'If You Can Meet With Triumph And Disaster' – You're Qualified To Run A Point-to-Point...
It was certainly eventful at the North Hereford Hunt's meeting at the beautiful Brampton Bryan course. The organisers had grafted hard to provide an excellent card, Wayne Tuffin had worked his magic on the course so that the going was officially 'good', the sun shone and the scene was set for an idyllic afternoon for the respectable crowd to enjoy. And so they did, for the most part, but clearly the gods were bored and thought they would send us a few sharp reminders that all our fates hang by a thread. So for some, the day was memorable for completely the wrong reasons.
It all started famously, with two well supported pony races, ably orchestrated by Pauline Duggan and Cherry Biddle, the ponies and young riders glorying in the opportunity of flying over the perfect turf. The much-loved Helsington Vanetta, partnered by 12 year-old Jamie Spencer galloped home a length clear of Flick and Fern O'Brien (12), with Mon Melissa (Oliver Howell, 11) in third in the Hop Pocket & Hunters Estate Agents 138 cms race. The seven contestants in the Four Counties Lubricants 148 cms raced over one 12 furlong circuit of the course, and Shegora whisked Alec Voikhansky (14) into the lead from flag-drop to make all. Seal The Deal (Alice De Giles, 15) finished second to take the trophy for the highest placed novice rider, with the consistent mare, The Mumbler in 3rd with Ivor Herbert (12).
It seemed a natural progression that Conor Brace, aboard his grandfather's heroic performer, William Money, should win the PPORA Novice Riders race, having begun his racing career in the pony races. Global Power and Leanne Painter ran a great race in 2nd, with Tangolan (Albie Tuffnel) in 3rd. A likeable lad, Conor isn't sure yet where his future in the saddle will take him, other than that his future will BE in the saddle.
Alex Edwards, leading the field for the national Fullers Leading Rider title, visited the winner's enclosure for the first of his 4 times after the Angel Inn, Kingsland Confined Race. He sent Phillip Rowley's charge, Namako, to head affairs at halfway, but the favourite, Encounter A Giant (James King), was not going to allow him to dictate. The pair drew well clear of the field and jumping the last fence, Encounter A Giant still had a narrow advantage, but Namako battled bravely to be half a length up at the line. Jungle Legend (Conor Brace) ran on to be 3rd.
There were jubilant scenes in the winners enclosure following the Timico Mixed Open when Phillip Rowley and the Dealers Partnership greeted their winner Now Ben, whom Alex had given a confident ride to best Heidi Brookshaw's consistent Ballyrath (James King). Benemeade (Byron Moorcroft) faded into 3rd, with the gallant Horsham Lad ('Phine Banks) 4th.
Double You Be (James King) tried to make all in the Bell Decorating Group Restricted race, but the Rowley Team's athletic grey mare, Champagne Lilly made it three on the bounce for Alex. Double You Be was second for the fifth time this season, while Spoilt Sam (Edward Glassonbury) was 6 lengths back in 3rd. Home-bred by Fanny Armitage, who shares ownership of her with three other ladies, Champagne Lilly, who won on her debut last year, her only other run, is reputed to be a much nicer character than her dam, Champagne Lil, who detested humans. The bright day became a little darker when news filtered back that there had freakily been 2 fatalities at the same fence in the back straight in that race. Everyone in racing knows the risks, but such losses are felt keenly by all involved in the sport.
There was unwanted drama at the end of the Jacques International Jockey Club Mares & Fillies Maiden race. Lorna Brooke rode a beautifully judged race on Lucy Birley's French-bred Pearlesque to lead Queen of Dragons (James Jeavons) at the last obstacle, cantering clear for a popular victory. Halfway up the run-in, Queen of Dragons, about to finish second, suddenly jinked and collided with the running rail, unshipping her jockey. A spectating sponsor was injured in the melee, later taken to hospital with a suspected leg fracture.
Gowell (Byron Moorcroft) seized second place, with Ray Rogers' Miss Glance (Ben Jones) in 3rd, Here Comes Molly (Geoff Barfoot-Saunt) 4th.
Racing was delayed slightly due to the medical attention being given, and as the 8 runners for the Balfours Open Maiden for 4,5 & 6 year-olds (21/2 miles) went to post a spectacular rainbow arced the course. Huw Edwards, in his father's purple and orange colours mirrored some of the splendid hues as the five year-old Bartizan hurtled clear of the field, jumping well. He was still ahead turning for home though his lead had been reduced by Ericsbar (Edward Glassonbury), Phoenix Park (Rex Dingle) and the favourite, the Rowley team debutante, Man In The Moon (Alex Edwards). Digging deep into energy reserves, up the run in, Bartizan valiantly stayed on, with yet more unwanted drama behind him as Ericsbar suddenly hung badly left, crashing over the running rail in a near carbon copy of the incident in the previous race. Phoenix Park rallied to get within three-quarters of a length of Bartizan, with the promising Man In The Moon in 3rd. For the second time in an hour, the screens were quickly erected while two casualties (both long term supporters) were efficiently treated, luckily this time mostly for shock, bruising, and a broken nose that did not require a visit to hospital. There was however, a very brief delay while Wayne Tuffin repaired the running rail.
Bartizan is 17 year-old Huw's third career winner. He works at home on the farm and with the horses in Shropshire for his father, Simon, and regularly rides out for Phillip Rowley.
Phillip Rowley must have worn a track between the box park and the winner's enclosure during the day, and he and the Futter family, the owners of Sulu Magic (Alex Edwards) were at the last fence (halfway betwixt) to watch the final race of the day, the HFT Forklifts Maiden for Horses & Geldings. Sulu Magic and the four-year-old Wolvesacre (Edward Glassonbury had drawn clear, matching strides, and jumped the last fence upsides. Wolvesacre crumpled on landing, and it was immediately apparent that he had sustained a tragic fatal fracture. It says much about the community of the sport that the Rowley/Futter team did not leave the scene to greet their winner, but stayed to help restrain Wolvesacre, erect the screens and try to console Edward Glassonbury. The vet arrived swiftly, and it also says much of the character of Alex Edwards, pulling up on his 4th winner of the day that he looked back down the course and groaned, "Oh NO! What a bloody day… I can't believe it..."
Lynne Wallaces's charges Black Jack Jaxon (Bradley Roberts) and Mon Garcon Frankie (Alan King) ran on into second and third in a heartening change of fortune with the better ground.
It transpires that Phillip Rowley himself had ridden Sulu Magic in his final preparation gallop, connections quipping during the trophy presentation that he'd won because carrying 12 stone was a lot less weight than he was used to!
"An even more eventful day!" commented Wayne Tuffin dryly as he chugged off about his business clearing his beloved course. Quite a few more things leaned that weren't in the clerk-of-the-course handbook, I suspect.
It was certainly a day of Triumph and Disaster, and those two imposters were dealt with by organisers with maximum speed and efficiency. For several, it was the toughest of experiences, and for us all, it was a stark illustration that out of the blue, despite every care taken, for no reason at all, Things Happen.
Well done North Hereford Hunt and team. The gods bowled you a whole host of googlies, and you fielded every single one of them with skill.