Photos by Jon Hodd
A glorious day at Dalton Park reminded us that spring is almost here and a massive crowd saw some very exciting racing and several thrilling finishes. This fixture is usually well attended, but 2009 exceeded even the greatest expectations. Decent ground was on offer and it rode extremely well.
The Hunt Members was an incredibly tight affair and three horses, half the field, flashed past the post almost as one. The official distances were a head and a neck, with Major Shark and Chris Cundall coming out on top. At the latest check, Chris is now believed to have ridden 97 winners under all codes, a fantastic achievement. Major Shark has never been the most reliable, but he stuck his neck out when it mattered most this time. A winning hurdler in his younger days, this was a first pointing success at the 24th attempt. Beauchamp Oracle and Charles Clark were the pair touched off in second. Beauchamp Oracle rallied to the cause in the closing stages and narrowly failed to get up. The 12-year-old grey had rather lost his way in 2008 having previously been a force in hunter chases, but he has looked revitalised this month with his sights lowered for new connections. If he can keep this standard, a small confined shouldn’t be long in arriving. Hardybuck in third made a total horlicks of the 6th fence, from which Guy Brewer performed a minor miracle to stay on board. Hardybuck was made favourite and went on towards the end of the back straight, however he seemed to get outstayed at the death. This long course might have stretched his stamina as two and a half miles was about his limit under Rules. Torosay was clear out in front for two circuits, but folded into fourth four from home. There has been some discussion about the viability of hunt races, but when they produce a dramatic finish such as this, there is no better tonic to keep them.
The 11-runner Confined consisted of a mixture of veterans, horses that had spent an injury-forced period on the sidelines and some unconvincing types, while only a couple could really be classed as having their best time ahead of them. The spoils were claimed one that had missed the whole of last season, Dannymolone. Simon Walker’s mount has retained sufficient ability to be competitive and he kept on resolutely in the home straight. He hadn’t got very far on his return at Sheriff Hutton, but a spin round Duncombe Park last month will have sharpened him up. Chris Pimlott’s horses have been in sparkling form in 2009 and it will be interesting to see if Dannymolone can sneak another of these races. Baron Romeo surprised many by coming second for James Birkbeck. Baron Romeo was always detached and soon tailed off at Witton Castle on his pointing debut in February. He occupied a much more prominent role here, being in close touch throughout, and running on well when the tempo quickened. This was something to build on and showed that it was just lack of fitness that had hampered him in County Durham. Liam Bailey guided Iron Express into third and they were staying on as well as anything at the business end. Iron Express needs a testing track and this admirable teenager can still hold his own when he has that requisite. Fourth-placed Standandbecounted made a lot of the running, but didn’t weaken as dramatically as he has in the past. Typically held up, Alisons Treasure had made headway to dispute when he dived at the open ditch on the second occasion and gave Andrew Glass no chance of staying in the plate.
Five horses came under orders for the Mens Open, which turned out to be nail-biter. There was little to split all bar Snizort in the betting until Noble Persian received late support into favouritism. There was just a short head between Henry’s Pride and Jake Greenall and Noble Persian under Brian Linehan, with the former getting the nod from the judge on the nod by a short head. Henry’s Pride was all out to prevail and it was his stoic attitude that pulled it off. His slicker jumping won the day, but it is often a horse’s desire that makes the difference and Henry’s Pride had that in abundance. He had been a 6500gns purchase out of Alison Thorpe’s yard at Doncaster Sales in May 2008. More success may be on the horizon. Noble Persian had been off the track since 2007 so this was a sterling comeback. Noble Persian’s pace between the obstacles is still intact, but he got in tight to a few fences in the latter stages, losing valuable momentum, which effectively cost him the race. He will no doubt be more adept in that department when next seen. His record in British point-to-points prior to this race read seven wins from eight runs, which is quality form indeed. Expect him to add to that tally of victories. Ask Bobby was waited with as normal, but was being niggled at when he was badly hampered when Gunner Royal exited. He was fighting a losing battle thereafter, but was beaten no more than six lengths. Snizort completed in a distant fourth. Gunner Royal was making a forward move and had every chance when he fell at the open ditch, six out.
There was also a quintet present for the Ladies Open and Narciso was head and shoulders above the rest on all recent form. The chestnut duly obliged by a comfortable five lengths and Rose Dobbin was drafted in for the ride. Narciso is currently top of the tree in respect of ladies pointers in the Yorkshire Area and was going one better than at Dalton Park in 2008. He is a formidable opponent in these races. Runner-up Wilfie Wild was restrained in rear as usual by Lynne Ward, but made up a lot of ground in the last half mile. However, his late spurt was essentially after the race was already over. There’s a fair bit of life left in him yet in his quest for a tenth victory between the flags. In third, Mister Bromley (Serena Brotherton) was swept aside rounding the final turn. He put up a bold show, but isn’t the force he was. In fourth, Bobby Buttons always gives his all, but finds it difficult to make a serious impact in this grade.
The Restricted was graced by a field of 14 and Scrappie wasn’t extended under Toby Greenall to follow up his victory in a Duncombe Park maiden in February. This wasn’t a bad heat and he was mighty impressive. Confidently handled, Scrappie always had matters under control and ran on well. A former fair maiden novice chaser, he can go on to more honours. Runner-up The Tinkerater normally comes from behind, but Miles Seston had little option other than to take over from the long time leader at the fourth last. The sound gallop worked in his favour and, although he couldn’t respond when Scrappie went past, he was a clear second best. On his previous outing at Witton Castle, a false pace was of no help to The Tinkerater at all. He is exceptionally consistent and deserves to get his head in front soon. Southern Classic got going all too late again to be third for Sarah Jane Townend. He was finishing as strongly as anything, but Scrappie had flown. Quinta De Lobo, patiently ridden, failed to mount a serious challenge in fourth and is starting to become frustrating. Areyacoddinmee got tapped for toe, but did all right, while Father Owen never got involved. Cnocan Aoibhinn led to midway down the back straight on the final circuit before fading. His style of racing means he is there to be shot at, especially on a long track like this, but he isn’t without hope.
Division One of the Maiden attracted 12 runners and a change of tactics aboard that wily campaigner Nectar De Guye did the trick. Never headed under a positive ride, Nectar De Guye galloped on relentlessly and nothing could peg him back. He has been called some names in the past despite being placed several times because his enthusiasm has been questionable. This was no fluke though as he won on merit and it will be intriguing to see how he fares in a restricted as he was only beaten five lengths in a weak Catterick hunter chase the other day. Eurospoofer under John Dawson came second and could only keep on at the one pace over the closing couple of fences. He was no match for Nectar De Guye today, but he has now been in the first four on all four tries in this country. Well Worthy’s performance went up a notch from his British debut at Witton Castle by coming third for Jo Foster. Improving from midfield, he wasn’t knocked about in the home run and will be worth consideration when next seen. Saddlers Singer in fourth received a quiet ride and never really looked dangerous. He may have more to offer in the future. Desperate Bob got closer on the final circuit, but was held in third when he fell at the penultimate obstacle. He lay winded for a while, but if his confidence isn’t unduly affected, he can make his presence felt in the future. Miss Rosella was receiving reminders by the 2nd fence and the penny has yet to drop with her. The debutant Chibuku slipped up on the flat turning onto the far side for the final time.
15 out of the 19 entries were declared for Division Two of the Maiden and there was a nice effort from Rich Hill, completing a double for jockey Mark Walford. Rich Hill gained a half a length verdict over Miss Sunflower, with Tina Jackson in the saddle. There was plenty to like about the way Rich Hill knuckled down to the job in hand and saw it out to triumph. Making his initial appearance in point-to-points in Britain here, he had been third thrice from four starts in Irish points. In hindsight, in that sphere he had finished behind animals that have subsequently displayed significant ability on the racecourse proper. A seven-year-old, Rich Hill caught a few eyes at Doncaster Sales in May 2008 as he was knocked down for 9000gns. Miss Sunflower has been fitted with cheek-pieces the last twice and this was undoubtedly the best run of her career thus far. She gave Rich Hill a fright, battling to the line, while not doing quite enough. Phenix Mag (Rachel Clark) in third is going the right way and can step up again next time. There was a big break back to Knoxhill Archie, who won the separate race for fourth. Tabloid the favourite was beginning to make progress from the rear when he took a heavy fall at the open ditch, six from home, which also saw the exit of Captain Commanche. A hefty tumble at Whittington last year might have dented The Thack’s confidence as he has struggled since, particularly in 2009 when he has been pulled up with a lap remaining on both occasions following jumping errors.