Holnicote was bathed in glorious sunshine as the Devon & Somerset Staghounds staged their meeting last Sunday and consequently drew a large crowd who were treated to some excellent racing. Picnic hampers were out in force and the public refreshment tent and bar, an ideal refuge from the strong sun. The mid-week rainfall however had ensured the ground was in perfect condition and there were plenty of runners.
For one jockey in particular it was a day to remember when Stefan Kirwan stylishly drove River Wye home in the Open Maiden to record his first ever winner. Stefan works for trainer Philip Hobbs having spent his childhood in Ireland hunting and Pony Clubbing before progressing to Pony Racing. Trained locally by pointing stalwart and Horse Transporter Alan Walter, River Wye had been purchased by Alan's wife Jane outside the ring at Doncaster Sales as an unbroken 3yo. Jane was determined to buy the mare having adored her half-sister Lady Myfanwy and when she was led out without a bid, overruled her husband. Setting up the 'Ers and Mine Partnership with friend Shirley Turner, herself a long-time pointing secretary in Wales, the "Welshies" as Jane described them, were ecstatic, saying, "We have waited so long for this and we are just so pleased to give Stefan his first winner"
The day had begun with ten runners going to post for the Hunt Members Race with favourite Steel Brush coming out on top of a tight finish for trainer Keith Cumings and owner Maurice Scott, former joint master of the Devon & Somerset Staghounds. Steel Brush took the race last season and came here off the back of a cosy win at Flete Park. Winning jockey David Prichard admitted he had felt pretty confident he would win despite runner-up Kapricorne doing his best to reel him in near the line.
The Welsh raiders are always to be feared when they venture across the Severn Bridge and trainer David Brace helped himself to a double courtesy of Pink Eyed Pedro in the Mixed Open and William Money in the Novice Riders. Both winners were ridden by his grandson Connor, who has certainly made an impact this season taking his total up to 15 wins for the season. Pink Eyed Pedro won quite cosily and David expressed his delight in the fact this was the horse's first Open win. William Money moved one ahead in the battle for the National Leading Horse award with a 15 length success over Top Chief. David explained he had bought the horse from Tim Vaughan as an ideal horse for Novice Riders races and his six wins this season certainly justifies that view. "Tim said his son was too young to ride the horse so I may as well have him for Connor. If Connor decides to turn professional next season, I might just sell him back – although he may cost a bit more now!" quipped the trainer.
The young horse maiden was delayed with immature antics on the way to the start which resulted in one jockey requiring a ride in an ambulance rather than his intended mount. The Coffee Hunter showed plenty of maturity though improving on a promising run at Flete Park last time for trainer Colin Heard and jockey Lee Drowne. Redmond Hall was back in second with Inthemix making an eye-catching debut in 3rd. The Coffee Hunter was a first winner for syndicate, the Blowhole Boys Club although many of its members weren't present as they were playing football. Colin also trains the football team when he isn't training horses and this was the first horse they had owned.
There were emotional scenes in the winner's enclosure after the Conditions Race when Angles Hill turned the tables on favourite Crackacan who had beaten him last time at Flete Park. Jockey Heidi Lewis had lost her horse Sullivan John the previous day to a bout of colic but the Lewis family said "they were determined that today was going to be a good day!" and the horse duly obliged.
In the final race, the Restricted, the Ed Walker trained Danseur du Large was produced two out by Will Biddick winning cosily having dropped him out early on. A hard puller when trained under rules by Charlie Longsdon for owner Lady Dulverton, he now sports a net-muzzle and it took much of Polly Walker's skill to lead him round the paddock. Will said after the race, "he just needs the first mile to chill as he's got so much engine, he needs to contain it" Lady Dulverton who was thrilled that Ed and Polly had worked their magic with the horse, admitted he had done three laps of Larkhill last time after unseating Will early on.