The usual big crowd at this long-standing fixture was undeterred by the cold weather and a biting wind, although numbers had definitely thinned out by the end of the seventh race! Honours on the day were claimed by rider Zac Baker, whose double took his seasonal tally to a joint-career best six, as well as the early lead in the South Midlands area riders championship.
The first of Zac's winners came on Templebraden in the feature race. The Arkell's Brewery Mixed Open, which attracted a field of ten, including prolific Welsh raiders Findlay's Find and Rosies Peacock. Templebraden started 9/4 favourite, following a win at Larkhill, a second there in the Coronation Cup and a third in a hot Open at Horseheath. His jockey moved him calmly through the field into second place five out. He joined leader Thanks For Coming at the third last to win cosily by three lengths, with early pacesetter Divine Intavention back in third.
Templebraden is trained by John Bryan – his fifth winner of the season – and owned by Jack McGrath, who also had him trained professionally by Robert Stephens. "He came from Ireland," confirmed the owner. "I bought him for his breeding – he has Roselier and Deep Run in his pedigree. We had a problem with him, so gave him a year off, and he'll go back under rules next season." Sarah Oliver – wife of Grand National winning trainer Michael – is also involved with the horse and said, "He seems to thrive with every race. The left handed track suited him." The owners refused to be drawn on plans, saying "You'll have to speak to John," but did admit that the Lady Dudley Cup and Cheltenham may be on the agenda. Rider Zac Baker professed himself "very chuffed – he's a really nice horse" and confessed to winning "With a lot in hand."
Zac's second winner was Russian Service in the concluding Open Maiden, sponsored by David Hendry Cars of Malmesbury. With 22 declarations, the race was divided on the day and 11 took part in each division. Zac gave Russian Service a very similar ride to his Mixed Open winner, progressing gradually through the field, although he left it later this time, pouncing on long-time leader Off The Wall – on whom Henry Lochrane built up a clear lead – at the last to win going away by two lengths. Dan's Wee Man was a never dangerous third.
The winner is owned in partnership by trainer Sophie Lacey's husband Tom and Charlie Brooks, described as the "think tank" of the operation. The pair bought Russian Service – a half-brother to useful but ill-fated The Governess – at the Derby Sales in Ireland and Tom was bullish about the horse. "I think he's an aeroplane," he enthused. "He's every bit as good as (his useful novice hurdler) North Hill Harvey." Tom, however, remained tighter-tipped when asked about the phenomenal success he and Sophie have enjoyed with their young maidens. "It's a secret," he smiled. Like so many Lacey horses, the winner is for sale.
The first division of the Maiden – run in an almost identical time – went to Twister Mix, owned by Alastair McLeish and trained and ridden by James Ridley. In an eventful race, in which fancied Boagrius fell at the first, the five-year-old Fair Mix gelding led early, but was swallowed up by Poetic Rhythm and Manasquan at the third-last. Poetic Rhythm seemed to have got the better of Manasquan when both fell independently at the last. Twister Mix was left to come home a slightly fortunate winner from Double Cool and Berwick Bassett.
"I don't know whether he was beaten or not," was the owner's reaction after the race. "I was really impressed with the way he was responding." Twister Mix was appearing for the first time this season and Alastair admitted, "We gave him a longer holiday because he did a lot when he was four." The McLeishs have seven horses – including multiple winner Big Georgie –
in training with James Ridley, of whom Alastair said, "He's just very good at training. We've got plenty of space for more!" The trainer-jockey was more candid about the way the race unfolded, thinking Poetic Rhythm had him beaten, but was continuing a fantastic start to the season in both his jobs. "That's five as a trainer and four as a jockey," he counted. "I've got fantastic owners (making sure they were in earshot) and have just moved to their new yard in Bromyard, from my previous base near Redmarley."
Founded in 1985, the Pegasus Club is one of the oldest and last remaining saddle clubs and they still hold an annual race. Ownership of eligible horses is restricted to barristers, and riders must be either family members or novices. With such conditions, a small field is inevitable, but the Volvo-sponsored five-runner contest proved one of the most exciting races of the day. Maiden Alphamor, favourite Cold Knight and Kyles Faith had it between them in the home straight, with the lead regularly swapping hands. Alphamor led at the last, but Kyles Faith proved stronger in a driving finish to come home by a head, with a reluctant Cold Knight in third.
Kyles Faith was a first winner in points for 18-year-old Hugh Hunt, who works for Nicky Henderson and has won four races on the flat for Andrew Balding and one over fences for Martin Keighley. "I got into it through pony racing, working for Jimmy Frost when I was 14," Hugh confirmed. "I started working for Andrew Balding in my summer holidays and the Baldings helped me find the job with Nicky Henderson when I wasn't going to be able to do the weight on the flat." The jockey confirmed that his winner has been sweetened up by the switch to pointing and a smaller yard, James Tuck's "Team Didmarton". The trainer credited the new carpet gallop he's had put in – "We're already reaping the benefit," he smiled. "He's ex-Martin Keighley," confirmed James of Kyles Faith. "(My partner Miranda) used to ride him out. We may go for the £1,000 Open at Andoversford next, but I'll have to ask owner George Threlfall."
The Bathurst Estate Hunt Members race looked on paper to be one of the best of its type all season, with six of the seven runners rated 90 or more. And, like the Pegasus Club race, it was an enthralling contest. Laura Thomas attempted to make all on her useful ex-Irish Gift Of Dgab, who jumped extravagantly. But Moorland Sunset and Shy John, the latter returning from a spell under rules, were always keeping tabs on the leader and Nick Phillips outjumped him at the last to win by three quarters of a length from Gift Of Dgab with Shy John three back in third.
"He's quite a tricky character," admitted winning owner Scilla Phillips of Moorland Sunset, who also won this race in 2014. "First time out last year, he'd run his race in the paddock. He doesn't seem to like men, so we had two girls leading him round and got permission to leave the paddock early." Trainer Dibby Brown, enjoying a great start to her third year as a trainer (Cousin John scored for her at Larkhill) with her small string told me, "We're lucky where we are – Kilkenny Farm near Bibury – we take them up the hills twice a week, which gets them fit." Winning jockey and owner's son Nick became a father for the second time on Monday (he texted me his running plans on the way back from the hospital!) and concurred with his mother's comments. "We call him 'Sicknote'," he laughed, "Because he's always got a problem. We've been waiting for better ground and he needs everything to go right but, when it does, he's some horse."
Mark Wall attempted to make all on Dandan in the nine-runner Strutt & Parker Confined Race. However, Freddie Henderson on Oliver James always had the leader in his sights and went into the lead on the final bend. Dandan stuck on gamely but Oliver James was always in control and went on to win by eight lengths, with Uppertown Hawk – who ran in snatches – twelve lengths away in third.
Winning owner-trained James Henderson and jockey Freddie rushed off to weigh out for the next race and his family were coy in his absence, wife Lucinda claiming that "James is the spokesperson" and older son George laughing "I'll leave it to the old man – it's his favourite pastime!" Lucinda did admit that Oliver James "Is an individual horse. He doesn't have friends at home and walks round his box in his own world. He's well hunted, like all our horses, but we don't get him on the track very frequently."
13 of the 16 entries were declared to run in the Sewell Mullings Logie Restricted Race, but what looked on paper like a competitive event was won easily by Sir Ollar, about whose prospects connections had been confident earlier in the week. Leo Mahon always had the favourite handy behind the early leaders and stalked Detank when Phil York's mount hit the front three out. A mistake at the penultimate fence sealed Detank's fate, however, and Sir Ollar went on to win by an easy eight lengths, with Eastern Witness making late progress into third."
"He thrives on racing," said trainer Martin Weston of Sir Ollar, a second-season pointer for The Troubled Partnership, who also have Thoonawalla with son Tom under rules. "But each time he's due to run, we have a slight hiccup, so he's only been out three times. He likes good and good to soft ground." Martin was reluctant to commit to future plans, but did admit, "It would be lovely to go Hunter Chasing and he's qualified for the Subaru Restricted final at Stratford." Winning jockey Leo Mahon was pleased by the strong gallop, because "They came back to me and he kept picking up," and is confident that he would have won even if Detank hadn't hit the second last. It was a sixth winner of the year for Leo – his joint-best – and he hopes to get to "14 or 15" before the end of the season.