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OLD RABY
WITTON CASTLE
6th February 2005
by Ian Marshall

Overnight rain left the ground as officially good, although by the end of the afternoon it was fairly tacky and the three miles took some getting. Nonetheless, there were many favourable comments and the fences took some jumping. The undoubted highlight of the day was a magnificent four-timer from jockey Ben Woodhouse.

13 of the 16 entries stood their ground for the opening Old Raby Hunt Club Members Maiden and Carew justified favouritism in good style under Lee Bates for owner John Mackley. Despite making two or three mistakes, the nine-year-old went about his business with the minimum of fuss and readily strode clear when asked. He looks an able replacement for the owner’s now retired stalwart Erzadjan. Lothian Rising (Luke Morgan) finished with purpose to take second and is improving with each race. The hard-pulling Winnie Wild and Tina Jackson were third. Although it wasn’t the strongest of heats, this was the mare’s best effort to date by a long chalk and maybe a fruitless time hurdling has somehow helped. Fourth-placed Kings Bloom (Trevor Glass) was given a quiet ride in rear and his jumping took time to warm up. The gelding got a bit closer in the final three quarters of a mile and will know more next time. Polar Gale was holding second when crashing through the wing of the penultimate fence. Kappillan and Queenies Girl both came down at the third and their involvement when running loose later unfortunately meant Bridal Point, who had made every yard to that stage, was carried out at the 12th.

The late withdrawal of the prospective favourite Just Fluster after an incident in the paddock left five to go to post for the Intermediate. Mister Bromley was given a very positive ride by Serena Brotherton to prevail by 12 lengths. The duo took up the running after a lap and seemed to have things under control after that. The chestnut is exceptionally consistent and remains on an upward curve. High Fields with Oliver Greenall aboard was back in second and was rather low at several fences. The usual headgear was oddly left off and he was never in a challenging position. John Rich and Guy Brewer were third. They disputed the running for much of the way and this quirky, but talented, customer was far more cooperative today. Silogue was fourth for Nigel Tutty and was the first off the bridle. All of Nigel and Karen’s horses during the day gave the impression that the outing would be of benefit.

There were eight runners for the Ladies Open and Texas Ranger, who was a warm order in the market, duly obliged under Jo Foster. A fast pace had most of his rivals in trouble from early on. A top performer in 2004, Texas Ranger is likely to be even stronger this year at the age of seven. The only other horse to land a blow was Ardmayle, with Lucy Coney in the saddle. They mixed it up front with the winner until after the second last, so a small ladies event could well be on the cards in the future. There was a distance to third placed San Francisco and Freya Hartley. San Francisco needed the run. Dun Distinctly (Lucy Horner) was a remote fourth. It was disappointing to note that the race was delayed due to the necessary arrival of a helicopter and runners were forced to circle at the start for more than 20 minutes. Surely they could have been kept in the paddock for longer.

A dozen horses turned out for the Mens Open, which went to Mr Mahdlo by a not extended ten lengths. It was a cool ride from Ben Woodhouse for father Bob, as he had the eleven-year-old in a prominent position at all times and when Mr Mahdlo was encouraged to quicken, the response was immediate. It will take a decent horse to beat Mr Mahdlo between the flags, if attention is not immediately turned to hunter chases. There was a highly promising seasonal reappearance from runner-up Chaos Theory and David Thomas. Ben From Ketton in third, with Simon Robinson on top, seemed to get outpaced and then stayed on again. Cimarrone Cove took fourth for Oliver Greenall. A couple of glaring jumping errors ruined his chance and reapplying blinkers appears to be a likely move. Mademist Sam and Whitley Grange Boy set a fair pace. The former looked to “blow up” and will come on for the run, while the latter would have been an honourable second if he had not fallen at the final fence. After a considerable amount of time off, he can find a similar race if avoiding the dreaded “bounce” factor.

There was a bumper field of 18 for the ultra competitive Restricted and Ben Woodhouse scored again on the impressive Auntie Kathleen. The striking grey mare he trains for P.J. Finn had traveled well for the whole of the contest and answered every question asked of her. With this kind of improvement, a confined is well within her capabilities. Nampara Cove kept on in second for Trevor Glass. Having missed all last year, this was a sound effort. Hellodock, with Clive Mulhall in the saddle, attracted money in the ring, but was on the back foot in middle to rear throughout and was in essence nearest at the finish. Floritchel under Tom Oates was fourth and came on a notch for his win in an Alnwick match in January. Search Party managed fifth and will be much more interesting when regular rider Simon Walker is back on board. Both Flat Stanley and Sir Alf gave encouragement for the rest of the season.

Division One of the Maiden featured 14 horses and a virtually unique open betting heat. Three minutes before the off, I noticed that one bookmaker had four co-favourites at 5-1. This and the slow time suggest it was a pretty poor race. Ben Woodhouse completed his treble on Supreme Vintage for trainer Chris Pimlott. It was a ding-dong battle with Rising Talisker and Rachel Clark from the last, but Supreme Vintage got up by three quarters of a length. He hadn’t previously shown a great deal. Rising Talisker is game, but has her limitations. Milliners Guide put in her finest display yet for Chris Dawson twenty lengths back in third, however she has looked ordinary in the past. Supreme Optimist took fourth and was keen under Richard Clark. He’s better than this. Just four finished. Dayenoo ran out in the home straight on the first circuit and sloppy jumping marred several chances. Kismet had to be withdrawn at the last minute, apparently as no suitable jockey could be found.

The meeting ended with ten runners in Division Two of the Maiden and the father and son combination of Bob and Ben Woodhouse claimed the honours with Ellie Bee. The partnership came to the last in company with Castleford and appeared to be going the stronger when Castleford fell. Ellie Bee only managed one run last year so the experience will have been of assistance as well. Kelly Pride took second and Dracaena third, with Ballyards fourth. Ballyards made a horrendous mistake when handy at the 11th, which Tom Oates did well to survive. It knocked the stuffing out of him, therefore he did well to plug on for fourth and is one to look out for later in the season. Castleford was fancied to get off the mark. He hit the third fence very hard indeed and it was a worthy candidate for recovery of the season as somehow William Kinsey clung on having been around the side of Castleford’s neck with both legs out of the stirrups. It was credit to horse and jockey to get back into contention and only the fall at the last deprived them of at least the runner-up spot.

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