'SADDLERS ENCORE HAS THE LAST LAUGH'
The second running of the Barbury International Racing Club point-to-point took place on a grey day. However, the persistent drizzle failed to dampen the spirits of participants and the crowd was rewarded with a total of 113 runners in the nine races that took place (the older horse maiden was split on the day and the third division of the bumper was abandoned due to the state of the ground).
Highlight of the meeting was the Mixed Open, sponsored by Weatherbys Hamilton, which saw 15 runners including the reappearance of Barel of Laughs, winner of the Lady Dudley Cup and Timico Mixed Open Final and third in the Cheltenham Foxhunters in 2018. Punters saw the contest as a two-horse race between him and top Welsh pointer Colorado Doc and looked likely to be proved right as the short-priced pair went clear six out. However, Saddlers Encore, a useful hurdler for Philip Hobbs making his pointing debut, crept closer round the final bend as Barel of Laughs tried to assert his authority, then joined the leader at the last and stayed on to win by a length. Golden
Doyen passed the tiring Colorado Doc on the run-in to take third, eight lengths back.
Owner Janet Gibbs, who has had useful types such as Aintree Foxhunters winner Bells Life and One Knight in her 20+ years as an owner, told me afterwards, "He won a Graded hurdle at Sandown when he was with Philip but broke down, so I asked Chloe to see what she could do with him – but I didn't think he'd do it today!" Chloe is Saddlers Encore's trainer Chloe Newman, who trains eight at her Crewkerne base, including the useful Sobre Tresor, and was saddling her third winner of the season. "He's been here since February last year," she confined. "He's had lots of box rest and rehab with Polly White (nee Curling). We may go Hunter Chasing next but we'll see how he is in the morning."
Colorado Doc's owner-trainer David Brace had better fortune in the following Highflyer Bloodstock Novice Riders race, which saw 13 go to post. Favourite William Money, ridden by David's grandson Connor Brace, made a quick reappearance after an Ampton second last weekend to score comfortably by six lengths from Ardkilly Witness. Always prominent, he passed Ardkilly Witness three out and was always going best thereafter. Skylander made late headway but was always chasing the leading pair in vain and was eight lengths away in third.
"When they're right, they're right," was Bridgend-based David's pithy explanation for William Money's short gap between races. "He's that sort of horse and doesn't carry too much flesh." It was a fifth winner of the season for David, who has, "Between 12 and 14 to run, including a couple of nice horses," and who holds ambitions to be champion owner again as well as for Connor to be leading Novice Rider.
There was a second Welsh success in the Greatwood Trophy Conditions race, for ten-year-olds plus over a long trip in testing conditions of three miles six furlongs. 13 ran and Lotus Pond took the spoils for winning owners William and Mandy Bryan, whose son Peter Bryan rode the horse, and Pembrokeshire trainer Mickey Bowen. Mid-division early, the ten-year-old made steady progress five out, led two out and held on easily by six lengths from Templebraden. Favourite The Dapper Fox stayed on late for four lengths third.
"Didn't he jump extravagantly?" exclaimed a delighted Mandy afterwards, before explaining that the horse has moved this season from her and Willie's yard near Shrewsbury to Pembrokeshire, as their son Peter – who is Mickey's cousin – now works for his uncle Peter Bowen, who trains under rules from the adjoining yard. "He won five races in 2015," continued Mandy of Lotus Pond, "But then he broke down badly. He had no tendon and we were advised to shoot him, but we used a Legsaver to scan his legs, gave him 18 months off and he came back last season. He didn't run well last year – he knocked his leg again – and we weren't expecting this today, as we didn't know if he'd stay." Where Lotus Pond goes next is down to the trainer, who had disappeared back to the horsebox park before I had the chance to ask him!
The rest of the card – with four Maidens and two point-to-point Flat Races – was dedicated to young horses and it was fitting, with the efforts made to attract Irish runners, that a horse trained across the water took the opening 11-runner Tattersalls Ireland Maiden for four, five and six-year-olds. Bailarico was one of four on the card saddled by Eugene O'Sullivan (fellow Irishman Shark Hanlon brought seven horses and was rewarded by two seconds) and the biggest shock about his surprise victory at 20/1 under Eugene's daughter, top Irish female rider Maxine O'Sullivan, was that he was allowed to start at such a long price. Second early before dropping back, he rallied to lead at the second last and kept on to beat favourite Danseur Du Large by one and three-quarter lengths, with long-time leader Dissertation – returning after a year off with a broken leg – three-quarters back in third.
"It's lovely compared to Ireland!" was the winning jockey's first reaction. "He's been running on heavy and enjoyed the good ground here – we'd have to wait until April for this going back home." Maxine obviously enjoyed her first visit to Barbury and expressed hopes that more Irish trainers will take part in the fixture in future. "It's a beautiful track," she confirmed, "And we need to be more organized about coming next year. Bailarico's been running in good four-year-old Maidens and there are a lot of pointers in Ireland that don't win first time out to be sold-on."
The following Goffs UK Jockey Club Maiden was for younger fillies and also saw 11 runners, although in contrast to the curtain-raiser, this event went the way of the hot favourite, in the shape of odds-on shot Definitelyanoscar, a first runner for 20-year-old Chris Barber, cousin of champion trainer Jack Barber and grandson of the legendary Richard Barber. Always prominent, she took the lead five out and won unchallenged by 15 lengths from Whistling Dolly, with Burrows Spring an eight-lengths third.
Chris was quick to pay credit to fellow handler Stuart Sampson for pre-training his mare, who he bought last May from Sean Doyle at Doncaster. "I made sure that grandfather approved," he laughed. "She's been pleasing us at home, she'll go on to better things, and she's for sale again, maybe even at Doncaster this week." Chris co-owns Definitelyanoscar with winning jockey (and housemate) Martin 'Fly' McIntyre. "We both work for Harry Fry and do this in our spare time – Fly and I do everything!" he confirmed. "We've got three in at the moment and we're looking to buy and sell youngsters."
Another young trainer breaking his duck was 23-year-old Jake Slatter, based at Winchcombe. Bally River Boy, joint-favourite when successful in the 11-runner first division of the Albert Bartlett Open Maiden race was having his second start, having been runner-up on his Chaddesley Corbett debut for Jake. This time, he made most in a slowly-run contest and stayed on well to beat Skyhill Allstar by seven lengths, with the fast-finishing Ericas Lad another ten lengths away third.
"We bought him at Doncaster," confirmed the winning trainer. "He was placed in two points in Ireland and has a good attitude, although it's been hard work getting him fit. He's run well today although he idled in front – it wasn't the plan to front run but there was no pace. He wants a stayers track and slow ground." Jake, who also works for Fergal O'Brien and whose mother Angie owns Bally River Boy, has just two in training, the other being an unraced maiden.
Ten went to post in the second division of the Open Maiden, but the winning trainer this time round has rather more successes under his belt than Messrs Barber and Slatter. Inmyday's success for 2015 champion Alan Hill moved his handler on to five for the season and first place in this season's title race. Always towards the front and looking in control for most of the final circuit, the ex-Irish seven-year-old idled in front when left clear four out and finished tired, holding on by five lengths from Snow Puma, who made late progress. Early leader Light Flicker was 30 lengths back.
Inmyday was bought at Ascot for long-standing owner Rodney Mann, who explained why they chose the horse. "Alan had a short-list and we wanted something that had been placed and had breeding in it. He's by Milan, like Sharp Suit, so we knew he'd stay." There are no immediate plans, with the owner suspecting that, "He won't take quick racing, so we'll give him time. He's a long horse – you could get three jockeys on him!"
Winning jockey Joe Hill was also moving on to five for the year and was quick to praise Sam Burton, who is the Hills' novice jockey this season. "Sam's been fantastic with the horse – he's ridden him since day one and all the work is down to him. We've got a good team at home and Dad's horses are flying."
The Hills were quickly joined on five winners by trainer Philip Rowley and jockey Alex Edwards, who combined with Nobby in the second division of the JRL Group Point-to-Point Flat Race, for which all 16 declared entries stood their ground. Midfield early, the flat-bred four-year-old moved up half a mile out and took a lead with a furlong to go to score cosily by a length from Shometheway, who had led for most of the last mile. Enormous, also with the leaders throughout, was eight lengths third.
"I bred him myself," smiled winning owner Ray Bailey. "He's out of a super mare, who won four and has got a lot of winners, including Magic Cat, who won the Harry Rosebery Trophy at Ayr for me. Phil has been ecstatic about the way he's been going on the gallops," continued Ray, "And he's staying here today! He's now going to Alan King (who was present) for a flat campaign – he'd want better ground than this and I don't even want him schooled over jumps. He was always going to Alan's but Phil said this bumper would be ideal for him and he was right. What a great day."
The mist descended before the first division of the "bumper" so it was hard, if not impossible, to see what was happening on the far side. However, as the 13 starters emerged from the gloom, Strike Hollow was in front and she held on by one-and-a-half lengths for Ben Jones from long-time leader Schiap Hill with Billygwyn Too finishing fast for third, one-and-a-quarter lengths behind.
Strike Hollow was a third Welsh success of the day, being trained by Helen Lewis, at Pandy near Abergavenny. "I couldn't see a lot," admitted Helen, who also confessed to being, "Hopeful beforehand. She's well bred – her dam Tazzarine is a full sister to Whisper and her older sibling is in training with Kerry Lee. She's a big baby, but she has ability." Helen was reluctant to confirm plans for the five-year-old, with owner Ralph Bailey absent celebrating his wife's birthday, but she imagined – like so many other winners on a day designed to showcase young talent in the sport – that the mare might be for sale.
After the nine races, awards were presented to Philip Rowley as the Leading Trainer on the day (sponsored by Equine Products) and to Chloe Newman for the Outstanding Performance (sponsored by Dubarry), for bringing Saddlers Encore back to win the feature event after such a long lay-off.