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CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY DRAGHOUNDS
COTTENHAM

23rd January 2005
by Richard Hall

The alarm went off just before eight. Time enough for a cup of tea before checking the EA website to see if racing would go ahead. As I waited for the kettle to boil, I peered through the gap in the curtains. There was definitely a frost in the ground and I envisaged a morning of postponed inspections before finally announcing a decision half an hour before the first scheduled race.

At eight fifteen, just before catching Norwich’s miraculous recovery against Middlesborough on the repeat edition of Match of the Day, the website announced, without hesitation or the remotest shade of doubt, that the course had been given the all clear. At nine forty, and high on the point gained (even though our relegation rivals all took three from the weekend’s games) we set off on the eighty mile journey to Cottenham.

At eleven fifteen, having left the warmth of the car where the dial showed the outside temperature to still be hovering around zero, we were walking the course. Despite seeing ice still in the puddles, the frost had come out of the ground and, although definitely on the firm side of good, conditions could hardly have been better. Somewhat disappointingly, despite a race safety factor of twenty and a total of one hundred and eighty three entries for the seven race card (including thirty eight for the young horse Maiden), only sixty four horses declared for their respective contests and none of the races divided.

The day began with the Members and Subscribers race in which the ex Nicky Henderson trained Demasta, having his first run for Tim Bryce/Alex Embiricos, annihilated the opposition to win by a distance from Mackoy who, in turn, finished a further distance ahead of the third. An ‘A’ grade chaser at his peak, Demasta’s best form under rules was achieved between sixteen and twenty furlongs and, virtually pulling the arms off his owner/jockey (Paul?) Johnson, he went off from flagfall as if he had only that distance to contend with. To be fair to his rider, he managed to settle him after a mile or so and the combination had no trouble at all seeing out the trip. Even at fourteen years old Demasta still has an element of class about him and, given similar underfoot conditions, he should have little trouble in running up a sequence.

In the following event, the Intermediate, it was the turn of another veteran, this time in the shape of George Cooper, to demonstrate that his glory days too may still be more than just memories. He gave the gutsy Jims Belief a typically positive ride, taking up the running on the final circuit and surviving a blunder at the second last, to defy the odds on favourite Airoski by five lengths.

Jim’s Belief is one of those horses that seem to alternate between performing at the top of his ability, with running an absolute stinker. There does not appear to be a happy median, and, consequently, he is extremely difficult for punters to catch right (so says the man who avoided him today, after lumping on him when he fell at Higham two weeks ago!). Perhaps a blanket approach is best advised; he does always get returned at a decent price and, regardless of the company, can never be safely dismissed? Strangely, but perhaps in keeping with the contradiction, his best performances have been at two tracks that could hardly be more different; Cottenham and Marks Tey.

Airoski showed very little when asked to go through with his effort, and will be hard to win with in future. Just Fluster, on the other hand, gave the impression that there are plenty more contests within his grasp. I was amongst those who questioned the value of his Restricted win three weeks, but I could not fail to be impressed with his showing today. Having been hunted round for the first circuit he made easy progress to join the leaders, and was travelling well within himself (looking all over the winner) when his pilot unseated five fences from home. Compensation cannot be far away.

In my review of the last Cottenham meeting I questioned Honest Yer Honour’s resolution and ability to quicken when the time came to dig deep. Despite appearing to be travelling better than anything when coming to win his race, he found little when rechallenged by Always On The Line and Soundtrack at the last.

Richard Burton looked determined not to suffer a similar disappointment in today’s Men’s Open. Honest Yer Honour was prominent throughout, and was the only one of the nine strong field that kept the pacemaking Philtre in his sights for the first couple of miles. As soon as the leader showed signs of tiring, which he did fully a mile a mile from home, Richard Burton asked his mount to take the race by the scruff of the neck. Shiny Bay, who had sliced his way dismissively through the pack, briefly threatened to make a contest of it, but could not quicken again when Honest Yer Honour, who seems to be a relentless galloper, moved smoothly, but slowly, into another gear.

Castle Prince, ridden as if wanting company this week (as opposed to twenty lengths adrift at the back of the field, as he was at Higham) showed character to emerge from the pack to deprive Philtre of third. He had decent form under Rules and should be backed when his owner, Adrian Gibbons, drops his sights to a Novice Riders event.

The Ladies Open cut up badly, with only three of the twenty three entries declaring.

The trio seemed content to negotiate the course together for the first two and a half miles until Fiona Coveney, riding her family’s The Grey Baron, decided it was time to make a race of it. She injected a change of pace five fences from home and, despite not always jumping with the fluency of the other two, it proved to be decisive. To the amazement of the crowd, who were largely expecting an easy victory for the red hot favourite, Fair Exchange, she came home comfortably clear.

The Restricted was, on paper, the most competitive event of the day with the first three in the betting available at odds between 7/4 and 5/2. The three concerned duly filled the placings, although, once the contest began, the order by which they would do so was never really in doubt.

Terimon’s Dream set out like a scalded cat, and quickly establishing a distinct advantage. To The Top, who was ridden to preserve his suspect stamina, moved through the pack after a circuit and, when the gap shortened to five lengths, looked as if he could take the leader at will. Philip Hall, however, had got a breather into Terimon’s Dream and had much more in reserve than James Tudor had bargained for. When he asked the Di Grissell horse to quicken again four fences from the finish, he did so with ease, and the gap back to To the Top extended to a long looking ten lengths at the line. A further fifteen length s back in third was Holywell Girl. She was never really put in the race with a chance (the first two having well and truly flown before she was asked to detach herself from the pack) and may well be better than a literal reading of the form suggests.

The race saw the return of an old favourite of mine after a two year absence, the wonderfully named Parsonhumfrywebber. Despite being badly in need of the run, and customarily outpaced for the first couple of miles, he was staying on at the business end. It gave me hope that I may once again see this equine equivalent of Scurlogue Champ finishing like the proverbial express train to collar his bewildered rivals on the line. Perhaps, when he is fully fit, connections should seriously consider travelling him to one of the four mile events in the Midlands?

The Small Farmer was another horse returning after a two year absence. I had backed him when 20/1 and a neck second to Bush Hill Bandit on his last racecourse appearance. I did so again today, although this time I had to settle for the much less attractive 6/4. He was favourite for the Older Horse Maiden and was five lengths down and closing in on the front running Sealed Orders when getting rid of Paul Cowley four fences from the finish. His departure left the leader a good thirty lengths clear of the remainder, who’s numbers had been reduced by a third with the falls of Euro Craft and Pirate King.

Although tiring, Sealed Orders was still twenty lengths clear as he rounded the final bend. His closest pursuers were the Clark family duo of Spider Music and Supreme Optimist, under galvanic driving from brother Richard and sister Rachel respectively. He was almost legless at the last and, although Supreme Optimist’s run seemed to have petered out, Spider Music was gaining with every stride. A five length lead before take off was reduced to a solitary length on landing. With momentum so much in his favour, Spider Music sprinted clear on the run in. Sealed Orders somehow found the reserves to repel Supreme Optimist for second.

Fifteen went to post for the concluding Young Horse Maiden. Paul Cowley finally broke his duck for the season when steering the favourite, French import Beau Gosse, to a two length victory from Gregory Peckory, with Waterliner in third. It was the five year old’s first appearance on UK soil and like the stable’s Freteval a couple of years ago (who had a similar background and was given a similar Cottenham introduction) may well go on to win at a higher level.

Gregory Peckory, who made a mistake two out but closed again on the run in, will certainly be suited by a step up to three miles and should not be long in finding a Maiden when he does so. Hills of Rakaposhi was travelling well before getting rid of Philip York, and may be another one to keep an eye on. The fourth horse, Alfie Moon had attracted plenty of market support on previous outings, only to turn in dismal performances on the track. Today, given a quiet ride by the experienced Nibby Bloom, he showed his first glimmer of form. If the same jockey is retained next time he could well oblige at rewarding odds.

It is perhaps appropriate that I end my report on the actual racing with the phrase “rewarding odds”. It leads nicely on to the activities of the Bookies, a topic that attracted a smattering of interest on the Discussion Forum last week.

Before I begin, I would like to state that a gap is starting to appear in the ranks of the East Anglian bookies, and that they are splitting into two distinct camps. I find little to complain about with the first group (except perhaps the occasional, heavily overround, book). These gentlemen are courteous and fair in their trading, and make a positive contribution to the market making process. Included amongst their ranks are Messrs Armes, Moss, Taverner, King, Rogers, Walsh, Wiltshire (of course), and a few others whose names I cannot instantly recall.

The other group, however, seem peopled by men cynically targeting the less aware amongst the betting public. They do not worry about competing with the “honourable” group, yet hide amongst them under the guise of sometimes being “no worse”. It is from this position they hope to entice those irregular punters who know no better. It is a constant irritation to me that, each week, I see people betting with them.

This week I have two stories to tell. The first is of what I believe to be the most overround book ever seen on a racecourse. It is a truly remarkable 284% and I have no hesitation in publishing a photo to record the event (the three blocked prices at the bottom are 12/1, 5/1, and 3/1). It was taken less than three minutes before the official off time, when the horses were well on their way to post. The neighbouring bookie, Casey of Doncaster, had a similarly appalling set of odds. Perhaps someone will come onto the Discussion Forum this week and tell me that I know nothing about betting because these prices really do represent value for money?

The second story involves Mrs H. She had the good judgement to have £5 on Demasta at 5/2. When she went to collect her winnings she was given £17. The deficit was “only” 50p (but still 3% of the amount she was entitled to) so, at first, she did not make a fuss. After a while though it began to niggle at her, so she went back to query it.

“I think you’ve underpaid me.”

“What’s your ticket number?”

“I don’t know, I gave it to you a few minutes ago”

“What did ya ‘ave on it?”

“Five pounds at five to two, you only gave me seventeen pounds.”

“Oh yes, you’re right, but I don’t have any change, can we owe it to you?”

Eventually Mrs H was given her 50p, but she found the whole thing unnecessarily embarrassing.

Contrast this with my experience. I too backed Demasta, but with a different bookie. I couldn’t find my ticket, but was still paid out (in full), and promptly and courteously too!

Later on I backed Honest Yer Honour. I had sixty seven pounds and fifty pence to collect. I don’t think it ever crossed the mind of the bookie I used to try and pay me short. I am sure that, if neither of us genuinely had no change, he would have rounded up rather than down.

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