There are storms. Then there are heavy storms. Then there are halfway-up-a-hill-in-Wales storms. On a day of largely clement weather across the country, Ystradowen copped for two of the last-named sort, the second of these – which struck seconds before the fifth race of the day’s six-race card – proving ferocious and sustained enough to scatter the crowd, tip over many of the bookies' pitches, and absolutely drench anyone brave enough to stand their ground. Never let it be said point-to-point fans, photographers, commentators and “comments in running” writers always have an easy life pursuing their hobby!
I was warned of a few things about Ystradowen ahead of this, my first ever visit to a Welsh pointing track. Some proved better founded than others. It fell short of being the dive I was advised by a couple of sources to expect (it certainly made for nowhere near as grim an experience as Upper Sapey in a wet May, my absolute pointing nadir to date), but whilst the atmosphere was delightfully informal, some limitations of the venue and facilities were all too apparent. Nobody, not even the commentator, was afforded a view of the entire track, the racecards (far from the best seen this season, with absolutely no The Pointer form ratings, lifetime records or comments on recent performances included) sold out even before the first race had finished, and food and drink options paled next to those of almost every other venue (mostly in the East) that I’ve visited so far this year.
This sharp, undulating track, in use since 2002 and the home of the Glamorgan meeting since the demise of the increasingly decrepit St Hilary course just up the road, is basically bone-shaped (not a million miles removed from Uttoxeter) and taken anticlockwise. Mackenzie and Harris have it spot on in asserting “[it] would lend itself to a figure of eight course were it allowed”. The predominately dry week up to race day, brisk winds and all, gave rise to ground that was at least good by the off, if not perhaps a little faster still in places.
RACE ONE: 5-7yo CONFINED MAIDEN
Bred out of an ordinary maiden pointer, there is always the possibility Merthyrmawr could return to Rules racing for Williams and improve a bit further with age, but this 5yo’s very marginal victory over an exposed and accident-prone rival registering only a fourth completion from 13 starts hardly marks him out as a prodigious talent quite yet.
RACE TWO: 8yo+ CONFINED MAIDEN
Improve he did, though, and having been booted to the front five out he simply kept putting more and more distance between himself and his rivals up the straight, and whilst the official verdict of 25l seemed a bit of an exaggeration, his was an emphatic victory all the same. It is hard to know exactly what to make of this performance, though, for as well as his universally poor form previously, he had proven impervious to the benefits of the blinkers re-applied today in his last five Rules runs. Nor should either the better surface or sharp left-hand track have been the determining factor, given his failures granted both before today.
WAREYTH looked immaculate in the parade ring and duly picked up the best turned-out prize. In the race itself he was a bit too keen to get on with things, though, and whilst Tim Vaughan was able to hold on to him enough to make sure he merely headed the group of leaders for the first 2¼m rather than scorched off ahead of them, the gelding still expended too much energy to be able to throw down a challenge once the winner started to assert. Any confidence that he will be less buzzy and therefore better set to break his duck at last next time out is tempered somewhat by a litter of weak finishes – even in placing – at this level during the previous two seasons.
RAGAMAX, 0-13 in Irish maiden points during 2005 and 2006, confirmed the impression of his British debut at Llanfrynach last weekend that he is a short-runner over the 3m trip, even around a sharp track. The same comment applies to DAISY’S RAINBOW, and whilst he is finally starting to string together some completions this term, he still looks a long way away from starting to emulate his dam, winner of 12 point-to-points for the same connections.
RACE THREE: CONFINED HUNTS
Never a wholly convincing jumper of fences during his long career, he gave his backers a fright by clattering the last, but such was his superiority by that stage that only an outright fall or unseating there was going to stop him collecting. Best granted a sharp track or a sub-3m contest, the presence of the former made up for the lack of a latter on this occasion, and whilst nobody should pretend this was anything other than a soft race, or that he would be of any particular interest back in Opens or hunter chases hereafter, it was clearly a treat to see this grand old boy enjoy another (final?) success.
Winner of only one of 42 Rules starts, and an early casualty at Llanfrynach last week, Brady Boys looked all set to post his first ever meaningful piece of form at this sort of trip early in the straight, but his effort was short-lived in the extreme, and he lost second and then third places to GRAY KNIGHT and BATCHWORTH LOCK respectively. The former, who had enjoyed stints with Henrietta Knight and Lawney Hill among others in an itinerant past, posted his best effort for his latest trainer in staying on into a 10l second here, and granted his preferred quick ground may yet have a bad Confined in him still.
Batchworth Lock was most disappointing, however, racking up an uncommon number of jumping errors on the way to a well-held third place. In mitigation, however, this race came only a week after a far better third in a Cilwendeg Ladies’ Open; and given how well connections have done to get five pointing wins out of this sprint-bred animal over the last couple of seasons by astutely placing him in Confined and Members’ contests in South Wales, he couldn’t be written off entirely quite yet.
RACE FOUR: MIXED OPEN
Things didn’t really go to plan for either. Keen early on under Chloe Roddick, Bobosh maintained a handy position on the outside for the greater part, but was caught short of toe when Khatani went on five out. James Tudor’s mount quickly opened up a gap of around 6l, but started to tie up badly himself between three and two out, and it was TITCHFIELD, restrained earlier in the race under Alan King’s amateur rider Kyle Yates, who took maximum advantage. Driven to join the floundering leader at the second last, he quickly asserted, and although Bobosh made some progress up the run-in there was still 3l separating them at the line.
On first glance this improved performance appears to have come from nowhere, as his Irish Flat and hurdles form was garbage and he had previously been soundly beaten in four Opens this winter over all course and going types – even the third place finish at Black Forest Lodge in February represented a beating by the length of the run-in. However, a glance further back into his profile reveals him to have been a reasonable stayer on the Flat for Paul Cole in 2002, winning over 1m6f on good to firm at Catterick and rating 83 at his best, so the possibility that trainer Wyn Morris has proven able to untap some of this long-dormant ability could not be ruled out entirely. The gelding’s next couple of outings should tell us more.
Khatani has been a martyr to his wind problems over the years, and notwithstanding the presence - as always - of the tongue-tie, was probably undone by this again today. He particularly benefited from very fast ground and small fields at this level towards the end of last season, and at his age (now 12) and with his constant affliction, the chances of him adding to his tally of 19 career wins in anything better than such contests must be receding now.
This may have come a bit soon for Bobosh and he should prove better than this performance again before too long, but DE CHELLY once again demonstrated why she is a hard mare to warm to, showing no interest until making token progress far too late in the day. THE MIGHTY SPARROW, once fabulously described by David Cleary in The Sportsman as “resembling nothing with feathers other than Rod Hull and Emu”, never had any pretensions of staying beyond 2m5f under Rules, and was duly backpeddling when the last of several mistakes took him out of the contest five out.
RACE 5: INTERMEDIATE
A game winner of a soft ground Black Forest Lodge Maiden in January, rallying after a bad mistake late on, this represented a welcome change of luck for the Robert Scrine inmate, having been brought down and (last week at Cilwendeg) running out before the race had begun in earnest. As always there is no shortage of promising types in the Intermediate sphere this winter, and notwithstanding the ease of this victory (Rhys Hughes did not have to move a muscle) you suspect he would still have to find a bit more to hurt the likes of Bon Accord if their paths crossed in any of the hunter chases for Intermediate horses this spring, but he is certainly going the right way now after an Irish bumper and hurdles career of no consequence.
LADY MYFANWY emerged next best out of the gloom and maintained her record of always making the frame when completing, although any minute chance of reeling in the winner was rubbed out by a slow jump at the last. MANHUNTER found this assignment far tougher than the jog round for his Members’ race at Cilwendeg last weekend, and was already well beaten when capsizing two out. MIKE GOLDEN was pulled up with a circuit to go, his rider reporting that the 9yo was making a terrible noise. Unable to complete either of his starts this season, and also fading rapidly when falling in the John Corbet Cup last summer, all may not be entirely well with him.
RACE SIX: RESTRICTED
Finally a Maiden winner over this course and distance last April (albeit very few got round) after a number of tries, Another Alliance probably recorded a career-best effort in his second place here – certainly it was the closest he has ever come to staying the trip in a halfway competitive event. This having been his seasonal bow, the question will now be whether this performance is a first indication that he is to mature into an improved performer at eight.
MVEZO’s first run in two years at Didmarton four weeks ago blew away the cobwebs and he came here off the back of a first career score in a Cilwendeg Maiden last week. That may just be as good as he is, however, and this formerly very poor Rules performer (even Evan Williams couldn’t prevent his Official Rating from diving into the low 60s) was readily brushed aside a fair way out. He has a bit to prove next time; ditto MURDINGA, whose hat-trick bid – following soft wins in a Maiden at the end of last season and in his Members at Howick a fortnight ago – looked in trouble with most of the final circuit to go.