A tremendous amount of rain the previous day meant this fixture had to pass an 8am inspection. It did and the precipitation left testing, but not bottomless, conditions and the going was officially described as soft, heavy in places. There was a commendable attitude from all riders in pulling their mounts up as soon as tiredness set in. The Yorkshire season got underway with an excellent turnout of runners and the hazy sunshine helped attract a large crowd to enjoy the afternoon’s entertainment.
Seven horses lined up for the Hunt Members and on ratings 1-2 seemed a fair price about Iron Express, who had barely broken out of a canter in collecting a Brocklesby Park ladies open a week earlier. He was equally impressive today in gaining a ten length verdict over San Francisco. These two filled the same positions in a race at Flagg Moor last season on far worse going than this. Iron Express was partnered by the current champion Yorkshire lady rider Jacqueline Coward, who immediately set her stall out that she wasn’t prepared to relinquish her title in a hurry. Iron Express has stamina in abundance and will take all the beating whilst there are similar conditions underfoot. San Francisco (Freya Hartley) is equally at home on soft ground and, although he’s not getting any younger, he might find a little race in 2007. The third and final horse to finish was Master Jackson under Serena Brotherton. Now And Again was pulled up after a bad blunder at the second last when he was just beginning to feel the pinch. Making his racecourse debut was Swaledale. He kept tabs with the leaders to the third last before losing touch and pulling up after the penultimate obstacle. This was a promising start and, judging on how he sounded as he hacked back, a tongue strap might help in the future.
There was a bumper field of 17 for the Confined, during which a superior leap at the final fence sealed success for Ask Bobby and Guy Brewer over Forty Shakes and Chris Dawson. There had been five lengths between the two in a Thorpe Lodge intermediate last month and they were the top two in the market here. A six pound penalty was not enough to stop Ask Bobby, who made it five wins on the bounce. Amazingly, the winning distance of a length is the most yet and Ask Bobby has started at odds against on each of them. Held up on the first lap, Ask Bobby made smooth headway on the second circuit with some scintillating jumping and stayed on strongly when pressed. He’s open to further improvement and still shows some signs of greenness. Forty Shakes ought to pick up one of these races. He is a capable performer with very few miles on the clock. Creative Time was coaxed into third by Miles Seston. A tricky customer, Creative Time certainly has ability on a going day, but his temperament can be an issue. Flat Stanley grabbed fourth. He might be best caught fresh, but there was much to like about this effort nonetheless. Alfie Twofourtwo wasn’t disgraced, while Chaos Theory will come on for the run. Narciso was disputing third when he came down at the last. This was another step in the right direction.
The Restricted brought together 12 hopefuls. Nigel Tutty persuaded Colonial Gunner to power up the hill to glory. Colonial Gunner was displaying the benefit of a pipe opener at Brocklesby Park and this sort of surface brings out the best in him as his maiden victory at Mordon was in a bog. He also has an illustrious half-brother in the late County Derry, therefore longer trips might see him in an even better light. Banchory Two kept on for second, ahead of Oaklands Luis and Lee Bates in third. Oliver Greenall reported that the saddle slipped on Banchory Two so he did well to end up as close as the four lengths that he did. A restricted should not be long in coming for the Thorpe Lodge maiden winner. Oaklands Luis was returning from a year off and had obviously lost none of his spark. Provided he doesn’t bounce, Oaklands Luis can get his head in front next time. Twin Bay Cruiser (Steve Charlton) completed in fourth. Polyarnoe Bay, having run a blinder at Brocklesby Park last week, was travelling like the proverbial good ‘un when she hit the deck. It was three-quarters of a mile from home, but she did look as though she would take a hand in the finish. Senza Scrupoli wasn’t knocked about once his chance had gone on the run to the last. His turn will come. Zero To Hero was carrying a lot of condition and can make his presence felt when he’s fit.
There were nine declarations for the Mens Open and a mighty battle on the steep incline to the lollipop. The mare April Spirit came out on top as she gamely held on having put in most of the donkeywork at the head of affairs. She was trading in the region of 4-1, which appeared quite generous odds, given that she signed off in 2006 with a victory over 3m6f in a hunter chase at Huntingdon, albeit fortunately due to a final fence faller. Stamina and guts are her main attributes and jockey Nick Kent making the trip from Lincolnshire for one mount should have been a tip in itself as to her well being. Robber and Michael Morley pushed April Spirit to the limit, but had to settle for the runner-up position, just as they had in the same race twelve months ago when Mr Mahdlo got the better of them. On the longer courses, Robber can be relied upon to keep his form. There was a break of 20 lengths to the third, Glenelly Gale, with Oliver Greenall in the saddle. In his younger days, Glenelly Gale was decidedly useful in Ireland, however at 13 and embarking on the British point-to-point scene, he is going to be hard to beat in future when lack of fitness won’t be a factor. Scenic Storm (Nigel Tutty) in fourth was driven along from a fair way out and will be better off for the outing. Queenies Girl always takes a couple of runs to show her true colours and Victoria’s Boy is more of a spring horse these days.
The Ladies Open had nine runners and a fine training performance from David Easterby gave Jacqueline Coward a double aboard One Five Eight. A new recruit to pointing, One Five Eight was a winner under all three disciplines under the professional code. He used an impressive turn of foot to collar Interdit on the uphill run-in and forge clear. Interdit has the heart of a lion and stays forever. Jill Wormall will pick up more races on him following their success at Cottenham on New Year’s Eve. Third-placed Duchess Account, with Emma Brader in the plate, couldn’t land a blow. This wouldn’t be her favourite track, while an interrupted preparation is another valid excuse. More can be expected when she is next seen. That grand old campaigner October Mist was never competitive in fourth and if Katy Bannon can reinforce his enthusiasm he can figure later in the season. Wilfie Wild and Mister Bromley didn’t really get into the argument either. They are vulnerable to younger prospects, but it will be a surprise if they aren’t seen in a different light next time.
As in 2006, two fences on each lap were omitted from the maidens due to the low sun.
Division One of the Maiden was the quicker of the two and drew in 15 horses. A positive ride from Oliver Greenall paid dividends on French Envoy. More forceful tactics and the application of headgear were the key after questions had been asked following his second at Thorpe Lodge in January. French Envoy doesn’t appear entirely straightforward, but he didn’t shirk the task as no horse scores at this venue without serious effort. Young Claude and Miles Seston came second. Young Claude needs a test like this as he can only keep on at the one pace. If the rain persists, he might yet lose his maiden tag. Harwood Dale (Mark Walford) was 20 lengths back in third and just plodded on past beaten horses. He didn’t look all that much in love with the game. In fourth were Elusive Madam and Nigel Tutty. She has improved with every race now and a maiden should come her way at some stage. Midnight Prince got tired and has more to offer. Bonnie Blue shaped like a stayer in bumpers and was knocked down for 2600 guineas at Ascot Sales in June 2006. She could be a late maturer who may come on for the experience.
A total of 13 horses were present for Division Two of the Maiden. Nigel Tutty was in double form on Elusive Swallow. She was left clear to saunter past the post by a very easy 15 lengths. Although making her debut, Elusive Swallow was noted as pretty trim in the parade ring. She was bought by the Broad family for 3500 guineas as a three-year-old at Doncaster Sales in 2005. To win a maiden at the first opportunity marks Elusive Swallow down as a bit special. It will be interesting to see how one so inexperienced gets on in a restricted. The runner-up was Miss Tosca. Tina Jackson’s charge is a likeable sort and she was exhibiting her first obvious ability. If she can build on this, the long term is bright. Third-placed Imps Pride (Philip Cornforth) was a worthy favourite following a pleasing reappearance at Alnwick. A shocking early blunder that his jockey somehow managed to survive lost him any chance and this run is best forgotten. Whinny Bank (Jacqueline Coward) in fourth is another not without hope, but needing time. The blinkered ex-hurdler Panama Three Knots led them a merry dance out in front and was still a length up when she fell at the last. Stamina didn’t seem to be a problem and on this evidence a maiden would be well within her capabilities. Welham, a giant individual, must be a nightmare to get fit, but is also held in high regard by connections for him to be persevered with into a third season. He blew up after the second last. Like Elusive Swallow, Beijing Breeze took the eye in the paddock as he has quite an imposing physique. A Philip Hobbs cast-off, he ran out at the bend before the ninth with steering problems on only his second racecourse appearance. He’ll learn with experience.