A good-sized crowd was rewarded with fine, if windy, weather for the seven-race card at Kingston Blount's third meeting of the season. With two pony races preceding the main activity, there was plenty of competitive action.
The horse of the day, for this correspondent at least, was Christopher and Fran Marriott's game mare Dabinett Moon, who chalked up her fourth win of the season under Claire Hart in the AGA Intermediate race. Always prominent, she moved into the lead coming down Crowell Knoll on the final circuit and, despite a slightly hesitant jump at the last, held on comfortably from the David Kemp ridden Po Valley, with the favourite Brian's Well in third.
"She's an absolute star," gushed winning trainer Fran Marriott about the only horse in her yard. "We were a little bit excited about her at the start of the season but would have been more than happy with just the one win!" Asked how she had kept Dabinett Moon in such good form since January, the trainer replied: "We turn her out in the field a lot, so she keeps her condition." And she's not yet finished for the season. "Hopefully we'll go to Stratford (for the Subaru Restricted Final… if my nerves can stand it!" confirmed Fran.
David Kemp, a frequent and successful visitor to Kingston Blount from East Anglia, had to settle for second again with Blue Benny in the opening Restricted Race, sponsored by the French Horn at Sonning. This was won comfortably by Merrydown Vintage, who made most of the running in the more than capable hands of Phil York, with favourite Mr Raj – who never got into the race – back in third. Like Dabinett Moon, Merrydown Vintage represents a one-horse yard, Surrey-based Ray Fielder, best known for his exploits with Lillie Lou.
"He can certainly gallop," said Ray proudly. "He's got a bit of speed too, but he's never really had to show it. This race suited him and he loved the ground." Merrydown Vintage had disappointed twice since his Cocklebarrow Maiden win before returning to form by winning his Members in a fast time, but there were good reasons, according to his trainer. "Once he was tripped up by another horse, then the ground on Easter Monday was like glue." Asked about future plans, Ray wasn't sure. "We may go for the Restricted Final at Stratford, or we may come back here for the Intermediate at the next meeting."
A third one-horse trainer won the Shepherd's Crook at Crowell sponsored Kingston Blount Racing Club Conditions Race. Jenny Pidgeon has trained some top-class pointers in her time, including Wild Illusion and Orchestral Suite but Classic Destiny is the only horse currently in training with her at Astwell Castle near Brackley and took an eventful race easily from Dream Garden. Minella Theatre, who eventually finished third, proved extremely mulish before the race. As he finally trotted up to the line, the starter let the field go, leaving Caulkin planted. Then, coming down Crowell Knoll for the first time, Tallow Fair repeated his antics of the previous meeting by ducking into a hedge, this time unseating Katy Lyons.
None of this bothered Jenny who, ebullient as ever, was quick to berate the formbook compilers for questioning Classic Destiny's attitude by awarding him the "dreaded squiggle"! On a more serious note, she attributed the horse's return to form after a disappointing run here in March to the work of vets Alan Walker and Bob Baskerville. "He's had back trouble, and his win today is thanks to Alan and Bob. Luckily he's a fresh horse – he thrives at this time of year and liked the ground." Owner Peter Riddle, who also had the useful Cut a Niche and Orient Legend with Jenny, was undecided about plans for the rest of the season. "It depends on the ground," he admitted. "He hasn't run much, he's fit and well and likes the sun on his back!"
One horse who will be roughed off for the season, is Volcan Surprise, a comfortable winner of the JRL Group Ladies Open. He completed a double for Classic Destiny's rider – and champion Lady Rider elect – Gina Andrews, quickening clear from the second last to secure an easy win from fast-finishing Done A Runner, who just pipped No No Bingo for second. It was Volcan Surprise's third run in eight days, after two seconds over the Bank Holiday weekend, and was a deserved second success of the season alongside seven runner-up placings!
"He's going on holiday now!" confirmed Wymondham, Norfolk trainer Caroline Fryer with a smile. "He's really tough, still improving and he's just kept bumping into one too good for him. He's a bit cheeky and can idle in front, but he jumps well and goes on any ground – although he doesn't like it too sticky." Tough is definitely the word for Volcan Surprise – he has won seven races and being second nine times since the start of last season – and he is likely to stay running in Ladies Opens next year, although "he may try a Hunter Chase."
The Mens Open, sponsored in memory of bookmaker Bobby Warren by his friends and family, was notable for the fact that all four runners were ridden by the son of the owner/trainer. With the unfortunate Tom Ellis out for the rest of the season after breaking his leg at Mollington last week, Freddie Henderson and Joe Hill look to have the South Midlands Mens Riders title between them. They went head-to-head here and it was Freddie who came out on top on his father James' Otto The Great. He led early, then tracked Archie Wright on Patsy Finnegan before taking over again three out and winning comfortably. Patsy Finnegan just held on for second from Andrew Barlow on the fast-finishing Brackloon High, with Joe Hill last of four on Kings Legacy.
The win was Freddie's ninth of the season, leaving him two behind Harry Cobden in the National Mens Novice Riders Championship, but two points ahead of Joe Hill for local bragging rights. Otto The Great started the outsider of four after his recent Garthorpe disappointment, which Freddie was quick to explain. "He made a noise coming up the hill there, but that was just a one-off. He definitely stayed the trip." The horse jumped slowly at a few of the early fences but again, there was good reason for this according to his rider. "He loves showing off and looking at the fences, but I really trust his jumping." Freddie, 19, is a first-year student at Newcastle University and only rides when he comes home for the weekend – "I do a lot of miles" he confessed.
The RJR Contracting Maiden Race for young horses saw the debut of Dabinett Moon's half-brother The Applebomber, but he showed his inexperience and eventually pulled-up. The race was won by May The First, given a confident ride by Lucy Wheeler, who is now second in the National Ladies Novice Riders Championship. She led after a circuit, quickened clear at the bottom of the hill and, despite clouting the last, was not extended to win from Weve Got Company with early leader The Crumpet Mine back in third.
May The First is owned by Towcester-based John White, who has had classy performers in the past like Grecian Star and Saybright. Asked about the name, he was straight to the point: "May The First is my birthday!" He bought the horse in 2012 and he's been with trainer Heather Kemp for the last two years. "It's taken a long time for the penny to drop with him," confirmed the trainer. "We showjump him every week so he can use his brain and he's grown in confidence as a result." He may come back to Kingston Blount for the Restricted at the next meeting on May 24th.
A meeting rarely passes at Kingston Blount without a winner for Alan Hill's powerful Aston Rowant yard and this one was no exception. But after a second, three thirds and a fourth, he had to wait until the concluding Richardsons Members Race to get on the scoresheet with Ravethebrave justifying very short odds in a bloodless victory from Peggy's Hero and Lucky To Be Alive.
"That's the best he's felt all year," enthused the winning jockey, trainer's son Joe, who closed the gap on Freddie Henderson in the local jockeys title with this victory. "That's a good end to a frustrating day. Winning my local Hunt Race means a lot to me." said a relieved Alan Hill. "And he did it in a faster time than the Mens Open. We're running out of opportunities now, but he may go to Whitfield next week."