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A REVIEW OF THE 2005 EAST ANGLIAN SEASON
by Richard Hall

On May 7th 2005, somewhere amidst the wide expanse of Marks Tey racecourse, a handful of scattered die hards witnessed the East Anglian season shuffle to its conclusion. It was scarcely a fitting finale, and contained all the excitement and pageantry of elderly residents on crutches scurrying down Frinton’s high street to book the last remaining place in the cemetery. It was, without doubt, the year’s most poorly attended meeting, and ample illustration of the truth in T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men; “This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Contrasting the muted indifference greeting Cosmic Sky’s final race victory with the excitement, enthusiasm and anticipation that oozed from every pore of the vast crowd when Rhythm King pulled clear of Airoski to take the Hunt Club Members Race at Cottenham’s opening fixture, reminded me that the point to point season is very much a microcosm of life itself. From its birth as a baby, where everything is fresh and anything is possible, through to death, be it as a tired old man, knowing your limitations and having few surviving friends, or at the peak of your powers with much still to do. In between are the hopes, the challenges, the victories, the defeats, and the thrill of simply taking part. Although years and individuals come and go, the fabric remains intact. It is timeless. In less than eight months the refreshed spirit will be reincarnated once more and, as sure as eggs are eggs, the cycle will begin anew.

HIGHLIGHTS

Runningwiththemoon – Ampton 16.01.05
I have not known Ray Newby that long, but it is hard not to like him. From our first meeting I was struck by his passion for the sport and the friendly good cheer he always seemed to carry with him. He, for me, personified the true enthusiast. Although associated with pointing (as a spectator) for most of his adult life, and able to recall virtually every detail of every meeting held since the early eighties, he had never actually owned a horse. During the close season Ray set about rectifying this and invested a tidy sum in Runningwithemoon, a Thorpe Lodge Maiden winner, whom he bought, out of the ring, from Chris Bealby.

Runningwiththemoon had his first outing in the Newby orange and purple colours at Ampton in the middle of January. Ray’s eyes in the parade ring were a picture. Whilst he used them for seeing out, they portrayed an emotional rainbow to those looking in. Pride came first as he took his place amongst fellow owners and hangers on in the parade ring. Anticipation and the accompanying butterflies were next in line as Matt Mackley took the leg up and accompanied Ray’s investment to the course proper. As I left to take up my chosen race viewing position I saw the calm begin to return. It was out of his hands now, and it would soon be over.

I can only imagine what he went through during the race: Anxiousness over the first few jumps, amazement when Runningwiththemoon appeared to be travelling so well and actually looked as if he could win, and total disbelief as Matt Mackley booted him into the lead and began to draw away. Sheer elation must have followed when he past the post in glorious isolation, quickly followed by complete incredulity at the entire situation.

When I saw him next, weighed down with trophies and well wishes, and posing for photographs, his eyes were watery and blank. He had gone through emotional and adrenaline overload and he was running on autopilot. As I knew from my own experiences the previous year, that first victory was such an incredible high. One, I think, that you could spend a lifetime trying to recapture and never quite succeeding. It was like virginity; an innocence that you could only enjoy losing once.

No Nay Never – Ampton 16.01.05
Jeffrey Bowles is one of life’s gentlemen. Although privately possessing a sharp and wicked sense of humour, the first thing that you notice about him is his quiet, unassuming, sociability and his overriding desire to put as much into anything as he could ever hope to get back. PTP is no exception to this rule. He gave his time as Clerk of the Scales at Higham for many years, and has also invested a large proportion of his limited income into mainly moderate horses, latterly for his daughter Annie to ride. His last winner was Cherry Chap, many, many years ago and, despite a series of disappointments since then, his commitment has never waivered. In 2003 Society Lad broke down at Fakenham and had to be retired. In 2004 the horse he bought as a replacement, Kirkhalle, suffered a similar fate on his first outing in his colours at Ampton. In 2005 father and daughter had only one horse to run, No Nay Never, whom they had bought from the other members of the Good Craic Club at the end of the previous year and had moved to John Ibbott’s yard. Hopes were hardly high. No Nay Never’s form was undistinguished at best, and yet an exceptionally kind division of the Maiden saw him thrown into a contest where the form lines suggested that they need not be the usual, automatic, also rans. A placing was a distinct possibility.

Annie seized her opportunity with both hands. She kept No Nay Never up with the pace throughout and, two fences from home, made her dash for glory. I heard her whoop with fear, delight, and hope as the combination jumped the last with a two length advantage. She kept riding, hands and heels, low in the saddle, all the way to the post. No one caught her. She was a maiden no longer. She had broken her duck!

My over–riding memory is of seeing them in the unsaddling enclosure. No Nay Never was steaming as they took the saddle off. Annie was beaming from ear to ear, incoherently telling everyone how she did it and how she felt. In contrast, Jeffrey stood on his own, quietly in the background, watching it all. The only betrayal of the pride and happiness engulfing him was the Mona Lisa glint in his eyes. It was a typically gentle celebration for such a gentle man.

Splash And Dash – High Easter 02.04.05
Having demoralised Rob Mine at Marks Tey and run away with a Stratford Hunter Chase in 2003, hopes were so high for Splash And Dash that he went into 2004 as a genuine candidate for the Cheltenham Foxhunters. It was not to be. The year began with a lacklustre performance at Cottenham on the opening day and gradually got worse. It concluded with a victory in a three runner Open, where he got up on the line to deprive the moderate Ballad by a head after the other horse in the race, Delganey Royal, fell four fences out when looking home and hosed.

Clearly not right, the Hickmans bought him from Maurice Smith to run in syndicate colours for 2005 (presumably at a fraction of the price he could have fetched twelve months earlier). When he made his seasonal debut, again at Cottenham, he finished a long way behind Always On The Line and hardly looked a good investment. Sights were raised slightly for his next run, in a Folkestone Hunter Chase, but the performance stayed the same and he made absolutely no show.

He was freely available at 5/1 for his third outing of the season in an average Open at High Easter. The event was noteworthy only for the presence of David Kemp’s impressive Madmidge who, after a comprehensive victory the previous weekend, was chasing his sixth victory of the year. I did not even consider an investment, although somebody evidently did because the Racing Post returned him at 11/4.

The rest, as they say, is history. Held up for most of the way Splash And Dash produced a devastating turn of foot for substitute jockey Harry Fowler when asked to quicken four fences from home, and came from last to first in a matter of strides. It was as comprehensive a demonstration of class as you are ever likely to see on the pointing field and, although Lord Euro rallied gamely on the run in, Splash and Dash only had to be kept up to his work to record a gallant and heart-warming victory. The old horse was back!

Parsonhumfrywebber – Dingley 01.05.05.
Although never in Splash And Dash’s league, Parsonhumfrywebber caught both my eye and my fancy in 2001 for his spectacular style of racing. Ridden by a novice (Emma Bell) he would mulishly detach himself well and truly at the back of the field for the first two and a quarter miles. Six furlongs from home, however, the Dr Jekyll donkey would turn into the Mr Hyde thoroughbred and fly home like the proverbial train. After just being touched off in a controversially close call at Cottenham, he finally won his Maiden at Fakenham when converting a thirty length deficit four fences out into a similarly wide margin advantage by the time he reached the last.

He ran just once in 2002. Andrew Braithwaite partnered him in a Horseheath Members and rode him up with the pace throughout. The combination pulled clear after the final fence for a comfortable, if unspectacular, victory. From then things must have gone wrong for he did not see a racecourse again until Cottenham’s second fixture of 2005.

I followed his progress avidly, but found little sign of the talent he had shown four years earlier. Emma Bell’s services were no longer called for, and a succession of top name jockeys all tried in vain to rekindle his flame. They all failed. I gave up both backing and watching him after a disappointing run behind McAttack at Ampton’s second meeting. He had obviously joined the ranks of sour, old, has-beens whose owners persevere for a short while before cutting their loses and eventually selling them off.

At Cottenham’s Aldenham Harriers meeting on Saturday 16 th April my opinion appeared to be vindicated. He never went for Nick Pearce and was pulled up after thirteen fences in Coole Glen’s Restricted. That, surely, was it and I doubted if I would see him again. You can imagine my surprise when, the very next day, I was flicking through the Jumpingforfun Message Board and discovered that Parsonhumfrywebber, this time partnered by James Owen (who apparently rides him at home), had, within twenty four hours of his Cottenham outing, just ran a close second of eight to Lord Trix at Mollington! I literally could not believe it was the same horse.

I happened to be at Dingley on Sunday 1 st May to witness the Parson’s next racecourse appearance. James Owen was on board again and he was priced at an attractive 10/1. I had been winnerless up until then and the day was fast becoming expensive. As a sop to the (well hidden) romantic optimist in my soul, I decided to wager one of my last remaining twenty pound notes on him.

He hardly raced on an even keel throughout, and frequently had to be niggled to keep a position. He was, however, still with the leading group as they went down the back straight for the final time. Three fences from home, Mr Owen signalled for him to go and win his race. The Parson needed no further encouragement. He pulled away from the opposition. Not spectacularly, but steadily, and with a little bit up his sleeve. At the line he held a seven length advantage over Persian Silk, with the subsequent winner Barrshan a further eight lengths adrift in third.

In rejuvenating Parsonhumfrywebber, Mike Burman, Kelly Smith and James Owen have all done credit to their patience and their skills. Their charge will campaign as a ten year old in 2006 but he is far from over the hill and, given how comparatively lightly raced he is, he may well repay them by showing further improvement. I hope he does. The romantic in me is hoping that one day I will one again witness that electrifying burst of pace last seen at Fakenham in April 2001.

Tartar Sabre – all year
What a marvellously genuine and consistent animal – seven outings, one fall, a third, four seconds and a win! There are not many on the circuit that can match that! The really exciting thing about him is that, as he has only had one hard race in his entire career (over a year ago at Horseheath, when second to Filou De Bouis), he is, both mentally and physically, completely unspoilt. I genuinely believe that, given the right assistance, he has the potential to be a very good horse in 2006.

I am not, however, retaining my share in him. With an Atlas load of other financial commitments, including a dependent child on her way to university this autumn and a Chancellor unsympathetic to those of us earning more than the official “cut off” figure (regardless of any extenuating circumstances), I have no choice but to reduce my outgoings. To be fair, the decision was made easier when Sabre’s annual statement landed on the doorstep. Even though we were lucky enough not to incur any vets bills, it still cost just a few pounds short of six thousand to keep him for the year, and that was nett of all prize money won! Depending on how you benchmark it, that equates to either £1,000 for each completed race, £330 for each mile run, £53 for every jump negotiated, or £150 for every minute Sabre was on the racecourse! Whichever one you use, and even allowing for the fact that I only paid a quarter of it, the return on capital employed appeared low and, at best, needed reviewing.

It was a depressing realisation, and one that set off a spiral of negative thoughts. This was my lot in life. Unlike others, I do not have the amount of capital or income to allow me to lightly dismiss such a comparatively small sum. What’s more, short of a lottery win, I never would have. In a moment of pathetic self pity I thought of the John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, and Ronnie Corbett sketch about class. I was the Ronnie Corbett character at the bottom of the pile “I’m working class, I know my place”.

It was a classic battle of head versus heart. On an emotional level I wanted to retain my involvement, yet my instincts were telling me it had to be sacrificed. In a last ditch effort to bring the two together I set about formally listing the benefits:

a) Free admission to the racecourse? Not very often, there was only one pair of tickets for each Entry we paid for.

b) Freedom to enter the parade ring before racing and the unsaddling enclosure after it. Yes. Nice one, a definite benefit.

c) The opportunity to win prize money that would make the whole thing cost neutral? Hardly. With a maximum reward of £150 for coming first, even a victory in every race contested would fail to cover just the season’s travel costs.

d) The chance to ride him? No, we bought a share in a horse that would either be in training or resting on summer grass.

e) Involvement in his training? Not really. We only ever received two such invitations, and they were both to just watch him work on the Newmarket links. We went, of course, but it was a bit of an anti climax – a half dozen schooling fences and a gentle gallop for just over a mile. The whole thing was over within fifteen minutes and barely justified the two hour drive or the money we were billed for the privilege.

f) An input into his racing career? Possibly. I did enjoy several phone calls and discussions on the subject. Looking back, however, the only real influence I had concerned post mortems and an analysis of the opposition. Although I made my views known with regard to targets, strategies, and tactics I felt they carried little weight.

g) A “feelgood factor”? Definitely. Sabre’s success certainly made life more enjoyable. Once, however, I realised that my contribution towards it was limited entirely to the provision of money, I felt foolish and, to a certain extent, conned by my own delusions of importance. I had so much wanted to be part of the scene that I had willingly and wantonly chucked cash away in order to kid myself I was. In reality my involvement had absolutely no substance whatsoever, and was merely the equivalent of vanity publishing.

It really was a “no brainer” and, once comfortable with the decision, I set about communicating it to my co-owners. As it happened I was not the only one of us unsure about continuing the arrangement. Despite verbally making provision for such an eventuality when we initially formed the partnership two years ago, we lodged nothing with solicitors and what eventually got written down and passed amongst us was so loose it was virtually meaningless. It was a classic mistake and we really should have known better. As a result it was a few weeks before a rather unsatisfactory solution could be agreed.

Despite my current feelings, I am sure I will look back on my involvement with Tartar Sabre with pleasure. The exhilaration that devoured me at Cottenham one Saturday in March 2004 will, without doubt, rank close behind the birth of my children and scoring the winning goal in a Cup Final as one of the most intense bursts of emotion I have ever experienced. I suspect, however, that it was a one off and, by its very nature, impossible to repeat. I was certainly happy when we visited the winner’s enclosure again at Marks Tey this year, but I have to admit that it was a pale comparison of the Cottenham sensation.

In the unlikely event that I will ever have the means to contemplate investing in a partnership again, however, there are a number of factors that I have resolved to consider very carefully first;

a) Can I afford to own it outright? This is the only guarantee of getting as much (or as little) involvement as I like. Unless I was able to take out a trainer’s license though, I cannot help thinking that I would be daft to buy a pointer. Nowadays they cost as much as Flat or National Hunt stock but race for less than 5% of the prize money.

b) Are all partners equal or are some partners more equal than others?

c) Do the other partners have the same ambitions for the partnership as I do?

d) Is there a formal contract in place to bind the partners? As a minimum, it should cover areas such as training arrangements, decision making, vets bills, billing arrangements, and a clearly defined procedure for terminating the partnership.

Viscount Bankes – Huntingdon 10.05.05.
This one is on the list simply because it made me feel smug and was one of the few decent bets I actually struck during the year. It was also returned at a very lucrative 10/1.

I had kept an eye on Viscount Bankes ever since he literally ran away with a division of the short Maiden on the opening day of the 2003 season. By the sprinter Crofthall, he quickly pulled his way to the front, looked completely uncontrollable, but nevertheless managed to find the stamina to last home without ever seeing another horse. Unsurprisingly he found three miles in a higher grade completely beyond him and, as he did not quite have the speed to cope with specialist two mile Hunter Chasers, was somewhat caught between two stools in subsequent outings.

In 2004 Andrew Martin, for some reason, stopped riding him. With a novice on board progress was virtually non existent. On his opening run at Higham in 2005, however, I picked up the first signs that he had finally learnt how to settle. Although obviously keen in the preliminaries, he raced with the pack for two miles and only kicked on when given the license to do so. In immediate terms it was hardly a critical manoeuvre, as he tired quickly and was easily passed a couple of fences later. The signs for the future, though, were clearly there.

At Cottenham on 16 th April, finally re-united with Andrew Martin after disgracing himself with his regular pilot in a two mile Hunter Chase at Leicester, he ran a cracker against the hot favourite Jemaro in the Mens Open. Steadied for the first two miles he moved smoothly to challenge the habitual pacemaker three quarters of a mile from home, and then readily established a clear advantage. Two fences out, he found himself six lengths to the good, only for his stamina gauge to hit the red in the home straight. By the final fence Jemaro had reduced the gap to a couple of lengths. Despite battling gamely on the run in, Viscount Bankes eventually went down by a head. I thought this was solid form, and made a mental note to have a decent bet should they ever run him over two and a half miles on an easy circuit with Andrew Martin on board.

Those combination of conditions finally came together for the opening race of Huntingdon’s Hunter Chase evening. It was one of those rare occasions where everything went just as I imagined it would, with Mr Martin delivering his challenge between the last two and sprinting clear on the run in. If only I had the ability to predict the outcome of a few more races quite so accurately!

Present Moment – Fakenham 24.04.05
Sizeable though their string may be, quantity proved no defence against the drought owner Anthony Howland Jackson and trainer Ruth Hayter had endured prior to this fixture. Less hardy, resourceful, patient, or, some may say idiotic, individuals would have undoubtedly given up long ago and found something more rewarding to do with their time and money. But they stuck it out. I could not remember who their last winner was (Village Copper at Cottenham?) but it had been at least seven hundred days since they had greeted a victorious jockey back into the unsaddling enclosure. When Present Moment showed his awkward side and gave a ten length start to his nine opponents in the Restricted, I could just imagine the “here we go again” looks they must have exchanged.

Much of the credit for finally striking oil must go to Andrew Braithwaite. He kept as cool as a cucumber to gently coax Present Moment back into the race, coming with a wet sail to take up the running two from home. It wasn’t all without drama though, and Andrew Braithwaite had to call on all his prowess to fight the renewed challenge of John The Mole on the run in. Luckily there was enough petrol and adrenaline left in reserve to repel it, and thereby ensure connections of at least one pot of first prize money (£115) to help offset their costs for the season.

Thirty five minutes later those of us who believe (and invest in) the “cluster theory” were also rewarded. Gatchou Mans, in the hands of Alex Merriam, doubled Ruth Hayter’s tally for the season and put another, much needed, £160 into Mr Howland Jackson’s bank account.

Winner number three, however, never came. Maybe it will all even itself out in 2006?

Victories for the underdogs

These are always worthy of a mention and, for me, each one captures the justice in the optimistic platitude that we pass to our children as encouragement against insurmountable odds; “every dog has its day”. Somewhere, after forty, you of course realise that it doesn’t, but that just makes those David v Goliath times all the sweeter. If money engulfs the sport to such an extent that they stop happening, then we will all be the poorer for it.

Apologies if I have missed any, but those springing immediately to mind are:

Berewolf – Cottenham 16.04.05
Using a playground analogy from childhood, Martin Ward’s string, although reasonable in size, lacks any horses the captains would have rushed to pick first. They are always impeccable turned out, however, and invariably fit enough to perform to their true ability. Berewolf’s win in a twelve runner Maiden, at the tender age of eleven, came completely about of the blue. Four fences from home he looked destined to record another formline reading of “alwys bhnd, pu 2 out”. That day, for some inexplicable reason, he found a hitherto unseen change of gear to miraculously provide his supporters with much more palatable reading around the Wednesday morning breakfast table. Officially it is recorded as “bhnd til stayed on frm 3 out, led app last, sn clear”. I have no idea what inspired it, and can only suggest that the heavenly scriptwriter that day liked platitudes. Whatever the reason was, though, it was thoroughly deserved. Hopefully it gave something positive back to the Ward family who have contribute so much to the sport.

Patrick Millington Double – Northaw 02.05.05
I was not there to see it but my heart lifted when I read it; Judge Reilly taking the Restricted by a distance and, in another vindication of the “cluster” theory, James Pine taking the very next race by a neck to record a 168/1 double. They were Patrick’s only winners of the year, yet he must have had runners somewhere around the country on almost every racing day of the season! Whatever way you put it, Patrick Millington is totally unique; from his style in the saddle, to the way he selects his horses (buying only those that nobody else will bid for). The sport is much richer for his presence though, and it will be a sad day for Pointing when he finally does hang up his boots.

Best Ride by a Lady Jockey

Hannah Grissell came close for her ride on Little Worsall at Ampton in March, but the prize really has to go to Zoe Turner for forcing the issue all the way on Leatherback in the Ladies Open at Cottenham in the middle of April. It was completely alien for the horse, who had always enjoyed plenty of cover before, but it frustrated to perfection the preferred tactics of both market leaders, Gray Knight and Highland Rose. If there ever was a case of a race being won in the saddle, this was it.

Best Ride by a Male Jockey

Plenty to chose from in this category, but in the end my vote has to be for David Kemp’s supremely confident handling of Madmidge at Horseheath’s Thurlow meeting on 26.02.05. He had the courage to sit a long way behind the pack when he believed the pace to be too strong, and he did not panic when they failed to come back to him a mile from home. He made the ground up steadily and, without the assistance of the whip, left only Minino ahead of him at the top of the final hill. That opponent was passed at will in the home straight and, at the line, Madmidge barely knew he had been in a race.

David Kemp’s style is very much an understated one. You will not see him bouncing up and down, flaying his whip like a madman to squeeze the last drop of energy from his mount. He moves very little in the saddle, achieving an easy balance which the horses clearly appreciate. He is always calm, always confident, and never asks for more than is necessary. I believe that this one factor is the main reason why the Kemp charges both keep on improving and seem able to take a lot more racing than those from other stables.

Luckiest Winner

No question about this one - Stick or Bust in the Members at Cottenham on 19.03.05. Although only three contested the race, you would have been inundated with people willing to offer 1,000/1 against him had Betfair been covering it. Never travelling well, he was twenty lengths behind the second horse, Brave Emir, as it approached the last. He, in turn, was ten lengths adrift of the favourite, I’ve No Say, who had never come off the bridle and just needed a steady jump to seal a facile victory.

The leader cleared the final obstacle like a stag. In fact, he probably cleared it too well as his rider came out the front door and hit the ground with the unceremoniously thud of a sack of potatoes. Tony Williams on Brave Emir could barely believe his luck, and set about riding his mount to the line. Brave Emir, however, had little left to give. The ex flat horse had set a blistering pace and it was taking its toll. As Tony Williams asked for more, Brave Emir wandered under pressure. His legs were like jelly.

Matt Smith picked up on this and, although he still had a mountain to climb, decided it was at least worth a try. He gathered his reins and gave it all he had. Stick or Bust stays forever, and he does keep to a straight line. It was enough. Much to the astonishment of those who had backed him (and had already thrown their tickets away) he collared his one remaining opponent a few yards before the post. As we waited for the judge to confirm it, I spotted more than a handful of people retracing their steps with their eyes anxiously scouring either the floor or the dustbins!

Unluckiest Loser

No shortage of nominations here – Tartar Sabre (three times) for example, or Cosmic Sky when falling at the last in a Higham Maiden, are just two of the many candidates. Most so called “hard luck stories”, however, have a human element to them and, no matter how slight, an error of judgement somewhere in the chain is usually responsible.

One instance where it was not, though, was in the Area Championship Race at Fakenham on 24.04.05. King Plato was ten lengths clear and had the race won on merit, only to go badly lame between the final two fences. James Owen did all he could to coax the Turner horse home, but even his skills do not extend to defying nature and the combination were passed by Deckie and David Kemp on the run in.

LOWS

Catch On and Paul Taiano - Horseheath 26.03.05.
Catch On was East Anglia’s up and coming star. Building on last year’s promising debut run, he had easily disposed of his thirteen rivals in a Maiden at Horseheath’s opening fixture on 5 th February. He quickly followed that with an equally effortless success over the promising Restricted field put before him at Brafield on the Green five weeks later.

I had gone to Horseheath that day not really expecting him to run. He had been entered in a Club Members race and had only animals well beyond their “best before” dates in opposition. They were hardly in his league and apart from a meagre £100 prize money there seemed little to be gained in his participation. Surely he would be saved for more meaningful opportunities later in the season? I must confess that I was disappointed to hear his name when the declarations were announced; at odds of 2/5, he had ruined the event as a betting medium.

I watched the proceedings from the third last fence, hoping to get scenic shots of the field climbing the final stamina sapping incline. The loudspeaker is very faint and muffled at that location and, to be honest, I was concentrating more on the photographs. The result, after all, was a forgone conclusion. At the twelfth I saw a horse challenging for the lead hit the ground, and bringing down another in the process. When the crowd groaned in collective disappointment, I assumed that Catch On had to be one of them. This was confirmed when I failed to spot him amongst the runners passing me for the final time.

As I made my way back to the parade ring somebody told me that Catch On had been destroyed. I found it hard to believe. A couple of years ago I had wrongly reported a horse suffering a fatal fall and, wearing my responsible correspondent’s hat for once, felt I needed to check this statement out before I could include it in my review. People were still milling around the fence where it had happened (presumably a jockey was still being attended to) and I decided to go there and ask.

I knew fairly quickly from the sombre atmosphere that the jockey’s injuries were serious, and a quick look at his colours confirmed it was Paul Taiano. What activity there was appeared to be focused on keeping him still and calm. The hushed tones were interrupted by a walkie talkie announcing that the Air Ambulance was on its way. Someone relayed this to Paul and asked if he could feel anything in his limbs. The reply was very matter of fact. There was nothing in the legs but he could feel a tingle in the hands, even although he was unable to move them.

Fifteen minutes later the helicopter arrived. It’s medical team emerged and set about their task with clinical, yet sympathetic, efficiency. They inflated an air bed to lay the patient on, then supervised a group of burly helpers in conveying this makeshift stretcher to the tiny space they had cleared in the cockpit. After a quick pause to check that they hadn’t left any equipment behind, the doors were shut and the engine started.

Sadness and empathy radiated from the hundreds eyes that witnessed its departure. It seemed to hover for a second, like a bird of prey after raiding a nest, before darting to its destination on full throttle. It is unlikely that Paul Taiano’s life will ever be the same again.

To those of us who just pay the entrance fee and risk little more than a few quid in pursuit of our sport, it was a grim reminder of the price demanded of others. Alex Embiricos and George Cooper were just two more jockeys who spent time in hospital after racecourse spills, whilst the following horses all lost their lives;

Ikrenel Royal – Cottenham 03.01.05.
Will Hill – Horseheath 26.02.05.
Hoot for Hunting – Higham 06.03.05.
Catch On – Horseheath 26.03.05.
Manhattan View – High Easter 02.04.05.
Chicago City – Higham 09.04.05.
Jupiter George – Higham 09.04.05.
Federal Case – put down at home.

SUGGESTIONS FOR 2006

I guess I must be getting old, and mellowing in the process, because I don’t have too many! Perhaps those that I do have will reach sympathetic ears?

That the host hunt accepts responsibility for staging at least six competitive contests. If their Members Race is one of them, they should ensure that at least five runners of comparable ability go to post. If they cannot do this then they should introduce a new event (e.g. Novice Riders) in its place. If, as a bonus, they still run the Hunt Members for the two or three horses that will declare for it, they make it the last race on the card rather than the first.

By doing this, particularly in the earlier part of the season, if better subscribed races do divide, the risk of having to ballot out horses that, in some instances, have travelled several hundred miles to compete, is greatly reduced. If something does have to be sacrificed to the fading light it can at least be the race with the smallest number of competitors and whose connections have made the shortest journeys.

Ampton and Higham rebuild the “tin hut and trough” facilities they used to have where Gentlemen could relieve themselves. The Portaloos are all well and good, but they are slow and without dignity, and you can miss an entire race queuing to use one. A knock on benefit in providing this facility for men would be a reduction in the amount of time the Ladies would also have to queue.

That Fakenham in particular introduces an element of common sense when briefing officials to keep the public away from horses. We all know that if a horse gallops into us we are likely to come off second best. We are also aware of the need for Health and Safety, and of the increased chances of litigation against the organisers should an accident occur. These risks, though, do have to be balanced against the freedom to enjoy oneself, and it is absolutely ridiculous to employ jobsworths to religiously lock the course crossing gates ten minutes either side of a race, regardless of whether or not there are actually any horses about!

That more Totes do Dual Forecasts (Ampton, Marks Tey, and High Easter please note). This is the one bet you can’t get with the bookies, and it offers the chance to win a decent sum for a small outlay. I am sure revenue would rise considerably if these courses offered it.

THE BOOKIES

After their traditional earlier season start, where they seemed reluctant to strike a bet in any Maiden race, I have to say that, in the second half of the year at least, I found them to be very fair.

Fields of six runners or less offered the best value, with percentages commonly below 120%. What struck me too was that the vast majority of them do not form opinions of their own and base their odds (well, the opening ones at least) entirely around the Racing Post or Pointerform ratings. This, I believe, gives the regular punter a real opportunity.

The best illustration of this was in the five runner Intermediate at Marks Tey on Easter Bank Holiday Monday (ok, you could argue that the more astute bookies were plying their trade elsewhere). As Pointerform had only a couple of points difference between the top rated No Penalty and his closest rival, Ardkilly Warrior, they priced the former up at evens and the latter at 6/4. What a steal!!!! They seemed to take little account of the fact that No Penalty was only an eight year old, very much on the way up, and yet to see another horse pass him, and that Ardkilly Warrior was twelve, had a history of breathing problems and had not won since 2000. It has to go down as one of the best value bets of all time!

The same meeting, though, gave an insight into why bookies have a bad reputation amongst the general public. They were accepting bets, albeit from only the more gullible of the holiday crowd, without displaying, quoting, or even recording, odds!! There is a part of me that says good luck to them, if people really are that stupid then they deserve to get ripped off. If they do want to be seen as respectable and honest though, they really should be big enough to refuse the invitation to mug!

On my end of season visits to the Midlands, I noticed that the bookies there are far more diverse in the markets they offer. Several of them bet without the favourite, and a few even offer odds without the first and second favourites! In East Anglia are we really condemned forever to Frank Warren’s monopoly of without the favourite betting? His books are rarely below 150%, which makes any sensible investment impossible.

HORSES TO FOLLOW IN 2006

Fiftiesonfire
The Kemp team introduced him in the same Horseheath Maiden that they chose for Cantarinho two years earlier, and he was perhaps unfortunate to meet something as smart (and perhaps as forward) as Catch On so early in his career. He travelled well and was not given a hard time when the winner had flown, eventually finishing third, a half length behind subsequent winner Erris Express. He was made favourite next time out at Marks Tey, only to be bought down early in the contest. A return to Horseheath quickly followed and he easily disposed of Cashari and eight others, making himself ineligible for any future Maidens. It would be no surprise to see both he and stablemate Crystal Dance (a French import who landed a touch when cantering away with the Fakenham Maiden on his pointing debut) follow in the footsteps of Cantarinho, Madmidge and Deckie along the well trodden, continually progressive, path to Hunter Chases next season.

Parsonhumfrywebber
I’ve mentioned him earlier and I do think he will continue to improve. He does appear to need a few runs under his belt, however, so don’t expect fireworks much before April.

King Plato
In what was, by their standards, another poor season for the Turner’s, this fellow gave a hint that he could fill the vacancy of standard-bearer for the stable. He produced a devastating burst of acceleration to brush aside Lord Valnic at Marks Tey, and then quickly followed up with an easy victory at Higham, before going badly lame when having taken Deckie’s measure at Fakenham. Assuming he recovers, and he is not sent to the Sales, I fully expect him to run up a sequence in 2006.

Rakatia
Josie Sheppard saddled only two horses this year, Catch One and Rakatia. Both were well above average. Rakatia made his debut at High Easter in February and, despite not knowing what was expected of him, went into many notebooks for the ease with which he travelled. He confirmed that promise with a smooth success in a muddling Maiden at Higham, despite running green throughout and idling as soon as he hit the front.

Catch On’s demise prompted Mrs Sheppard to call it a day, and she sent Rakatia to pursue his pointing career under her father’s guidance. He had one run in the famous blue and white hoop colours, finishing four lengths second to Magnolia at Detling, with the third twenty five lengths away. He will be more of the complete article with another summer on his back, and it would be a fitting tribute to both Mrs Sheppard and Paul Taiano if he could fulfil that undoubted potential and become a major force on the East Anglian circuit for many years to come.

No Penalty
This horse has never yet been beaten when completing, and, apart from a few yards on the run to the first fence, has never even seen a horse in front of him! He is a difficult to train, though, as he gets very wound up before a race. He was being aimed for the Hiscox Intermediate Final at Huntingdon but, for some reason, was unable to take up the engagement. Providing he can be kept sound, and does not worry himself into a breakdown, he should have no trouble taking the step up to Open company. Oppose him at your peril!

Harrihawkan
Hunted with the Brocklesby and owned by the Dawson (Upham Lord) family, Harrihawkan will probably never run in East Anglia. On the off chance that he does, however, I have included him in my list. I was fortunate enough to witness his racecourse debut at Garthorpe on Melton Hunt Club day. He was late into the paddock, but as soon as he entered all eyes were drawn to him. It was akin to Naomi Campbell turning up at the local Weighwatchers meeting, and he stood head and shoulders above anything else. He showed there was substance behind the looks too, coming with a smooth run to challenge for the lead only to fall three fences from the finish. He made amends two weeks later on the same course, looking the winner a long way out and never having to come off the bridle. I think this is a serious horse, and destined for much better things.

Mai Cure
The only one on my list still a Maiden. Mai Cure was given a gentle introductory run at Marks Tey at the end of 2004 and returned to that course this February to build on the experience. Obviously in need of the run, she travelled as well as anything for fifteen fences until lack of fitness took its toll.

Two subsequent outings told us no more about her ability, as a slipping saddle caused her to be pulled up on both occasions. Assuming Paula Twinn can get to the root of that problem, Mai Cure should be capable of finally ending her stable’s extremely barren spell in 2006. She may not be their sole representative, though, as I understand that the highly promising Mai Knight will be ready for a return to action after spending over two years recovering from injury! Those punters amongst us who believe in the cluster theory will do well to keep an eye on this yard.

Copyright Richard Hall 3rd July 2005

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