A bright sunny day – albeit with a biting wind – saw the first of four meetings this year at Kingston Blount, Oxfordshire. And consumers who saw the racing through to the end were rewarded with the performance of the day, as Tim Underwood's Timmie Roe took the closing contest, the Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate - which acts as a qualifier for the feed firm's final at Cheltenham on Friday 3rd May – in the hands of Phil York. The ex-Irish eight-year-old was impressive at Barbury last time, but had a tougher task here, taking on 11 rivals in the biggest field of the day. Always prominent, he took the lead at the sixth, jumped superbly throughout and never looked in danger as he coasted home – in what was the fastest time of the day by six seconds - by five lengths from the progressive Latenightpass, with promising mare Gadrose five back in third.
Winning rider Phil York said afterwards, with his usual cheeky grin, "I had the others covered all the way – he wasn't tired at all and we could have gone faster." Pressed on how good the horse might be, Phil admitted, "No horse has given me that feel since Dante's Storm. I have no idea why he's special – I just ride it. It must be the Timmy Touch!" Owner-trainer Tim Underwood confirmed that the ultimate aim is the series final at Cheltenham. "We need to find out how good he is," Tim told me. "Yorky thinks he's smart and I hoped he'd win, but I didn't know – I don't think my geese are swans." There are no plans to Hunter Chase Timmie Roe before Cheltenham, with Tim targeting Conditions Races at places like Parham and Penshurst.
Seven went to post for the Brentham Cricket Club sponsored Mens Open, which saw local runner Man Of Steel and Dale Peters floor odds-on shot Templebraden. Disappointing on his two runs this season and the recipient of the dreaded "double squiggle" in the formbook, denoting an unreliable horse, the Alan Hill trained ten-year-old was on his best behaviour here. Held up initially in mid-division, he moved into the lead three out and just held on by a neck from the favourite, who had every chance two out despite having dropped to the rear early on and never looking to be going well. Son of Suzie was ten lengths third.
"When he gets it right, he's good," said winning owner Toby Hunt. "But it depends what's in his head – he's got ability if he wants to, but he can take the mickey. He likes quirky courses (he has won the end of season Cartmel Hunter Chase for the past three years) and Dale has won both his starts on him." Toby confirmed that Man Of Steel, who has never lost in his seven starts in May, is on-track for a four-timer bid at Cartmel, via a return here for the four-mile Mixed Open at the next meeting and possibly a tilt at the Grimthorpe Gold Cup at Sheriff Hutton.
The 'Friends of Kingston Blount' Ladies Open had six runners and saw a return to form for the admirable mare Dabinett Moon, who was winning her 17th race, 16 of which have been for today's pilot Claire Hardwick. The race was a duel up front between the 11-year-old, who doesn't normally front-run, and Garthorpe winner Brackloon High, still showing all his zest at 14. The lead changed hands between the pair several times, but the gutsy mare hit the front three out and wasn't headed thereafter, being all out to hold on by three-quarters of a length. For 'N' Against was a never-dangerous 15-length third.
Winning trainer Fran Marriott disagreed that Dabinett Moon, or 'Bertha' as she's known at home, had been out of form so far. "She met (Cheltenham-bound) Southfield Theatre on her first two starts, so it's good to have her back in her company. Anyway, Christopher (Fran's husband) is the work rider, so that's why she's taken her time!" joked Fran, who confirmed that this would be Dabinett Moon's last season. "We'll put her in foal – probably to Passing Glance – and will aim her for the Skinners Ladies Open Final at Stratford, where she's won twice."
"That went to plan," said Claire Hardwick, serial runner-up to Gina Andrews for the Ladies Jockeys title, who was belatedly getting off the mark for the season. "I never front run with her, but no-one else was bothered. I committed her from a long way out and she was getting lonely in front on her own, but she was mega! It shows that the old birds – Fran, me and her – can still do it." A relieved Claire admitted that her mother Helen had considered disloyally placing a bet for her daughter to draw a blank in the saddle this season!
The five-runner Woodway Farm Restricted, over two and a half miles, was the second race on the day to go to a mare with 'Moon' in her name and called 'Bertha' at home! Lynn Redman's quirky Loveyoutothemoon, wearing a hood and cheekpieces and the 14/1 outsider, was always prominent, jumped into the lead with Tabitha Worsley in the back straight and was untroubled to score comfortably by ten lengths from Rules Of War, with Caliente in third, six lengths further back.
"I'm over the moon," laughed winning trainer Lynn Redman, enjoying a second success in a week for her Tetsworth yard after a blank 2017/2018. "She has so much ability – but it's whether or not she decides to use it… She loves it here – we can't travel her and we only arrived ten minutes before declarations closed! She'll run again here and at Kimble," added Lynn of the mare, who she bought as a two-year-old from David Brace. "At one point, I didn't think she'd start," smiled winning rider Tabitha Worsley. "But she's such a good jumper, has loads of ability and I've always loved her." Tabitha is eagerly looking forward to a first Cheltenham Foxhunters ride on Top Wood, last year's narrow runner-up, on Friday and is taking care with her mounts until then, telling me ruefully, "I was due to ride at Aintree last year but I broke my collarbone the week before."
The Kingston Blount Racing Club Conditions Race had ten runners and saw the only successful odds-on shot of the day, in the shape of Phil Rowley's progressive Salvatore – winning his sixth race on the bounce – and Alex Edwards. Mid-division early, the favourite moved smoothly into second coming down the hill on the final circuit then led three out and was never troubled to win by two-and-a-half lengths from outsider Gallery Exhibition. Market rival Hawkhurst was again disappointing, nine lengths away in third.
"That was a hell of a race," exclaimed winning trainer Phil Rowley afterwards. "They went quick to start with and he jumps and stays," Asked if the horse idled in front when looking to quicken clear, Phil laughed. "You tell me! No, I think he just does enough and Alex never had to get after him." Salvatore was bought at Doncaster from the late Malcolm Jefferson for a group of owners including Di Cope. "We wanted a fun horse," Di confirmed. "Phil didn't want to sell him at first as he had a wind issue, so we leased him, then bought him after his first run." The plan, like Timmie Roe, is the Intermediate Final at Cheltenham, via a Wetherby Hunter Chase. And a second consecutive trainers title for Phil, now on 14 after a weekend four-timer? "Probably not, but we'll try our best!"
"That went to plan," confirmed the winning jockey. "It wasn't tactical – they went off hard in front. He's an exciting prospect – it was only his ninth run and he's still learning," added Alex Edwards, who has a plum ride in Friday's Cheltenham Foxhunters on Hazel Hill. "He's the best I've ridden," said Alex. "If he can reproduce his Warwick run, he won't be far away." And further ahead, another jockey's championship beckons, with this win followed by four more on Sunday.
With 18 declarations, The French Horn at Sonning Open Maiden was split into two divisions of nine and the opening heat saw the odds-on The Odissey, another Rowley-Edwards runner, turned over. Although the four-year-old debutant was always travelling well in mid-division before going second four out and looking the likely winner, he couldn't fend off the attentions of the Pete and Joe Ponting's six-year-old mare R Bren and Danny Burton, who led going out on to the final circuit and, though headed after the last, battled back to win by a short head. Here Comes Molly led early then dropped back before rallying to finish 20 lengths third.
"We thought she had a chance," confirmed winning trainer Joe Ponting afterwards. "She was working well at home and doing everything she asked." R Bren – who was bought privately from Ireland – is the only horse that Joe, who trains at Hillesley near Badminton, has in training at the moment. Fascinating fact: when Joe trained Dollydo to win at Chipley Park in 2011, he was only 15!
Ex-professional Danny Burton – 32 – made history as the first jockey to ride a winner in a point-to-point over fences since the rule change last summer, that allowed older jockeys who had not ridden 25 winners under rules to revert to amateur status. It was his second winner of the campaign, having also scored in a point-to-point flat race. Tewkesbury-based Danny, who has ridden for the Pontings for some time, explained the reason for his decision. "I couldn't make a career of it professionally. I've got a full time business in garden maintenance and a family to look after." His main supporter is Ben Clarke and he also rides out for Ed Walker and Tom George. "It's great to ride for people who support me," Danny continued. "Although it's really annoying that I can't take part in Hunter Chases under the new rule – as that's meant I've also lost pointing rides."
Division two saw another close finish, as Hannah Lewis' mare Silver Louna, under a vintage Will Biddick ride, just pipped long time leader Round Robin – who has now been placed on his last nine starts – overhauling the long-time leader, who had been in front since the second fence and who established a long lea, on the run-in after looking short of room on the final bend. Fleur Du Pommier finished a never dangerous 30 lengths third.
Silver Louna was a welcome winner for pointing stalwart, owner Nigel Lilley, who reckons it was his first since Mr Cee in 2010. "Kingston Blount has always been a lucky course for me," confirmed Nigel – I also won the Bullingdon Cup here with Lord Alfred." Hannah Lewis explained how she came by the horse. "I used to ride Mr Cee for Nigel and when I set-up on my own at Upton-on-Severn, he asked me to buy him a horse. I used to train War Path and Silver Louna is his half-sister. I bought her at Ascot and she's blind in her left eye, so I didn't know how she'd cope going left-handed." Hannah only has two in her yard – the other is Friday's Grand Military Gold Cup second (at 150/1!) Spanish Arch.
Winning rider Will Biddick, who was also on board when Silver Louna was second on her pointing debut at Larkhill (before a Monmouth fall), told me, "She's not very big but she's game. I let her get her confidence for a lap as they went off very quick, but I could see the leader weakening and, the further I went, the better." Will was moving on to 401 career wins and hopes to beat Richard Burton's record of 414 this season, although he played down talk of a seventh title, saying, "It's hard without a big stable behind me." Will has three intended mounts at Cheltenham this week, including Caid Du Berlais in Friday's Foxhunters.