A biting wind and intermittent driving rain did little to dampen spirits and, despite the often inclement conditions, the attendance was healthy. The going was absolutely perfect, being the easy side of good. Good ground horses weren’t at an undue disadvantage, yet those that enjoyed some cut were more than satisfied. Races took around seven and a half minutes and the racing was excellent; the opens in particular were quality affairs.
The Hunt Members opened proceedings with five runners and went to Celioso and Sally Ireland. Celioso took over in front from Wise Tale and made the best of his way home. This was due compensation for horse and rider for a final fence exit at Welbeck a fortnight ago with a novice riders’ contest at their mercy when Celioso might have been put off by the close proximity of a vociferous crowd. To be fair, this fellow hasn’t done an awful lot wrong in his four point-to-point outings. Runner-up Wise Tale needed plenty of stoking along from Harriet Bethell, but did keep on at a respectable distance once headed. This was a similar level of form to what he showed at Charm Park last week. Toms Party was possibly looking held when falling foul of the open ditch. Birdwatch parted company with Fred Bethell on the flat before the race had begun in earnest.
The Confined drew in 11 combatants and Young Claude and Miles Seston simply galloped their rivals into the ground. He’s a typical old-fashioned chaser and, whilst his form under Rules left a lot to be desired, the pointing field has been right up his street. He registered his fourth success between the flags here. This thorough stayer relishes a test such as this and he will have a live chance in the Grimthorpe Gold Cup if the ground there is similar to today’s, or even softer. There was a good performance from Golden Streak in second. Given a wonderfully patient ride by Rachel Clark, he loomed up as a big threat on the run to the penultimate obstacle, but eventually went down by a length and a half. Golden Streak did make several mistakes, not least at the last, and he would undoubtedly have been even closer with a better round of jumping. Steve Charlton helped Just Fluster into third, with the horse displaying the benefit of his Charm Park comeback. He’s no back number at the age of 12 and can build further on this. Torosay had some decent form two or three years ago and this fourth place was probably his best for some time. Danteco was still there in second when hitting three out hard. He was eased soon after. Wilfie Wild should come on for this reappearance, while Mile High City ought to have done better.
Seven horses faced the starter for the Mens Open that featured the eagerly anticipated clash between Ask Bobby and Skew Whip, the two horses in the Yorkshire Area with most potential that hadn’t already had a career under Rules. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to find out which was the better on the day as Skew Whip was pulled up lame before the fifth last when holding every chance. That’s not to take anything away from Ask Bobby, piloted by Guy Brewer, who collected his first open and seventh point-to-point in total. The two length winning margin was actually the most yet, which makes it hard to ascertain just how good this nine-year-old is. What is certain is that he is still progressing at a fast rate of notes. He turned a somersault in January at Thorpe Lodge at the second last when overjumping in pursuit of the top class pair of Buckby Lane and Amicelli. He wouldn’t have been far away on that occasion, which is serious form indeed. Ask Bobby won’t be risked on unsuitably firm or heavy ground (he stayed in his box at six meetings a couple of seasons ago in search of an acceptable surface), but whenever he does next appear, expect a bold showing from a horse that must be capable of picking up a hunter chase. Runner-up Iron Express tried hard for Oliver Greenall, but his boundless stamina wasn’t enough to deny Ask Bobby. On his seasonal bow at Corbridge, Iron Express had created a good impression in chasing home the useful pair of A Boy Named Sioux and Interdit. Having won the Grimthorpe Gold Cup in 2007, he’ll be heading back there to defend his crown. Gifted a triumph by Celioso’s departure at Welbeck, Dark Thunder stepped up on that to be third, with Toby Greenall in the plate. He wasn’t beaten far and his Witton Castle second to Sonevafushi also reads well. Alnwick dead-heater Wildfield Rufo was a one-paced fourth, having been under pressure with more than a mile to travel. He is another that could head for the big four-miler.
Eight runners were present at flagfall for an intriguing Ladies Open, which went the way of the sensational mare Duchess Account under Emma Brader. Duchess Account took the corresponding race in 2006, although she missed this fixture in 2007. On this demanding course, she was second last with five to jump, but her amazing turn of foot from lining up for home saw her prevail. On her two other runs this year, she had sped up the Duncombe Park incline to see off One Five Eight after going down narrowly by a neck to Ask Bobby at Sheriff Hutton. At the time, that last race seemed a useful display, but it could turn out to have even greater merit if Ask Bobby remains on his steep upward curve. If she can avoid the tiny fields that she has an aversion to, it will be a brave man that opposes Duchess Account in ladies opens. The Grimthorpe Gold Cup could be on the agenda next, for which she has outstanding credentials. Runner-up Narciso is ultra consistent and only had the gallant mare Minouchka ahead of him on his Friars Haugh reappearance. That one has since gone on to land a Leicester hunter chase and another Friars Haugh open. Jacqueline Coward’s willing partner will be a tough nut to crack in the future and can be expected to add to his four wins in points. Encore Cadoudal (Tina Jackson) ran well in third, especially as an extended trip such as this was thought to stretch him. He has largely been campaigned on sharper tracks and even has a 2m5f Ayr hunter chase to his name. On this evidence, he’ll be scoring again soon. One Five Eight was held in fourth. This was a pretty hot affair and there will be softer races for him. Rust En Vrede made a bold bid for glory and will be worth a look next time. Welcome To Unos will be more at home around somewhere like Easingwold.
The Restricted featured five last time out maiden winners among the 12 runners and four of this quintet filled the first four places. Network Oscar secured the prize in the hands of Oliver Greenall, fresh from his scintillating success in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham aboard Amicelli. Network Oscar kept finding extra when his pursuers seemed to be coming back at him. He is rather difficult to evaluate, but you can’t really knock a two out of two record between the flags. He might just be one of those horses that does no more than enough. When he landed a Sheriff Hutton maiden in January, he hadn’t done any more than necessary. You wouldn’t want to rule out Network Oscar completing a hat-trick. Buy Onling was guided into second by Jacqueline Coward. Just like on his Market Rasen victory last month, Buy Onling made steady headway from the rear, but on this occasion he couldn’t quite peg back the winner once he had flown. He shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a restricted. Third position went to The Tinkerater, ridden by Steve Magee. The Tinkerater was reported to have fenced less fluently than on his two initial runs at Brocklesby Park and Market Rasen, this being on easier ground than he had previously encountered. Back on a sounder surface, expect him to go close. In fourth, Pertinax was far from disgraced, considering it hadn’t appeared to be an overly strong maiden that he picked up at Witton Castle in February. Mister Moonax did the pace-setting, but had nothing left in the last half mile. Barrys Lord dropped out tamely, but might have needed the run.
A field of 12 was present for the TBA/MFHA Mares Maiden, which saw a well deserved success for the consistent Miss Tosca, with Tina Jackson in the saddle. She wasn’t winning out of turn by any means, having gone agonisingly close in the past. Miss Tosca doesn’t have a lot of finishing pace and this was a course that was likely to suit her. Sams Party (Oliver Williams) stalked the winner into the home straight having made eye-catching progress and she might have blown up. She was still a fair second and can only go on from this. Sams Party is possibly the horse to take out of the race. Simon Walker steered Rosedale Abbey into third. There hadn’t been a lot to glean from her only two previous appearances as she had looked in need of the experience. Maybe this has helped her get her act together. Kismet built a long lead, but had been reeled in by three out. She did rally a bit for fourth. Popin Buttons has now failed to finish in all seven outings.
The Maiden was split at declaration and ten horses went to post for Division One. The lightly raced The Hussey’s Duke stole the limelight, making most of the running. Steve Magee’s mount hails from the stable of Steve Wiles, whose runners are always worth a second look. Although this was his initial completion, The Hussey’s Duke had gone into a few notebooks on his two earlier outings. If he can put his problems behind him, there could be more to come. The Artful Fox, partnered by Guy Brewer, was second and should go one better soon. Whatever was bothering him last year appears to be in the past and The Artful Fox is now looking far more like the promise of 2006. He had hinted at a revival at Dalston earlier this month and that was reinforced this afternoon. Third-placed Opio is far from straightforward and needs very bit of Oliver Greenall’s guile to humour him. Blinkers and an awkward head carriage mean Opio isn’t a betting proposition. Even so, if he can channel his efforts in the right direction, Opio has a maiden in him. Castle Gunner in fourth was again tapped for toe when push came to shove. He rarely runs a bad race, but isn’t finding it easy to bag a maiden.
Division Two of the Maiden saw nine horses come under orders. Go Moss Go claimed the spoils under Steve Charlton with a sterling effort. He resolutely held on, seeing out the trip well. A cheap purchase, on his British debut, Go Moss Go had been a close second in a slowly run Duncombe Park maiden after some indifferent attempts in Irish points. You can’t find much fault with what he has achieved in Britain though as his rider was unfortunate to be knocked out of the saddle at Charm Park a week ago. Runner-up Tony’s Pride (Guy Brewer) had every chance, but just found one too good. Tony’s Pride had hinted at a change of fortune when never dangerous under a confidence boosting ride at Duncombe Park. He has a maiden in him. In third, Be Realistic needs every ounce of Mark Walford’s strength in the saddle. He looked like dropping away tamely, but did rally under pressure. He’s a decidedly tricky customer. Fourth was Southern Classic, who had benefited from his Sheriff Hutton run and stayed on without threatening the principals. Nectar De Guye is very in and out and can’t be supported with any confidence.