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SATURDAY 23 FEBRUARY 2002
by Richard Hall
A day strictly for the
enthusiasts. My first visit to Marks Tey, and I thought Fakenham was cold
when the winter wind blew! Even the dog refused to leave the car without
earmuffs! The hardy bunch congregated around the paddock and the
bookmakerís stands waiting for the first race must have wondered if they
were unwitting extras for a remake of Scott
of the Antarctic. The heavens opened and, propelled by a gale of a
million ice picks, hailstones the size of marbles searched for naked flesh
to pummel and sting.
Finding shelter in the car,
and a flask of hot coffee, we watched Novatara, a strong finishing third
to Gatchou Mans at the much sharper Higham course six days earlier, make
light work of his five opponents in the Hunt race at the prohibitive odds
of two to five. Royal Action was the only one to ever look like a
potential danger, but when Andrew Ayers kicked on a mile from home, his
chance evaporated as quickly as the hailstones had fallen. The winnerís
time was seven minutes forty-three seconds, the joint second fastest of
The next race, a Confined,
provided temporary warmth for the spectators. Endeavour, (previously a
difficult ride and an unlucky loser at Horseheath three weeks earlier
when, clear of his field, he jumped a path on the run in and unseated his
rider) was made favourite against seven others that included Native Status
(a spectacular winner at Higham last week) and The Rural Dean (previously
impressive in beating Tom De Savoie at Ampton before running poorly at
Market Rasen). George Cooper for once enjoyed a trouble free afternoon on
this lightly raced son of Video Rock and, when he pressed the button three
from home, Endeavour quickly opened a up gap that would never be closed.
He looks well capable of going on to win Opens and Hunter Chases. Saleel
ran on well to chase him before falling badly at the second last, leaving
Native Status to claim second and Tartooth, who benefited from the
stronger riding of Christian Ward Thomas, third. The Rural Dean never went
the pace of the leaders and finished a disappointing and remote fourth.
The Intermediate and the
Menís Open cut up badly. Only three runners contested each race, and
each had a long odds on, and duly unbackable, favourite. That, at least,
meant that punters could find a warm retreat from the biting wind for
upwards of an hour as Royal Banker (Nigel Bloom) and Dry Highline
(Christian Ward Thomas) in turn gained facile victories in their
The crowds gave up their
shelter for the Ladies Open, the fifth race on the card. Celtic Duke,
Linlathen, Mister Audi, and Senso vied for favouritism and, at various
points in the exchanges, seven to two was available about all four.
Linlathen took the honours in the dayís fastest time of seven minutes
forty-two seconds. Sensibly ridden, he joined the leaders at the
fourteenth fence and from then on never looked like being caught. Celtic
Duke, who had traveled ominously well, went out like a light three from
home and eventually pulled up. The most (un)remarkable thing about the
race, however, was the riding of the Scottish raider Senso. The eleven
year old, piloted by his owner Ms C Eagle, was always going well but for
some inexplicable reason was held up over ten lengths adrift of the rear
until a mile from home. He was then allowed to race and picked off his
rivals one by one with the ease of a knife through melted butter. He
finished like a train, still full of running, but by then the winner had
flown. I can only speculate that the object of the exercise was a
confidence booster for both the horse and the rider, as he had unseated in
his previous two races. Nevertheless he looks a certain future winner when
ridden more enterprisingly.
Both George Cooper (Mossy
Buck) and Christian Ward Thomas (Tap The Father) chased a double in the
Restricted. In what turned into a virtual match as the pair kicked clear
of the game Mackoy three from home, Tap The Father just got the better in
a thrilling finish. Mossy Buck had taken over from the pacemaker a circuit
out, but his relatively slow jumping made it easy for Christian Ward
Thomas to keep him in his sights. As they went to the last it was still
nip and tuck with Mossy Buck finding more as his rival drew upsides.
Jumping is the name of the game, however, and Tap The Father gained a
length in the air and held on to win by half a length.
The Maiden divided and the
first division may have thrown up a useful recruit in Lord Valnic. The
six-year-old debutant always had the leaders in his sights and, although
slightly outpaced as Kingfisher Star (ridden by the luckless Tim Lane)
kicked for home, he closed gradually from three out to draw level between
the last two. Although Kingfisher Star battled valiantly from the last,
Lord Valnic was always holding him and went on to win a shade comfortably.
I suspect that there is more to come.
Stablemate Supreme Craft was
made a warm favourite for the second division by the six remaining bookies
that had not given in to frostbite and gone home. It proved to be worth
their while as he was always struggling at the back of the field and
pulled up after two miles. Pharout and Tartan Shot went of at a phenomenal
pace, soon pulling twenty lengths clear of the field. Tartan Shot dropped
out after a circuit, leaving a remote Glad All Over as the nearest
pursuer. Pharout could not keep it up however, and his lead was slowly
reduced. Three from home David Hays had Glad All Over on level terms.
Pharout then dropped out tamely, eventually pulling up, leaving Glad All
Over to come home unchallenged from the appropriately named Artic Summer
who came out of the pack to take second in the dayís slowest time of
eight minutes sixteen seconds.