As usual, the Lanarkshire & Renfrewshire fixture attracted the biggest crowd of the Northern Area season to Overton Farm, Crossford on Saturday and spectators were rewarded with some exciting racing on a dry, sunny afternoon.
A total of 63 runners faced the starter, including 16 long distance raiders, on a well-sponsored seven race card. John Dawson took the riding honours with a short-priced double on Glittering Love and Path To Freedom before rounding off a great weekend with another double on Fever Pitch and Mr Pepperpot at Dalton Park on Sunday, leaving him only 2 behind Alex Edwards in the National Jockeys Championship.
Carrying the well known colours of Paul and Clare Rooney, Glittering Love completed a four-timer in the STCS (Scotland) Ltd NPPA Conditions Race. Always in the leading trio, Dawson's mount had a prolonged duel with Pieceoftheaction on the final circuit and, after seeing off that rival approaching the last, stayed on well to beat the rallying Chanceiton by a couple of lengths.
Harry Haynes, partner of winning trainer, Joey Richards, said, "He's still heading the right way, will be even better on a stayers track and might take his chance in the Buccleuch Cup Maiden Hunters' Chase at Kelso on April 16."
A first visit to Crossford for Dalby trainer, Cherry Coward paid dividends when Path To Freedom, owned by Jenny Nellis, justified favouritism in the Park's Mitsubishi Men's Open Race. Confidently ridden behind the leaders, the 6 year old gradually reeled in his rivals before sprinting clear off the home turn to hit the front two out. He cruised home eight lengths ahead of Milano Magic, who made a pleasing comeback for his new trainer, Daragh Bourke.
Dawson said, "He grabbed back hold of the bridle after three out, pricked his ears and got a clear run on the outside rounding the home turn. He quickened up immediately and still had plenty left in the tank at the finish."
Another Yorkshire raider, Pillowman, trained by Caroline Dennis at Ingleton near Staindrop, justified the long journey by landing the two and a half mile Bryson Tractors Ltd four, five and six-year-olds Open Maiden Race a shade cosily in the hands of Christy Furness. The 6 year old led from the fifth fence and only had to be pushed out with hands and heels up the home straight to maintain a two lengths advantage over ex-hurdler, Baraymi. This Gamut gelding, a half brother to 125-rated chaser, Nicholas Chauvin, was bought privately in Ireland last year by Christy's father, John, who owns him jointly with Caroline.
Christy, who works in London as a stockbroker, was heading off on a skiing trip to the French Alps on Sunday. He said of the winner, "He jumped and travelled well all the way, will improve again on a sounder surface and probably runs next at the Bedale meeting on April 14."
The Overton Farm course has been a happy hunting ground over the years for Morpeth handler, James Cookson and so it proved to be again as Sam Says got off the mark at the sixth time of asking in the Albert Bartlett & Sons (Airdrie) Ltd six-year-olds & over Open Maiden Race.
Given a positive ride by Nick Orpwood, the 7 year old was always up with the pace and, after being sent on with Here Comes Love a mile from home, forged clear in the closing stages to score by twenty lengths. This was a 75th career success for Orpwood, comprising 69 between the flags and 6 under Rules.
Another Northumbrian raider, Lord Usher reigned supreme in the Priory Bridge Landscaping Restricted Race. Always going well under Kate Leckenby, the 11 year old took it up four out and cruised home twelve lengths ahead of the favourite, Left Back. Bought privately from former Stocksfield trainer, George Charlton in April 2016, the gelding has been a model of consistency since joining Leckenby's yard, winning twice and being placed five times from ten Pointing starts. This was an 8th career win for Kate, who indicated that her mount could make a quick reappearance at Alnwick on Easter Monday.
It was one way traffic a long way from home in the two and a half mile Goulding's Garden Centre six-year-olds & over Conditions Race as Alex Chadwick's mount, Fago bolted up by a distance from Oscar Vespasian, to give Selkirk-based Harriett Bryce a dream start as a trainer. She said of this former 154-rated chaser, "He had lost his way under Rules and we got him quite cheaply out of Patrick Griffin's yard last May. I've done lots of hunting and showjumping with him and that's seems to have sweetened him up."
Charlotte Dun, 22, is the new leader in the YoungsRPS Northern Area Ladies Championship after taking her career tally to 10 on Nine Altars in the Hillhouse Quarry Group Ltd Ladies Open Race. Her mount jumped more fluently than the favourite, Scarlet Fire throughout the contest and found a bit extra when it mattered to repel his late challenge by half a length.
The 9 year old is owned and trained by Dun's mother, Jane, who said, "Everything went to plan as Charlotte got him switched off out the back early on and he's settling much better in his races. We've been snowed in and frost-bound at Gilston this month and I wasn't sure if we'd got enough work into him since his last run at Corbridge four weeks ago."
At the half-way stage of the Northern Area season, the first six meetings have attracted 520 entries, with a total of 290 runners and a healthy average of 7.25 per race.