A drying couple of days left the going at Good To Soft, however persistent heavy rain set in after the first race and by the last heat, it wasn’t far off being waterlogged. Finishers were at a premium as the stamina-sapping conditions took their toll.
The Hunt Members brought together four hopefuls and there was a very short-priced favourite in Robber, who was in a different league to his rivals on ratings. The outcome didn’t follow the script though, as Twin Bay Cruiser and Steve Charlton proved the more resolute. Twin Bay Cruiser took up the running on the first lap, was given a breather heading to the back straight for the final time, and then renewed his challenge at the second last before defying Robber and Michael Morley on the run-in after a fine leap at the last had given him the initiative. Robber should have been able to win this on all known form, but even so it was a career best effort from Twin Bay Cruiser. Irene Kate, partnered by Chris Cundall, was third and didn’t fare too badly. Only three finished.
Nine horses came under orders for the Ladies Open, which was incident-packed to say the least. Again, only three finished. San Francisco, with Freya Hartley in the saddle, gained a thoroughly deserved victory. San Francisco was being encouraged to keep up with a circuit still to travel, but he kept responding to his rider’s urgings. He was helped by carnage at the 11th fence that removed Del Trotter, Lanaken and Wrapitup from the equation, while the favourite October Mist departed at the final ditch. None of the drama should detract from a sound display from San Francisco however, and he was rewarded for some consistent placings. At 13, San Francisco isn’t quite the force of old, but soft ground means the younger types don’t go as fast and he is just the sort of horse that you would want on your side when the chips are down. Rachel Clark guided Claire’s Nomad into second, but they could never get on terms. Double Rich and Joanna Mason completed in third a long way behind.
The Restricted had 12 runners and an impressive winner in Banchory Two, under Oliver Greenall. As at Thorpe Lodge, the scene of his maiden triumph, Banchory Two benefited from a positive ride to show off his undoubted talent. A confined could well come his way if similar tactics are deployed. Elusive Swallow was driven into second at the final fence by Nigel Tutty. She looked a horse to follow when making a winning debut at Duncombe Park in February and backed that up here. A restricted should not be long in arriving. Luke Lively came third for Mark Walford and can be relied on to set a decent standard, whilst Master Jackson (Serena Brotherton) was fourth. Ginger Biscuit was returning from a layoff and has the ability to take a race of this type when fit.
There was a field of 11 for the Mens Open. Imps Way has been a fantastic servant to Tracy Corrigan-Clark down the years and she only had to be pushed out hands and heels by Clive Mulhall to score a shade cosily. Imps Way travelled supremely well to the second last, at which point she was shaken up to quicken and did so to pass Bobby Buttons approaching the final fence, prior to pulling smoothly away in the closing stages. Imps Way has now won five point-to-points, including three here, and three hunter chases. She’ll be a hard nut to crack when returning to hunter chases. Bobby Buttons has come a long way from the days when he seemed as though he would never lose his maiden tag despite countless placed efforts. He has always been a crowd favourite and found plenty for Nigel Tutty to go down by three lengths and be clear of the remainder. Still eligible for a confined without a penalty, he must surely take all the beating in that sphere as the calibre of opposition would not be anywhere near as high as he met on this occasion. Queenies Girl claimed third under Paul Frank and clearly benefited from her reappearance at Duncombe Park. Glenelly Gale and Oliver Greenall in fourth were readily left behind turning for home. The thirteen-year-old found surprisingly little for pressure, but shouldn’t be discounted just yet. Carew was far from disgraced after a year off the track and will strip fitter next time. Making her initial appearance on a racecourse was the young mare, Eliza Doalott. She needed a bit of encouragement to go down to the start, but once the race was underway jumped like an old hand. She remained in touch with seasoned campaigners for the best part of two miles before understandably tiring quickly. Expect her to be a major player when tackling maiden company.
Division One of the Maiden was a ten horse affair. Harwood Dale was heavily backed to recoup losses incurred at Duncombe Park and he was rarely in danger. As soon as Mark Walford kicked him on, he had his opponents in trouble. Bearing in mind that Harwood Dale was a Brocklesby Park maiden winner in 2006, yet lost it at an enquiry in the summer, he can return to restricteds where he had fair form in the second half of last season. It was a real slog through the mud and Chris Dawson stopped the runner-up Shapani to a walk on the run-in. Shapani hasn’t looked all that happy with life in the past, but you couldn’t fault him for trying this time. More than a fence behind Shapani in third was Silver Sovereign. David Cottle managed to nurse the grey round and there was no question of Silver Sovereign being exhausted as he was actually moving faster in the home straight than Harwood Dale and Shapani had done before him. Tom Greenall sensibly pulled Welham up as soon as he began to flag. The debutant Pecanwood was a first fence casualty.
Seven horses set out for Division Two of the Maiden, but only two finished. It was a stirring conclusion as Imps Pride and Philip Cornforth got the better of Arf The Price and Mark Walford in the final furlong. Imps Pride bumped into an above average newcomer in Stonehatch at Alnwick, after which an early blunder lost him all chance at Duncombe Park. He has shown enough to take a hand in a restricted and can remain on the upgrade. The runner-up made a commendable debut and will know more when next seen. Arf The Price should get his head in front once he has fully recovered from his exertions. Beijing Breeze got further than he has before, while the experience won’t be lost on Pertinax.
Despite the atrocious conditions, 13 horses were declared for Division Three of the Maiden. There was a duel at the death to bring proceedings to a close and the spoils went to Young Claude from Miss Tosca. Young Claude has often been the bridesmaid, but finally got off the mark at the sixth attempt in points after a lengthy career under Rules. Tom Greenall dropped his whip on the run to the last, but his strength in the saddle even without it was crucial for Young Claude to gain the day. Stamina is undoubtedly Young Claude’s strong suit. Miss Tosca didn’t shirk the battle for Tina Jackson and her turn will come. Her second behind Elusive Swallow last month reads even better now. In third, Alpha Lima wasn’t persevered with by Simon Walker once the principals had flown. Alpha Lima was competing for the first time since finishing a close fourth at Duncombe Park last year in a maiden that has worked out very well. He can build on this. Summer Equinox, who has a bit of a presence about him, put in a bold display of front-running on his first start and, although he eventually came to grief, certainly has ability.