With fears of yet another meeting savaged by fast ground and small fields, this turned out not as bad as could have been the case, but perhaps with fewer runners than the condition of the course merited. The ground was good to firm as mentioned, but there was a thick and healthy covering of grass. All in all, the course was in fine nick, and the only real possible improvement would be to make it more accessible by building a high speed rail line through it.
Going: Good to Firm (Good)
Race 1: Heygate & Sons Ltd Members
Briery Star landed her third win of the season in a degree of comfort, staying the trip well to come home by five lengths from Pharanto, who found this a touch easier than his last run at Cheltenham, but obviously just not quite easy enough. After Blue Rebel had proved incredibly in tune with the second word of her name (two handlers, mounted on course, planted herself every time her rider was on board, led to the start without him, eventually refused to race), Briery Star tried to make the running from the off, but she was not dismayed when Pharanto took his turn up front, presumably knowing that she had a bit more staying power than her rival. Major Euro opened as favourite in the ring, but lost that slot and ran as if age is getting to him.
Race 2: Beachborough School Intermediate
Four of the seven stood out ahead of the rest before the race. The first two were Dawn Display and Bavard Court, who both drifted slightly, and the next pair were Just Standeese and Ruperts Vision, and the two of them were far more uneasy as far as the betting went. And the ring had it right, as Just Standeese was outpaced from early on and saw his jumping suffer as a result, whereas Ruperts Vision hung in for longer but hit his own personal wall around the fifteenth. Meanwhile, Bavard Court was waiting for a time to pounce upon Dawn Display, whose attempts to bustle up The Noble Roman up front led to him needing several moments of encouragement during the race before he got the better of the pace setter. The extra sweetness of his travelling meant that Bavard Court was always the likeliest winner, but Phil York was understandably determined on the runner-up, and the horse did not shirk the effort - even though he could accurately be accused on mental irregularity in the past. Back to the winner - this might not have taken genius to win, but he is only five and looks to have a bright future, even though he has pulled up twice this season. Perhaps as he gets older, he will learn some consistency.
Race 3: Macintyres Ladies' Open
This race ended on a sad note as Parrain broke down badly after passing the line, on the bend after the post that he had problems handling during the race as well. He had poached a narrow win, cruising through the race and then struggling to fend off a unusually determined version of The Hookie Bookie - the winner had pulled hard in a slowly run race and perhaps was paying the price of his own misdirected energies by the time the finish loomed. At the same time, the not always resolute Fantastic Champion was battling back as well, and the final margins were a length and half a length. Rather more nail-biting stuff than was expected.
Race 4: John White Funeral Directors Men's Open
Another small field, with only four going to post, but even once Art Trend had been shaken off, we had the makings of another close three way bundle. That impression did not last, as Novi Sad, running better than his price suggested, came to the end of his tether four from the finish and was rapidly eliminated from contention. However, with Caught In Time having gone a couple of lengths up at the halfway point, he found every attempt to push harder and shake off Buckingham Bill was met by the runner-up. The thing was, it was met but never exceeded, and under a bout of hard work, Caught In Time sustained his small edge all the way. His career is a case study in patience. He managed to peak his rules rating at 82, back in 2008, and in points over the subsequent two seasons drew a blank from eight races. The 2011 season opened with three pulled ups, but suddenly the missing key has been found and turned, and his last five runs have ended up 12111. Anyone with knowledge of this tear-jerking tale of redemption must surely be inspired to take up skate boarding. Or triathlons. Or drinking absinthe in vast volumes.
Race 5: HOE Country Feeds Restricted
With his rider having explained in the press about the problems that have sabotaged the horse since his maiden win, the regaining of his winning form today was not exactly a shock, but Cavite Zeta did have to cope with faster going than he has had put in his way before this. He was perhaps showing signs of feeling it by tending to jump awkwardly at times, often showing a preference to go right. It did help him hold his two nearest challengers at bay when they opted to try and get by on Cavite Zeta's right, but it was not as if he was being forced to his limits to keep them behind him. Even getting as close as he did was well above par for Tricky Tangler, who won his race in 2009, has lost twenty others in Britain or Ireland and simply looks too slightly built to cut the mustard in this game. As Aleksandra Zofia took eleven attempts to win a race (fast ground last time out), the form does not look especially strong, suggesting Cavite Zeta got away with it here, rather than relished it. Village Secret, who won a 2m 4f muppet race at Easter, was bang in contention and going well until fence fourteen, and an error at the next was enough to kill off his challenge rapidly. Stamina looks to be a real problem. Another recent winner of a short maiden was Rushing Nature, who seemed the type to travel well and perhaps also run out of puff. He could not do part one of the equation, so the second was irrelevant.
Race 6: Towcester Veterinary Centre Open Maiden
Only four lined up in this maiden, and as they go it was an undeniably bad one. Bob's Temptation, a twelve year old veteran of twenty-six rules defeats, had marked his pointing debut this year with a refusal, but was fourth in a decent race at Maisemore Park last time, and it certainly seemed better than Gunner Getya's more distant fifth in a mares' race. The pair dominated the race, and finished as recent history suggested they were most likely to do. Double Illusion had previously gone PPFFP, dating back to 2008, so not only did she match a personal best by running twice in a single season, she also got her best ever result, and earned £40 for it. Success is always relative. The other runner, Strawberry Villa, had one previous run, where she unseated, and today her jumping was mostly poor, but she pulled up before enduring another incident.
Race 7: OCB Recovery Club Members, 10 year olds and up
The veterans combined for the biggest field of the day, with ten runners, and also the biggest upset. Ungaro was never the most reliable beast under rules, but since going pointing he had gone winless in nine races, and almost always shown a willingness to give 65-70% of his talent to the cause. For no obvious reason, Ungaro chose today to give us a reminder of what lies within, as he landed this without needing to come under any pressure until they were halfway along the run-in. The in-form (and only ten years old) Ben Tally Ho was breathing down his neck after being headed two out, but could not find enough to worry Ungaro into defeat. Perhaps today he was just not for worrying. Burntoakboy, who has not been his old self this year, seemed to be having fun out in front, but weakened quite tamely when headed, losing the minor place to Duchamp, a horse who can give Ungaro some real lessons in unpredictability. Next home was Imtihan, who is a bit on the small side for fences, but did win six hurdle races, followed by Mikado Melody, who dropped his fall/unseated rate in his eight points to 50%. Like Double Illusion earlier, these things can only be cured in small increments