What started out as a dry, blustery day at Barbury Racecourse on Sunday became positively balmy as the wind dropped and a larger than usual crowd for this picturesque venue high on the Marlborough Downs enjoyed ten races as well as their picnics and plenty of opportunities for retail therapy!
The programme consisted of three pony races, followed by six point-to-point contests over a variety of distances, and closed with a Charity Flat Race over one circuit of the course. The 11 riders for this event sported a variety of dress, including a replica football shirt and the race was won by the splendidly named Erskine Guinness, who made all on his grey mare, the more prosaically named Smew!
Highlight of the point-to-point races was the JM Finn & Co Mixed Open for the Tedworth Gold Cup – the Sandhurst Area Classic Race – run over three miles six furlongs for £450 and an imposing trophy, and the race lived up to its billing. Eight took part, including the last three winners of the event, and despite the extreme distance, the field was tightly packed throughout, with the lead changing hands repeatedly. Previous victors Nobby Kivambo and Schindler's Prince led early before dropping out and Moscow Blaze and Carruthers were also prominent from the start.
However, Sarah Rippon had Good Egg – who won earlier in the year over a similar trip at Cocklebarrow – well placed throughout and timed her run to perfection. She jumped the 13-year-old into the lead at the penultimate fence and held off the challenge of the gambled-on Island Cruise (7s early into 6/4) by five lengths, with Carruthers half a length back in third. Last year's winner Cecile De Volanges never showed.
"That was serious fun," gasped the breathless owner-trainer-rider on unsaddling. "That's my little Foxhunters! He was so brilliant." Co-owner Dominic Wertheimer was quick to pay credit to Sarah. "It all started last year. Sarah rang me and I made a spur of the moment comment about wanting a horse. She went to Ireland and chose the horse and she's been amazing. She goes to Henrietta Knight's (where the horse is trained) every day." Sarah, whose only horse this is – "But I want more, I'd love to have more to train" –
runs her own business producing promotional videos and ads as well as training Good Egg and riding out for Harry Whittington. Asked about plans for Good Egg, the four-miler at the Cheltenham Hunter Chase meeting was mooted, but Dominic was more down to earth. "It would be good to win a race with all the owners present. I missed Cocklebarrow and fellow owner Char Wills can't be here today as she's at a wedding."
There were hopes of a West Lockinge double in the closing seven-runner Prestat Chocolates Confined, with Henrietta Knight's Ballypatrick quietly fancied to give the legendary trainer a first pointing winner for 27 years! However, though the ten-year-old was prominent early, he never looked likely to win once odds-on favourite Cousin Pete – given a confident ride by Nick Phillips – moved smoothly through the field with a circuit to race. The eight-year-old went to the front six out and, jumping well in the main, was untroubled to win by ten lengths from Carrigkerry, the only other finisher.
Cousin Pete, who was also bred by owner Scilla Phillips, was scoring for the third time in three starts this year after missing two years through injury. "We raced his dam, Leachbrook Lady, who was named after the stream that runs below our house. And Cousin Pete was named because Nick's cousin – Peter Mason – had his first win under rules on the day the horse was born." Cheltenham – in this case the Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate Final – is also a potential plan for this winner, as the jockey confirmed. "My heart says go to Cheltenham," admitted Nick. "But he's still a novice so we may try and win a couple of Opens and qualify him for the Foxhunters next year. He's improving all the time and he travelled well today even though the ground was a little bit dead for him."
Cheltenham is not on the agenda for the winner of the opening Simpsons Subaru Restricted Race, although the series final at Stratford may be. "I hadn't even thought of a plan," confessed Alastair McLeish, owner of the winner Twister Mix. "He likes better ground, which you often get at Stratford, so we'll think about it." Twister Mix, who was a sixth winning ride of the season and seventh as a trainer for James Ridley, was backed from 2s into 11/10 and improved for his recent Siddington Maiden win. He jumped smoothly in making all from habitual front-runner Looking Glass and, though joined after a mistake at the 13th, soon went clear again to score by 12 lengths, with Rakasba a never-dangerous third.
"We really like this horse," continued Alastair. "He's different now to how he was as a four-year-old. He settles and has developed physically – he's much more impressive." The owner, who has seven horses in training with James at Bromyard, explained his keen interest in pointing. "I love being close to the horses – you really get to know them. And I love the involvement in placing the horses. It's a real challenge… and a great team effort." The successful trainer-jockey was circumspect afterwards. "I was worried about the ground," James admitted. "He jumped better today and he's growing in confidence, but don't forget he's only a five-year old. I wouldn't be too sure about plans – I'd like to find an Intermediate after a couple of weeks."
Eight went to post for the Pheasant Inn at Lambourn race for Veteran & Novice Riders. Two experienced riders – Dave Mansell and Sandhurst Area Secretary Caroline Dennis – took part, but the youngsters, led by 17-year-old Radley schoolboy Gus Levinson on Be Definite, filled the places. The twelve-year-old – who has the dreaded "double squiggle" in the form guide – had been second no less than seven times for Gus prior to scoring by a short-head last time out and he was produced late again today. Always handy, Be Definite went second with a circuit to run and stayed there when Marlpit Oak quickened into the lead five out, before pouncing halfway up the run-in to score cosily by a length and a half, with Horatio Caine six back in third.
The win takes Gus to eight for the season – the two on Be Definite plus six on Premier Portrait – and he is joint-leader in the National Novice Riders title, with Premier Portrait the leading horse. Both are trained by Gus' father Charles at Andoversford, where they have the use of Kim Bailey's gallops. However, Charles was keen to stress that, 'While Kim's our next-door neighbour, we haven't been on his gallops this season – we've been keeping the horses to grass. We hunt them a lot and try to do different things to keep them fresh." Gus confirmed that the race had gone according to plan. "I wanted to leave it as late as possible as he doesn't like being in front. I even took a pull going down the hill! We're saving him for conditions races on better ground," confirmed the victorious pilot. "I'm not sure he stays three miles perfectly and think he's better over two and a half."
Both the remaining contests were Maidens, run over the shorter distance. The Barbury Horse Trials sponsored race was for four, five and six year olds and acted as a qualifier for the Goffs Spring Sales P2P Bumper. Rateable form was thin on the ground among the nine runners and the hot favourite was Boagrius, owned by Tom Lacey and trained by wife Sophie. He won like an odds-on shot should, too, taking the lead at the fifth and always having the measure of his pursuers – the closest of whom was Holm Hill – to come home by eight lengths, with Irish Legionnaire a length behind in third.
Asked how Boagrius compares to the recent Lacey Siddington winner Russian Service, Tom's reply was laconic. "We don't compare – they all work on their own." "It's a bit like talking to J P McManus," joked co-owner Charlie Brooks, though all he would offer was "He's a lovely horse!" Tom thought that Boagrius, who has a good Irish pedigree and was bought at the Derby Sales, would now go to the Tattersalls May Sales rather than run in one of the National Hunt Flat races for which he is eligible, advising instead that Triopas – who was second here earlier this season – would take his place in the Exeter contest. Tom wouldn't be drawn on future Maiden winners from his yard, saying only "We've run pretty much all of them."
The second short Maiden was a Jockey Club contest for Mares, co-sponsored by The Epicurean, and attracted seven runners. It also went to a well-backed favourite – Stephen Bush's Double Cool was handy throughout under Charlie Dando and always looked to be going best once she took over from leader Delineate six out. She was given a late scare by fast-finishing Singininthevalleys but held on to win by three lengths, with Delineate plugging on for third.
"We bought her as a three-year-old," her owner-trainer told me. "We actually went to look at her older brother but liked her action and agility, so bought her too. We ran her over hurdles last year, but she was lacking in a bit of confidence and had sore shins, so we decided to go back pointing. It's nice to have Charlie ride a winner for me," continued Stephen, "As his Dad David is my best mate." Plans for the winner are nothing more than "Play it by ear", although longer term, Stephen and his wife Boo intend to breed from the seven-year-old Double Trigger mare. She is one of just two they have in training at the moment, the other being Viking Torch, who made her debut last weekend and is a half-sister to Harry The Viking.