Sunday 24th January 2010
by Simon McInnes
Let the action recommence. Even with an earlier start than ideal for people wending their way up from south of the Thames (although there was less traffic as a result), it was extremely refreshing to be out and about in the world of temporary structure-based horse racing. There is nothing to say about the weather, as it was utterly normal for mid-January, but that is no reason not to make base camp the scout marquee, and it's entirely coincidental array of home made cakes.
The meeting attracted 170 entries - small beer for the west country but a big number for this side of the island, and only the members race flopped in the turnout, despite covering four hunts and having six different owners represented in the entries. The scale of operations did seem to cause one or two minor disruptions. Finding a racecard seller before the race was a challenge, as there only seemed to be one, whereas this course is usually associated with them being as common as credit card marketeers in a shopping centre. Announcements were a bit lacking as well. With the decs, we were told if a tongue tie was used, sometimes told about cheekpieces, but blinkers or visor were not revealed. And one or two ad hoc revelations went awry. One stewards enquiry was said to affect the placings, before being corrected that it did not, and in the closest race of the day, the wrong number was initially said to be the winner. Fortunately no harm was done as i) it was quickly revised and ii) the stated winner was not actually even declared. Two weeks off and everyone seems to get flustered by racing actually taking place!
Going: Who knows? Not displayed and no announcement heard. Seemed not very muddy.
Race 1: Birketts LLP Members
1: Itsallupintheair 2: Bob Justice
Winner owned: AJ Schofield, trained: John Ibbott, ridden: Harry Fowler
Two fourteen year olds and a spritely ten year old went to post, and the youth wing of the trio, Henry's Pride appeared the fittest of them before hand. That view was in the process of being borne out when he made a mess of the third last and fell with the race at his mercy. Having been a bit outpaced when the tempo was raised in the back almost-straight, Itsallupintheair kept on past the Bob Justice (more in need of the race of the pair) for the win.
Race 2: Crown Milling PPORA Club Members
1: Blue Hills 2: The Accordion Man 3: Mnason
Winner owned: The Gorbit Racing Partnership, trained: Julie Marles, ridden: Henry Kinchen
At the entry stage, this race attracted an excellent bunch of possibles, but the best of them chose to swerve it, presumably anticipating the revelation that was Blue Hills. A prolific all-weather staying winner, he failed miserably hurdling and showed no step forward on his pointing debut. Here he led most of the way, eventually burning off the only horse to take him on, Ichi Cavalo, and gradually eased his way clear from the third last. There was no element of fluke about it, maybe the sandy Suffolk soil reminds him of Southwell? Favouritism rested with The Accordion Man, who got a bit sweaty whilst appeared fit enough, and worked his way into a challenging position on the far side of the course, but having hung in there for a short while, found his box being squeezed into submission with a long way to go. He was likely to be deprived of even second when Mambo Des Mottes fell at the last, doing Rupert Stearn a mischief in the process. Therefore, the astoundingly unprolific Mnason's pointing debut saw a result that was a quite a bit better than the actual performance. Pennytino showed her ability by winning three in a row, and like some sort of truth bearing mirror in a fairytale, the formbook will now show that she has followed it with a refusal to race and a pair of falls.
Race 3: Fuelcare Men's Open
1: Star Double 2: Whistling Straits 3: Caveman
Winner owned: Fraser Duffin, trained: Fleur Hawes, ridden: Matt Smith
Ten lined up for this, and all of them were of proven Open standard or had done sufficient outside the pointing arena to be worth a stab at it. Star Double indeed doubled his tally to two wins by copying Blue Hills' pillar to post tactics, taking them along at a strong pace that saw the time dip just below six minutes. For the most part, Whistling Straits was snapping at the winner's heels (he had a spell with a lap to go where Caveman and Cathedral Rock nudged between them), and the official verdict was that there was half a length dividing them at the finish. For Whistling Straits, this represented a return to form, but Caveman, having had a real drubbing on his comeback, still looked as if the exercise would do him good, even though he was still bustling the winner when he made a sloppy error the final fence - scrappy, presumed tired. Andrew Nick, who won a claiming chase at Ayr in the Spring, struggled a little bit on his pointing debut. He was outpaced with a circuit left, but stuck at it and came in fourth. More testing conditions might suit him better. On the other hand, Cathedral Rock again failed to reproduce his Rules form, this time pulling up. Took My Eye, last seen in May in a hunter chase, is another that will be better for his seasonal debut, which has been the case in the past.
Race 4: Jordan Fencing Ladies' Open
1: Big Moment 2: Pouilly 3: Beet De Bob
Winner owned: Ross Douglas, trained: Jenny Gordon, ridden: Claire Douglas
A corking race, decided by a neck and a neck, and a small surprise for the majority of the crowd, who tend to gather near the last fence rather than on the line, as the strong finishing Big Moment managed to brush past Beet De Bob (expected) and Pouilly (looked like he was just clinging on), greatly aided by a persistent ride. This added to Big Moment's two Ladies' races secured at Cottenham this season, and in his long career, he has never really held his form this well before. In his confounding style, Big Moment will probably go off the boil when presented with easier openings than this. Pouilly won first time out last year on this course, but struggled when upped in class, so this could be his best chance for 2010 already, and a mistake two out probably ended up being very expensive. After disappearing from action since April 2008, Beet De Bob posted a very decent comeback. There was an enquiry into the running of favourite Cedrus Libani, who pulled up, despite having two wins under his belt already this season. He started off in the pack, pulled his way to the lead at the sixth, and weakened from six out. It was reported that he pulled too hard and more or less ran out of puff, and the explanation was noted. From the spectators point of view, whilst Cedrus Libani did dash from back to front a little sharply, it did not look quite as manic effort as, for instance, those that the front running winners posted in the two previous races. Montevideo, who was well behind Big Moment last time, was up in contention until the thirteenth, but as soon as pressure was applied, he fell. This experience will have done little to enhance his notoriously suspicious attitude towards competitive sport.
Race 5: Flick & Son Open Maiden, Div I
1: Principal Lad 2: Danarama 3: Castleconner Lad
Winner owned & trained: WA Bethell, ridden: Hannah Bethell
At the declaration stage, this looked to be the stronger half of the division, but an incident leaving the back straight thinned the field out, when the well backed Sheeian Rock slipped up on the bend, bringing down market leader Mad Jack Duncan and debutant Iron Cross. Given the way that front running was working as a tactic, their presence towards the rear at the time might have been a bad idea anyway. This left, as you may have guessed, another all the way leader to triumph, Principal Lad and Danarama having a private battle that largely failed to concern the rest of the runners. Having only made the frame once in six starts last season, it may be rash to assume that Principal Lad is transformed, unless either the race throws up a few winners or he turns into a giant, alien robot. Bear in mind that Danarama has only had two career runs, both back in 2007 and Castleconner Lad has now been third on six of his seven runs (a riotously successful second on the other). San Jose had one run in Ireland, nearly two years ago, and although he was a touch laboured from quite a way out, there is a good chance that he will improve for having raced two and a half miles before pulling up.
Race 6: Course Bookmaker's Open Maiden, Div II
1: Three Chords 2: Twilight Eagle 3: Red In Bed
Winner owned: Mrs Cyndy Aldridge, trained: Gerald Bailey, ridden: Richard Barrett
The bookies stepped in to sponsor the second part of the maiden, presumably because when asked, they were laughing too heartily at the first five favourites getting turned over to say no. They got more of the same here, with Dan Maguire looking beaten in fourth when he came to grief four from home. Before that, much of the uproar had been around the parade ring. Lofty Legend apparently took exception to being saddled and arrived in it incredibly late, whilst Shales Ay Jay, one of the contenders for the win, was so determined not to leave it that he had to be withdrawn. The stewards joined in the fun and had an enquiry, which reported that the horse resented the tongue strap and to all intents and purposes, had a toys-from-pram clearance scenario. In one of racing's quainter phrases, "The stewards accepted this explanation." One day maybe the stewards will decline that sort of explanation, forcing connections to admit that the horse had a tantrum because he did not want to run today, had been hard to get in the horse box and was only loaded when they lied to him that he was off to meet Christopher Biggins. All of this nonsense is not intended to distract from the performance of Three Chords. This was his racecourse debut, and he won by a distance. Unflustered by the pre-race disruptions. Jumped well. Saw the trip out strongly. Impressive, even allowing for the shortcomings of the oppo, and should handle a rise in grade.
Race 7: Baileys Horse Feeds Intermediate
1: Start Royal 2: Ballynonty 3: Lord Of The Knar
Winner owned: A Hill, Mrs H Nash, S Nash, M Avery, trained: Alan Hill, ridden: James Tudor
Initially appearing to be a tough and competitive intermediate, this race was turned into a spectacular rout by Start Royal, who stalked the leaders early on, led with more a circuit to go, and really put his foot on the gas from the twelfth. Instead of getting pressure thrown back at him, the gap back to the pursuit just got wider and wider. This was consecutive win number four, and was equally as eye-catching as Three Chords half an hour earlier. Back in second (well back!) was hunter chase runner-up Ballynonty, who did seem in need of the run, which was also true of Lord Of The Knar. In fourth was One To Note, whose fitness seemed better tuned (groan). This was his second run of the season, and second hammering, but there was a sign of progress here, and when there are more regular meetings and the fields thin out a bit (everything bar the opener hit double figures today), he could be ready to scale greater heights.
Race 8: Prestige Private Clients Restricted
1: Lotta Presents 2: Leader Blue 3: The Nuns Legacy
Winner owned & trained: John P Ferguson, ridden: James Owen
Another race that evolved into a two horse duel from a long way out, although the reality was that Lotta Presents always seemed to have Leader Blue's measure, but never shook him off far enough to have much margin for error. Both of the first pair had run at the first Cottenham, Lotta Presents being pipped in the Restricted, Leader Blue winning a short maiden in which a handful of fences were omitted, but has produced winners. The prophecies imply that Lotta Presents may find Intermediates tough, and Leader Blue can surely win a Restricted, but nobody takes these forecasts seriously without them getting the names slightly wrong and being in the form of a poem that somehow rhymes in whatever language it is translated into. Another Cottenham winner was Goscar Rock, who found the small jump to this level a big step to make. Oscar D'Angron won his maiden over two and a half miles, and today was the doomed combination of front runner with a stamina deficit. Having not observed the betting, there impression was picked up by eavesdropping that Irish import Saddlers Melody attracted some support, but his lacklustre run did not reflect that.