Although substantial watering had produced good ground at the popular Stafford Cross track, the proliferation of meetings around Easter meant small fields. This flat track suits the speedy types and sub-six minutes times tend to be the norm.
Bryan Carver was the jockey in form at the Axe Vale Harriers fixture, completing a double thanks to Earth Leader and Skinflint.
Roger Penny's Earth Leader made all to win the Intermediate, fending off Oxfordshire challenger Captiva Island after a display of quick jumping. "He is a strong travelling horse who has improved throughout the season," remarked the jockey, who is also making the most of his chances in Paul Nicholls' yard. This win would have proved a tonic for trainer Rose Loxton, who is currently in hospital.
Carver completed his double when sending the Gerry Supple trained Skinflint to the front four out in the Restricted before coasting to an eight lengths success. The Irish born jockey was deputising for Jo Supple who had good news about her recuperation from an injury sustained at the Cotley last month. Having partnered Skinflint earlier in the season she remarked, "He has strengthened up now. This quicker track suits him."
Liam Harrison is another young jockey making the most of his opportunities. The 16-year-old rode his 9th winner of the season and has a good chance of lifting the Fuller's Novice Riders title. Apple's Queen looked to be making hard work of disposing of his two rivals round the final bend, but the 2-5 favourite responded well to hold Theatre Evening after the pair had jumped the last together.
The Last But One's stiff penalty was offset by jockey Nathan Vergne's claim in the Mixed Open and this proved decisive as Tom Malone's useful pointer just held the late thrust of Minella Fifty. "He could run again at Flete next week and I hope we can get him to the Ladies' hunter chase at Stratford at the end of the season," said the owner, better known as a leading bloodstock agent.
The four-year-old Raise Your Hand might have caught the bloodstock agent's eye in winning the Open Maiden. Making his racecourse debut, this promising type got jockey Darren Andrews off the 13-winner mark, quickening to beat the equally promising A Tipple or Two (Will Biddick). The winner was, "bought out of a Tipperary field," by former point-to-point jockey Martin Cooney who came over from Ireland to see the race. "I broke him and got him going then sent him over to Christopher (Barber) to train. "He will be a nice horse after summer grass and could go to the sales," reported the young trainer, another generation of the Barber pointing dynasty.
Will Biddick added to his record breaking tally with a smooth success on Tuff Nano in the Confined. This mare is unbeaten since joining Teresa Clark's yard last December. "She will go on any ground and might run again this season as she still needs educating," said the Spaxton based trainer.
Tuff Nano was an inspired £10,000 buy at Ascot sales, but the Hunt race winner cost connections only £600. This was Dry ol' Party who had already rewarded owner/trainer Stuart Payne by winning the Mendip Ladies' and followed up here under Chloe Emsley.