When I pulled back the curtain this morning, I did not expect the East Essex meeting to go ahead. There was a carpet of snow, two inches thick, covering the landscape, and the garden pond had completely frozen over. On top of that, yesterday, before the white stuff had come, my car twice had to be cajoled from the mud whilst I cheered on the Waveney Harriers at their token “hunt”.. Marks Tey was notorious for getting waterlogged and, although sixty miles away was nothing in metrological terms, surely the ground could not be suitable for racing?
I decided to check with Talking Point. After two or three premium minutes listening to ramblings on meetings in the north and the west, they said they had heard of no problems concerning the East Essex. Hardly definitive! To double check I decided to leave a message on Pointingea. After an hour or so, someone came back and said that, bar a little frost (which was expected to come out in the bright sunshine), the course was clear. In slight disbelief I removed the snow off my car, packed my wellies, shovel, and a thermos, and set off.
As I drove, more snow fell. The road to Diss was slippery with slush. From Diss conditions on the A140 improved slightly, but the surrounding fields were still white. Twenty five minutes later (yes the A140 is pathetically slow with the new crawl limits!) I was on the A14 and able again to engage fourth and even fifth gears. The sprayback of water from the other cars was so great though that I had to have the windscreen wipers on double speed. The same was true for the A12 heading out of Ipswich. It was so wet that I almost toyed with the idea of stopping and phoning Talking Point again from my mobile. The quick calculation of premium rates on a pay as you go mobile dictated, however, that it was cheaper to drive the remaining distance and see for myself.
The sun shone brightly on the gatemen at the course, although their already runny noses told me that the accompanying temperature was far from warm. It seemed another country from that which my journey had begun in! I looked for somewhere near the entrance to park my car – if it was going to get stuck again then I didn’t want to be at such a far away point there would be no-one about to help push it. I needn’t have bothered. The ground had a firm base, and gave no indication that the car would sink. Good to soft at the very worst.
The first reward for my efforts was a three runner Members. No Penalty against two others. It was as much of a contest as it would have been if Tartar Sabre and No Nay Never had been pitched in against Best Mate. After a quick check just to make sure that the bookies had not gone senseless with cold and were offering evens about the jolly (they weren’t; – 2/7 was the best on offer) I decided to watch the “race” from the car. It proved little more than a schooling exercise and perhaps Stephen March, No Penalty’s lucky owner, reflected afterwards on what more he might have learnt had he have let his pride and joy take a chance in the Mens Open, for which he had also been entered?
The Maiden, numerically at least, promised to be a more competitive, although all the money appeared to be for David Kemp’s Fiftiesonfire who had gone into many notebooks after his debut run at Horseheath a fortnight earlier. Unfortunately for punters, he came to grief at the fifth fence when Lolloping Lad fell in front of him leaving him nowhere to go. The only other runner for which there had been a modicum of cash was Manhattan Storm, but he failed to seize the best opportunity he will probably ever have to lose his Maiden tag, and put in a distinctly lack lustre display to eventually finish a remote fourth. John the Mole, from the Turner yard, and Golden Shred, from Ruth Hayter’s, had the race between them from a long way out, with the former surviving a blunder at the last to prevail by a long looking neck.
I noted Paula Twinn’s Mai Cure, a sister on the dam’s side to Mai Point and Mai Knight, as one to keep an eye on for the future. She was given a quiet time on the first circuit and moved easily through the field to hold a prominent position when the contest hotted up. Although she tired three fences from home, she was not given a hard time and did more than enough to suggest that a similar contest should be well within her grasp.
The Ladies Open gave yet another opportunity for a rider from outside the region to pinch one of “our” prime prizes. For the second time this season, Heather Irving seized it gratefully. This time the vehicle was the odds on chance Killerine who shared pacemaking duties with Fair Exchange before shedding himself of company five fences out and coming home comfortably clear. Lucky Master, on whom Gina Swan may have overdone the waiting tactics, finished full of running in second, with Fair Exchange, who found little when asked to quicken, a poor third.
Although only five went to post for the Mens Open, it promised to be a cracking race. Market leader, at 11/8, was Denvale who was stepping up in grade since demolishing Airoski and company at Horseheath. At 2/1 was Swincombe, who had Cantarinho behind when chasing home An Capall Dubh on the same Horseheath card. Third favourite was Cross River, who had useful point and Hunter Chase form last year when with Sue Smith. Whilst it could be argued that Militaire and Pardon What were there simply to make up the numbers, they both had the form in the book (albeit a long way back) to suggest that their chances were far from forlorn.
At the first fence one possible permutation was immediately discounted as Pardon What simply refused to get off the ground. He came to an abrupt halt the wrong side of the birch obstacle and Christian Ward Thomas could not persuade him to jump it.
Cross River led the remaining three at an unsustainable pace and, once he was reeled in and passed after a circuit, he was soon a spent force. Militaire was probably not race fit enough to live with the other two at present, and was the next to see his chance evaporate as the market leaders began to race properly coming out of the back straight, six fences from the finish. He eventually suffered a nasty fall two out and failed to collect even third place prize money.
No one rides Marks Tey better than Andrew Hickman. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen him hunt a horse around the long galloping track for two miles before putting them sweetly in the race without the animal realising what was going on, and then delivering a telling challenge between the last two fences. As he stalked Denvale around the final bend I thought that would be his plan today. I suspect it may have been (Andrew will no doubt put me right if it wasn’t!) but the slightest touch on his horse produced a change of gear so instant and telling that Denvale was ten lengths adrift, and looking decidedly flat footed, by the time Swincombe had cleared the second last. At the final obstacle all that was required was a safe jump, which Mr Hickman just about managed!
I am tempted to go overboard about the merits, and the manner, of this victory, but I am reminded of a similarly impressive display on another Hickman horse two years ago. Splash And Dash never repeated that performance and it turned out to be his career highlight. With this very much in mind, I will refrain from putting that jinx on Swincombe! I will, however, be noting his Hunter Chase entries.
Eleven runners contested the Confined, although the finish involved only the first three in the betting. Joint favourite Jim’s Belief set off with the intention of making every post a winning one, with George Cooper in the saddle almost powerless to suggest otherwise. Three quarters of a mile from home it looked as if he would succeed, with only the third favourite, Lord Valnic, in close proximity. The other joint favourite, Deckie, was a good ten lengths further behind, although he did appear to be travelling well and had not yet been asked a serious question. Westerfield John led the remainder, but he was tiring from his exertions and was a safe twenty lengths adrift of the first three.
At the second last it was a different story. Jim’s Belief had failed to sustain the gallop and Lord Valnic went on. Deckie, meanwhile, had eaten into the leader’s advantage and was poised to make his challenge. He delivered it, smoothly, up the final incline and quickly carved out a two length advantage, which he maintained all the way to the post.
It was an impressive performance by the first two. Lord Valnic had done nothing since winning back to back events at the course in 2003. Today’s running suggested that, whatever troubles he had, Tom Bryce and Alex Embiricos have got to the bottom of him, and they should be able to find another race for him before too long.
David Kemp gave Deckie a lovely ride, which achieved the desired result without taking any more than absolutely necessary out of the horse. He reminds me very much of Madmidge, the stable’s big improver of the 2004 season, and it really does look as if he will continue to progress in a similar way. This was a significant step up on his Restricted success at Higham, and he probably has a lot more still to be unveiled.
Whilst Deckie provided the Kemp’s compensation for their disappointment with Fiftiesonfire in the Maiden, it was left to Persian Hero, in the Novice Riders Race, to extend similar comfort to Caroline Bailey for the earlier defeat of stablemate Denvale in the Mens Open. Partnered by a supremely confident John Russell, he was up with the pace throughout and kicked on when the long time leader, Village Copper, tired five fences from home. Second favourite Ain Tecabet tried to go with him for a while, but, at the third last, it became obvious to all that his pursuit would be a vain one. Persian Hero was simply a class above the rest of the field, and galloped his rivals absolutely ragged. With a Novice Riders prize at Ampton already under his belt, he and John Russell look capable of building up a long sequence of wins if campaigned in similar events throughout the season.
A big disappointment about the race was that only four riders ever gave their mounts an opportunity to compete. The others looked to be content merely to get round; – hardly a fitting spectacle for the paying public. Aside from the first three home, only Matt Smith aboard Kate Thory’s debutant, Warrier Lad, troubled the commentator by more than the all inclusive comment “the rest are a long way behind”. Warrier Lad, clearly running for the experience, matched strides with the leaders for fully two miles before tiring and being immediately pulled up. When competing in more appropriate Maiden company, he may well surprise at an each way price.
There were three talking points surrounding the seventh and concluding race on the card; the Restricted. The first was that Nibby Bloom had driven all the way from Charing, where he had earlier steered the promising It’sallinthestars to victory in their Restricted ,to partner the eleven year old Second Thoughts on his first outing for two years. The second was that last week’s Members winner, Eurogadael, having lost his maiden tag at Ampton last year, was still eligible for Restricteds. I was not the only one who thought that he did fit the category of a “horse who had not won a race other than a Maiden or a Hunt Members race”, and that the key word in that criteria was “OR” rather than “AND” or even “AND/OR”
The third talking point turned out to be the most relevant in winner finding. It was that Bill Warner, a rare visitor to anywhere east of Cottenham, had persuaded Stuart Morris, who surely would have been offered several other opportunities at any number of venues around the country, to come to Marks Tey just to partner Rathbarry Lad. The combination proved to be the easiest winners of the day, defeating Second Thoughts by an official distance. They were probably helped by the fourteenth fence fall of Eurogadael, although I do not believe the result would have been any different had he stood up. Rupert Stern had been niggling at him for quite a while and he was never travelling as comfortably as he had been in his previous races.
Before concluding I have to pay tribute to the bookies who braved the harsh Siberian wind for the second week running, and, by and large, offered decent value to the comparatively small number of punters present. There are always exceptions to any rule, however, and this week’s “Rip Off” award has to go to someone who is no stranger to receiving such accolades. I am, of course, talking about JV of Colchester. His book on the last race takes some beating and it seems destined to be the stuff that legends are made of!!!!
Whilst those around him were offering evens about the favourite (Eurogadael), JV took it on himself to offer odds on the forecast. Not odds without the favourite please note, but odds on the forecast. The only odds he chalked up were all based on Eurogadael winning. They were 5/4, 5/2, 6/1, 8/1, and 8/1. – a massive 108% overround AND the favourite had to win!!! Whilst most of the punters still remaining knew a little bit about what they were doing and avoided him like the plague, I still saw some money make it’s way into his satchel. This really is deception on a highway robbery scale, and the less discerning and knowledgeable members of the public that will be present on higher profile days, such as Bank Holiday Monday, really should be protected from cons such as this. Someone within East Anglian pointing has to take responsibility, bite the bullet and actually do something about it. If allowed to continue unchecked it will ultimately drive spectators away from the sport and into the arms of the (much fairer) cartoon racing from Ladbroke Park.