In many ways this was very much a mid season fixture.
Postponed due to inclement weather, it was hastily squeezed in before the
next scheduled stop on the merry go round – Higham, due on the very next
day. It had none of the frenzy and excitement of the meetings held during
the first few weeks of the season, nor any the of the social snobbery
associated with those held in the later months of the year. The horse
numbers were considerably less than those gatherings in January and
February, but a lot more than will be seen bouncing off the firm ground in
April and May. The atmosphere amongst the comparatively small number of
spectators was one of fulfilling a sense of duty, like an all weather
meeting on a wet Tuesday. To the true enthusiast, however, it was yet
another great day in the pointing field – even though there were only six
It was difficult to select a highlight. To me there were two
heroes worthy of top billing. One was a sixteen year old, who, at the peak
of his career had won one of the country’s top steeplechases, and the
other is ten years his junior and surely destined to be one of the stars of
Algan had not seen a racecourse for four years. The
Horseheath Confined must have felt to him like a School Sports Day would do
for a fifty year old Linford Christie bought out of retirement to compete in
the parents race. He was easy to back in the betting ring, generally
available at around 8/1. I even saw one shrewd punter avail himself to a
score at twenties!
Lord Euro made most of the early running, but when he got in too close and fell at the eleventh, Algan cruised past the odds on favourite, Bard of Drumcoo, to take it up. Without being extended himself, his lead just kept growing throughout the final circuit. He eventually came home a distance ahead of the favourite (himself an impressive winner at the previous meeting), with the Turner, horse, Leatherback, a long way back in third. To all of us feeling that time is eroding our ability, he demonstrated that, in the right grade, class can defy the ageing process. This performance showed that there is life in the old dog yet, and a season or two in Open races could well see him add to his already impressive tally.
The six year old, Fane Counsel, had earned rave reviews in
his previous two outings, and his victory in today’s Intermediate will
only add to his burgeoning reputation. He led from start to finish in what
was, by far, the fastest time of the day. Although, with the exception of
the runner up (an impressive winner at Higham in February and of a Hunter
Chase at Fakenham last year), the opposition may have been weak, he could do
no more than win, and he did so without ever coming off the bridle. David
Kemp’s Cantarhino, also still a six year old, lost nothing in defeat and,
in being only three lengths down at the line, got a lot closer to Shelia
Crow’s potential star than anything else has so far managed. He responded
well to his pilot’s nigglings, but was wisely not given a hard time when
it became obvious that the winner was still travelling well within himself.
He too has a bright future ahead of him.
One sad note was the first fence fall of Prologue. Despite
doing a somersault, the horse got up and cantered back to the stables. His
jockey and owner, Craig Jarvis, however, did not. He laid motionless for a
long while and eventually left the course in an ambulance. I fear it will be
a long while before this sporting Corinthian, who frequently put up twelve
pounds overweight, will be in the saddle again.
Fair Counsel’s connections, Shelia Crow and Richard Burton,
were not long in completing a double on the day when their Templebreedy
emulated the pillar to post tactics to take the Men’s Open. The race was
run in a hailstorm and most of the crowd (including me) watched it from
behind glass! Course specialist, Weavers Choice, disappointingly surrendered
all chance when deciding to give the rest of the field a twenty five length
start. Although he made up the ground after a circuit, the effort in doing
so sapped too much energy and he was soon a spent force. His stablemate,
Teeton Priceless, however, ran her best race for a long while and showed a
lot of resolution in sticking to her task in the home straight. She finished
just two lengths behind the winner, with the Turner’s Militaire, who also
kept on pleasingly, in third.
The same team were represented in the fourteen strong
Restricted by Pristeen Spy, who had disappointed in 2003 after winning a
Brocklesby maiden as a five year old in 2002. On the basis of not changing a
winning formula, the tactics were, once again, to race from the front. They
were accompanied for most of the three miles by Caroline Bailey’s Agua
Ardente, but found themselves deprived of his company when he sent Rowan
Cope sprawling to the rain softened ground four fences from home. By then
all other competition had disappeared, and Pristeen Spy came home alone to
win by an easy twenty lengths from Jenny Tice’s Teeton Fizz, who re-emphasised
the stable’s probable and imminent return to form. Present Moment finished
third with Camden Loch fourth.
The big disappointment of the race was the performance of Mister Ringa. He was held up right at the back on the first circuit, almost a hundred yards behind the pacemakers. When he was eventually asked to get into the race he was faced with an impossible task, and was allowed to pull up when Andrew Braithwaite realised and accepted it. His running was little more than a public schooling, and the formbook should ignore it. He is clearly better than this, although, equally clearly, he is not good enough to give the likes off Pristeen Spy and Agua Ardente a thirty length start!
The Ladies Open produced the closest finish of the day, and underlined the improvement bought about to MacFin by the fitting of cheekpieces. Louise Allen’s mount, who bellied odds of 20/1 with an all the way victory at Horseheath’s last meeting, set off in a fashion that suggested he was once again in the mood to do himself justice. On the second circuit the favourite, Spring Gale, looked to be travelling much the better and menacingly stalked the pacemaker into the home straight. When Zoe Turner gave the license to go, Spring Gale willingly responded and effortlessly cruised past the long time leader at the second last. As they approached the final fence it looked like one of those “Betfair 1.01 moments”, but MacFin wasn’t giving up. Despite a two lengthy deficit he fought back like a lion to collar Spring Gale at the line and win by a neck. Borrow Mine ran on well, but too late, to take third with General Confusion, on whom Barbara Czepulkowski was enjoying her first race, showing that staying is his game with a late rally to take fourth.
The opening race, the Maiden, initiated the nap hand for
front runners when Germany Park (unluckily carried out by a loose horse when
leading at High Easter three weeks earlier) never allowed anything to get in
front of him this time. Although he tired from the second last his field had
already been well and truly broken, and Caroline Bailey’s debutant, Round
The Isles, was a long way adrift in second. Coming up the hill, Divine Mist
looked the one who might make a race of it, but what faint chance he did
have evaporated with a mistake three fences from home. The one to enter my
notebook, however, was Northall Lad. The subject of a mini gamble travelled
well in Germany Park’s slipstream for the first circuit, The pair had gone
well clear of the third when he came to grief at the fifth last, where Paul
Cowley had asked him to go upsides. If his confidence is not too badly
dented I do not expect him to remain a maiden for long.
One sad reflection of the state of relations between punter
and bookmaker was the refusal of the man I had backed Germany Park with to
pay me before the “Weighed In” announcement had been made. Apparently he
had been stung at Marks Tey in No Penalty’s race (he had paid out before
the weigh in, and no one had returned the money when the winner was
disqualified) and he was determined that it would not happen to him again.
Whilst I could understand his sentiments I did not bet with him again that
afternoon – there are just too many other things to do between races and
waiting fifteen minutes or so for the “all clear” erodes too far into
the time I have to do them. I guess there were one or two punters who shared
my thoughts. To the poor bookie, however, it was the classic case of
“damned if I do, and damned if I don’t”.