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GRANTA HARRIERS
HIGHAM
6th March 2005
by Richard Hall

I guess it speaks volumes to be disappointed at finishing second, but that’s exactly how I felt today after Division Two of the Restricted. The flatness in my head and my heart felt similar to those occasions where, playing Internet Poker, I had chucked in a winning hand in response to a huge raise, only to be mockingly shown a pair of twos by the successful bluffer!

Despite jumping half the fences in a manner that could only kindly be described as “less than fluent”, and a further two where Lucinda Barrett Nobbs (“our” jockey) deserved to win an advertising contract for Velcro, Tartar Sabre still arrived at the last fence ready to win his race. With the greater momentum in his favour, he was only half a length behind the long time pacemaker, Hi Tech Man, with the favourite, Lord Trix, a further length or so behind in third.

We needed a good jump and, sadly, we did not get it. He ploughed through the fence and stumbled as he landed. Lucinda was sent flying. Somehow she managed to grip her hands around his neck, and, in a few strides, swing her legs back into the saddle and find her stirrups. When she was able to start riding again it was too late. Hi Tech Man, himself a final fence casualty when we had last crossed swords at High Easter three weeks earlier, had flown. Credit must go to jockey Nick Moore for an enterprising ride, but also to trainer Eric Cantillon for assisting the horse’s complete recovery from that horrific fall.

Behind Sabre, Lord Trix was also trying to find the reserves for a late rally. He too met the last badly wrong. His jockey, Fred Hutsby, lacked Lucinda’s survival skills however, and went crashing to the ground. This left the way clear for Inching Brook to record a fortunate third placing.

If “a country mile” could have been used to describe the distance between second and third in Division Two, then “a parish” would have to be applied to the gap between The Noble Roman and everything else in Division One. Content to sit off the pace for the first half of the race, Thomas Ellis bought his charge through with a seemingly effortless glide to hit the front a full three quarters of a mile from home. From then on, without ever coming off the bridle, he just pulled further and further away. “Impressive” is often an over used adjective, but, in this instance, it could hardly do the winner justice. A fluent and economical jumper, The Noble Roman also has a high cruising speed, as well as a change of gear. I would not be surprised to see him build up a sequence of facile victories in the inevitable progression to Open level.

Ical, ridden positively by Paul Cowley, put up his best performance to date in finishing second. The pace he set from the onset had deprived the habitual front runner, Sealed Orders (who eventually finished third), of any chance to dictate and it was unfortunate that, having got the tactics right, they came up against such a classy opponent as The Noble Roman. Having at last been given the opportunity and benefit of stronger handling, Ical should find a race before the season closes. This is not a remark that could be made of the remote fourth; Just Jove. He looked to be travelling well until the pace quickened, at which point he found precious little. He seems to be a shadow of the horse that went into many notebooks last year, and the moderate form displayed in this campaign suggests that there may well be something wrong with him.

The Mens Open provided a thrilling spectacle for punters, with five of the six runners all having winning opportunities at some stage during the race. Only the second favourite, Pendle Hill, did not give those who had backed him a run for their money. Put out at the back, he jumped erratically and never seemed to be travelling with any degree of comfort. After failing to make inroads into the deficit, it was no surprise to see Andrew Hickman pull him up with a mile still left to run.

Homme de Fer and Cape Stormer shared the early pacemaking duties. They were joined on the second circuit by the 25/1 outsider Viscount Bankes. He forged into a clear advantage with five fences remaining but, despite having learnt the art of restraint, he still found the three mile trip too far and folded tamely away with less than a half mile remaining. King Plato had made his effort in parallel and, as Viscount Bankes trod water, it looked for a few strides as if he may play a hand in the finish. That was before David Kemp bought the favourite, Deckie, into the race. Riding with the skill and timing that have become familiar to East Anglian audiences this year, Kemp produced his charge to slice through the pack with the efficiency of a cold steel blade in a matter of strides. At the second last, and aided by only hands and heels, Deckie had established a four length lead over King Plato and looked as if he could win doing handstands.

As King Plato emulated Viscount Bankes by falling into a heap, the two early leaders, Cape Stormer and Homme de Fer, seemed to find second winds to reclaim second and third spots respectively. Although Deckie still appeared to be travelling easily, his advantage over them did not extend. In fact, between the last two fences Marcus Gorman’s vigorous urgings on Cape Stormer were encouraged by Deckie’s lead slowly, but visibly, diminishing. At the last the combination were still three lengths adrift, but the run in was of sufficient length for them to claw it back and establish a distinct advantage before they passed the one point on the course where it mattered most. It was a gutsy and determined victory, and the run will undoubtedly put the Gorman’s stable star spot on for an imminent tilt at a Hunter Chase or two.

The Ladies Open failed to reproduce the thrills of the male counterpart. Not for the first time this season, the turnout was disappointing, although the five runners that did go to post were, numerically at least, sixty seven percent stronger than corresponding events at Horseheath and Cottenham.

Not long after the starter’s flag had fallen, the contest was effectively reduced to four when Spring Gale dug his heels in and only consented to give chase when the others had virtually jumped the first fence. He never looked like making up the conceded ground, and eventually fell at the sixteenth when tailed off. To add to this Sam Hodge pulled up Andsuephi, who had not travelled well, before he had completed the first mile, and the number of combatants were reduced to three.

Thalys tried to make all the running and for a while appeared to have the odds on favourite, Find Me Another in trouble. Amy Stennett’s persistent niggles were enough, however, to keep Caroline Bailey’s Hunter Chase winner in contention and, when Thalys ran out of steam at the fifteenth, she was able to quickly open up the winning margin expected of her. The thirteen year old, Catherine’s Way, was enthusiastically ridden to deprive Thalys of second on the run in.

The runner up’s jockey, Nicki Barnes, had earlier ridden the Martin Ward trained stable mate, Castle Road, to victory in the Members. It was a strange race in that the five runners represented just two stables, and the winner was the rank outsider of all of them! There was nothing untoward about the manner of victory though and it was refreshing to see Castle Road complete for once, rekindling past glorious in holding the late challenge of the veteran, but ultra game, Mister Audi: on whom Miss R Ward was having her first public ride.

The ultra impressive It’sallinthestars , fresh from a Restricted success south of the Thames last weekend, was a short priced favourite to take the Countryside Alliance Race. He looked primed and eager in the paddock, but his quest was bought to a sudden end with a crashing fall at the sixth fence. He lay motionless for a long while afterwards, and I feared the worst. After twenty minutes or so, however, he was eventually bought to his feet. Clearly shaken, and with the full extent of the damage still to be discovered, he at least lives to fight another day.

The race went to the ten year old mare, Teeton Glaive, on whom Richard Barrett deputised for Stuart Morris (who missed the meeting in order to ride the favourite in the Hunter Chase at Market Rasen). She came with a smooth run to collar Leatherback out of the back straight and, although James Owen tried vainly to extract a renewed challenge from the Turner horse, his mount simply did not have the stamina reserves necessary to go through with it. The pair finished five lengths ahead of the third, Sweet Reward, who was doing all his best work at the finish. The fourth, Castle Keep, was also noted running through beaten horses. He was barely sweating and had enough breath still in his lungs to launch a hot air balloon. When ridden more prominently, preferably in a Novice Riders race, he could well reward punter perseverance at an each way price.

The Maiden was the second contest on the card to divide. Unfortunately, by then, the cold and a succession of beaten favourites had combined to force the majority of the crowd to head for the heated comfort of home. A significant number of the bookies decided to join them, presumably on the basis of quitting whilst they were ahead? This left only the hardy perennials amongst us to enjoy the benefit of the two bonus events, although the atmosphere created by the empty spaces gave the proceedings a distinct association with post apocalyptic ghost towns.

Alfie Moon was a warmly backed favourite for the first Division. Like Spring Gale earlier in the day, he showed his recalcitrance by digging his feet in when the starter’s flag fell and, although Nibby Bloom did eventually manage to get him running, a twenty length deficit is virtually impossible to make up on such a fast course as Higham, and his chance, and the cash of those that had invested in it, was left firmly in the bookies satchels.

The finish was a three way affair, with Ben King eventually prevailing on the K Lawther trained Serves You Right. He showed a nice turn of foot half a mile from home to open up a two length gap from The Stickler and Vulcan’s Ash , an advantage he maintained all the way to the line. Tis She was the only other finisher.

Only four of the eight starters completed the course in the second Division too. The first casualty was the Gorman stable’s Catch A Plan. He had been a close second in a similar event at Tweseldown a month earlier, and had attracted plenty of support in the betting. His departure left the way clear for market rival, Rakatia (on whom I recovered my Sabre investment) to toy with his field and win going away by ten lengths. The time of the race was a pedestrian six minutes and thirty eight seconds, and, consequently, very little can be gleaned about the winner’s true ability. Those behind were all being vigorously ridden in the closing stages, however, with Patrick Millington on Pernickity King taking advantage of Southern Ha’i’s last fence blunder to claim second place.

Finding only one charity collector still waiting to bid us goodnight, we sailed out of the car park quicker than we had ever done before. As we crawled in compliance with the ridiculous speed restrictions on the A140, only spasmodically able to free the engine out of third gear, I was slowly able to draw positives from Sabre’s defeat. Although he had jumped poorly, he had not fallen and he still finished second. He showed he was tough, and he showed he had talent. Above all, he had come back safe and sound. There was always another day. A day when everything would suddenly come together and our patience gain reward. A day made sweeter by the disappointments that had proceeded it. Perhaps that day would be at Cottenham in two weeks time?

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