The earliest ever January date for point-to-point racing at Alnwick was an unqualified success with a bumper crowd and 50 runners on a six race card at the West Percy fixture on Sunday.
George White's home-bred 11 year old gelding, Bafana Choice easily justified odds-on favouritism in the opening Carrs Billington West Percy Hunt Members Race. Making all the running under Richard Smith, he cruised home twenty lengths ahead of the only other finisher Sounds Of Italy (Kit Alexander) and could return to Alnwick on Sunday 5th February for the Percy Hunt Members Race.
Favourite backers were on the mark again in the Hazelrigg Racing NPPA Club Members Race as Nick Orpwood's mount, Always Tipsy followed up last month's course win in good style. Always lying handy, the 8 year old gradually reeled in the leaders on the final circuit before heading Summoned (Richard Smith) two out and had three lengths to spare at the line. Orpwood said: "They didn't go a mad gallop and he was always in his comfort zone. He measured his fences really well and stayed on strongly in the closing stages." Cockburnspath livestock farmer, Alan Wight, the gelding's trainer, added: "I might now have to look for an Open or Hunters' Chase as he's not very big and I wouldn't want him to carry a double penalty in this grade."
Last season's Heart Of All England Maiden Hunters' Chase hero, Ardea extended his unbeaten run between the flags to five in the 11 runner JH Greenwood & Company Men's Open Race. Still in the last pair at half-way, the 9 year old sliced through the field on the final circuit like a knife through butter and settled the issue in a matter of strides after hitting the front approaching two out. Forging clear in the closing stages, he beat Great Gusto (Will Ramsay) by a distance with Chicoria (Nick Orpwood) a further half length away in third. Owner/trainer, Justin Landy said: "His main target in the first half of the season is still the Walrus Hunters' Chase at Haydock Park on Saturday 18th February. The change of tactics has worked well as Joe played the perfect waiting game and he'll be even better coming off a stronger pace."
"You need a bit of luck sometimes," remarked Amie Waugh after a fortuitous win on Flookburgh raider, Quel Elite in the Mercedes-Benz of Coldstream Ladies Open Race. The odds-on favourite, Knocklong was out on his own when he overjumped three out, landed on his head and gave Catherine Walton no chance of staying in the plate. Former hurdlers, Street Entertainer and Quel Elite were left in front and despite both of them finishing very tired, the latter plugged on best from the last to secure a six lengths verdict.
Formerly with Jimmy Moffatt, the 13 year old finished four lengths 2nd to Grand National winner Pineau De Re at Carlisle in December 2015 and twelve lengths 2nd to Mr Moonshine at Haydock Park two months later. Now with Gemma Walton, who used to work for Moffatt, he was given to her in June and runs in the colours of her partner, James Latham.
Joe Wright completed his second Alnwick double of the season on the progressive Weston Flame in the Sintons LLP Restricted Race. Given another confident ride, the 7 year old cruised into the lead approaching three out and left her rivals toiling down the home straight. Eased right down on the run-in, she had twenty lengths to spare over Denbigh raider, Indigo Island (Philip Thomas).
Former Irish pointer, Dynamic Island was not beaten far by Weston Flame on his first run for the Bevin yard at Alnwick in December and franked that form by going one better in the 12 runner Apartment Group Open Maiden Race. Always going well under Rory Bevin, the 6 year old was sent on four out and was able to coast home a distance in front of Active In Milan (Henry Morshead) with the only other finisher, Lord Usher (Kate Leckenby) a further head away in third. Bevin said: "He was a bit of an unknown quantity when he ran here last time as I'd only been able to do one serious piece of work on him in the previous three weeks."
The next Alnwick fixture is the Percy on Sunday 5th February.