Honours went to the husband and wife combination of trainer Tom Ellis and jockey Gina Andrews at Kingston Blount last weekend as they teamed up for a treble – as well as a second – from just four runners. With 24 wins this season, Tom is now five clear in the Foran Equine Trainers Championship, while Gina – on 31 successes for the campaign – is over twenty ahead of her nearest rival in the Skinners Lady Riders Championship, and ten ahead of the leading male!
Highlight of the Ellis-Andrews three-timer was Haymount's success in the seven-runner Sandhurst Area Feature Race, the Philip Scouller Memorial Home Counties Grand National, a Mixed Open over four miles. Always prominent, Haymount vied for the lead with Vasco Du Mee for most of the last two circuits, before pressing home his advantage. Despite a slow jump at the last, he was driven out to hold on by four lengths, with Changeofluck – who was never closer than at the finish line – two lengths away in third.
Haymount – who was pulled-up when fancied for the Cheltenham Foxhunters last time – is owned by a partnership comprising John Docker, Julia Morris-Lowe, Stephen Howlett and Michael Wills and takes turns to run in each of their colours. It was Michael's turn today and, asked if he thought his horse finished tired, he laughed, "You would after four miles! It was a fast-run race, they set a good pace and Vasco Du Mee is a good yardstick. He resented the tongue-tie at Cheltenham and was a different horse today."
Quizzed about plans for the ten-year-old, who was bought out of Willie Mullins' yard, and finished third to Grand National favourite Tiger Roll at the Cheltenham Festival in 2017, winning rider Gina Andrews said, "Hopefully he'll go to either Cheltenham for the Hunter Chase evening or Fontwell, and that will probably do him for this year. He makes a bit of a noise in his races and will have a wind operation at the end of the season."
Husband Tom Ellis told me of his season's ambitions, "I haven't even considered being champion trainer – and I won't risk nice horses on firm ground – but it's our best season by some way and that's no fluke. We've spent money, time and effort and it's coming together. We redid the gallops over the summer and bought some new horses – we've got a brilliant bunch of owners, including some fun syndicates, which I think are the way forward for pointing."
Tom and Gina initiated their treble when new recruit, the well-backed Free Of Charge, came home to the loudest cheer of the day after winning the Ashley Wilde sponsored Conditions race, for horses who have not won since 2016. Eight, the largest field of the afternoon, went to post here. Always prominent, he was left in the lead at the final open ditch and was always going and jumping better than market rival Cyrius Moriviere, scoring untroubled. Thoonavolla, who had looked threatening in the back straight before fading, was twenty lengths third.
The reason for the noisy celebrations is that the ten-year-old – bought at Ascot Sales in summer 2017 from Gordon Elliott's yard, having previously raced for Philip Hobbs – is owned by Lenny Owen, a well-known member of the Ellis yard's 'Back Of The Car Club'. "We're real enthusiasts," Lenny smiled. "We go everywhere Tom and Gina do." He explained how he came to own Free Of Charge. "I had a youngster, but he wasn't going to make a racehorse, so Tom gave me a share in this one. He'd been off for nearly two years with a bit of a leg, but he was fit as a flea and I had a little bit on! Tom's a good trainer," smiled Lenny again, "But I don't know much about the jockey – I just call her Mrs Ellis! Seriously, she's brilliant."
Foxy Singer, the Ellis-Andrews winner of the four-runner Guy Luck Memorial Young Horse Open Maiden, was easy in the market, punters making local trainer Alan Hill's fellow four-year-old Hop 'N Skip the odds-on favourite. Neither had raced over fences before, but Foxy Singer jumped like a natural and led for most of the final circuit. Although Hop 'N Skip looked to be travelling well throughout and Foxy Singer made a mistake at the last, the filly held on to win by a length. They were the only two finishers.
"She's a baby who had just one run in a bumper for Dan Skelton," said Tom. "She goes alright on the grass at home and schooled at Brafield-on-the-Green recently – her jumping's got better the more we've done with her. She's for sale at a sensible price – if we don't sell her, we'll run her again." "She just over-jumped at the last," added Gina. "But she jumped awesomely other than that and did it very professionally – she always had something in reserve." Gina confirmed her ambition to beat Polly Curling's record of 40 in a season for a female rider and to, "Beat the boys – but I've got to stay in one piece!"
Shortest priced favourite of the day was 1/4 shot Timmie Roe in the opener, the Oakman Inns Confined race. Tim Underwood's eight-year-old had looked very impressive in four previous wins this season, which is probably why only three rivals took him on. And, while he duly completed his nap hand here in the hands of Phil York, he did not score with the same authority as he had previously, jumping shoddily over the final few fences and having to be driven out to hold off the challenge of Loveyoutothemoon by one-and-a-half lengths, with long-time leader Namako five lengths third.
Winning jockey Phil York confirmed nonchalantly afterwards, "If he hadn't fluffed the last, he'd have cantered to the line," while owner-trainer Tim Underwood was also not unduly concerned. "They went a right gallop," he said (the time was fast), "And he jumped some of the later fences quite bravely. Maybe he needs another run!" (The horse has raced three times in the last four weeks). Asked where Timmie Roe goes next, Tim – who is now both leading owner and leading trainer of seven horses or fewer nationwide – refused to be committed. "We'll see how he is. I've got mixed feelings about the Cheltenham Intermediate Final as that keeps him out of pointing for a month, so we may try to go for leading horse."
The most exciting finish of the day was in the Field Seymour Parkes Novice Riders race, in which five of the seven runners were in with a chance coming to the final fence. Favourite Net Work Rouge, the mount of Andy Llewellyn, was held up and didn't look to be going well for most of the race. However, as the leaders started to tire approaching the last, he came with a strong run up the inside, jumped into the lead over the fence and was driven out to beat the fast-finishing Crowded Room and Queen Spud – both of whom had been prominent on the final circuit – by one length and three.
Net Work Rouge is one of just two horses trained by Chloe Boxall at Lambourn, and she explained how she came by the horse. "Andy is assistant trainer to Oliver Sherwood and Harrison Beswick is Oliver's conditional jockey. Harrison's cousin Bart Ryan-Beswick has several horses under rules and bought Net Work Rouge for Andy to ride and to help me get going as a trainer. We bought him out of Kim Bailey's yard from Ascot Sales – he'd fallen out of love with the game but he's a happy horse now!" Chloe admitted to not being worried as the race unfolded, saying, "All he does is gallop and he stays all day. He's a big horse, he tries and his class and guts saw him through. The plan is to run him again over Easter, then go for the Novice Riders final at Edgcote." Chloe used to ride as an amateur under rules and between the flags and told me, "Like most jockeys, I wanted to train. I enjoy pointing and would like more horses – it's my dream."
Andy, notching up his second winner, was full of beans afterwards as he related why he started his race-riding career at the age of 35. "I want to train one day," he confirmed, "And think that a trainer should have experience of riding. Bart decided to buy a pointer and I thought I'd give it a go! I've no long-term ambitions – I might have a go next season too but it's just a bit of fun." Andrew also confessed to being less confident than Chloe during the race about his prospects of winning. "He's a funny horse and drops himself out. I didn't think they'd come back to me but I got a clear run up the inner," he added with relief.
Easiest winner of the day was Getabuck, trained and ridden by Peter Mason, in the concluding PC Turner of Farnborough Open Maiden. Always going well in pursuit of leader Round Robin, he took the lead five out, soon went clear and was untroubled to score by twenty lengths (it could have been further) from Bishopstone Girl, who just held off the late rally of Round Robin for second by a head.
Trainer's wife Jennifer (Niff) Mason admitted that the six-year-old has taken time to come to hand. "We bought him in Ireland as a three-year-old," she confirmed, "And he's beautifully bred – from the family of Big Bucks. He's shown ability at home but mentally he's been green and he's needed the experience. He seemed a totally different horse today and he's our nicest horse at home – an aeroplane on the gallops. We hope he'll be a superstar!" Jennifer wouldn't be drawn on plans, saying, "We just hope he's sound tomorrow," before adding, "He's athletic and a lovely mover, who'll want good or good to soft ground, so we'll look after him."
Having weighed out, Peter echoed his wife's words. "He is really nice but it's taken time for the penny to drop and he's still growing up. He's a bit of a work in progress but I've been telling the owners for a year that he's a good horse. I could have done with a lead for longer but it taught him to jump on his own – but I was happy with his jumping and he travelled well throughout. I didn't make it look easy – the horse did!"