This meeting fell victim to frost the day before and the organizers deserve every praise for rearranging the fixture at such short notice. The official going was soft, which seemed largely accurate as only a furlong or so could be described as heavy.
The Hunt Members was a match between the long odds-on favourite Essennbee (Mark Bennison) and the unraced nine-year-old William Ryburn (Nick Kent). There was a major upset as William Ryburn passed the front-running Essennbee entering the home straight and never looked like relinquishing the advantage. Owned by hunt master Laurence Kirkby, William Ryburn had been prepared well by Nick Kent and was seven lengths too good on the day. Essennbee had a creditable second to Ask Bobby in a maiden here during 2006 to his name, however he had been off the track since and that counted against him on this occasion.
Seven horses lined up for the Confined and Jacqueline Coward got off the mark for the season aboard Preston Brook. A monumental blunder at the 11th fence almost put paid to Preston Brook’s chances, but a superb recovery from his rider kept the partnership intact and little momentum was lost. Preston Brook has had some niggling problems, but likes this course and was showing the benefit of his seasonal reappearance at Alnwick in January. Runner-up Sad Mad Bad kept responding to Tom Greenall’s urgings and is still a force to be reckoned with. The talented Hermes under Oliver Greenall in third made a promising comeback from a near three-year layoff. Vital Spark (Oliver Williams) in fourth is a taking individual and, although he did have the run of the race, can build on this.
There were just three runners for the Ladies Open. It was nonetheless an interesting contest, which was reflected in the fact that the trio all went off at starting prices of greater than even money. A bold display of jumping from Iron Express, with Jacqueline Coward in the plate, secured the honours. Iron Express made every yard and wasn’t extended. A proven soft ground performer, Iron Express is a fearsome opponent on going like this with the emphasis on stamina. Flashy Boy, ridden by Hannah Kinsey, went down by five lengths. This was a similar level of performance to when he chased home Ask Bobby in a Thorpe Lodge restricted earlier in the year and he should hold his own while there is plenty of give underfoot. Third-placed Claire’s Nomad was always the trailer in the hands of Rachel Clark and may prefer a sounder surface.
The Mens Open attracted 15 runners and was a strong heat. Fred Hutsby had Lord Trix to the fore throughout and, for a horse that hadn’t carried off anything better than an intermediate before, he ran out an impressive winner. Fred’s horses rarely lack for fitness and Lord Trix lost nothing in defeat when he bumped into the useful Royal Scandal at Barbury Castle last month on his return from two years on the sidelines. Lord Trix would have a live chance if his attention is turned to a hunter chase. Border Fusion was given a patient ride by Gary Hamner and gradually worked his way into the race. To come a clear second was no mean feat and a success of his own should not be long in coming. My Best Buddy came third for Dickie Barrett. He has kept his form very well down the years and consistency remains his greatest virtue. The Butterwick Kid, who is usually pretty straight for his first outing of the season, was fourth for Richard Tate. Castleford was making a bit of late headway when departing having been well behind, but Jackson was never sighted. Sikander A Azam emptied quickly leaving the back straight on going that was more testing than ideal. He’ll come on a bundle for this.
There was a field of 13 for the Restricted that featured some fair sorts. Beau De Turgeon under Oliver Greenall collected the prize from Polyarnoe Bay and Mark Walford. A former hurdler with Ian Williams, Beau De Turgeon had gone into many notebooks when he landed a 2m4f maiden on his point debut at Alnwick in January, from which the third Oca De Thaix has since picked up a Friars Haugh maiden. Now that he has proved three miles on holding ground is well within his compass, we should be hearing more of Beau De Turgeon in the future. Mark Walford guided Polyarnoe Bay into the runners up spot and the mare appears much improved compared to her efforts in small field maidens as a five-year-old in 2005. In terms of physique, she has matured considerably and a restricted ought to come her way before long. Rash Move disposed of subsequent Thorpe Lodge maiden winner Why Connie at Cottenham in December so boasts rock sold credentials. On this evidence, a restricted should be a formality. The once promising West Coaster (Joanna Mason) in fourth hinted at a revival and was just ahead of Kindle A Flame, who can normally be relied upon to run to this standard. Clever Fella will find easier tasks, Colonial Gunner will come on for the run and the well-backed Barrys Lord came down at the first.
The Mares Maiden saw 13 horses face the starter and all eyes were on the striking, but fragile, grey Royal Return. She didn’t disappoint and was the ready winner, with Oliver Greenall doing the steering. In chasing home the ill-fated, but talented, Letsgeton here in 2006, she exhibited some ability and, if she can stay healthy, a restricted should be within Royal Return’s capabilities. The only horse to pose a threat from a long way out was Rising Whip under Richard Wakeham. Rising Whip stuck to her task, staying on stoutly in the closing stages to be a clear second. She put in her best performance when third at Mordon in similar conditions last year, but even so has returned to action looking an entirely different proposition. At eight, the penny seems to have finally dropped for Rising Whip with the racing game and further progress can be expected with this run under her belt. Dracaena was back in third on Philippa Tutty’s first ride. Although Dracaena is somewhat one-paced, she should act as an able schoolmaster. Only three got round as Whinny Bank was sensibly pulled up in the home straight having got tired. Rathfriland showed a bit of promise, although she was backpedaling when departing. Mines A Double made a highly pleasing debut .
Division One of the Maiden for Horses and Geldings brought together ten horses, the vast majority of which had bits and pieces of form. At the head of affairs by a wide margin when it mattered were Cold Play and Simon Walker in front of Izzyizzenty (Oliver Williams) and Shapani (Chris Dawson). Cold Play passed the judge in splendid isolation and for an inexperienced five-year-old having his third attempt between the flags, jumped like an old hand. Even though some of his foes hit the deck, you couldn’t fail to be struck by the ease of this victory as Cold Play ran his rivals ragged. He must once have been thought capable of a much higher grade because he passed through Tattersalls ring for 100,000 guineas in October 2003. Izzyizzenty might find a little race, whereas Shapani hasn’t really gone on from a decent start to his career. The Artful Fox, a giant chestnut, was badly in need of the run. The fancied pair of Harwood Dale and Mighty Leader came to grief separately just before halfway and Killnascully King crashed out four from home when within three or four lengths of the lead. The Gerald Bailey-trained newcomer Smugglers’ Run received a nice education, however he had stopped virtually to a walk when he was asked to take the third last, where he took a hefty tumble. Many racegoers feared the worst, but after an absolute age, Smugglers’ Run thankfully got to his feet, seemingly just winded. Hopefully the incident won’t have any long term mal-effects on this good-looking gelding.
There were seven combatants for Division Two of the Maiden for Horses and Geldings, which wasn’t short of drama either. Spellar Park, a promising recruit when only finding Beau De Turgeon too good at Alnwick, had the race in safekeeping at the final fence when he got in too close and paid the penalty. Compensation surely awaits for Gill Walford’s charge. This left the contest at the mercy of the only other two horses still going. Jacqueline Coward galvanized Myoss into plugging on all the way to the line to deny Little Fountain and Dickie Barrett. Previously with Reg Makin, Myoss was scoring at the first time of asking since joining Cherry Coward’s stable. This completed a treble on the day for Yorkshire’s champion lady rider of 2006. The well-related debutant Little Fountain had already had a hard race, even before Spellar Park’s mishap. He might take time to recover. Artic Omen has now shaped encouragingly on both his appearances, here he took a heavy fall four out when with every chance, much the same as happened on his initial outing at Alnwick. The same fence claimed Working Class Hero, who wasn’t totally discredited. Everytime was pulled up with a circuit still to go.