Gabrial The Great Gallops Them Into Ground At Bitterley
The busy team of people behind the Ludlow point-to-point at Bitterley had to their bite their nails nervously while the meeting had to survive an early morning inspection. But the course, though 'Soft' was in fine fettle, and they carried on with Business as Usual, providing the essential nuts and bolts of every fixture, from securing wings on fences to cutting sandwiches for sponsors.
Rain clouds lurked ominously, but defied the forecast to only mist proceedings lightly, though they loitered threateningly throughout the afternoon, perhaps deterring the less dedicated spectators, though the crowd was more than decent.
A combination of the backlog of fixtures and the lack of faster ground saw a disappointing turnout of runners in all races but the JRL Group Flat race, which had to be split, though there was plenty of excitement in most of the races.
The mighty duo of Phillip Rowley and Alex Edwards are head of their respective handlers and riders championships, thus Mac's Gift was sent off a warm favourite for the 5-runner Charles Stanley Ltd Confined race. Chris Hooley, the trainer of Emtidaad, who won on his last outing at Hereford under Bradley Gibbs, had been hoping that Bradley would escape the snarl-up of traffic he was stuck in, but it was Connor Brace who finally got the leg-up on the imposing chestnut.
Sarah Bowen dictated much of the pace with the game Mirs Choice, and kept the pressure on. Mac's Gift passed her between the last two fences, and jumping the last, seemed the winner. But he reckoned without the stamina and resolve of Emtidaad, who surged upsides on the run in, and thrust his neck out at the line to delight owner John Chinn. "We were a bit anxious when Bradley got held up, but Connor has ridden him beautifully," he smiled.
Connor made it a swift back-to-back double with David Brace's 6-year-old Bracho, who cruised clear despite jumping left in the Bromfield Sand & Gravel Restricted race, finishing 20 lengths clear of U Me And Them (Max Comley).
Bradley Gibbs gained some consolation when David Gibbs' tough mare Nuevo Molino stalked the field quietly before battling Expanding Universe (Sarah Bowen) to land the Mr & Mrs P Dunne & Lycetts Insurance Conditions race. Templebraden (Zac Baker) was a neck back in 3rd. "I feel a bit happier now," Bradley admitted feelingly.
Six runners went to post for the Charles Stanley Ltd Mixed Open over two and a half miles. Gabrial The Great leapt away from the drop of the flag with his owner/ trainer Thomas Murray and galloped his rivals into the ground, 30 lengths clear of Magic Music Man (Alex Edwards and Galbally King (P Sankey). The celebrations in the winner's enclosure were a joy to behold as Thomas, a farrier from Sedgeberrow near Evesham, was greeted by his girlfriend, Jessica Bull and several friends. "We really DO race just for fun, " said Jessica. "We only have 2 horses at home, and do them between us. Tom's ridden 3 winners, and that was his first spin with this one. We only got him about 12 weeks ago – he came from Paul and Claire Rooney – and he is such a gentleman at home –a joy –this is such a bonus!"
"I wish all horses were as easy as that!" agreed Thomas. "He likes to front-run, so I let him, and he just kept going! What a great performance!"
The most rousing reception of the day greeted the gallant Master Hide (James Jeavons) who threw in a workmanlike performance to finally lose his maiden status. Trained by Jane Alfrey, who owns the 8 year-old with Phill Jones and Mr & Mrs Leach, Master Hide never runs a bad race, but apparently is a bit handy with his hind legs at all other times. "We got him from Tim Vaughan," reported Jane, "And he is a bit of a nightmare with his kicking. At Andoversford, the buckle broke off his girth in the paddock….trying to re-saddle him in a rush in the centre of the paddock was... a challenge!" Obviously pleased with himself, Master Hide kept his hind legs to himself during the photo calls, but all the connections were poised for evasive action, just in case. Hopefully, he will now be able to contest a two and a half mile race, which his trainer feels is his best distance.
Disappointingly for the organisers and spectators alike, only two horses were declared for the Goffs & Alta Vera Ltd Open Maiden for 4,5 & 6-year-olds. Midnight Calamity (Ryan Withey), a 4-year-old filly trained by Kathy While, was left to jump round solo when Linkbox Lenny, becoming increasingly reluctant, was pulled up at the 5th fence. It was a big ask for the filly, but she did not put a foot wrong. " It was just a case of keeping her interested without company'" Ryan explained, "It's only her second run, so it was a hell of a learning curve! It's a nice change of luck for the owners (The Floral Farmers Club), and we hope to run her under rules in the summer."
The first two home in Division 1 of the JRL Group Flat Race were 4 year old fillies. A furlong out, it looked as if John Priday's debutante, Sweet Spirit (Alan King), trained by Glyn Slade-Jones, was going to oblige, but Alex Edwards produced Ninth Wave with a beautifully timed run for a 6 length triumph to add to the Rowley team's tally. "She is a peach of a filly!" enthused the delighted trainer.
There were great celebrations to greet Lily The Pink, who worked her way quietly through the field with Leanda Tickle in Division 2 to take command from Allthatglistens and the favourite, Staar, in the home straight. Trained by Leanda's brother, Joe Tickle for Mr & Mrs Paul Nicholas, the scopey filly made the 4 and a half mile journey from Devon well worthwhile. Interestingly, both flat race winners were by German-bred sires.
Great work, Team Ludlow Hunt. A memorable day for many, and for all the right reasons.