The North West area got off to an excellent start on Sunday, with forty-four runners declared for the seven races. The going was mainly good to soft, and the decent crowd enjoyed good sunshine for much of the afternoon.
The highlights of the day were riding doubles for Brian Carver and Alex Edwards, and a training double for Phil Rowley. Alex Edwards rode a first and last race double on Encounter A Giant in the Intermediate and Gadrose in the Restricted.
The Sheriff Hutton scorer Rob The Getaway, ridden by Henry Crow, was a warm favourite for the Intermediate, making most of the running until passed by Encounter A Giant at the second last. Edwards had about a two-length lead at the last where the favourite fell, and he pushed his mount out to win easily by eleven lengths from Asangy. The seven-year-old winner had shown real promise last season winning a Maiden and Restricted and had been given time by his trainer and joint owner Diana Ralph. Her son Alastair representing her suggested that the gelding would contest another point before trying a Novice Hunter Chase, with the ultimate target being the Intermediate Final at Cheltenham in May.
The six-year-old Gadrose took it up at the fourteenth in the Restricted and kept on well to beat Spoilt Sam by an easy three lengths. The trainer reported that the mare owned by Diane Williams had strengthened up well from last season, and the connections are looking forward to a good campaign.
Edwards had earlier ridden the joint-favourite Bear's Affair in the Timico Mixed Open, and any of the three finishers could have won turning into the straight. Bear's Affair led at the last fence but was pipped close home by his stable companion Optimised, ridden by Noel George, with Drumhart back in third. It was a first Open success for the winner owned by the 40-strong Optimistic Partnership and trained by Phil Rowley.
Brian Carver had originally intended to ride at Buckfastleigh, but with Tommie O'Brien booked to ride for the Laceys at Larkhill, Carver got the call to replace him on a few rides. The journey from Somerset proved worthwhile, and his tactics worked well in the Confined where he slipped the field four out on Ballyrath and had seven lengths to spare on the line from Undisputed, with a neck back to Mister Splodge. The winner had won at the corresponding meeting last year and is trained by Heidi Brookshaw.
The most impressive winner of the day was Garry Clermont who led with a circuit to go in the four, five and six-year-old Maiden, and steadily drew clear to win by an easy fifteen lengths from Dee Star. Carver was very excited with the opportunity to ride the winner, having only met the trainer Francesca Nimmo on the day. Nimmo and her partner Charlie Poste bought the French-bred four-year-old debutant at the Goffs Ireland Landrover Sale for 24,000 euro, on the advice of the consignor Peter Nolan, and their investment certainly looks good value at this stage.
In the six-year-old and upwards Maiden, there was a debut win for Cai Williams on Jobsonfire, who got the better of the favourite Albert Cutler after the last to win by one-and-a-quarter lengths. The jockey, aged 27, worked for Donald McCain for several years before joining Oliver Greenall's stable. The seven-year-old gelding, who improved on his Atherstone runner-up position, is trained by Sam Alwood and owned by the Peter Morris Racing Club of six, that includes the breeder Sarah Thomas.
Harry Myddleton won the Veteran and Novice Riders race on his father Guy's Port Melon, having been bought at Doncaster May sales out of the Paul Nicholls stable. It was a first winner for Josh Guerriero since training at Stockton Hall this season, and he suggested that the winner would probably return for the next meeting at the track in three weeks time, before pursuing a Hunter Chase campaign.