26th February 2005
by Richard Hall
Four days earlier, when the region was in the grip of snow and the weathermen were telling us the worst was still to come, even JV would have chalked up odds greater than ten to one about this meeting going ahead. Yet, as I drove onto the inner car park, the only white to be seen was that of the hospitality tent and the Racecard hut. The ground too seemed to have recovered well, and a quick walk around the course confirmed the official declaration of good to soft, soft in places.
Highlight of the six race card was undoubtedly the Mens Open. Madmidge, the favourite at a shade of odds on, had been held out at the back as Minino, consenting to start for the second consecutive occasion, set the early pace. A mile from home, when the runners were silhouetted against the wintry skyline, Madmidge was ten lengths adrift of the nearest remaining runner and looked to be struggling. Those who had taken the 10/11 began to screw their tickets up. He could not possibly win from there. The finish had to concern the three who had forged a few lengths clear of the remainder; Minino, Leatherback and Gatchou Mans.
Three fences later it was a completely different story. Without once resorting to using the whip, David Kemp had not just engaged another gear from Madmidge; he had made up an astonishing fifteen lengths to sit menacingly on the tail of the leading trio.
The final hill drained all the remaining energy from Leatherback and Gatchou Mans. At the apex they found themselves treading water and ten lengths behind Madmidge and Minino, who, as at High Easter a fortnight earlier, had the finish between them. Once again it was the Kemp horse that emerged on top, with the winning margin of five lengths understating the ease of victory.
David Kemp’s ride has, for me, to go down as the best of the season so far. It was one of supreme calm and confidence. He believed the pace to be too strong, he knew the worth and capability of the horse he had underneath him, and he did not panic when, to everyone else at least, it looked as if he had judged it wrong and given himself far too much to do. He had the strength and the character to believe his own counsel, and he was proved right in doing so.
In the Maiden race, Mr Kemp elected to use completely different tactics and ride the second favourite, Fiftesonfire, from the front. The horse had been bought down when ridden in the pack at Marks Tey a week earlier and, I presume, the tactics were as much about restoring the animal’s confidence as they were about giving it the best winning opportunity. Nevertheless the pace set was strong enough to shake off all bar one of his seven rivals by the time they raced along the skyline for the second time. That rival was the favourite, Cashari, ridden by Stuart Morris and a stablemate of Rathbarry Lad with whom trainer Bill Warner, on a rare raid into East Anglia, had won last week’s Marks Tey Restricted. He looked to be travelling well, and the main question appeared to concern the point at which Stuart Morris would ask him to quicken up and seize the race.
The two horses raced downhill separated by less than a length. Here the battle began. They met the rising ground in unison. At the end of the climb Cashari had still not managed to overhaul his rival. Jumping three from home Fiftiesonfire had re-established a length advantage. Between the final two fences David Kemp looked round to see that the gap had grown to five lengths. The challenge had been resisted and all that was required now was a safe jump at the last. He steadied his horse. They reached the other side without mishap, and still together. A hands and heels ride to the line and job done; a stable double on the day, and neither horse given a harder ride than absolutely necessary.
Normally Members Races are a mere bread roll on the menu. They are there out of tradition but, as the host Hunt normally struggles to find more than two or three entries, they do little to satisfy the public’s appetite and simply occupy time before the main courses are ready. The fact that the Members Race beginning today’s proceedings attracted nine runners speaks volumes for idea of opening it up to all the three Hunts that use Horseheath.
In the first of the season’s three contests, General Confusion had just denied the late rally of Master Club Royal by a neck. With conditions today more suited to a test of stamina Martin Bailey made a lot more use of Master Club Royal and established a pacemaking role from the word go. It was a shrewd move. At the downhill fence for the second time he had seen off all except three of his eight rivals, and two of those that were still within striking distance, Runningwiththemoon and General Confusion, were being hard ridden and finding little for it. Only Mister Ringa, the Sporborg stable’s first runner of the season, looked as if he was travelling well enough to pose a threat.
Master Club Royal extended his lead to five lengths all the way up the hill. Andrew Braithwaite on Mister Ringa covered it as the others folded tamely away. When the leaders hit level ground the gap had reduced. At the third last, which the leader took by far the better, it opened up again. Two out, and it suddenly seemed as if Mister Ringa would not be able to claw back the deficit. Andrew Braithwaite got serious on him. Slowly Master Club Royal came back. At the last, though, he still had two lengths to make up. On the run in both riders gave their all. They passed the post with very little between them. After a thirty second wait the judge declared that the final yard of the three and a quarter mile contest was the only one in which Master Club Royal had not been in front, and that Mister Ringa had prevailed by a head.
The winner, despite looking plenty fit enough in the paddock, will clearly come on for the run. He has a high cruising speed, stays forever, and also possesses a change of gear. He will probably graduate to Open company before the end of the season. The runner up showed guts aplenty, and looks nailed on for a similar contest if his undoubted stamina can be fully utilised.
Last week at Marks Tey Paul Chinery and Baron Bernard finished a remote second of three behind No Penalty in the Hunt Race. Consequently the combination were unconsidered outsiders for the Restricted today, generally available at 16/1+. An enterprising and unexpected burst of mid race pace saw them establish an eight length advantage, which, despite a blunder at the eleventh, none of the other thirteen runners could pull back. The closest of them, Pampered Lad, threatened momentarily, but he ran out of gas at the second last. Pampered Lad’s cause was not helped by pulling early and, after being restrained, he ran very much in snatches thereafter. The maiden, Baron Halebop, was a surprise third, with the South Wold raider, Hougham George, fourth.
The Ladies Open cut up badly, with only three declared. Although they were all course winners, both Dooks Delight and Spring Gale, at fourteen years old, had probably had their best days several seasons ago. Step And Run, at nine, however, is probably at, or around, the peak of his career. It was no contest in the betting ring, with most punters leaving the prohibitive odds well alone, and proved a similar non event on the actual racecourse with the Jane Williams ridden favourite coming home a comfortable winner. Having also won the corresponding race at the earlier Enfield Chase meeting, it would be good to see Step And Run come back for the Puckeridge one and attempt to emulate Macfin’s achievement of winning all Ladies Opens at the course in a season.
The Intermediate was distinctly lacking in quality, but would have at least been a decent betting medium had it not been for the presence of Caroline Bailey’s Killard Point. At two to seven on he, like Step And Run in the Ladies, was both unbackable and unopposable to anyone but an Investment Manager with millions of other people’s pensions to play with. The manner of his victory, though, was far from emphatic. He was unable to pull further than a handful of lengths away from the one paced, thirteen year old, Borrow Mine, over the final fences, and made me question the validity of his tall reputation. I certainly will not be backing him at short odds until proved wrong.