Barbury basked in unseasonal sunshine on Saturday for the eight races at the rescheduled Vine & Craven Point-to-Point, at which the honours went to Will Biddick and Phil York – the only two men currently riding with over 300 successes in points – both of whom rode doubles, and to the irrepressible Tim Underwood, who trained two winners.
The main race on the card was the Timico Mixed Open, with £1,000 worth of added prize money, for which six went to post. The favourite was Sonneofpresenting, owned, trained and ridden by Sarah Rippon and an impressive winner here in December but, though he was always prominent, he couldn't shake of the attentions of seasonal debutant Templebraden, who led most of the way in the hands of Zak Baker and held on to beat Fly West by three-and-a-half lengths, with Sonneofpresenting five back in third.
"That was lovely," exclaimed winning owner Sarah Oliver. "Although I didn't expect it – I never do! He likes it at Barbury and has been placed here before." Templebraden is being trained for the first time this season at Kinnersley – former base of Fred and Mercy Rimell – by James Ridley, who told me who his move from Bromyard came about. "(Sarah's husband) Michael phoned up and asked if I wanted to go. I've been sent a few horses and have nine in this year. That's my second winner of the season. Michael said the horse might need the run," continued James, "But he's an easy horse to do at home."
Winning jockey Zac Baker was beaming afterwards. "That's six wins on him now and he's one of my favourites, along with (Oliver-owned) Green Winter! He loved it – he has to be up there and we had the rail all the way, which helped. He's been in such good form at home." Zac, for whom it was a fourth pointing win of the season, is now just seven short of a century of wins in total. "I'd like to get to 100 this season," he admitted, "And to match last year's total of 18 in points."
The JRL Group Point-to-Point Flat Race was divided at entry and saw the largest fields of the day, with 15 in the first division and 13 in the second. The opener was taken comfortably by Equus Gold – held up in rear early by Peter Bryan, he moved smoothly into the lead a furlong out to score by three-and-three-quarter lengths from I Will Follow Her with Famous Friend three-quarters of a length third. Well-backed favourite Blaster Yeats was a never-nearer fourth.
"He's a nephew of (triple Topham Trophy winner) Always Waining," confirmed winning trainer (and father of the jockey) Willie Bryan. "He's a brilliant jumper but has shown so many gears at home that we thought this would be an easier option. I think he'll probably be sold," admitted Willie. "He runs for a syndicate (headed by David Smith) – all of whose horses have the Equus Prefix – and it would be the commercial thing to do! We hope he'd be smart enough for the point-to-point bumper at Aintree."
The second division saw the most exciting finish of the day, with favourite Bird On The Wire, trained by 2017/2018 champion Phil Rowley and ridden by Noel George, just holding on to beat So Socksy and Mount Nelly by a short-head and a head in a driving finish, having been held up early, then sent into the lead six furlongs out. "I thought, 'Has he gone a bit early?'" reflected winning trainer Phil Rowley afterwards. "But we didn't want it to be a sprint. I've always liked him at home and thought he had more speed than I Will Follow Her. I'll have to talk to the owners," was Phil's response to the inevitable question about a post-race sale. "He's got a nice pedigree, jumps like a bunny and is very saleable."
A cross-card treble on the day saw Phil move on to ten winners for the season at a strike rate of more than 40%. "I haven't had many runners," he told me. "A lot's gone wrong, but that's life and I just keep smiling," before confirming that stable star Hazel Hill remains on course for the Cheltenham Foxhunters. "He's a nice horse who ran a bit green. I've always liked him and he'll improve for fences," said winning jockey Noel George, who is 'unofficial' second jockey to Phil behind Alex Edwards. "I'm busy at Dad's (trainer Tom) but try to go to Phil's once a week – it's nice to sit on good horses," added Noel, who aims to follow his father into the training game eventually but, in the short term, hopes to qualify the useful Brandon Hill to run in the Aintree Foxhunters.
Arguably the most impressive winner of the day was Timmie Roe in the concluding event, the three-runner Sporting Agenda & Wimbledon Debenture Tickets Members Race. Never headed as he set a fast pace and left clear when Princely Player fell at the final ditch, he came home in canter over two fences clear of stablemate Golden Crisp, yet still equalled the fastest time of the day. Asked how the race went, winning jockey Phil York quipped, "I asked the others before the start if they knew what the track record was. When they said no, I said 'You will afterwards!'" "He's alright," was the understated response of winning trainer Tim Underwood. "I got him from Ireland and he'd run a fortnight before he came to be, so I didn't have to do a lot to get him fit. He could go through the grades."
Tim and Phil's first winner came in the Ramsbury Vodka Open Maiden for four, five and six-year-olds, in which Streets Of London beat five rivals under a vintage ride from his 52-year-old pilot. Held up in rear off a slow pace, he went third three out, moved into second at the penultimate fence, jumped into the lead at the last and held on in a driving finish by three-quarters of a length from the promising front-running newcomer Bespoke Cave. Fellow debutant Equus Dreamer was third, two-and-a-half lengths away.
"I can't get too excited – it's a Barbury Maiden, not the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe," said a less exuberant than usual Tim afterwards. "He'll be better over three miles – he's by Morozov, so is bred to get further and be a late developer. He may go to Kingston Blount next." "300 and I don't know," responded Phil to my enquiry about his point-to-point winner count. (It's 325 now). "Experience counts for a lot," he smiled. "I was always happy – it was nice to see the front two racing, as I knew I could go quicker. Tim told me not to take it up until I jumped the last." Phil, who has 'ten-ish' to train himself this year, harbours no thoughts yet of quitting the saddle. "As I've said to you before," he admonished me, "The house is paid for, the children are grown up, I've got nothing to prove and – as long as I feel OK when I get up in the morning – I'll keep going. Anyway," he added, "I've told Tim that he's not going to be the oldest person to ride a winner – it's gonna be me!"
The Jockey Club Estates Open Maiden saw Will Biddick get off the mark for the day, making all in a field of six on Nobodydoesitbetter, trained by Andrew Jackson at Rackenford, near Tiverton. The six-times champion was at his best on the favourite, making all then quickening clear after three out to come home unchallenged by 12 lengths from Long Mile Road, with well-backed Don't Ask Us ten lengths third. Andrew, whose wife Ollie is a former head girl to David Pipe, told me how he came about the horse for owners Paul Green and Derek Lovell. "We picked him up cheaply from Nigel Twiston-Davies as he'd had a year off with a leg problem. Derek's been a loyal owner for many years and Paul is my father-in-law. We're a one-horse yard – we haven't trained one for a couple of years – but he's been working well at home. He's a big old-fashioned staying galloper."
"They was no pace on, so I thought I'd use his experience," confirmed the winning jockey afterwards. "He was super-fit – I couldn't have ridden him like I did otherwise." Will confirmed that he is keen to win the jockeys title again, after losing his crown to Alex Edwards last year. "I'm having a good season and am chipping away, but I don't have a big stable any more like Alex does – I rode for 40 trainers last year!"
Will completed his double, moving within two of 400 winners between the flags, on Teresa Clark's Pancrace in the Magee Equine Restricted Race which, with eight runners, saw the biggest field over fences of the day. As in the previous race, the former champion led most of the way and, though favourite Hidden Cargo closed to second five out, the 9/4 shot always had something in reserve and scored by a cosy five lengths. Inmyday, who lost all chance with a bad blunder at the ninth, was 15 lengths third.
"The penny's dropped now," confirmed winning owners Sean Finn and John White. "He won at Upcott Cross last season and has been second twice this year. It's ground dependent for him." Victorious trainer Teresa Clark, who trains nine at Spaxton in the Quantock Hills, laughed as she confirmed her owners' views. "The key to him is his brain. He's difficult – shall we say 'forward-going' – at home but we've got a lid on him now. We tried different things with him last season and he got better when we took the hood off. I've got high hopes for him and think he's the best horse in the yard," she continued. "We may go Hunter Chasing, but we'll run in another point first." And does Stratford beckon for the Restricted Hunter Chase, which the same connections won with Our Chief in 2017? "We'll have a discussion!"
A trio came under starters orders for the Jamie Snowden-sponsored Novice Riders Race. "Always back the outsider of three" says the old adage, and it was proved right here, as 7/4 shot Flicka's Witness, at 14 the oldest horse in the race and ridden by Jamie Brace, the most experienced of the three jockeys, got the better of 6/4 joint-favourites Earthmoves and Judge John Deed, leading all the way to win by a length and four respectively, after the whole field was in a line at the second last.
"We've had him for nine seasons, so he's got the hang of it now," smiled delighted owners Denis and Pauline Moylan, who have three with winning trainer Joan Johnston. "He normally needs the race, but we thought he'd win and he jumped very well off a slow pace. Jamie had never ridden him before but did everything right – you can't tell him what to do at a fence or he gets confused." "That went to plan," said a relieved Joan. "He was a late starter, but the older he gets, the more confident he is." Both owner and trainer were keen to pay tribute to Jennifer Harbison, who does all the riding and schooling at home, while the successful jockey praised the trainer.
"It helps when you get given good instructions," Jamie confirmed. "The plan was to get a nice lead and get him jumping and travelling, and he filled me with confidence." It was a third win in points to go alongside two on the flat for Jamie, who works for Alex Hales. "I hope to turn professional eventually," he told me. "I've just got my category B licence and had my first ride against professionals at Fakenham recently."