The North Staffs meeting between the flags at Sandon on Easter Saturday took place in glorious sunshine and the large crowd were treated to an excellent days racing. Clerk of the Course Mark Allman came in for much praise from owners trainers and jockeys for producing good racing ground, which was reflected in ample runners at the Staffordshire course. Because of the heatwave at the course, the winners and placed horses were unsaddled are the bottom of the hill and watered down when they came back, which was a good idea and it worked well, as for the press we all got plenty of exercise going up and down the hill.
Richard Burton recorded his 399th winner aboard the Fergal O' Brien trained Horsham Lad who made virtually all. The combination where headed after the fourth last but regained the lead at the next and ran out a comfortable four length winner from Sam Allwood on Prelude D'Estruval. The winner carried the well known colours of William and Angela Rucker, their horse State Of Play was fourth to Ballybriggs in the Aintree Grand National. Angela Rucker reports that her 2009 Cheltenham Foxhunter winner Cappa Bleu was over the bug that ruled him out of this years Foxhunters - in 2009 her horse was trained by Sheila Crow, this time around she is training the horse herself. Rucker was pleased with the progress of Cappa Bleu when I spoke to her afterwards, she said, "It was unfortunate that he picked up a bug before Cheltenham, but he is back to full work now and going well at home. He is ready to run, but I will not risk him if the ground does not ease."
The opening Members was run as a joint race between the North Staffs and the Meynell & South Staffs Hunt for the first time. The race was won for the second time in three years by the veteran Redskin Raider under a very confident ride from the gelding's trainer Sue Sharratt, who also co-owns the horse with Lynne Hartley and the North Staffs entries secretary Di Cope, all of whom are very local to the course at Eccleshall. Sharrat was elated when I spoke to her after the race, she said, "He has been a grand servant for the yard. We bought him as a 10yr old , he used to be trained under rules by Tom George. He is now 15 and we have decided to retire him after this race and it was good to see him go out on a winner."
The Ladies Open was won very easily by the Sue Taylor trained Mad Victor under Hannah Watson. The Old Vic gelding never came off the bridle to beat Ballyvoge by 4 lengths. The winner is owned by a syndicate of six people including the Wolverhampton trainer Sue Taylor, which are called Paternoster Racing. Taylor was full of praise for the clerk of the course Mark Allman, when I spoke to her afterwards. She said, "Mark (Allman) has done a good job to produce good ground for the meeting. I only made my mind up last night to run and after I walked the course, he normally needs a bit of cut in the ground, but I wanted to get a run into him today to qualify him for the Bangor Final."
Shifnal trainer Caroline Robinson sent out a decent sort in Come On Eddie to win the Open Maiden. Her charge showed a useful turn of foot to beat Bleu Run under Sam Allwood by three lengths with the well backed jolly, Molly Oscar, a further eight lengths back in third. Speaking after the race Robinson said, "He used to be trained over hurdles by Annabel King but he was never a hurdler as he is an out and out stayer as he proved today I am pleased for his owner Robert Mapp from Bridgnorth, who has been very patient with him. I thought Robert Jarrett gave him a great ride."
Nantwich trainer Gary Hanmer took two horses to Dingley and both were placed; if he'd gone to Sandon he would have seen his two runners win. The first leg came with Time Gentleman in the two mile five furlong Maiden who followed up his promising second at Tabley last time out to win readily under Josh Hamer by three lengths from Uptotheoptic under Patrick Gerety. The gelding is owned jointly by Brenda Shaw and Rob Hankey, the clerk of the course at Tabley. Hankey was elated when I spoke to him afterwards, he said, "He was bought by Aiden Murphy for someone else, we thought he needed to get a bit of condition on him when we first saw him, Gary (Hanmer) has done a great job with him and Josh (Hamer) gave him a great ride."
Hanmer and Hamer completed the second leg with Fairymount in the Restricted, they won unchallenged by a distance from Landi Beau. The Ashkalani gelding is owned outright by Rob Hankey and his wife. Hankey said afterwards with tongue in cheek that Gary Hanmer should stay away more often, adding that his trainer has always thought very highly of the winner .
The PPORA Club Members race went to Le Seychellois, who did not adopt his usual front running tatics, but still won with plenty in hand under Derek Smith to land the spoils by 8 lengths from Sue Sharratt on Cluthe Boy. The winner is trained at Chester by Will Kinsey, and co-owned by John Stocker and Richard Hewitt, who plan to run the horse again on Easter Monday at Eyton on Severn.