OF THE 2003 EAST ANGLIAN SEASON
by Richard Hall
When I used to work for a company in the oil industry, it was
our custom and practise to “close out” every project with a Review.
All sections of the operations team gathered to methodically go through
the job from start to finish, celebrating what had gone well, identifying
the areas with shortcomings, and suggesting improvements so that we could
“work smarter” in the future.
Just for fun, and perhaps to keep a bit of debate going over
the empty months ahead, I am carrying this practise over to the 2003 point
to point season. Listed below are the things that I enjoyed, the things
that I was impressed by, the things that niggled, and the things that
positively annoyed. As it is very much a personal list, I hope it will
spark comment. Hopefully it will prompt answers to some of the questions
asked. Maybe, collectively, we can even initiate changes! Anyway, here
Most Impressive Performance
He has had one outing since then, winning a Hunter Chase at
Stratford by thirteen lengths. He has only run six times in his life, has
never been put under pressure, and has great scope for further
improvement. At only eight now, he should reach his peak over the next two
years. I believe he will be a potent force in Hunter Chases and, if
entered, will carry my money for the Cheltenham and/or Aintree events.
Other performances worthy of mention are Silver Spider’s
demolition of a field littered with previous winners in an Intermediate at
Cottenham in February, and course specialist Helmsley Flier’s
pillar to post assassination of the Restricted field on the same card.
Unfortunately both these horses went wrong in their next races and were
not seen out again. Hopefully they will recover in time for the 2004
season. Weaver’s Choice also impressed in routing a good field at
Horseheath in January. He has not lived up to that in five outings since
and I suspect he is very much a horse for a course.
Most Improved Performer
Teeton Priceless who built on a victory in a poor
Maiden at Horseheath at the backend of 2002 with a Restricted win at the
same venue in January, and then followed it up with a victory in the
hottest East Anglian Intermediate of the year at High Easter.
Watchowillie who has been transformed by the
firm going, and easily picked up end of season Men’s Opens at Higham and
Endeavour who, although disappointing on his
final run at Marks Tey, has added a level of consistency to his undoubted
Bush Hill Bandit who began the season as runner up
in a Cottenham Maiden and progressed to take a keenly contested Fakenham
Round The Bend who has progressed from being a
“short runner” to record aggressive victories at both Market Rasen and
Royal Action who has been on the go all season
but, in the early weeks especially, made the transformation from perennial
“also ran” to a potent force in Men’s Open company.
My vote, however, has to go to Cinammon Club, who’s
only career victory prior to January this year was a Claiming Hurdle for
Nick Gaslee in 1998. She began the season as a seemingly fortunate
benefactor from The Red Boy’s early exit in a Confined at Higham early
in the season, and then went on to beat that same rival comprehensively at
Marks Tey. She has continued the season mopping up Ladies Opens for Amy
Stennett and currently looks unbeatable in that arena.
Best Performance by a Maiden
Bunratty’s Sole made a big impression when
comfortably opening his account at Marks Tey, following a promising debut
third in a large Restricted field at Guilsborough.
Freteval didn’t come off the bridle when hacking up in a
short Maiden at Cottenham, and went on to confirm the promise with a
victory at Leicester’s Hunter Chase day next time out.
Without doubt though, the most spectacular performance of the
year was by Paul Keane’s All In The Stars on his debut run at
High Easter. He must have made up twenty lengths between the last two
fences to catch the leaders and then, once he had passed them, positively
sprinted to the post in the day’s fastest time. I have heard a rumour
that the victory was taken away from him because a banned substance was
found. Can anyone substantiate this? His only subsequent performance was
in a hurdle at Market Rasen where he was noted making rapid progress in
third place before running out at the last.
Training Performance of The Year
Mike Bloom also deserves a mention for keeping
Always On The Line going throughout the season, finishing (with a victory
at Marks Tey on, to all intents and purposes, the last day of the season)
in the same way as he had begun at Cottenham’s opening meeting.
The winner, though, has to be Diane Pyper and Alex Harvey
for bringing Denis Compton back, at the age of twelve and after a four
year absence, to win a Maiden at Cottenham and a Restricted at Fakenham.
Best Riding Performance of the Year
My vote, however, goes to Paul Cowley for the ride he
gave Corrie Mor in a Maiden at Higham. He correctly anticipated that Rowan
Cope (on the leader Miss Toski) would try to push him out through the
wings of the final fence as he delivered his challenge. He responded by
coolly holding his mount a length behind, and jumping across the fence to
take the inside berth (plus the initiative and the impetus) on the run in.
To use a boxing analogy, he ducked his opponent’s right hook and, whilst
he was off balance, landed him the knockout body blow.
The bookies may operate a cartel – as long as it is policed
so that margins stay within acceptable levels, who cares? One wonders,
though, if it wasn’t the adverse publicity given on the EA website just
after the Horseheath rip off, how far they would have trimmed themselves
back, if at all? Is it a question of every now and then just pushing at
the boundaries to see if and when the golden goose starts complaining?
This spirit isn’t just limited to the jockeys, nor just to
those who experience the successes the sport can offer. It goes all the
way through; to owners, trainers, grooms, hunt supporters manning the
Totes and car parks, spectators, virtually everyone.
Perhaps those who don’t succeed show the greatest spirit of
all? In one of my early season reviews I realised I may have been
particularly unkind (albeit in a jocular sort of way) to Caroline Eagle. I
had lost money the previous year backing her mount, Senso, in Ladies
Opens. No matter what Caroline did, she had this instinctive ability to
get beaten. At Ampton she had even jumped the last in front, only to fall
off on landing. Seeing that she had dropped down to Novice Rider company
for the first Ampton meeting of the season, I decided to have one more go
at getting my money back – after all, the horse clearly had ability, and
the rider must have learnt something from the previous year’s
experiences? I got on at 5/1.
What happened? Horse and jockey part company at the first fence. I
mentioned this in my review, and perhaps got a cheap laugh at her expense.
I was then criticised on the websites, and rightly so.
I sought her out at the next meeting to apologise. She held
no grudge at all, and even complimented me on my dry sense of humour! We
have subsequently chatted a few times, and I have built up an enormous
respect for her. In many ways she personifies all that is good about the
sport, and the people in it. I certainly wish that I had her spirit, her
determination, her self belief, her courage, her self deprecating sense of
humour (“my horses have picked up enough letters in front of their names
to play scrabble with”), and her positive attitude. She was not born
with a silver spoon in her mouth. She cannot afford to just nip over to
Ireland and acquire the best horses available. She has to buy cheaply, and
put in the time, work and knowledge to make the best of it. Every penny
she has accumulated has been worked for, and her two horses consume a
large percentage of them. Vets bills, food, farrier fees – anyone who
has kept a horse knows that the list of associated outgoings can be
endless. Aside from the money, comes the time invested; up at the crack of
dawn, drive to the yard, “do” them, then off to work, and back again
to sort them out for the evening. At least four hours a day, seven days a
week, come rain or shine.
Then, at the weekend, comes the highlight - a chance to
compete and have your worthiness judged. Hopes raised, only to be dashed
again. Firstly the physical effects; a fall, a bruise, a broken bone, a
lost tooth. Then, more deeply, the mental damage; failure (again), the
self doubt, the seemingly endless tunnel with no visible light at the end.
On top of that some idiot, who has never ridden a horse in public in his
life and who’s total investment in your cause is tenner lost into a
bookies satchel, tells the whole world how incompetent you are! Never
mind. Pick yourself up. Have another go. You can do it. Your only option
is to admit defeat. Tell yourself you will not give up. Try again. Build
up belief. Build up hope. Next weekend will be different. You can do it.
You are not human if you cannot respect, or be humbled by,
people like that. In many ways they are the biggest winners of all.
Whatever Happened To?
The relationship between the Turners and Andrew
Mister Ringa – the much touted novice from
the Sporborg yard. He had one schooling outing as a five year old in 2002
but has not been seen at all this year?
Tim Lane and Richard Morgan Evans – are they well on
the road to recovery?
Chrissie Elliot – no runners this year
(in East Anglia anyway)?
Five Things I’d Change (if only I could)
2. Entrance Fees – generally these are pretty
reasonable in comparison to the rest of the country, but why not introduce
a season ticket scheme for regulars to reward their loyalty? Either that
or a “pay for five meetings and get the sixth one free” scheme?
3. More Honest Appraisal of the Prospects
– We could have been warned in advance, for example, that Horseheath was
as hard as the M25 for the Puckeridge meeting, could not be watered, and
was therefore unlikely to attract many runners. What made matters worse
was learning that such a similar scenario had happened a few years
earlier. Similarly, it would have been more realistic to point out to the
paying public that there was a strong possibility that both Easter
Monday’s Marks Tey Meeting and May Day’s Northaw one may suffer a
shortage of runners. The long term damage of over selling the positive and
ignoring the potential negative (in terms of credibility and in casual
visitors not coming back again) by far outweighs any short term gain in
4. Hunt Races – to be limited to riders (as
well as horses) who regularly ride out with the Hunt and (perhaps) have
not previously ridden more than (say) two winners.
5. Bring back the old hut/tent and trough toilets (for men at least). Portaloos have their place, but not on a crowded racecourse. To stand in a queue for up to fifteen minutes at a time is just ridiculous. Horseheath and High Easter do it, why can’t Higham and Ampton?