|A biting cold wind and several sleety showers failed to dampen enthusiasm during a fantastic afternoon’s entertainment. Although the course walked quite firm in places, the horses made a decent print and Good would be a fair description. This was borne out by a total of 101 horses being declared. An intended seven race card had two divides on the day and racegoers were allowed the bonus of nine action-packed contests. There was also a rare treat for point fans in the shape of the 2005 and 2006 Aintree Foxhunters hero Katarino, who was having a pipe opener before attempting to make it a hat-trick of titles in April.
The opening Younger Horse Confined Maiden was split on the day and 11 horses took their place in Division One. There was quite a gamble (12-1 to 2-1) about the six-year-old Anacrusis, who was making his debut. The pace was fairly sedate, which contributed to a bunch finish. It was Anacrusis that quickened up best of all under a measured ride from Mark Walford. Anacrusis looked fit as a fiddle in the paddock and with normal improvement should make his presence felt in restricteds. Artic Omen and Guy Brewer were closest at the line. Artic Omen seems to have rectified the deficiencies in his jumping and can find a little race. Considering that Teeton Dazzler was still very much in need of the run and experience, this was a sound effort in third. Stuart Morris’s mount is probably the one to take out of the race and on this evidence a maiden should be a formality. Pie Marsh was fourth for Matt Briggs and ran much as he had done in the past. Little Fountain was quickly left behind once the pace was upped, while Skuna Bay might not have been suited by a sprint up the home straight and there ought to be better to come from Bouncing Back.
Division Two of the Younger Horse Confined Maiden had ten runners and there was also a muddling gallop here. It is difficult to know what the form is worth as the leading three were covered by less than a length. The honours went to Arf The Price and Mark Walford, the jockey completing a quick double, this time on a horse trained by his mother Gill. Arf The Price had made a nice debut at Charm Park a fortnight ago under very different conditions, but he did make pretty hard work of it today. Runner-up Sovereign Quest needed plenty of coaxing by Richard Armson to leave the parade ring, whereas he wanted to head back to the horseboxes. However, once he got down to the matter in hand, Sovereign Quest showed that he does have some ability. This was something to build on. Third-placed Merrimac, with Patrick Millington giving maximum assistance, got much closer than his recent efforts suggested he would. Maybe the better ground helped him. There isn’t a lot to Smart Mistress (Matt Mackley) in fourth, but she did come on for her Market Rasen debut and will do better in time. Crystal Haven led pulling hard and was soon six or eight lengths clear, but was already on the retreat when she got rid of Jacqueline Coward at the 13th. She bled from the nose and had a valid excuse. Knoxhill Archie was beaten when taking a crashing fall two from home that left Serena Brotherton with a fractured pelvis. Alpha Lima was the odds-on favourite, but backers knew their fate when he appeared to run out after a circuit, rather than be pulled up with a problem.
The Novice Riders race had 12 participants. A ding-dong battle over the last two fences between West Coaster and Joanna Mason and Teeton Priceless and Jonny Bailey saw the former come out on top to give Joanna a well-deserved first victory between the flags. West Coaster had great potential a couple of years ago, but a novice chase career failed to take off and he has gradually come back to himself for his new pilot. The grey was a popular winner and would be worth an interest in similar company in the future. Teeton Priceless tried her best, but was just run out of it after it looked like she had stolen a precious few lengths turning for home. Wonder Weasel kept on one-paced for Sam Vaughan-Jones in third, ahead of Hurricane Bay and Kirsty Fitzgerald in fourth. Ain Tecbalet went off on his own from flagfall, but eventually paid for the suicidal gallop as he dropped out rapidly leaving the back straight for the final time. Just A Man was always out the back, while Silver Buzzard ejected Sam Hutchinson at the first and the short-priced jolly Jackson also departed before the race had begun in earnest.
The Confined saw 13 horses come under orders and there was an impressive winner in Limerick Leader. Gemma Hutchinson sent the blinkered nine-year-old on at the penultimate obstacle and he never looked like getting caught afterwards. Limerick Leader had come up against some reasonable types in a couple of ladies opens this year and enjoyed the drop back to this level. Limerick Leader formed part of Dom Bradshaw’s Six to Follow for the Midlands season. Preston Brook under Jacqueline Coward returned to the scene of his triumph in a confined in February. He had no answer to the winner’s kick, but didn’t fare badly under a three pound penalty. Third-placed Niembro, with Oliver Williams in the saddle, should improve on this initial start in points. The Graduate (Simon Walker) in fourth ought to have found the outing of benefit. Major Shark is difficult to win with, but equally gets round without threatening. Junior Fontaine wasn’t persevered with once his chance had gone and will strip fitter next time. Round The Isles was quite disappointing and Creative Time didn’t reach the standard of his solid efforts from earlier in the campaign.
Just five horses went to post for the Ladies Open. Robbers Glen hopefully has his best days still ahead of him being only seven and he received support in the ring on his first try in opens. Val Jackson was content to look on from the rear, but once she took closer order and asked Robbers Glen for an effort, the response was immediate. This wasn’t a bad race and Robbers Glen made a useful start in the upper echelon. He had gone into many notebooks when landing a restricted at Alnwick in February. Commanche Hero (Jill Dawson) in second isn’t getting any younger, but should keep performing creditably, as he had when he made a successful reappearance at Welbeck. San Francisco, ridden by Freya Hartley, was a solid third on ground that is plenty fast enough for him. He’ll continue to give his best. Quarter Masters (Rachel Clark) was below par in fourth. Diceman will come on for the run.
Eight horses turned up for the Mens Open and no doubt numbers were kept down by the presence of the irrepressible Katarino. In truth, it did become a one horse race and Sam Waley-Cohen’s partner hardly broke sweat to cross the line under a tight rein despite two or three jumping errors. Once he had cantered past Lord Trix as they exited the far side, Katarino strode away with aplomb. The starting price of 2-5 was pretty generous in the circumstances. It is not often that a horse of this quality is seen in point-to-points and it is a testament to the preparation of the course that Brocklesby Park should be chosen for Katarino’s Aintree warm-up. Although no match for Katarino, Lord Trix filled the runner-up position under Fred Hutsby 12 lengths behind. Lord Trix was fully entitled to end up second, having been so impressive when winning a strong mens open here last month. More success is bound to come his way before the season is out. In third, April Spirit (Steve Magee) was always going to find it hard on this sort of ground at an ordinary three miles, although she made a bold bid from the front. April Spirit will have many supporters if she takes in the Grimthorpe Cup next month. The Butterwick Kid and Richard Tate finished fourth. Nearing retirement, The Butterwick Kid isn’t the force of old, but can still be relied on for a respectable display.
A dozen horses went to post for Division One of the Restricted that was split at declaration. This division was just about as strong a restricted as you would see anywhere. Something Small enhanced his burgeoning reputation when he only had to be pushed out by Sam Waley-Cohen to score with clinical ease. Sam’s second winner in successive races was no trickier than the first. Something Small is certain to chalk up further triumphs in both the short and long term. Runner-up Brown’s Beck never gave in for Steve Charlton and this admirable sort must be fancied to land at least a restricted. From a small stable, it takes a good one to get the better of him. Spellar Park in third made a bad mistake at the second ditch that Mark Walford did well to survive. The blunder knocked the stuffing out of him just as he was making headway and Spellar Park can bag a restricted before this campaign is over, unless he’s put away until 2008. Oscar Buck and Joe Docker were an honourable fourth. Oscar Buck had bumped into the improving True Legend at Welbeck and this was an even more difficult test, so he can be found a much easier opportunity to add to his Higham maiden victory. Rash Move folded tamely and this can’t have been his true running. He is worth another chance. Glencraig will have more of an impact with the run under his belt.
Division Two of the Restricted had 12 runners as well, but was weaker than the previous race. That shouldn’t detract from Fair Doo’s achievement though. With regular jockey Guy Brewer already claimed, Steve Magee was the beneficiary. When he asked Fair Doo to pick up, there was plenty left in the tank and Reg Makin’s charge fairly bolted up. An amazing late burst landed him an Alnwick maiden in February and it was his deep reserves of stamina that were vital here. He had appeared somewhat one-paced in 2006, but has clearly begun 2007 a different proposition by twice being successful in excellent fashion. Sarah Phizacklea guided Texas Belle into second and no face was lost in defeat. Texas Belle has returned from an absence in good shape, only finding True Legend superior at Welbeck a fortnight ago, and her turn will come. Dannymolone and Simon Walker took third. Dannymolone seemed to enjoy the better ground and can get his head in front soon. Chestnut House (Richard Armson) was fourth. William Lyburn was beginning to creep closer after being held up in rear when he came to grief at the 13th. Toms Party was never travelling with much purpose, but was still in touch when he dislodged his rider five out. Sideline Critic, who had made a winning debut at Welbeck, found the going much tougher one rung up. Rosedale Abbey the newcomer shaped like one for the future.
There was a maximum field of 18 right on the safety limit for the Older Horse Open Maiden, which was a good race of its kind as the time was over eight seconds quicker than the second division of the restricted and both earlier maidens. The open ditch was omitted on both circuits as it had been damaged in the previous race. Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of incident, although thankfully all concerned returned none the worse for their spills. The two that fought out a tight finish were Golden Shred and Alfie Be, with neither giving an inch. The latter gained the day in a head bob to get Dickie Barrett on the scorecard for the afternoon. Alfie Be is lightly raced and has had his problems, this being just his fourth racecourse appearance. There should still be some improvement left. Golden Shred the grey stuck to her task for Richard Armson and on this evidence it is hard to envisage Golden Shred not finding a race soon. Rising Whip was back in third in the hands of Richard Wakeham. Blinkers have done her the power of good. Although she couldn’t get near the pace today, helping to dictate matters has brought about a more consistent level of form from her. Fourth-placed Crake Way (Clive Mulhall) needed the outing and should have a more prominent role to play next time. He has a small event in him. Return Fire ensured a strong gallop, but shot his bolt after four out. Final Era is a real handful, initially not wanting to be mounted or leave the paddock and then reluctant to join the others once he was down at the start. Some fairly heavy tack is a necessity and when they had jumped off he was decidedly headstrong, however Final Era showed that he does have some raw ability.