Finally made it to my second meeting of the year – don't get the same chances since I became a family man! The hunt members had made a very great effort to keep the ground well watered over the previous week and the going was generally good to firm. I believe they are being called in by the organisers of the Badminton Horse Trials as consultants next year! A total of 45 runners for the six races was a good response, particularly as there was a rival Welsh meeting taking place on the following day at Pentreclwydau.
The opening members race had 5 runners with SCOTCH CORNER and ICEBERGE (making his points debut) vying for favouritism. However, the latter was soon beaten with Scotch Corner looking the likely winner until 2 out where Tim Vaughan challenged for the lead on VANILLA MAN. He took the lead at the last and held on by about a length – a result of an excellent ride as much as equine ability.
Tim Vaughan was less lucky in the Restricted where Rhys Hughes brought HUME THEATRE to win from the lucky Bonvilston winner LETSPLAY. Hume River had previously won a soft ground point in Ireland but has now proved that he handles firmer ground aswell. Although Letsplay would not have won his Maiden at the Pentyrch meeting two weeks ago but for the easy favourite ducking out when well clear at the last fence (ridden by Rhys Hughes, strangely enough), he showed further improvement here and should be winning at this level soon.
Five horses were declared for the Ladies Open but only 4 started with the withdrawal of the fancied second favourite KHATANI at the start. This left the race for an easy victory for Polly Gundry on GEMSTER.
There were five starters for the Men's Open which was the third race of the day to produce a close finish, with novice rider Luke Price prevailing on the second favourite VALJEAN from the enigmatic CHESNUT WOOD. Chesnut Wood likes firm ground and saves all his best form for Ystradowen where he has won four times. However, this was probably one of his best runs away from that course but he was unable to make up the length deficit despite great efforts from 2 out. There may yet be another Open win for this horse if the ground stays firm, as well as from the winner.
HI TECH MAN ridden by Miss A Smith-Maxwell was the easy winner in the PPORA novice riders race. This horse has been running well without winning this year, and in this class was able to win by a distance.
The final race, the maiden, was literally a non-event! Fourteen runners went to post with the slight odds on favourite CRAIGMOR ridden by Polly Gundry. I must admit that I was unsighted as to what exactly happened, but it seems that Craigmor fell on the flat whilst between the second and third fences. (Could other correspondents enlighten me?). What was initial joy for the bookmakers was soon was relief for the punters as the race was stopped by the stewards as Craigmoor was trapped under a gate and there was no safe path left for the remaining runners to avoid the incident. There were then long queues of relieved punters retrieving their stakes from those villainous bookies who thought they had won!
All in all it was an enjoyable afternoon with the promised rain holding off until the last race. The Gelligaer Farmers meeting is due to be held on the course on 20/05/2007 and I would recommend any enthusiast to make the effort to visit this picturesque course.