Witton Castle was in tip-top condition for this rearranged fixture, which took place on Good To Soft ground. Unusually for this course in February, it was mild, the sun often shone and the environment was uncharacteristically pleasant. The fences were pretty forgiving and in my view a bit too flimsy. This didn’t detract from some exciting racing, the highlight of which was a treble for the Yorkshire Area’s leading lady rider Jacqueline Coward, fresh from booting home a hurdle winner at Clonmel three days earlier.
The Old Raby Hunt Club Members Maiden saw ten horses go to post and there was a right old tussle in the home straight between Persian Prince, well supported in the ring and partnered by John Dawson, and Buckshaw in the hands of Ian Smith. Persian Prince asserted close home to have five lengths to spare at the judge. His jumping left something to be desired, but John Wade’s nine-year-old had just enough zest on the level on this initial switch to points. Persian Prince’s task was made easier when Summer Equinox, who he was vying for favouritism with, departed. Summer Equinox was far from fluent at his fences, hardly jumping one competently, before eventually coming to grief at the open ditch on the final circuit. If he can brush up his jumping, there is certainly some ability there. Buckshaw gave a good account of himself and the former Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding can continue make an impact in maidens. Nina Chester kept on past beaten horses to be third, a further 20 lengths behind. She was held up at the back of the field and in essence was never nearer than at the finish. Judged on her performances last year, she could well find a little race at some stage. Miss Sunflower did OK in fourth and might be worth a look if taking on her own sex. Oaklands Bobby was out on his feet at the death and lost third on the run-in. Presumably he has missed some work with the harsh weather since his solid effort at Cottenham in January or it could be that he isn’t a true stayer over three miles.
Nine combatants contested the Intermediate and the spoils were claimed by Buy Onling and Jacqueline Coward. Buy Onling only had a length in hand at the lollipop, but it was a cheeky victory and he surely had plenty left up his sleeve if needed. Out of the first two just once in eight outings between the flags, Buy Onling had narrowly gone down fighting at Sheriff Hutton in January against Pristine Condition and that one’s next intended engagement is in a hunter chase. This shouldn’t be the last success that comes his way. Runner-up Jimmys Duky doesn’t know how to run a bad race and again did his best for Lucy Bell. He always appeared held once Buy Onling had gone past, but stuck to his task well. There was a respectable reappearance from Abandon Ship (Richard Smith) in third. He wasn’t far away from the outset and only gave best late on. Allborn Lad came fourth and has shown enough in two starts in 2009 to suggest he is no forlorn hope for a small confined. Alisons Treasure, a fair performer, is likely to benefit from the race as he looked dangerous for a while leaving the back straight. Royal Return, a talented if fragile mare, still had a squeak when she lost all chance with a bad mistake four out that Tom Greenall did incredibly well to survive.
The Ladies Open was a reasonable event of its type and had a field of 11. Narciso was a shade of odds-on, but had to work hard to gain the day. He needed every bit of Jacqueline Coward’s nous and expertise to hold Lutin Du Moulin under Lucy Horner at bay. Narciso put in one or two sloppy jumps and didn’t seem overly happy with his lot, but was driven out to win after appearing beaten with three fences to take. Lutin Du Moulin pushed the favourite every step of the way and went down by just an official neck. Taking 2008 into account, he has now been placed five times on the trot and fully deserves to get his head in front before long. This tenacious fellow simply keeps bumping into above average individuals and his luck must surely change for the better soon. Whilst no match for the leading duo, Plutocrat found renewed energy down the home run having looked likely to get swamped after the fifth last. He was far from disgraced in third and rider Chloe Reynard was understandably pleased at a first visit to the winner’s enclosure. The former useful hurdler may be a shadow of the hunter chase hero he was a couple of years ago, however it is much too early to write him off. Fourth-placed Encore Cadoudal couldn’t live with the principals, but kept on at the one pace. Wilfie Wild isn’t getting any younger, but suggested he won’t be a back number quite yet. Glenelly Gale didn’t seem to have any excuses, while Fairy Skin Maker got tired and may do better.
The Mens Open had 11 participants and a hot favourite in Sonevafushi, who was as short as 1-5 in places. The market leader, ably accompanied by Jake Greenall, didn’t have to get into anywhere near top gear and fairly trotted up as the betting suggested he would. Sonevafushi was a serious horse on his day under Rules and has often been a class apart in point-to-points. The teenager and 11-year-old gelding had teamed up for an equally clearcut triumph at Sheriff Hutton in January. The sole opponent to ever pose even a semblance of a threat was runner-up Gunner Royal. He made a decent fist of making a race of it under Tom Greenall, however effectively had no chance with the winner on all known form. That said, Gunner Royal gave the impression that an open is going to be within his capabilities. When he was previously on the Yorkshire Area pointing scene, Gunner Royal reached intermediate level whilst in the care of Cherry Coward and was targeted at tracks that put an emphasis on stamina. Afterwards in the professional game Howard Johnson also aimed him at staying races. Monte Cristo came from a long way back for Charlie Johnston to take third. He was officially 30 lengths behind Sonevafushi and really kept on past weakening rivals more than anything, but does have the potential to make his mark in this grade. In fourth, Seafire Lad could find no extra from five out and warrants some credit. Delfinia was clearly in need of the race and will do better.
The seven runner Restricted was run at a crawl to well past halfway and the form needs treating with caution. Whinny Bank quickened up nicely as soon as the pace increased and turned out a decisive winner. Jo Mason’s mount had seemed to prefer sterner tests in the past, but wasn’t inconvenienced by the sprint here. It made it three successes for the weekend for Jo from three rides, all trained by her father Ian, highlighting a stable that has managed to keep horses fit during the cold spell. The Tinkerater, with Clive Mulhall in the plate, filled second, running on strongly at the death, albeit too late to trouble the winner. The dawdle won’t have been up this fellow’s street as he usually comes with a concerted challenge when they start to slow in front. He ought not have too much difficulty picking up a similar heat. Third-placed Father Owen (Guy Brewer) was readily outpaced in the home straight and the race really wasn’t run to suit for him either. Father Owen is better than this and will be more at peace in a truer run contest. Loaded Dice in fourth liked the drop back to this level much more than racing under Rules and he should continue to give a good account of himself. My Old Piano was backed from 6-4 down to around 1-2 to follow up his maiden victory at Sheriff Hutton on his pointing debut. However, he fell at fence 13, the open ditch, before the race had begun in earnest.
Jacqueline Coward duly completed her treble in Division One of the Maiden aboard Chancery Lad. He was at the head of the 13-runner field at the top of the home run, but had slipped a couple of lengths back by the penultimate fence. His pilot galvanised him though for a renewed effort and he collared the three horses ahead or alongside him in the shadow of the post. It was a gutsy display from Chancery Lad and he showed a first rate attitude to prevail. Wantage Road in second travelled all right, but didn’t get too high at a few obstacles. His form over hurdles indicates an event such as this shouldn’t be beyond him and it will be a big surprise if he doesn’t eventually lose his maiden tag. In third, Glad Star kept fighting all the way to the line for Steve Charlton. He was believed to have stamina concerns over three miles, but Glad Star saw this trip out without too much trouble. The patiently ridden Northern Revoque was a close fourth. She cut right through the pack on the last lap and was only just run out of it. El Fargo exhibited some ability and should be of interest in the future. Well Worthy was noted just in behind not being knocked about, while Cherryland has flattered to deceive in the past, but gave a glimmer of hope for 2009. Pinnacle Ridge, a confirmed pace setter, stopped very quickly after crossing the open ditch for the second time and will no doubt be considerably fitter for this reappearance. The Thack was pulled up with a complete circuit to go after a serious mistake and was either desperately in need of the race or something was amiss.
Division Two of the Maiden was run in exactly the same time as the first division. Of the dozen horses that set out, Miller’s Rose came out best to the tune of eight lengths in the hands of Tommy Morrison. Once she had taken over from the front-running Abbey Whin approaching the fourth last, Miller’s Rose made the best of her way home. She poached a small break and the pursuers were never getting to her after that. Winds And Dragons needed plenty of stoking along by Tom Greenall to bag second. He went past three rivals down the stretch and did respond fairly willingly for pressure. He should collect a maiden when fully wound up. Cassius Dio (John Dawson) was there or thereabouts from flagfall, but couldn’t muster a change of pace in the home straight and was third. He hadn’t tired until late on at Sheriff Hutton and went off the jolly here to build significantly on that effort. Desperate Bob was a never dangerous fourth, making a solid foundation for his new career between the flags. Captain Commanche didn’t appear devoid of any talent and has now had a couple of sighters. When last seen in 2007, Abbey Whin had shown speed, but didn’t see out his races. Perhaps he may do so slightly better this season.