16th January 2005
by Richard Hall
Sabre looked good as he strutted proudly around the paddock. Cocky, confident, well muscled, and as fit as could be expected for his first run of the year. Having waited a long while for the season to involve us, we had assembled a large crowd of friends, relatives, and well-wishers to witness his seasonal debut. A good showing was expected. It was his second season, he had clearly grown and matured, and he was eager to get on with things.
Those within our crowd who have more exciting things to do with their lives than study point-to-point form, asked me what the dangers were. I referred them to just three of the eight strong opposition. To my mind only they stood between us and the perfect excuse for celebration. The Caroline Bailey horse, Just Jove, was the one I feared most. He had run with credit in a couple of hot Restricteds last year and was clearly destined for better things. The second potential stumbling block was Monarch Ruler. Although the form of his Maiden win at Marks Tey last backend was nothing special, it was only his second outing and James Crispe, usually a good judge of potential, had marked him down as one to follow for the season. The final threat, I ventured, could be Runningwiththemoon. He had been purchased from the Bealby stable over the summer by fellow scribe Ray Newby (he writes for the Maldon and Burnham Echo, I believe) and his form included a decent fourth in a Chase. As I spoke, I saw Ray chatting to friends in the group beside ours. He was could barely contain his excitement. It was his first ever runner and he was clearly enjoying the experience.
Having placed my bet, Mrs H and I raced, with camera, to the third fence. I was determined to get a decent action shot of “our” horse, and that was the best place for it. The sun would be behind me and directly onto the subject. Better still, it followed a long, straight, downhill run and I could pick them out and track them into it. As soon as I was in position the starter let them go.
The field set off at a fast pace. As was the plan, Sabre was prominent amongst them. At the first fence Lucinda (Barrett Nobbs – his jockey) had to check a bit as George Cooper on Monarch Ruler jumped slightly across her. It barely halted their momentum, however, and by the time they approached the second fence Sabre was alongside the leader. He jumped it big, and that was his undoing. Being slightly downhill, the ground was not where he expected it to be and his front legs crumbled on landing. As he rolled to the floor Lucinda had little option but to part company with him. We could scarcely believe it. All that hope, all that expectation, all the persuading of friends and relatives to come and watch him run, all the getting up early to cook and prepare food for them, had collapsed in one over-big jump within twenty seconds of the race beginning. There was no right of appeal, no second chance, not even an action replay. Our race was over. Anticipation and excitement instantly evaporated into a deep anti-climax. Later, when a sense of proportion returned, we would console ourselves with the platitude that there was always another day. At that moment though, all any of us connected with the horse felt was emptiness.
Our story was just a small part of the jigsaw however, and for the remainder of the field there were still eighteen fences to negotiate. Monarch Ruler, perhaps travelling a bit faster than his pilot would have liked, went into a clear lead before coming to grief himself at the eighth fence. From that point Just Jove took over pacemaking duties, a task he shared with Ical for the whole of the second circuit. These two were still alternating for pole position as they went into the final mile of the contest, although behind them Runningwithmoon, who had been hunted round up until then, was beginning to close ominously. These three clearly had the race between them.
Ical was the first to tire. As he did so Runningwiththemoon moved alongside Just Jove and threw down the gauntlet. They locked horns and battle commenced. At the third last Ray Newby’s horse had gained a definite advantage. Matt Mackley kept him up to his work and, by the second last, they were five lengths ahead and pulling away. At the line they were comfortable winners, with Caroline Bailey’s charge, who will be better for the run, hanging on to second place despite a late surge from Boozi Birthday. Ical, completing the course for only the second time since Chrissy Rogers acquired him, came home a promising fourth.
Mr Newby was understandably elated when I spoke to him a good ten minutes afterwards. I could see the concentration of all his emotions clearly in his face and, remembering that day last March when Sabre won his Maiden, I knew exactly how he was feeling. It was that magical lift everyone aims for; the intense joy of everything coming right. He would be on cloud nine for a good few days.
One staunch supporter of East Anglian Pointing who could be excused for forgetting that feeling is Jeffrey Bowles. He has had horses in training for many years but, like so many “ordinary” people, is unable to afford the large sums necessary to buy the quality of horse likely to win. His last (and only?) success was Cheery Chap at Cottenham in 1996 – a long time, and several tens of thousands of pounds, ago!
Over the last five years he has bought several comparatively “cheap” horses, primarily for his daughter, Annie, to ride. The combination came close on a couple of occasions with Society Lad; once at Horseheath in 2002 when they went through the wings while challenging at the second last, and again at the same course when going well before falling at the downhill fence on the final circuit in 2003. After breaking down at Fakenham later that year, Society Lad had to be retired. Jeffrey then bought Kirkharle (who had one run at Ampton last year before also being forced into early retirement) and shares in two horses that have hardly set the world alight: Mister Audi and No Nay Never.
At the end of last year, after a few poor runs, his fellow partners gave up on No Nay Never. Jeffrey bought them out and moved the horse to John Ibbott to train. Over the summer the horse strengthened up and managed to hold his weight better than he had done for a long while. As daughter Annie lined up on him for the second division of the Maiden, however, their hopes were not unduly high; a place was the best they realistically believed they could achieve. How wrong they were.
No Nay Never appreciated being able to run up with the pace, and that pace being a slow one. As they rounded the final bend they were still very much in contention and Annie, for perhaps the first time in her life, looked around at the two or three horses that were running in close proximity and knew that victory could be hers if No Nay Never’s hitherto suspect stamina held out, and she could keep him balanced and together. She kicked on as the leading pack turned to climb the final hill. The horse responded. He moved on by a length. Rumour Has It could not keep with them, but she had not shaken off Willy Boy or Groovejet. They were still very much in contention as they approached the last, but they were not closing. Annie and No Nay Never took it sensibly and emerged with a two length advantage. She got low in the saddle and pushed hands and heels to the line. It was enough. The margin was maintained. She had ridden her first winner. As she unsaddled in the winner’s enclosure she was beaming from ear to ear. Dad stood in the background and watched. Jeffrey has never been one to wear his heart on his sleeve, but if you looked closely enough you could nevertheless see the joy in his eyes. It had taken many years, dozens of setbacks, and a lot of money. That moment, however, was worth everything he had paid.
The First Division of the Maiden was by far the stronger of the two, and bought together three horses who had shown more than a modicum of ability last year in Eva’s Songbird, a strapping individual who would undoubtedly come on for the run, Earl of Buckingham, and Round The Isles.
The race itself went as scripted with the three principles dominating throughout. Round the Isles was given the more restrained ride, with Rowan Cope content to hunt round in the pack for the first two miles as Earl of Buckingham and Eva’s Songbird took it in turns to set the pace. As they headed onto their final circuit Rowan Cope asked him to take a closer interest and drove him alongside the leading pair. After little ado Eva’s Songbird started to tire and dropped off the other two. Alex Merriam, with an eye very much on another day, then allowed him to complete the course as leisurely as he liked.
Earl of Buckingham and Round the Isles were then left to fight a rare duel over the last half mile. Rowan Cope had to be at his strongest to force his mount to forge ahead, but every time he did so Paul Cowley seemed to find more on the ultra game Earl of Buckingham to bring himself back into contention. There was little in it jumping the last, and on the run in both men gave their all. Where it mattered most it was adjudged that Rowan Cope had got Round The Isles up to prevail by half a length. Paul Cowley, for at least the fourth time already this season, had to be content with second again.
I do not know what to make of Round The Isles. He ran well on his debut last year and then turned in subsequently disappointing performances. I was not sure if he was demonstrating reluctance to go through with his effort today, or whether Earl of Buckingham was really as tough and determined as it first seemed. Either way I think one should be backed to lose his Maiden status next time, and the other watched to see if he will progress or regress from today’s exertions.
In the other races on the card three horses went off at long odds on, but not all of them were successful. The first favourite was Madmidge in the opening race of the day, the Confined. He made the unbackable price of 4/6 seem generous as he comfortably kept daylight between himself and the veteran pairing of George Cooper and Endeavour, with Good Vintage, a summer acquisition from Ireland, hinting at ability in third. Ruperts Choice, now thirteen and after a season’s absence, ran on well from a long way behind to finish close up in fourth and suggest that the Member’s Race at the Puckeridge meeting would still be well within his grasp.
Bunratty’s Sole in the Intermediate was the next to go off at a price you could not even consider unless you were investing in thousands. He was top priced at 4/11 but made mincemeat of his five rivals to win with his head in his chest. He will not be out of place in Open company. Tubber Roads ran a decent enough race in second and should be capable of finding a winning opportunity soon. Teach Altra though, ran poorly in third and seemed a shadow of the horse that impressed many a good judge when landing the Restricted at the corresponding meeting last year. Perhaps the key to him is a strong, male, jockey such as Chris Gordon (who rode him twelve months ago)?
Gallant Glen, at 1/3 was the third unbackably priced favourite on the card. If this former Aintree Foxhunters hope was going to be overturned in East Anglia this year though, today was probably the time to do it, as two of his three defeats in Points had come on his seasonal debut.
He looked home and hosed as they climbed the final hill, having cantered over the opposition with impressive ease from the moment Matt Mackley had given him the license to go on at halfway. At the second last, however, he seemed to fall in a heap and his twenty-length lead halved in a matter of strides. Despite his jockey’s best urgings he could not keep up the gallop and Choral Dream, under strong driving from Richard Hunnisett, found wings to catch and overhaul him on the run in.
It was a remarkable run from the winner, and a credit to the never say die attitude of his jockey. He was scrubbing his horse along from a long way out and, with less than half a mile left to go, they were a good thirty lengths off Gallant Glen and ten off the remainder of the field. I had backed them and had given up hope to such an extent that I stopped watching them. I was genuinely amazed when I saw the three gold balls on a dark green background come like magic to turn my useless investment into a profitable one and, in so doing, provide the second winner of the day for Caroline Bailey yard.
My Best Buddy, ridden by Ami Stennett, was the stable’s representative in the Ladies Open, and was moving ominously into contention when falling at the sixteenth. With so many front runners in the field it was hardly surprising that this was the fastest race of the day and in the end it was the fittest of them, Cedar Chief, who claimed the spoils. He, under a good ride from Bhrea Donnelly, accompanied last year’s winner, Kincora, and the Turner’s The Wiley Kalmuck in a charge from flagfall, and still had petrol in the tank when the others had exhausted theirs. Kincora kept on for a tired third, being deprived of the runners up berth by Millenium Way who had been purchased from the Turner yard during the summer by novice rider Caroline Taylor. Without ever looking likely to catch the winner the horse looks as if he may have been sweetened up by the change of scenery and, at eleven years of age, may still have a couple of seasons in him.
The Novice Riders Race bought proceedings to a conclusion as the light began to fade. The finish was dominated by the Caroline Bailey trained duo of Persian Hero (given a confident and competent ride by John Russell) who always held too many aces for the ex Kim Bailey trained The Wonder Weasel. These two finished a long way clear of Interrogator in third, and Stick and Bust who tired badly in the last mile.
All in all it was a terrific day’s racing, with many highs and a few lows. It was one that Lucinda Barrett Nobbs and The Sporting Endeavour partnership will probably forget rather quickly, but one that Ray Newby and Jeffrey and Annie Bowles will remember forever! One negative that I do have to mention (again) is the prices offered by the bookmakers. It was so bad that many regulars refused to bet. Indeed there were three events today when even I could not bring my hand to pull out notes from the punting pocket. Overrounds approaching 200% were the best they could do on some of the contests, although, in their defence, this failed to match the 254% record they achieved last year! In an attempt to shame them, I publish below a photograph of an offending “Turf Accountant” displaying his wares. At least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask!