Saturday 21st May 2005
by Jeremy Grayson
As alternatives to sitting at home watching the Cup Final go, this year’s renewal of the Clifton-upon-Teme point-to-point meeting will not have rated that attractively to less hardy souls – mostly modest fare, as can be the case just a few weeks away from the end of the season; a number of very small fields of dubious quality; a feeble tannoy relaying some decidedly half-hearted racecourse commentary; and fearsome, persistent heavy rain which had this writer filling his notepad whilst training his binoculars through a gap in the driver’s seat window for three races (and still getting wet through)! A shame, as the efforts of the new management team at Upper Sapey deserved better for efforts which had included good use of an agrivator on the turf (resulting in a decent, safe, predominately good to firm surface, at least until the rain got into it, anyway), rebuilding of the fences and some entertainments for the kids.
This Hereford and Worcestershire course, situated six miles north of Bromyard, has characteristics resembling a right-handed Sedgefield, with a stiff climb in the back straight giving way to an equally pronounced downhill home run, and a couple of fairly sharp bends. All eight fences (including the ditch) are jumped twice bar the first and second (thrice), and races – at the shorter end of the definition of “three miles”, if optimum times are anything by which to go – consist of two and a quarter circuits.
Race One; MEMBER’S RACE
A match between WYLE POST and GUARD A DREAM was quickly ended as a contest when Wyle Post ran out at the seventh fence; and although that one retraced his steps and did eventually finish, he never got back to within a fence of a rival officially 23 points his inferior according to The Pointer’s ratings. Clearly the form is of little consequence, and the winner, who has proved increasingly one paced in his other recent outings, won’t have things anywhere near as easy as this again for a long time.
Race Two; RESTRICTED
This looked a useful opportunity for one of a motley bunch of serial non-stayers (with an alarming collection of “p”s against their names this season) to pick up a prize, and it was ultimately Steve Wynne’s HIGHLANDS II who came out on top in a tight four-way finish (one of three such finishes on which, rather disappointingly, caller Edward Dingle refused to commentate any further from halfway up the run-in – are they allowed to do that nowadays?) from SHUIL MONTY, FENCE THE GAP and LOST IN THE SNOW. Highlands II declined to accompany Shuil Monty when that one went on with fully a circuit to go, and he simply had more to spare than that rival at the sharp end of the race. Previously a maiden winner at Sandon two years ago, Highlands II came into this race with the second-lowest rating of any competitor (64) and a stack of non-completions from having repeatedly run out of gas around 2m 4f, so he is far from an obvious choice to follow up.
Andrew Hanley’s assertive ride on Shuil Monty didn’t fail by much, and this was by far the horse’s best effort since his arrival from Ireland. With proven form on a firm surface over there, he might be able to steal a similarly poor Restricted before the season’s end. Fence the Gap didn’t beat much when winning the Golden Valley members’ race at Bredwardine seven days earlier, but this slow-maturing animal probably took enough out of himself that day to be found just wanting in the scramble for the line today. As with Shuil Monty, he remains of a little interest in bad fast-ground Restricteds. Julian Pritchard got the exaggerated waiting tactics wrong on Lost in The Snow on this occasion, dropping the horse way off the pace for the first circuit and a half and giving him too much to do late on. Still, as the youngest horse in this heat (7yo), and with a mostly consistent first British season behind him, he is almost certainly the one with the biggest future ahead of him here.
Race Three; PPORA Novice Riders
AIRCON earned a hard-fought win under a good ride from Simon Moreton in this race, the horse’s second win this season and third in total. Having cut out the early pace alongside the increasingly decrepit CHADSWELL (who ran very moodily and put in a succession of slow leaps before fading completely three out), he was given an easy time up the hill on the final occasion before throwing down a renewed effort from the penultimate obstacle to wear down the teenage duo WILD EDRIC and STANMORE. Aircon seems to appreciate sharp, undulating tracks and fast ground best, having just held on to land another PPORA race with Moreton at Hackwood Park five weeks earlier. Even granted those conditions, he might still need to find a bit more improvement if his attentions are turned to Opens hereafter.
A six-times winner in his career, Wild Edric can tend to keep a bit to himself nowadays, but he was on a going day today and was certainly not leading under sufferance two out. His safe jumping should ensure he continues to be a good schoolmaster for young riders, if not actually one whom they can believe will always put it all in near the finish.
Formerly a 120+ rated chaser for Charlie Mann before going on to become a fairly useful hunter chaser / summer jumping horse for Tick Saunders, Stanmore has always been at his best on fast ground around sharp tracks (was especially proficient at Southwell and Fakenham under Rules). He has clearly regressed a little further since his return to the amateur ranks, but is every bit as safe a conveyance as Wild Edric and stayed on gamely at the one pace after being relieved of the lead by that rival part-way down the final hill. Bang there four out after racing prominently, GAY BARATINEUR faded quite disappointingly thereafter; a good second for Sally Wallace in a similar race at Larkhill three weeks ago, he looks difficult to catch right.
Race Four; MIXED OPEN
The biggest field of the day – thirteen – lined up for the Hugh Corbett Challenge Cup, in which the services of Julian Pritchard brought about a return to form for MACY. A winner of his Members’ race at Andoversford in mid-April, Macy had been turned out four times since (including two hunters’ chases), showing little enthusiasm for a fight in pulling up from a prominent early position every time. Pritchard kept him to his task all the way round here, however, sitting him just off the lead set by the erratic-jumping BROOK BEE until five out and then repelling all challengers from the front thereafter for a three-quarter-length victory. This was by no means a cosy victory and the horse could probably use a break after such a busy time of it recently, but is not guaranteed to get it.
FARNANDO still only had one or two behind him with a circuit to go but was given a great reintroduction to the racecourse after a year off by Geoff Barfoot-Saunt. Thrown into the race coming down the hill the final time, it was possibly just his lack of race fitness, which saw him lose the argument to Macy. Evidently hard to train, Farnando’s connections won’t have many chances left this season to build on this very good reappearance, but a modest Open could be within his grasp if they can find him one.
SNOWTRE was also waited with and attempted to follow Farnando on his acceleration through the field late on. He proved far too one-paced to join the duel for victory late on, however, and his 2l third was as close as he got. With three placed finishes and four non-completions he has had a hit-and-miss season to say the least, and whilst this represented his second sound effort in a row (his 8l third in the Men’s Open at Bredwardine last week was fair enough form), he is still a little way off adding to his career tally of four wins at the moment. Still only eight, however, he has a good few years left to do something about that.
DO IT ONCE provided the nearest thing to a hard-luck story on a day of few fallers, unseating three from home when creeping up on the leaders. A little short of gears nowadays and better suited to a stiffer test than this, it would have been debatable as to whether he could have kept tabs on the front pair’s sprint to the line in any case. DANTE’S BATTLE was sent to join the eventual winner four out but his effort proved short-lived, and it appeared his exertions in chasing home The Wee Bishop in a Ladies’ Open seven days previously (over a trip which he still hasn’t conclusively proved he stays) had left their mark.
Race Five; INTERMEDIATE
This looked a penalty kick for JOLLY JAKE with a recent Restricted win at Ashorne under his belt and generally consistent efforts in that and Intermediate spheres of late. Coupled with this, MAGICIEN had looked very ordinary when drubbed by 40l in the Ladies’ Open at Bredwardine last week. However, the hot favourite always looked the least happy of the two (neither of whom had winning form on what by now had certainly become rain-softened ground), and had to be rousted back into contention following a mistake at the 8 th and another two from home. Magicien simply kept finding more whenever Jolly Jake loomed, and won this with contemptuous ease in the end. His jumping was faultless and, not being a world-beater by any means, he might serve purpose better helping out novice riders in PPORA races rather than struggle any longer in Opens. Jolly Jake can only improve on this disappointing effort and will be seen to better light once more on genuinely fast ground.
Neither of the other two runners ever got competitive, BORDERLINE BREEZE always in the last couple and VALMAN fading rapidly – under a particularly tardy ride from Patrick Millington – having been sent to join the winner briefly six from home.
Race Six; 5-7yo MAIDEN
Just two completions from six career starts before the race partly disguised that SEIZE THE MOMENT is an improving young horse, and he built on his encouraging second place over 2m 4f at Eyton-on-Severn earlier in the month with a most authoritative victory here. Booted 6l clear at the top of the hill by Adam Wadlow, he left his two remaining rivals for dead to shed his maiden tag as he pleased. The occasional jumping lapses which have seen him on the floor twice in his last three races were completely absent today, and how quickly he progresses up the pointing ladder from now on will probably depend on them staying away.
Already with a reputation established for jumping right, and needing leading down early and mounting at the start, THORNTON BRIDGE is clearly not the most straightforward racehorse you’ll ever see. He pulled himself into the lead straight away and was still going well enough – despite again shifting right repeatedly - when coming down five out. The basic material for a maiden win is there, but just two finishes from eight starts now indicates that it won’t come easily.
LORD MUSGRAVE was the only other finisher, despite having made at lest three significant errors (the nod at the eighth being the most serious). He registered his first completion in four attempts either side of the Irish Sea here, but was beaten too far to suggest he is about to convert completions into wins any time soon.
Race Seven; 8yo+ MAIDEN
Having shown fair placed form round the sharp turns of Garnons in March, EVANLY MISS enjoyed spinning off the same here in breaking her maiden tag at the twelfth attempt. Putting some muddling jumps behind her early on, she got the better of a protracted three-way sprint with ARTIC SUMMER and BARON KISS, which lasted from four out to the finish. However, as all three protagonists have struggled to see out the three mile trip more often than not in their races to date, the fact they pulled clear of the remainder should not necessarily be taken to mean the form has a solid look to it. Further, the second and third homes have now accumulated 36 defeats between them, and it will be a bad maiden either of them does finally manage to win.
Race Eight; CHALLENGE EVENT
A curious event to finish, in which three horses completed one lap of the track (minus the ditch) with the aim not necessarily of winning, but rather to finish the lap closer to “a sensible hunting pace time” known only to the judges (3 minutes 50 seconds, it transpired) than his or her rivals. Andrew Shaw on OPTIMISTIC THINKER, latterly a most disappointing performer for Tom George under Rules, passed the post ahead of Harold Franklin on AD LIB and Dr Sarah Myhill on CON, but it was Ad Lib – planted at the start and only set off slowly by Franklin 30l behind his rivals before building up momentum – who got closest to the magic mark and collected first prize. All three horses jumped superbly.
Mrs R E Walker
Miss R Hutsby
Mr M Jones
Mr S Isaac
Mr R Hirons
Mr G C Evans
Mr Ed Walker
Mr S Ross
Mr Simon Moreton
Mr Julian Pritchard
Miss L Brooke
Mr Adam Wadlow
Mr Mark Jackson
Mr Harold Franklin