Saturday 16th April 2005
by Richard Hall
This was Cottenham’s last meeting of 2005. I had been fooled by the promise of spring sunshine, and had only bought a light coat to ward off the wintry wind that struggled manfully to maintain its grip over the area. It was the last remnant of a season in decline. Everything else contrasted sharply to that which greeted us fifteen weeks earlier, when, with bellies still full of Christmas cheer, we had ventured from the warm embrace of an open fire on a long awaited pilgrimage to the opening fixture of the pointing year. A lot had changed in that time. The brown fields were now yellow with early rape, the grass grew richer and thicker, leaves were budding from the once stark trees, and the sunlight shone longer, higher, and brighter.
Whilst the early signs of spring dominated the backdrop, autumn held claim to the atmosphere. This was very much an end of season affair, and the audience were but a small fraction of the one that had gathered on the New Year’s bank holiday. The thrill, bustle, and excitement that had buzzed through the youthful crowd then had now evolved into the calm appreciation of late middle age. In the interim we had been well looked after, and our appetites were no longer governed by a desperate hunger. The best days were behind us, and the equine entertainment on the menu suggested that the chef in charge of racing was tired and had no new ingredients to offer. The champions had already been served, and the prized pickings had been tasted and savoured. Only the final few meals needed to be served before everyone could go home for rest and recuperation.
Fittingly, the day’s star turn was the evergreen Jemaro in the Mens Open. In the unfamiliar hands of Stuart Morris, as Richard Burton was otherwise engaged at Chaddesley Corbett, the fourteen year old won the early battle of the thirteen strong field’s many pacemakers, and dominated affairs from flagfall. As he headed away from the stands for the final time his relentless pace had already put paid most of his rivals. Only Viscount Bankes, superbly restrained in order to see out the trip, seemed to be making inroads into his lead.
At the fourteenth fence it looked as if Jemaro would have a real race on his hands. Viscount Bankes ranged alongside and seemed to be travelling equally as well. At the fifteenth, Andrew Martin sent the notoriously headstrong and stubborn son of the sprinting Clantime into a three length lead. Conscious that he was controlling a flying machine with only a small tank of fuel at his disposal, he waited until the seventeenth before asking him to quicken again. Viscount Bankes responded immediately and took a further length out of Jemaro. At the penultimate fence the first signs that the needle was on red began to show. He stuttered into it and allowed the gap to close to a couple of lengths. Andrew Martin did not panic. He hugged the bend and, once in the home straight, put his foot on the accelerator and asked for one final effort. Viscount Bankes kept going, but so too did Jemaro. As they prepared to negotiate the final obstacle Viscount Bankes’ lead was a full two lengths. As they landed and balanced themselves for the run to the line, it was down to half a length. Displaying the enthusiasm of a two year old, Jemaro surged to the front a hundred yards from the post. It proved decisive. Although the runner up never once tried to shirk the issue, it was obvious that he had only fumes left to propel him for those final few strides.
Jemaro’s victory, his third of the current campaign, proved that he still has a lot to offer, even in the autumn of his career. Viscount Bankes too emerged from the contest with a lot of credit, much of which was due to Andrew Martin’s expert assistance in the saddle, and I am sure that there is a two and a half mile Hunter Chase out there somewhere with his name on it. Other performances worthy of a mention were those of Demasta, who showed resolution to run on again for third after appearing to fade at halfway, and Gold Quest, who will clearly come on for the run (only his second of the season). On the flip side of the coin, both Mister Ringa and Militaire gave further evidence that, although they posses the ability, they lack the resolution to go through with their efforts, and will both struggle to fulfil the promise they once showed.
Stuart Morris went for a short priced double in the Restricted aboard Bill Warner’s Coole Glen, who had run second to Rooster in a Fakenham Hunter Chase on his previous outing over the bank holiday weekend. The tactics were remarkably similar to those employed on Jemaro; get to the front and stay there. He achieved this with a good deal to spare over Ballykilthy, who filled the runner up spot for the second week in succession, with Baron Halebop almost a fence adrift in third. The outcome, however, might not have been quite so conclusive had Louise Waine, having her first public ride on the second favourite, The Small Farmer, not been unseated at the eleventh.
This week’s nomination for ride of the day went to another lady partnering a particular horse for the first time in public. The horse was Leatherback, and the lady Zoe Turner. At 6/1 they lined up a clear third best against the 4/7 favourite Highland Rose, on whom Lisa Marriot deputised for the injured Alex Embiricos, and Gray Knight, ridden by Heather Irving, generally on offer at 2/1. Village Copper and Maltby Son made up the five strong field.
Knowing that Gray Knight likes to front run, and that Highland Rose likes to make her move shortly after halfway, Zoe chose tactics that would frustrate both of them. The moment the tapes were raised she charged to the front with the clear intention of keeping Leatherback up to his work, thus making it impossible for anyone to pass until he simply had no more left to give. The effectiveness was amply demonstrated when Gray Knight, unable to take up his customary position, made a serious of jumping errors and sulked so much that Heather Irving had to constantly niggle at him to stay within striking distance.
Leatherback’s task was made considerably easier when the second placed Village Copper fell at the fourteenth and bought down the closing Highland Rose in the process. This left Zoe with an eight length lead over Gray Knight. She needed every inch of it. Somewhere between the final two jumps Heather Irving began to see some reward for her urgings. It mattered little whether her horse was responding to pressure, or whether Zoe’s was tiring. The fact was that the gap was closing. The deficit at the last was a mere three lengths. She threw everything she had into the finish, but it was all in vain. Zoe found enough remaining in Leatherback’s reserves to see off the challenge by a head. It was a fine piece of riding, and showed yet again why the best horse does not always win.
The day had begun with not just the worst Hunt Race seen in East Anglia this season, but with possibly the worst Hunt Race seen anywhere ever. Just two contested the event, in which one of them, the owner ridden Gratomi, reportedly carried a massive twenty six pounds overweight!!! Needless to say he was a spent force by halfway and the other, Joves Shadow, pulled a distance clear without ever coming off the bridle. Surely, next season, the organisers need to open up the qualifying criteria, perhaps in the same way the hunts using Horseheath have, to protect themselves against prosecution under the Trades Description Act. Even the most generous of observers could not have described this as a race?
The second event on the card was a Mares Only Maiden, with the first four home eligible to contest a Final, carrying a first prize of £1,000, at Garthorpe on 14 th May. Disappointingly, only five of the twenty entries stood their ground. The contest, such as it was, went to the odds on favourite, Northern Breeze, who cruised into the lead three fences out and quickly put the issue beyond doubt. Memsahib Ki Behan failed to get the trip but still managed to take second from the early trailblazer, Scalby Croft. There were no other finishers.
Going into Cottenham’s final race of the 2005 season, an Open Maiden, two jockeys were chasing trebles on the day. One was Stuart Morris (Jemaro and Coole Glen) and the other Matt Macklay, who had been responsible for the steering on both Joves Shadow and Northern Breeze. Approaching the second last fence Mr Morris looked odds on to achieve it when he bought Euro Craft with a wet sail to challenge Jason Newbold aboard Sir Harry Henbit. His mount, however, could not make the magnitude of leap he had been asked for, and the partnership took a crashing fall. Ironically, this left Matt Mackley aboard the outsider, Berewolf, as the principle danger. He had looked well and truly beaten a long way from home, before finding his second wind and staying on through the tiring pack to take third. When Sir Harry Henbit ran wide at the bend, Matt Macklay began riding as if his life depended on it and virtually carried Berewolf to the front. Sir Harry Henbit folded tamely and it was left to Jane Williams on the well backed Ashley Marsh to mount the principle challenge. In a battle of tired horses Berewolf would not be denied. He gave his trainer, Martin Ward, his second victory of the campaign and earned his jockey a share (with James Owen) of the title of Cottenham’s Leading Rider for 2005.
Unusually we did not rush to be one of the first to the exit. The sun had finally beaten the cloud and, in turn, its rays had warmed the breeze. It was the best time of the day. I rejoined “our” group, removed my jacket, sat down in a fold away chair with a glass of orange and whatever remaining food I could find, enjoyed the company, and watched as the course closed its door on the year. At six twenty six, we were one of the last to leave. No doubt we will also be one of the first back on the second of January 2006!