Good ground rode somewhat softer than it appeared when walked, but times held up well and there was some thrilling racing as the Grimthorpe Gold Cup took centre stage, being the Yorkshire Feature Race and one the four pointing “classics”. Guy Brewer, Jacqueline Coward and Oliver Greenall all posted doubles during the afternoon and the excitement continued to the end.
The Hunt Members is normally one of the better quality affairs of its kind and there were seven runners. There was something of a shock in the bookmakers’ eyes in the opener as Madison De Vonnas was available at odds of up to 25-1, yet he took the spoils without undue trouble. Always first or second, once Alittlebitopower had given way, Madison De Vonnas bounded away and those behind were playing catch up. His early season form entitled him to some respect, but he was given far too much rope and took every advantage of it to get off the mark between the flags. Buy Onling and Jacqueline Coward came out of the pack to give chase, but never looked like bridging the gap and had to settle for second. Buy Onling has been a revelation and would have been eyeing up a fourth success in a row if Network Oscar hadn’t got the better of him at Dalton Park. He’s been kept quite busy recently and will be a tricky opponent when refreshed. Trooper Collins (Toby Greenall) was back in third, but could never land a telling blow. Well Presented went off the short-priced jolly as he boasted the best credentials, but he was driven along with fully six to jump and could only manage fourth. Oliver Greenall reported that he choked.
The Yorkshire Area Point-To-Point Club Members saw 12 horses go to post and Narciso, with Jacqueline Coward in the plate, was the emphatic winner. Once he was unleashed for an effort with a quarter of a mile to go, the outcome was put to bed in an instant. The odds-on favourite Narciso skipped clear with a shake of the reins and followed up his hard fought victory at Mordon last week, marking him down as a major player at this level. Prior to that, there was maybe a pointer for the Grimthorpe Gold Cup when he only found Duchess Account too good at Dalton Park. Runner-up Wilfie Wild had every opportunity in the hands of Lynne Ward and, while he had little hope once Narciso had gone on, did well to hold on for the minor honours. Wilfie Wild had clearly benefited from his comeback at Dalton Park and showed that at 12 he is no back number. Glenelly and Toby Greenall were third. Whilst readily left behind by the victor, Glenelly Gale did rally for a place. In fourth was Beau De Turgeon, who was blinkered, but he is proving tricky to catch in the mood this year. Billie John wasn’t disgraced.
Seven of the ten runners for the Restricted had already won in 2008 and the prize went to one of them, The Artful Fox under Guy Brewer, enabling the jockey to complete a double on the card. The Artful Fox galloped on relentlessly and repelled all comers in the last half mile. Whatever was bothering him last year is now well and truly in the past and he has been a model of consistency in 2008. When he took a Mordon maiden by 15 lengths last week, it was owner Liz Verity’s first triumph in 15 years of trying. Typically, she didn’t have to wait quite so long for number two! Still relatively young at seven, The Artful Fox can keep on an upward curve. Quinta De Lobo was guided into second by Richard Smith and finished with a flourish, going down by just half a length. His Dalston wide margin success was achieved in a mudbath, but Quinta De Lobo showed today that he has enough talent to acquit himself well in more forgiving conditions. A good-looking sort, he can go one better before the season is out. There was probably a personal best from Pertinax (Chris Dawson) in third. Although he didn’t have the pace to stick with the front two, he kept on willingly. Go Moss Go’s first crack at a restricted saw him fill fourth. This was a solid effort and he can hold his form. Keen Whip wasn’t far off them and also emerged with credit. Stanley Park only weakened from three out having made much of the running and will surely benefit from this seasonal bow. The favourite Bow School departed before the race began in earnest, while Malton was well beaten a long way out.
The 4m1f Grimthorpe Gold Cup was an epic and will linger long in the memory of those that were fortunate enough to witness it. It was also the strongest renewal for many years and certainly during the six that I’ve been attending points in Yorkshire as the 13 runners were packed with quality. The layers settled on joint favourites in Ask Bobby and Duchess Account and they got it right as only a short head split the pair at the line. Duchess Account lifted the famous old trophy, ably piloted by Emma Brader. When she entered the winners’ enclosure, the cheer could have been heard in York as the popular local winner got a rousing reception. The 11-year-old was always close to the pace, making much of it herself, but she was squeezed a bit turning for home and shuffled back to third. Three lengths down coming to the last, her rider managed to energise her into another effort and a mighty leap gave her the impetus to eat ground in the closing stages and get up in the shadow of the post almost on the nod. Even at the end of the marathon trip, the mare was able to find the finishing burst that she is renowned for. Her defeat of Narciso at Dalton Park has been handsomely franked by that one twice since including earlier in the afternoon and Duchess Account made it three wins on the bounce. Her bravery and style of racing give her an instant attraction and her sheer enthusiasm for the job in hand is a joy to behold. This is to be Duchess Account’s last season before retirement and she has already been covered. This was a fitting high point for an amazing horse and her exploits since 2004 in winning 14 points have caught the imagination of Yorkshire racegoers. Ask Bobby was produced to perfection two from home by Guy Brewer and it appeared that he was going to prevail. He didn’t get too high at the last, however, and lost a little momentum. Ask Bobby wasn’t going down without a fight though and stuck his neck out to try to hang on. He was all out with tremendous heart and it wasn’t until the final strides that he was caught. Improving with every race and like the winner a home bred, Ask Bobby had secured opens at Dalton Park and Whittington in March, the latter being a particularly hot contest in which Lord Who was second. It will be a major surprise if he doesn’t prove capable of landing a hunter chase and he’ll be an extremely tough nut to crack in opens. A mere neck away in third were Pikachu Blue and Henry Brooke. Held up under a very patient ride, Pikachu Blue worked his way stealthily into contention and had every chance at the final fence. He stayed on stoutly on the run-in, battling all the while and went agonisingly close to lifting the crown. Pikachu Blue has been placed on all his outings for current connections and it would be a travesty if this admirable performer weren’t to pick up a race at some stage in the next couple of months. Fourth-placed General Grey ran a blinder, only giving best approaching the bend into the home straight, having been in the van from flagfall. He was available at big prices of 33-1 or even higher and his fair form under Rules suggested those were rather on the high side. He hadn’t been seen since a never dangerous, but promising, third at Witton Castle in February and had therefore presumably been laid out for the race. Duggleby was quietly fancied after lowering the colours of the heavily touted Sacred Mountain at Dalston last month. He couldn’t raise his game over the final three fences and when he walked back up the hill he was unfortunately badly lame. Devil’s Run had collected a Sedgefield hunter chase in March, but could only run on at the same pace in the last half mile, while it was a similar story for Scenic Storm, who had won both his starts this year, however he gradually faded going to three out. A force at extended distances in 2007, Snizort never got into it.
There was a field of ten for the Connolly’s Red Mills Intermediate, which saw Network Oscar pulverise his rivals in clinical fashion. As soon as Oliver Greenall pushed the button, there was an immediate response and Network Oscar quickly put the matter beyond doubt to complete a hat-trick and keep his unbeaten record in point-to-points. This was easily the most impressive of the three as he was a comfortable six lengths ahead passing the judge. Network Oscar has always carried some stable confidence and has more than lived up to expectations. He will be a warm order to make it a four-timer. Brown’s Beck just doesn’t know how to disappoint and won the battle for the runner-up’s berth. Steve Charlton’s mount has been knocking on the door on all three outings in 2008 and has come up against some distinctly above average performers. He would generally prefer more rattle underfoot than was present here and will be difficult to beat on his favoured surface. Toms Party (Guy Brewer) in third ran his usual sound race without having any chance with the winner. He deserves to get his head in front soon. Fourth-placed Clever Nora went very well and lost little in defeat. She has returned from a year off, when she bore a foal, in fine fettle. The up and coming mare Elusive Swallow was far from disgraced behind these. Fair Doo hasn’t been anywhere near his best in recent weeks. The promising Norfolk Jive was one of almost four in line for second at the last when he sadly suffered a fatal fall.
The 2m4f Maiden was open solely to horses that hadn’t run under Rules and attracted 11 participants. It usually turns out to be contested by some serious youngsters and this year appears to be no exception. Mark Walford got the leg up on the Burridge newcomer Flaco, a five-year-old, and he quickened up in impressive fashion without being asked a serious question. The grey certainly looked the part, travelled supremely well and made his move from the penultimate obstacle. There was obviously a whisper for this one as he was backed into favouritism. Flaco is favourably bred, being a full brother to Character Building, the winner of a hurdle and two chases, who was second at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival. He is also a half brother to Montana Grande, who claimed a Gowran Park hunter chase in March, and Flaco was knocked down for 33,000 guineas at Doncaster Sales in May 2007. It is unusual for debutants to be sufficiently forward to collect at the first time of asking in Yorkshire and this individual must immediately be marked down as likely to be heading for a career in the professional game. Once Flaco had gone on, Chummy’s Double and Jonathan Townson were the only partnership to pose a threat and came second. Chummy’s Double had been desperately in need of the experience on his Charm Park debut on Easter Monday, as prior to the off he decanted Mark Walford, both in the paddock and at the start. There was a lot to like about the way he went in pursuit on this occasion, putting daylight between himself and the third. He will be of interest in the future. Third was The Thack, with Oliver Greenall in the plate. The Thack stayed on steadily under a quiet ride and wasn’t knocked about. On his Charm Park debut, his fencing contained several errors, but he was far more proficient in that department here. He had learnt a lot from that first outing and will take all the beating next time. Fast Approaching did much of the donkey work, but was left behind from the turn in. He is coming along nicely and held on for fourth. Red Etosha had quite a hard race, but did complete for the first time and is another heading in the right direction. He displayed glimmers of ability. The Real Tom Eoin was bang there until weakening from the penultimate obstacle and was heavily eased as soon as his chance had gone. He seems to have a future and has been brought along slowly. Pitchoune was brought wide leaving the back straight and was close enough if good enough when she fell. The lone four-year-old in the field, Qollioure was looking dangerous in behind the leaders when he was put off somewhat by Pitchoune’s fall and got rid of Kelly Bryson.
A dozen horses came under orders for Division One of the Maiden and Jacqueline Coward made full use of Southern Classic’s greatest asset, stamina, by kicking on from three out and the gelding stayed on strongly to score, giving his rider a double on the day. He has steadily got the hang of things between the flags after a largely ineffective career under Rules and his running on second at Charm Park on Easter Monday had been another step forward. Provided he can avoid the nippier types, he ought to be able to make an impact in restricteds. Out To Lunch in second tried his best for Ian Smith, but wasn’t quite able to peg back the winner. He had shown decent form when a close second both at Witton Castle and in a short maiden at Alnwick. He should be scoring soon if it isn’t too stiff a test. Richard Smith took over from Guy Brewer on Cherryland and guided the five-year-old into third. Cherryland wasn’t shaken off by the front two until the home turn and kept on. He has learnt more with each race and has at least a maiden in him. Special Order in fourth had no more to give from the second last. Jabo hadn’t lost touch when he came to grief down the road side of the course.
Division Two of the Maiden took place in the heaviest snowstorm that I have witnessed on a racecourse and the 14 runners were out of sight from my position during the second half of the race in the murk for all except the final three fences. Given the horrendous conditions, several of these probably didn’t show their true form. When they did emerge from the gloom, there was a close finish between Lord Gee and Oliver Greenall and Nectar De Guye, under Mark Bennison, with the pair a mile clear of the remainder. Lord Gee displayed a good attitude to respond to his rider’s urgings and hang on to the spoils. At Charm Park in March, Lord Gee had chased home Cottam Phantom and the fourth horse Miss Tosca has since won a maiden. Lord Gee should have more to offer in the future and gave his jockey the second of two more triumphs in his quest for the National Title. Nectar De Guye has a pretty poor reputation, but in truth didn’t do an awful lot wrong on this occasion. There was a yawning gap back to Nothing Left and Jonathan Townson in third, who were in another parish. Nothing Left had come on some from Mordon last week and this experience can bring him on further. Detroit Storm was a remote fourth. Knoxhill Archie was the fifth and final horse to complete, while Royal Factor got tired and didn’t do too badly. Dee Cee Bolter only appeared to have a chance of third when he ejected Jacqueline Coward.