Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray
A strangely scheduled meeting, with a 12.00 start (the course website, like many racegoers, was expecting later) that could thin out attendance a touch. In fact there was a good crowd, drawn by a bright and sunny, if breezy, day, and also a good turnout of runners, with the divided maiden extending the meeting to eight races. The change to this course from Parham appears to be justified, as the history of small fields at the old venue makes it difficult to believe so many travellers would have made it that far. There had been some further confusion in organisation, as despite the course and area websites stating that admission was £10 per head, the signs on arrival were also asking for £5 per car. It seems so many people queried it that common sense prevailed.
Having only staged one meeting last season, due to the weather, which was not attended by UK-Jumping, it was nice to be back on one of the nation's more idiosyncratic venues, and it was nice to find that things were same as they ever were. OK, the tunnel under the course was dry, apart from some damp and moss on the walls, but we cannot have everything. The other alteration is the loss of the water jump, with the pond replaced by some blue coloured matting. Apparently the water holding area had expanded from a small depression to the sort of trench that you see on day three of a Time Team dig, and the pretend water was the easiest option - it has worked at Huntingdon. It was impossible to tell any difference from the hill.
Going: Good, although with a brisk wind it could have been getting gradually quicker.
Race 1: Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate
This was a decent intermediate, with plenty of contenders that do not seem done winning yet. Of course, to misquote a famous book, so wildly it makes for little more than a casual reference, some are less done than others. Despite having failed to make much impact under rules, Pingaro De La Vire continued his swathe of destruction/success (depending which side you are on) through the 2011 pointing season, bringing his tally to three. This quicker ground did not prove to be any inconvenience at all. Ghonny Withthebowe had set a fairly intense pace, but having pulled up on his only run this season, and historically being only an occasional winner, many assumed he would have run himself into the ground late in the race, but that did not happen at all, and the pack gradually thinned out rather than swamp him. It is easy to believe that he will find it difficult to replicate the form. Spiders Nephew stayed on stoutly, not overly quickly, for third. Ringa Bay, who has had an eventful season already, was fourth at the last, but blundered and was too tired to pick up from that, losing two places.
Race 2: Harwoods Land Rover Men's Open
There was a hot favourite for this in Otage De Brion, who was generally a flop as a chaser under rules, apart from two races last spring that came out of the blue, and was not proven over three miles either. In the race, his stamina possibly would have lasted if his jumping had been better, being both careless and often out to the left. He should continue to be beatable. The relative youngster (aged only six) Pocket Park was able to rediscover his form from 2010, and whilst he did need to be nudged out at the end, it never looked like the more experienced Who Else Knew would catch him. Although he fell in unsuitable ground at Godstone afterwards, Letterman had beaten Newbury hunter chase winner Fort View at Charing, and this should have been a real chance to bounce back. He ran particularly badly, although those more familiar with him in points did suggest that Fort View is far from a consistent yardstick - more of an erratic metresponge. Chapel Flowers was cleverly placed to win some poor chases by Tim Vaughan, but is finding open points difficult to get to grips with.
Race 3: Instoneair Ladies Open
Although he would definitely be another qualifier for the title of erratic metresponge, Alphabetical had won a probably better race at Charing on his last appearance, and was thus an understandable favourite. In that win, High Five had been carried out at the second fence, but he had lost both subsequent runs, and it was beginning to look like he was suffering "one of those seasons." He did better here, and had joined the leader when jumping left at the last (having done the same a lap earlier), and Alphabetical was too strong on the run-in for High Five to recover. Sam Whiskey, a winning hurdler, made it two point runs, two unseateds, but this time the departure came long after the first fence error - presumably the tack failed to survive the mistake.
Race 4: Fontwell Park Racing & Events South East Hunts Club Member's Conditions
Having impressed with her indomitability in gluey conditions at Godstone, Comealong Cornwall was equally happy on the quicker ground that she met here, having gone clear with the runner-up from the fourth last. Droppy's never quite gave the impression that he was going to be able to pass Comealong Cornwall, but it was a massive improvement on any of his recent form, whilst crucially repeating a quality that he has been capable of in the past. One better next time? In a race where there were quite a few that fell out of contention with a long way to go, or unseated, Righteous Glory ended up third by carrying on a bit better than the ones that were struggling - which is not something he could always be accused of bothering with. Brightwell ran an odd race. He was in contention until the fifteenth, lost plenty of ground quickly from there, but once detached from the first pair, did not get worse from the third last. He only ran once in 2010 (unseated) and perhaps needed this more than looked likely in the paddock.
Race 5: Moonsbrook Alpacas Restricted
Not many meetings can boast an Alpaca stud amongst their sponsors, and by getting involved in the restricted, the sponsors could have fielded one or two of their products (available in all colours, apparently, so if you want a lime green alpaca...) and there were contenders in this who would willingly have made way for their Andean chums to have a moment of glory. What the race lacked was was the sort of horses who had landed a maiden at the first or second attempt, and were on the way rapidly upward. An exception was Alecia, who found this a different kettle of alpacas to the mares' maiden at Godstone. Jacalou, who had initial problems in completing her races, and Good Man Jack (unproductive under rules after an Irish win), served up a combative finish. Three out, Good Man Jack was cruising and seemed poised to pounce, but he did not find as much as his backers would have been expecting. And with Isle Of Skye just as headstrong and manic as when previously seen race, Jacalou only really had to put her head down a try a little bit. There was not too much of fascination going on down the field.
Race 6: Southern Cranes & Access Services Ltd Open Maiden, Div I
An impressive and comprehensively triumphant debut for Cavite Epsilon, who was a short priced favourite, despite the lack of experience compared to others in the race. Owston Ferry had not shown much to date, but had probably tackled some stronger races than this. After leading from the off, he stuck to the task well enough to retain second, even if not being nearly good enough to keep Cavite Epsilon at bay. Of those with experience, Wilson's Wonder had arguably fared best, when he managed to finish. He made a real mess of the ninth, from which his rider did well to stay on board, but in general he showed that lack of agility and flexibility at the fences that many associate with being a big horse's weakness. For a big man, he does not have a good touch. Sum Say So, promising in two runs this season so far, did not really make further progress, but he had played up going to the start and unseated his rider, so maybe he is bored with pointing already, and the temptations of the event course here were too much for him. The other newcomer, Annesbrook, put in a good couple of miles, then eased down and pulled up. There must be a chance of her being capable of better.
Race 7: Southern Cranes & Access Services Ltd Open Maiden, Div II
Road To Kilkenny had possibly been cost a win at Godstone with one bad error, in an above average race for the area. That was in one respect appealing form for this, but also had the possibility of being a problem that would crop up again. The main threat came from Peyekashe, who had shown enough promise to start favourite for a Larkhill maiden, but also the flaws to earn the comment "beaten when fell last." In reality both horses found their jumping held up, it was simply that Road To Kilkenny was able to run faster. Peyekashe's rider eased him once it was clear that the win was gone and a more energetic effort in the saddle from Claire Wills enabled And Your Point Is to secure his best result yet. The trouble is, he has had promising runs in the past that are yet to be a stepping stone onto losing his maiden status. Springtree did not run badly in fourth. Miltara finished midfield in a bumper for a badly out of form yard last summer, and was making her pointing debut here. She looked as if the race was needed, so the fact that she pulled up at the thirteenth is not immediate cause for concern. Coka, runner-up to Alecia at Godstone, also showed the form of that race to be a bit less than mediocre.
Race 8: Smithsgore Members
The field consisted of two pointers that have not been in the best of form, and a newcomer from rules, plus an ex-flat runner with several years absence. Boomerang ended up a fairly easy victor, although the race was marred when the ex-flat horse, Barolo collapsed approaching the last. In fairness to his rider, he was not being subjected to a hard race, just ambling along in what would have seemed a harmless manner. That left Uncle Eli unthreatened for second, in what was not a great pointing debut. However, he was rated over 100 in chases, and by twice unseating when leading at the last, he still has not won a race. Surely he can win a maiden somewhere?