The Middleton held their meeting this weekend at Sheriff Hutton, courtesy of landowner and local trainer Mick Easterby, who was also celebrating his birthday. This popular meeting attracted runners from far and wide and is home to Yorkshire's highly prestigious Grimthorpe Gold Cup. Dale Peters has taken a liking for this track over the last couple of seasons and again brought along a strong contingent to the meeting.
The feature race on the card was the Grimthorpe Gold Cup and a strong field turned up on the day with top class performers such as Young Hurricane, One Conemara, Foxrock and last year's Heart Of All England winner Streets Of Milan, however it would be the Shropshire raider Ballyrath who would take the honours for rider Huw Edwards and trainer Heidi Brookshaw. Foxrock made a gallant effort under novice rider Alex Duncan and made nearly all the running but found only the winner too good as a good leap at the last allow Ballyrath to stay on strongly to the line and cause an upset. Foxrock filled second while the previous winner of this race One Conemara was in third under John Dawson. It was only Huw Edwards fifth winner in points and the winning son of Flemensfirth clearly relished the step up in trip.
Will Milburn was again in form recording a training and riding double. His first success came in the opening Hunt Members race aboard the 11yo Six A Side, who was recording his 12th career success. The pair were always in touch and travelled strongly two out to lead approaching the last and battled on strongly to hold off the fast-finishing odds-on favourite Aphaea under Will Easterby with longtime leader Wizadora boxing on for third. The winner has an incredibly consistent record being out of the first four on only three occasions in thirty runs and the application of first time cheekpieces eeked out a touch more from the winner in the closing stages, "We felt he idled a bit in the finish last time so we put the cheekpieces on to help him concentrate", commented Will, who hopes his winner can continue his good form.
The Open Maiden was divided on the day and gave Will his second winner of the day in Division One, courtesy of the 5yo debutante Chanting Hill. Purchased from Doncaster Sales last September, this 5yo daughter of Milan made a good impression on her first start, travelling and jumping nicely to lead on the run to three out and staying on strongly to hold off Scarlett Peak (Joe Wright) near the line. Purchased for £4,500, Will bought the mare along with his co-worker Marcus Haigh, "We wanted something to buy and sell on; she was a big strong chasing type and we thought she'd be ideal to go pointing" said Will, who admits they had hoped she could make her presence felt on debut, "She's always pleased us at home so we were hopeful that she would go well... she'll come on plenty for that!" admitted Will, who only has three horses in his care. Chanting Hill will now head to the sales towards the end of April. "She looked a bit green, but we're delighted; she won't run again for us and will head to the sales now!" said a delighted co-owner Marcus Haigh.
Division Two of the Open Maiden went to Dale Peters with his consistent Tom Tom Turnaround, owned by Mr Jon Balding. Dale had a battle on his hands over the final two fences as hot favourite Kimberley boy challenged under Will Easterby along with 4yo debutante Elusive Package under Ed Glassonbury, who no doubt will be getting off the mark in due course. It was the start of a double for Dale who has made several successful raids on the Yorkshire track. The winner who was recruited from Ireland where he showed plenty of potential, making a pleasing return last time after a long break to finish fourth.
Dale's second winner on the card came in the closing 2m4f Maiden for horses who have never run under rules. Bask In The Glory took a strong hold in the early stages but was never headed. Imperial Hill, the well-fancied from the Francessca Nimmo yard, tried to land a blow in the closing stages but could never reach the leader. Dale will be familiar with the family of the winner as he has done so well with his full brother Benefit Of Luck, "He's only 70% fit! He's quite a handful at home so I haven't done too much with him" said Dale who will no doubt hope this son of Beneficial can improve further. Back in third was the Roger Marley newcomer Withoutmoreado under Jack Jordan.
One of the most hotly contested races of the day, if not the season, came in the Red Mills Intermediate race and saw numerous top class progressive horses take part including Robthegetaway, Mr Muldoon and Royal Chant. Robthegetaway set a furious pace from the off, but it was the recent Corbridge winner, Buck Dancing and Jess Bedi, who stormed through to cause an upset, winning at odds of 12-1. The progressive Joe O'Shea trained Mr Muldoon came home in second and could now be Cheltenham bound after qualifying for the final, Royal Chant and John Dawson were back in third. Trained and ridden by Jess Bedi, who is now clear in the Yorkshire novice championship, Buck Dancing looks to have a strong chance in future Opens. Formerly campaigned in Ireland where the winner's sole victory came first time out in a maiden point on quick ground, future plans for the winner are unknown but he would surely have claims at Cheltenham on fast ground, "Honestly we're not sure what next. We had it (Cheltenham) in mind when entering the race so can't rule it out!" admitted Jess.
The Restricted race saw the improving 6yo, Hafajay, trained by Nicky Tinkler and ridden by Jack Jordan, take his tally to two wins from four starts. The pair were always prominent and looked to be getting the better of a battle with the favourite Omar Maretti when they were left clear at the last, staying on well to win cosily from Super Lunar and Will Milburn back in second with Monsun Storm and Joe Williamson third. Hafajay is going from strength to strength at the moment; owned and bred by Beechwood Stud owner Steve Knowles, he looks as though he can continue to step up through the ranks, "He's improving all the time, he jumps and stays well. He's a nice horse for the future" said Jack Jordan who has ridden the 6yo son of Haafhd on all four starts.
The Riders Conditions race almost saw another upset, as the odds-on favourite Path To Freedom surrendered the lead at the last after a bad blunder but rallied strongly towards the line to win under John Dawson, whilst runner-up, Things Change, looked to benefit from his last run under Will Easterby. Third went to the formerly useful Cup Final who was returning from a two-year break under Marcus Haigh and can no doubt follow up in a novice riders event next time. Plans for the winner are unclear at the moment but it's likely that he will take in another hunter chase.