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North Norfolk Harriers
Higham
Saturday 10th February 2007
by Jeremy Grayson

It is a good job that years of being rained all over at Cartmel and Bangor, the only two Rules courses without covered stands, has hardened this particular writer to the wettest and muddiest extremes of conditions, as for the greater part this was a filthy day to be out watching any mode of sport. The public areas inevitably bore the brunt of the deterioration, with walking areas looking like they’d been ported in from the Glastonbury Festival and the tow vehicles certainly earning their keep; but the racecourse must surely have been good to soft in name only long before proceedings drew to a close. Riders reported the surface as “slippy” and “skiddy”, and a completion proved beyond just under two-thirds of the competitors.

RACE ONE: 5-7yo OPEN MAIDEN
===========================
OSCAR BUCK is certainly bred for the job, being out of winning Irish pointer Rosey Buck, but in backing him into favouritism here his followers were placing their store in him being wound up enough on his first outing for nine months and first ever on ground slower than good. He answered both counts emphatically on his way to a pillar to post score under Joe Docker, leaving nearest pursuer OLYMPE DE FARGES trailing in his wake halfway up the straight.

Lightly campaigned under Rules by Vic Dartnall for his current owners, he had three subsequent winners behind him when third in a 2m6f Wincanton novices’ hurdle last May. It remains to be seen how his jumping will hold up when put under greater pressure, but the early signs for his future in points hereafter look good enough.

Olympe De Farges acquitted himself pretty well on this first racecourse appearance of any description, and looks more of a prospect than sole other finisher SKUNA BAY, two years his senior and yet to convince he stays this trip. LANE MARSHAL sulked around in rear before pulling up and failed to build on the glimmer of hope he had shown in two Cottenham contests previously this winter, whilst CATCH A TARTAR remains a poor-jumping menace to himself.

RACE TWO: 8yo+ OPEN MAIDEN
===========================
The older horses’ Maiden at High Easter a fortnight ago in which ESPLENDIDOS finished 23l third looked a dreadful contest unlikely to yield any future winners, and if the fact that he was able to score here suggests today’s equivalent contest was even worse, rest assured that it was! Top on The Pointer’s ratings with a mark of only 67, Katie Thory’s 8yo went on from halfway and apparently had this in the bag turning for home, but Nick Pearce was kept busy up the straight convincing his notably unwilling charge to keep up to his work. The form amounts to precious little and he is impossible to recommend for even a weak Restricted.

As when finishing fifth in a similar contest at Cottenham last month, YUKON JACK did not see out the trip having been bang there four out. Too old to contest 2m4f Maidens now, his prospects in this sphere are not great. BOSCO’S TUNE once again showed early speed, but previous showings this winter suggest he too would have failed to sustain his effort to the finish had he not unseated.

RACE THREE: INTERMEDIATE
=========================
ASLAPOFTHEEURO’s best pointing efforts in recent times, including both wins last year, have come when running the legs off all his rivals, and that was clearly the intention here as Phil York blazed off on him from flagfall. In THE STICKLER, however, he faced a useful rival who was never too far away, and who had a lot more in reserve when brought to challenge two from home en route to a 6l victory with nothing else finishing the contest.

Never particularly over-raced, and now four from nine in points, all The Stickler’s best form before this contest had been recorded on a sound surface, and notwithstanding the fact that he might have been run closer late on had the saddle not slipped on Aslapoftheeuro by that stage, this was a performance that hinted at greater versatility than he was previously thought to possess – whether that can be channelled into winning anything other than an ordinary Open is now the question. If nothing else, these two performers served up the quickest time of the day, fully five seconds better than the Ladies’ Open and 19 better than the Restricted.

There can’t be too many positives to be taken from the remainder, who all failed to complete, but it may be borne in mind that ROCJA had neither the soft lead nor sound surface that he would have preferred, and he bounced back from a brace of bad efforts at the start of 2006 to record two wins and some other decent efforts. BADGERS GLORY, meanwhile, was always going to need this after missing all of last season, and his next run ought to give a better indication as to what ability remains.

RACE FOUR: MENS OPEN
=======================
Next to many of the mens’ events run so far this winter this contest was very poor indeed, and the 1-2 price generally available about NOKIMOVER by no means represented too-skinny odds. He was nine points clear of all else on The Pointer’s ratings, and his closest rival on that scale, CABER, had been in no sort of form in an already busy winter for Karen Lawther; nor was he here, either

In the event Nokimover duly landed the odds, but Alex Vaughan-Jones, who had gained his first career win on the gelding at this meeting last year, had to get after him early on the final circuit to put him first alongside and eventually past long-time leader LUCKY LEADER. Jumps out to the left at the final two fences and a laboured effort up the run-in sent favourite backers’ blood pressures up further, and a more aggressively ridden rival than Lucky Leader, staying on again at the death, may well have caused an upset.

Whilst the ground could have been given as an excuse for some below-par performances today, Nokimover’s previous winning form on heavy would prevent this writer from offering it in his case too readily. Instead, the combination of another year’s worth of getting crankier (he has never been an entirely sweet-tempered, giving sort), and the fact that Vaughan-Jones cannot plunder simpler novice riders’ events on him anymore, mean that a repeat of Nokimover’s tally of seven wins from 11 runs last season looks only a remote possibility.

Lucky Leader was outpaced from four out but Keith Dilworth seemed to accept that situation too readily, and there was certainly more horse left underneath him at the end than he probably realised. One of the unluckiest losers of the last National Hunt season (when Owyn Nelmes lost an iron apropos of nothing and fell off him when going best of all in a Chepstow selling chase), this inconsistent performer put in all his best Rules performances granted a stiff / galloping 3m-3m2f trip and would be of more interest around somewhere like Marks Tey than here, but not at Open level unless chancing across an even worse example of the kind.

Caber’s winning form has all been on a sound surface, but whilst he emphatically did not have conditions to suit today his overall slump in form since leaving Sally Alner offers scant hope of better from him in the near future. That dreadful rogue QUALITY FIRST, who had consented to run fellow teenager Demasta so close at Cottenham a fortnight previously, did not want to know at all today and started to drop himself out from about halfway.

RACE FIVE: LADIES OPEN
=======================
This race – run just moments after the rain finally stopped - looked the best on the card, but followers of the favourite HOT PLUNGE were deprived a run for their money as Kelly Smith’s volatile 11yo chose today to reprise his old trick of whipping round at the start and duly took no part. His two seconds so far this winter serve as a reminder that he has carried over a fair share of his form into the current season, and he will surely be pointed at the minimum trip hunters’ chases again before too long, but he will never be one to trust with your last cent.

Those that did race were led for much of the race by TARTAR SABRE, on whom Marta Graholska – leaning back in the saddle over every fence like someone from days of yore – enjoyed an exciting spin until being headed four out and falling off at the next. By this stage all bar FULL IRISH and WHO CARES WINS had been left behind, and once hitting the front the former did not have to be kept up to his work that much to keep the latter at bay in recording an 8l success on this pointing debut.

One of two former Len Lungo inmates the Turner family debuted on today’s card, Full Irish had won 10 out of 25 under Rules for the Carrutherstown handler on good or worse ground and earned an official chase rating of 140 at his best. There was a slight question mark over his stamina entering the contest, as he was unraced beyond 2m5.5f prior to this, but this performance – in the second faster time of the day – will have gone some way to have dispelled any doubts on that score, and whilst he is not the biggest animal to be carrying 11st week in, week out in points, the smaller fences in this sphere (compared to Cheltenham, where he put in a particularly nervous display over fences) will be appreciated. He looks a most useful recruit.

Who Cares Wins was also making his pointing debut, having last been seen in a long-distance Stratford selling hurdle in September. Formerly a longstanding fixture in John Jenkins’ yard, and earlier still an 81-rated Flat performer for Clive Brittain, his best form has always been on far quicker surfaces than this and he recorded a pleasing effort in the circumstances, giving generously for Amy Stennett throughout. A weak late-season Open with more suitable underfoot conditions should be attainable on this showing.

There was a big gap back to STROMNESS, who improved on his limp return from a protracted absence last time but still looks some way off recapturing his 2005 form at present.

RACE SIX: CA CLUB MEMBERS CONDITIONS
======================================
THOUTMOSIS was the second Lungo to Turner runner to try his luck today, but his was a less convincing Rules profile than Full Irish (never tried over fences, 118 at best over hurdles but little show in ordinary staying Flat handicaps latterly) and he ultimately put up a pretty dismal showing.

January C&D winner QUID PRO QUO and recent High Easter fourth ASTHEFELLOWSAID duelled for favouritism before the off, but both had been put in their place before the turn for home and it was the 13yo THE GRANBY, representing the Kemp yard, who fairly danced down the home straight to record his first victory since landing a Ladies Open here almost exactly two years ago. Although it is of course terrific to see that this former Mary Reveley inmate and seven-times Rules winner retains plenty of appetite for the game, it would be stretching credibility to suggest he could revive sufficiently to make much of an impact back in Open grade, and this accurate jumper would surely be better deployed educating youngsters in novice riders’ events hereafter.

Former Howard Johnson charge ANOTHER DUDE was winless beyond a sharp 2m3f over hurdles, and for the third time in as many points looked bereft of the necessary stamina to make a mark over this trip. The errors which blighted both his Rules chase starts look to have been put behind him, but his tendency to race keenly has not, and he cannot be offered as a future winner with much confidence.

Asthefellowsaid has been a pretty mercurial performer since pulling muscles on his final start in 2005, and his rapid capitulation here following good progress at halfway may serve as further indication that all is still not right with him. Quid Pro Quo’s all the way C&D win last month had been attained with some dig in the ground and he had won a bumper on soft previously held up, so neither going nor racing tactic can explain away this disappointing effort.

RACE SEVEN: PPORA CLUB MEMBERS RESTRICTED
===========================================
NEEDS TIME lived up to his name at the beginning of this concluding contest, as his facing the wrong way precipitated a false start. He proved very keen to get on with things once the race did get underway, but that did not prove to his detriment on this occasion, as he was still going much better than sole remaining credible rival FORGET THE REF when that one unseated Rupert Stearn three out.

Clumsy himself at the first fence on the final circuit, both jumping technique and self-control need working on from here if Needs Time is to improve on a record which now reads two wins from three points, but the raw material is certainly there and time is on his side. Speaking of which, little heed should be paid to the fact that the time for this race was fully nine seconds slower than any other contest on the card, as the winner was almost a furlong clear entering the straight and was able to saunter home.

Forget The Ref had unseated at the last at Cottenham a fortnight earlier, albeit under less pressure than she found herself at the time of her departure today, and like the winner she needs to brush up on the basics if she is to add to her Irish point win at Boulta 15 months ago. Remote runner-up BARRELS PAL’s win last time out came in a Tweseldown Members’ match on a sound surface and he found this assignment far less to his liking. Relieved of his maiden status in such a non-event, and having looked a doubtful stayer last term, he will not prove easy to place.

WINNING HORSES
===============
5-7 OPEN MAIDEN: Oscar Buck
8+ OPEN MAIDEN: Esplendidos
INTERMEDIATE: The Stickler
MENS OPEN: Nokimover
LADIES OPEN: Full Irish
MEMBERS CONDITIONS: The Granby
PPORA RESTRICTED: Needs Time

WINNING TRAINERS
=================
Holly Campbell
Katie Thory
Nicola Pollock
Gerald Bailey
Joe Turner
David Kemp
Lady Connell

WINNING RIDERS
===============
Mr Joe Docker
Mr Nick Pearce
Mr Alex Merriam
Mr Alex Vaughan-Jones
Miss Zoe Turner
Mrs Heather Kemp
Mr Tim Lane

COMMENTATOR
==============
Iain Mackenzie

© 15/02/07 Jeremy Grayson

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