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PUCKERIDGE
HORSEHEATH
Easter Saturday 26th March 2005
by Richard Hall

With only fifty nine horses entered, and many of them holding multiple entries at some of the other twenty eight meetings being held over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, today’s card had the potential of delivering an embarrassment of small fields and walkovers. A better runner to entry ratio than normal, however, saw thirty two horses declare for the programme’s six races, thus ensuring that the bumper crowd were at least served with competitive contests. It has to be said, though, that there was an overall lack of both in-depth quality and betting opportunities (lots of short priced favourites that could neither be backed or opposed) and, from a racing perspective, East Anglia has to question whether it has the numerical capability to continue staging two meetings within the space of three days as it traditionally does over the Easter holiday. That said, however, I am reminded that it is not really about delivering quality racing. It is the time of year to draw in as much revenue as possible from a paying public desperate to be entertained. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Proceedings began with seven runners lining up for the final event in the series of Club Members Hunt Races that had been tasked with opening each of Horseheath’s three meetings this year. Master Club Royal, beaten by less than a neck in each of the other two, started at 6/1 against due to the presence of Josie Sheppard’s Catch On, who had won both his Maiden and Restricted with consummate ease in his only outings to date this year. He was generally available at 4/9, with General Confusion, (back in the hands of an experienced male rider) the only other one to attract any real interest from punters.

Master Club Royal beat General Confusion in the early battle for the lead and travelled well in his favoured pacemaking role. Catch On cruised alongside him on the second circuit and looked primed to record another wide margin victory before falling at the twelfth. In doing so he bought down General Confusion, who was still in contention in third, and left Martin Bailey’s charge with an unassailable lead.

Doing what he does best, on a course he clearly reserves for his best, Master Club Royal galloped relentlessly to the line for a deserved victory. No doubt he will be back again as a leading contender for all of next year’s Hunts Club contests. Alex Embiricos bought Redouble from an impossible position to take second, just ahead of Good Vintage, who came from even further back to give Chrissy Rogers her best placing to date. Parsonhumfrywebber was a disappointing fourth, and clearly failed to see out the trip. His form since this year is a long way off what he achieved before his enforced twelve months absence, and this showing did nothing to contradict the view that his best days will remain well and truly behind him.

As I walked back to the paddock to get the runners for the Intermediate I was given a sombre reminder of the price some have to pay to participate in our sport. It emerged that Catch On had broken a leg in the course of falling and had to be destroyed. Paul Taiano, his jockey, had not come out of the incident unscathed either. He lay, conscious but motionless, on the course, attended by Paramedics and being treated for possible spinal injuries. After half an hour an Air Ambulance arrived to take him to hospital. He entered it, with the help of the six men who carried the stretcher, horizontally. He was reportedly heard to say that he could feel his hands but he was unable to control them. The crowd stood still and silent as the helicopter hovered momentarily over the course with the grace of an eagle looking for prey. Once organised, and clear in direction, it darted, with purpose, to take Mr Taiano to some much needed medical assistance. I, like many of the others looking on helplessly, resolved never again to whinge about a jockey (although I probably will). That kind of fall could be awaiting any one of them, and, despite knowing it, they have the bottle to look it straight in the face and defy it every time they roar in celebration of the starter letting them go. I can only admire them.

The Intermediate consequently went off some twenty minutes behind schedule. Nicki Barnes fell from Castle Road at the second but thankfully got up and walked away, cursing her luck. The four remaining runners crawled the first mile and a half at what experienced race readers describe as “a married mans pace”. On the second circuit Hi Tech Man tried to slip the others, but they rallied in response and jumped the twelfth in unison.

Baron Bernard, a Restricted winner at the course a month earlier, took up the running at the thirteenth. He was shadowed by the odds on favourite, Mister Ringa, who, as always, looked to be travelling well within himself. Borrow Mine was also in touch, just in front of Hi Tech Man whose progress was being interrupted by some indifferent jumping. At the third last, after the hill had been climbed, it was still too close to call. Only a brave man or an idiot would have bet his mortgage on the outcome. A thrilling conclusion was in prospect. Less than two lengths separated the four remaining runners, and each still looked as if they had more cards to play.

Hi Tech Man’s chance was the first to evaporate, with another indifferent jump. Mister Ringa’s followed shortly after; the horse stubbornly failing to quicken when Andrew Braithwaite asked him to go and win his race. This left the contest at the mercy of the leader, Baron Bernard, but he had to be kept up to his work to reach the line a length to the good of the gallant Borrow Mine.

As well as providing an exciting spectacle, the race told me a lot about two of the combatants: Mister Ringa, I concluded, is a bridle horse with a very high cruising speed but unable, or unwilling, to find much when put under pressure. His narrow and unconvincingly close wins in his two previous races give added ammunition to this theory, and I shall be careful about taking too short a price about him in future. In contrast, Borrow Mine is a horse that I have been dismissive off in the past. His performance here, coupled with his close proximity to Killard Point at the previous meeting, have, however, led me to belief that, even at the ripe old age of thirteen, he is actually improving. An end of season Ladies Open looks well within his capabilities, and possibly at a nice price!

Five also went to post for the Ladies Open. As in the Intermediate their number was reduced to four at the second fence when Dook’s Delight parted company with his pilot. This left MacFin, bidding for his first win of the year, to attempt to make all the running, He was a spent force by the thirteenth though, when both Fair Exchange, running his best race of the year, and Bush Hill Bandit, the 4/6 favourite, sailed past.

Alex Embiricos likes to get a tug up the hill at Horseheath and was content to sit in behind and let Zoe Turner on Fair Exchange provide it. When the ground levelled out, however, Alex predictably pushed Bush Hill Bandit upsides and asked him to quicken. The response was emphatic. By the second last she found herself ten lengths clear and a quick look over her shoulder confirmed it was safe to coast, with mere hands and heels encouragement, the remaining furlong or so to the line.

Only three lined up for the Mens Open, with Madmidge a best priced 2/7 to record his fifth win of the season. He duly obliged, and perhaps a shade cosily, but for a while it looked as if Dunmanus Bay would spring a surprise. He took up the running at the tenth and forced a couple of jumping errors from the favourite as he seemingly struggled for a bit to keep in touch. David Kemp kept his cool, however, and the rightful order was restored at the sixteenth when Madmidge found that extra gear necessary to reassert his superiority. The third horse, Militaire, was not disgraced and could have been a lot closer but for a mistake at the second last when James Owen asked him to quicken. I recall him winning a nice race at Cottenham last year and, as with most of the Turner horses, he seems to be finally running himself into form in this campaign.

David Kemp went for a quick double in the Restricted on board the second favourite Baron Halebop, who had been steadily backed from 5/2 into 2/1 as his market rival, Eurogaedel, drifted from 4/6 to 5/4. As well as attracting all the attention in the betting exchanges these two also dominated the closing stages, leaving the only other finisher in the six strong field, Present Moment, a long way behind from four fences out. In a ding dong battle Baron Halebop jumped the last with a length’s advantage. Under strong driving from Rupert Stearn, Eurogaedel eventually realised what was required of him and, on the run in, slowly cut back that advantage with every stride. He only just found himself with enough ground in the race to do it, getting up in the final yards to win the judge’s call by a head. Time will tell if it was workmanlike manner or a good turn of foot that did it. I suspect the former.

The Closing Maiden was a desperate affair with only Erris Express having any worthwhile form; a remote second to the unfortunate Catch On over course and distance earlier in the season. On the strength of this he was the only horse seriously backed, and, at 4/6, went to post as the fifth odds on favourite of the day. He claimed pole position at the fall of the starter’s flag and, despite being joined four from the finish by Here Comes Choosey (2 nd), Pernickity King (3 rd) and Shannon Quest (4 th), he kept enough in reserve to pull readily clear at the top of the hill and win comfortably.

On Monday the circus (and I mean that in the widest connotation) moves to Marks Tey. It is my least favourite meeting of the year, but I feel compelled to be there as Tartar Sabre is entered for the Restricted and John Ibbot, his trainer, is anxious to run him. He came out of his Cottenham exertions well and is, apparently, in the best of health. I know he is right and we should strike when the iron is hot. With Yarmouth and Fakenham both holding meetings that day, however, my biggest concern is that there will not be a big enough contingent of decent bookmakers present, and that his odds will be unrealistically short. Having invested decent (for me) sums of money in his previous four races I don’t exactly relish the prospect of having to wager in a 200% over-round book to get some of it back!

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