years, running out at the very first fence. Their hopes must have been raised still further at the tenth fence when the hot favourite, Madmidge, sent David Kemp sprawling to the turf. These abdications meant that Gatchou Mans was left a clear second behind Nick Kent’s Burton raider, Coonogue, with only Minster York close enough behind to be of concern.

Gatchou Mans gained on the leader with virtually every jump. Alex Merriam restrained him on the flat, however, clearly not wanting to let him go too early. His patience finally ran out at the fourth last, when he eventually allowed the grey horse his head. As they jumped the next fence he found himself five lengths clear, and with only flat footed rivals behind. It was a simple coast home from there. Smiling from their viewpoint in the stands, the wisdom of another old adage could not have escaped Anthony Howland Jackson and Ruth Hayter; “You can wait years for a bus, and then two will come along in the space of minutes”

Just over an hour later it looked as if Ruth Hayter could be sending out her third winner of the afternoon when Marmalade Mountain was vying for the lead with McAttack and Hi Tech Man coming round the final bend in the Intermediate. Just behind them, finishing fast, was Tooley Park. Her revival did not stretch that far, however, and, after an epic struggle, Marmalade Mountain finished just out of the frame in fourth.

Victory went to Hi Tech Man, from whom James Owen squeezed every last ounce of energy. Every drop of it was needed for he was headed after the last by Tooley Park. and regained the lead only feet from the post.

I can take nothing away from the winner, who is as honest and game as the day is long, but had a jockey of James Owen’s calibre been on Tooley Park then that animal must have surely recorded a comfortable victory. Clearly not an easy ride, he was piloted today by his trainer, James Tarry, who failed to emulate the fluency achieved by James Diment when the horse had cantered away with his Restricted at Higham two weeks ago. Despite minimal assistance, Tooley Park flew from the second last, at least ten lengths adrift of the leading trio, to jump alongside Hi Tech Man and McAttack at the final obstacle. All he needed from there was to be ridden to the line.

Earlier on the card, in the Area Championship race, James Owen had found himself approaching the final bend on King Plato with a ten length advantage over his great rival, David Kemp, riding the long odds on favourite Deckie. Having survived a bad blunder four from home, Kemp seemed resigned to settling for the runner up’s spot until he saw signs of King Plato running out of juice and treading water. He sensed an element of hope, and resolved not to let it wriggle from the hook without a fight. He began riding a finish, and, to his surprise, the opposition surrendered tamely. Deckie had the race won at the final flight and was eventually eased on the run in. The victory was probably even more fortunate than it at first seemed, for, after the race, King Plato was reportedly found to be very lame.

Ironically, David Kemp had found himself in a similar position to James Owen when he partnered Second Thoughts in the opening race of the day; the Hunt Members. Having made most of the running, he had shaken off all bar George Greenock on Ain Tecbalet by the second last. Despite doing little wrong after that fence he could not repel the challenger’s finish, which was delivered with clinical efficiency, and he had to settle for second place.

I have not been that impressed with George Greenock’s tactical acumen prior to today, but there was no room at all for any criticism in this performance. He kept Ain Tecbalet well balanced and on an even keel throughout, and the finish he rode could not have been better timed or delivered. All in all it was a credit to his mentor, Nibby Bloom, who, perhaps fittingly, could have ridden Second Thoughts but chose instead to partner the third horse home, Tom de Savoie.

Mr Kemp nevertheless managed to leave the meeting with a double under his belt, courtesy of Crystal Dance, who, despite a series of jumping errors, turned the Maiden into an absolute procession. Taking up the lead just after halfway, the stable’s newest recruit appeared to do no more than canter around the final mile to come home a long looking distance ahead of Pernickity King, Tis She, and the fast finishing Royal Alibi. A cacophony of cheers greeted horse and jockey as they made there way back to the paddock. Many of the crowd had participated in a successful tilt at the ring; having backed the winner from 6/1 into 7/4 favouritism in a not too over-round book.

Jane Williams cannot be criticised for only running her horses within close proximity of home. Last week she went to the Welsh borders with Step and Run to record his fourth success of the campaign. This week, she made her fifth visit of the year to East Anglia, and, in doing so, recorded her fourth victory of the season on “our” turf.. This time Little Brown Bear was the conduit used. He added to his earlier Cottenham victory by running away with the Ladies Open from the hat trick seeking Bush Hill Bandit, with last year’s winner, Celtic Duke, in third.

On a pleasant spring day, on which we enjoyed seven competitive races, I feel compelled to end by mentioning the jobsworths who conspired to dampen many people’s enjoyment. I am, of course, referring to the men and women put in charge of controlling the gates linking the main grandstand, where the bookmakers were housed, to the centre of the course, where most of the cars were parked. Lord knows why, but as soon as the jockeys entered the parade ring the gates were shut. They were opened again only when these men and women were absolutely satisfied that the very last horse (including those belonging to the Hunt) had left the course after the race was over. As a result, those gates were frequently shut for upwards of twenty six minutes at a time – ten minutes before the race, six minutes during it, and ten minutes after. Despite many polite requests, these officials defied all logical argument and told everyone who dared ask them to be reasonable that it was “more than their job was worth” to let anyone cross when there was even the remotest possibility that they could be struck by a loose horse. It was a clear and barmy example of Health and Safety taken to a surreal extremity. Well done to all concerned. I am sure Monty Python would have been extremely flattered!

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