Sunday 17th April 2005
by Jeremy Grayson
Hard up against the Watling Street in the Warwickshire countryside, the Clifton-on-Dunsmore track is long-established in the history of British racing. Formerly the Rugby National Hunt racecourse, Clifton has been used for point-to-points since 1953 and rightfully attracts a big crowd to its sole meeting. This year’s renewal featured eight races and mostly dry and sunny conditions (bar a little peripheral drizzle during the last contest).
The immaculately turned-out turf on this perfectly rectangular left-handed track was riding soft with no appreciable deterioration during the afternoon. Alas, whilst the ground didn’t cut up, the fields had, and the organisers may have had every right to be disappointed with an initial entry of 165 reducing to under 60, with the Open races particularly affected.
Race One; HUNTS MEMBERS, SUBSCRIBERS AND FARMERS
A facile win in the opener for EMPEROR ROSCOE, who landed his second win of the season for the Day family, teenager Jon in the plate. This was his fourth run in as many weekends and represented a good confidence restorer following a heavy defeat at Pytchley and fall at Belvoir recently, although being 14 points higher than the next in the ratings – and eventual second here TRUE FRIDAY – he was entitled to take this if standing up. True Friday, only five and already a maiden winner at Garthorpe this season, is only going to improve and looks well suited to big, jumpers’ tracks on the evidence to date.
Race Two; MARES’ OPEN MAIDEN
This was a qualifier for the Panacur Final at Garthorpe in mid-May, and duly attracted the biggest field of the day (16) all vying for the four qualifying places. CURROW KATE was the pick on ratings, albeit a pretty ordinary 67, and had had more attempts at winning (12) than any of her rivals, so the bare form is not up to much. She fared much the best of those up with the pace from the start, and Lennie Hicks had enough horse underneath him to repel the challenge of BLACKBERRY THYNE up the straight.
The runner-up was ridden to last the trip, having been pulled up in a largely inconclusive racecourse debut at Brafield five weeks previously (“schooled; could do better”, read the report in the Weekender), and she arguably offers more hope in the short to mid-term than her more exposed conqueror here; certainly a maiden should come her bay before the season’s end. Similar comments apply to MONALEASE, struggling to stay when falling after 2m 4f from home at Pytchley last week and given too much to do here late on following a quiet ride from Stuart Morris. HERPEN, rated just 41 and with a string of non-completions only interrupted last time out, was never nearer than at the end and her finish in the final qualification slot for this heat only helped give the form a more ordinary look. SUZY SPITFIRE was hard ridden with over a circuit to go but managed to keep prominent on this first point-to-point run (no form in hurdles previously) before fading in the straight. She could yet step up on this run.
Race Three; CONFINED
Rowan Cope earned his (proverbial) fee on TOM TOBACCO at the final fence of this race. Having led from the start, the partnership still held a decent lead from the favourite NOBLE AFFAIR at the last, when the horse tried to refuse and had to be goaded into jumping the fence from practically a standing start. Unsurprisingly he landed four square and jolted Cope violently forward, yet he managed not only to keep the partnership intact but also to regain enough momentum to regain the lead from Noble Affair up the run-in – think of Baracouda’s mugging of Crystal D’Ainay after his last-obstacle problem in this season’s Long Walk Hurdle, double the seriousness of the mistake, and you’ll get the general idea. This was a welcome return to form from the winner, twice successful at Garthorpe last season but only once a finisher in four previous outings this, and the change to front-running tactics appeared to keep him interested for (more or less) all of the way this time.
The winner and Noble Affair had the race to themselves from around 5 out, Noble Affair having been waited with until the start of the final circuit. He didn’t seem as happy as the winner on the going (both his wins have come on good or firmer) and he got very tired halfway up the straight, so in the circumstances he did well to have enough left to be able to pinch the lead back after Tom Tobacco’s final fence antics, however briefly. There should be a race of some description for him this season if fast enough ground can be found.
MINELLA HOTEL and TIM’S THE MAN were both dropped right out the back until the back straight the final time, but were never going well enough to catch the two main protagonists. They had their own private battle for third spot which Minella Hotel won, but tragically paid for by collapsing and dying after the race.
Race Four; MEN’S OPEN
A pathetic turn-out of three for the men’s race here, and SILVER STREAK (1/7 favourite here with most bookies) could have won this wearing concrete wellies. A decent hurdler and chaser with Josh Gifford previously, he barely touched a twig in landing a third win from six races in this, his first season between the flags. He ran down the last rather, but that was surely down to idling in front rather than any tiredness or quirkiness, and it would be no surprise to see him turned out again quickly having expended minimal energy here.
A restricted winner at testing Mark’s Tey last season, a finish was TABLE FOR FOUR’s main priority here after two flops this year. He got the fence in front of the crowds all wrong second time around and got several reminders during the final circuit to keep him up to the job; he doesn’t look on entirely good terms with himself just now. GWYLAN, a serial no-hoper under National Hunt rules optimistically pitched straight into Open company for this pointing bow, jumped poorly throughout and was pulled up seven from home.
Race Five; LADIES’ OPEN
There were just five runners in this contest, but it was a properly run race, at 6mins 24secs the fastest of the day and fully 20 seconds faster than the non-race which preceded it. A really exciting raider here was STEP AND RUN, six from eight in points before this outing and already a winner over the stiff fences at Llanvapley and Horseheath (twice) this term. He was always doing enough out in front before being asked to quicken approaching the last, and his ultimate defeat of that dour stayer LUCKY MASTER was more comfortable than the naked eye margin would suggest. He has found only the 103-rated Cloth of Gold too good this season, and should find no bother in pinching another one of these if the going stays soft – certainly his connections’ enterprise in campaigning him as far afield as Gwent and Cambridgeshire merits further reward.
Lucky Master does not win very often, and his belligerent grinding away was never likely to overturn the class of the winner unless (perhaps) the ground had got bottomless. This was still a personal best for the season, though, and gained despite showing more interest in the location of the horseboxes than the job in hand with a circuit to go.
Having won on the Flat in his native Argentina before being brought over as a hurdling prospect by Wally Sturt and Jim Old, one can only guess what EXODUS makes of pointing, and he has not coped fully with the uphill finishes of either Penshurst or here. His third place here had more to do with FREE taking the second last by the roots and putting in a tired leap at the last; Free has yet to reproduce his dual winning form of last year. Juvenile hurdle winner HIYAH put in some frightening leaps on his pointing debut and pulled up with a circuit to go.
Race Six; RESTRICTED
Quite a competitive heat with all runners rated between 73 and 82, although not all of them entered the contest in the best of form. One such runner was NORTHSPRITE, who needed 22 attempts to break his maiden tag and had been pulled up the last twice. In both of those races he had been ridden prominently and with cheekpieces on, all to no effect. However, the same combination did the trick for him under Charles Wadland here, so he is probably not a horse easy to catch right, whatever aids he is given. His jumping early on left much to be desired as well, so all in all he’s not one to trust implicitly next time out.
Youngster JUMBUL SALE was outstayed in a battle up the home straight with the eventual winner, which saw the lead change hands a couple of times. He has had a mercurial start to his career so far, a good ground win in a 2m 5f maiden at Welbeck sandwiched between pulled-ups over 3 miles on easier going previous to this run. He will get stronger and better over time – he’s still a six year-old – although he has another 21 victories to go before emulating his fantastic dam Confused Express.
PERSIAN SILK shared much of the front-running with the eventual winner and STICK OR BUST, who stopped as if shot down the back stretch the last time; but this former Irish mares’ maiden winner found little for pressure when the first two started to get away entering the final straight and not for the first time looked short of gears. A more severe test than this might suit better. Favourite ALL RIGHT FOR TIME was never put into the race by Nick Kent here – odd, given how perfectly he’d got the tactics on him when winning at Thorpe Lodge last time out – and this run is best forgotten.
Race Seven; OPEN MAIDEN (Division One)
All shapes, sizes and abilities on show in the first heat of the maiden, and only four got home. In a driving finish, USEDTOBEASWEETBOY got his head in front at the eighth time of asking, with Richard Collingson getting him home just ahead of double-seeking Rowan Cope on ROCKVALE. Usedtobeasweetboy was not winning out of turn, having gained two seconds this season, but that most recent second at Guilsborough a week earlier may have been a win but for belting the penultimate obstacle, and – today’s reasonably clear round notwithstanding – the “F”s and “U”s in his form line indicate he still has a bit to learn about the jumping game before being backed with total confidence.
Rockvale was given a similar kind of ride as on debut at Welbeck last month, being brought into the race around four out. This time, however, he didn’t fold in the straight, and ultimately lost no caste in defeat. He is learning all the time and ought to land a maiden soon on this evidence. THE FLORIDA MAN was rushed into the lead with a circuit to go to keep him interested but was found onepaced turning for home, and BEAU JAKE’s effort was disappointingly short-lived after rousted to the front six out, on ground which should have suited.
Race Eight; OPEN MAIDEN (Division Two)
Just the four finishers again here with NORMANDY SANDS, formerly a modest hurdler with Luke Dace, stepping up on his well-beaten pointing debut fourth to True Friday (q.v.) to land the finale. He was one of few here with credible form on soft or worse. He’d need to step up a bit on this form before he looks like Restricted-winning material, as there was little merit in defeating poor rivals here in much the weaker of the two maidens, and he still had eventual second and third FAIR PROMISE and IZZYIZZENTY in close proximity up to the last.
Fair Promise had been stuffed by All Right For Time in a Thorpe Lodge maiden last time out – form that rival did not frank earlier on this card – and the “R” and “U” in his nascent form line indicate he is still a bit of a wild child as yet. Izzyizzenty, meanwhile, settled much better than usual this time and has now managed a couple of place finishes after four non-completions; he is slowly getting the hang of things, but it will still be a bad maiden he wins. ALL ALIGHT, the only other finisher, trailed in behind Normandy Sands last time and confirmed the form of that run here in running in last place for well over a circuit. He will need a more extreme test than even this to get competitive. TIPPERMAN needed leading in at the start to avoid causing trouble, and jumped erractically before pulling himself up before the first ditch. He looks one to avoid at all costs.
Mrs D Williams
Hon. Christopher Leigh