Alex Edwards and Gina Andrews both rode doubles at the Kimblewick meeting at Kingston Blount on Sunday to extend their respective leads at the top of the National Leading Rider Championships.
Edwards opened his account by guiding the exciting Champagne Lily, saddled by leading trainer Phil Rowley, home in the Swan Intermediate. The rider sat tight when the unbeaten grey mare made a novicey blunder at the final ditch but she ultimately had far too much class for her rivals and ran out an easy 20-length winner.
"She's lovely," said owner/breeder Fanny Armitage, "She's not actually yet five (foaled 28 May 2013) so I'm thrilled with her. I'd like to bring her through slowly, so she will go Pointing for another year. We sent her mother, Champagne Lil, to Nigel Twiston-Davies too young. She was the last filly so we wanted to keep her to continue the breeding line."
Edwards and Rowley continued their winning form in the Emmett And Stone Open Maiden as four-year-old Caliente cosily scored by three lengths.
Despite having a seemingly unassailable lead at the head of the Fuller's Gentleman Riders Championship heading into the final month of the campaign, Edwards is taking nothing for granted. "We've got a fair few still to run and I'll just keep riding as many as I can and see where it gets me," said the rider, expecting a strong challenge from current champion Will Biddick over the coming weeks. "Champagne Lily is a lovely little filly," he added. "She's a baby and just stepped at one but she's still learning. Caliente's race was a little bit messy, but we think quite a bit of him and he'll turn into a nice horse."
The two victories ensured that trainer Phil Rowley, making a rare visit to Kingston Blount, remained six winners ahead of nearest pursuer Alan Hill, who also sent out a double, in the Foran Equine Trainers Championship. "Firstly, I must say that this course looks amazing today," said Rowley. "It's an absolute picture. They've really put some effort in. I honestly don't mind if Alan Hill, Ed Walker or whoever wins it the Trainers Title. My focus is to try and make Alex the Champion Rider. That would be fantastic. It's been a real team effort and I suppose you would have to say this has been our best season."
Reflecting on his two winners, Rowley added: "Champagne Lily could be pretty smart and I'm delighted she'll be with us for another season. Caliente could head to Doncaster sales next week. He's very straightforward and has come on a bundle since Hereford. I know the Bowens think the world of Equus Pandora and he obviously did that very easily today."
Alan Hill's brace came courtesy of Hawkhurst (Gina Andrews) obliging in the Conditions race before veteran Consigliere walked over in the Hunt Members.
Eight-year-old Hawkhurst, a five-time Point winner this term, was settling a score with old rival Tempelpirate, who could only manage a laboured third. The pair had beaten each other previously this season. "Tim (Underwood, trainer of Tempelpirate) said he knew how to beat us and that it wouldn't be a contest so it's nice to get some revenge," grinned the winning trainer, who will strictly keep the gelding between the flags at the wish of previous owner JP McManus.
Rider Joe Hill, assistant trainer to his father, is currently sidelined through injury but is looking forward to riding the gelding again next season. "I thought he was quite impressive," said Hill, "but he wouldn't want it any quicker than this. Being a Flemensfirth, he hits the ground quite hard and he can't quicken as well on this kind of surface. He's likely to run again and is better suited to right-handed tracks so Dingley or Edgcote could be for him."
Gina Andrews doubled up by guiding Nigel Padfield's Quick Oats, who won the Conditions race at this meeting last year, to success in the JRL Group Ladies Open. The nine-year-old, winning for the first time in open company, has won seven of his 15 Points, while the rider, who was posting her 23rd winner of the season, is certain to retain the Skinner's Lady Riders' Title.
Padfield, enjoying his best season with seven Point-to-Point and one Hunter Chase winner, said: "Quick Oats is ground dependent. It was too soft for him at High Easter. The tongue-tie seemed to do the trick and he could go for the Skinner's Ladies Open Final at Stratford next month."
Trainer Hannah James, based in Hythe in Kent, continued her fine run of form by saddling Lightonthemountain (Will Hickman), who jumped well and made most in The French Horn Restricted.
The six-year-old former Irish Pointer, owned by the eight-strong Hogs Green Racing Club, was picked up for just £1,500 at Doncaster a year ago. Yielding three winners and two seconds from her last seven runners, James, based in Hythe in Kent, said: "Will said running him back after two weeks was maybe a bit quick, but he was more settled today as he can be quite keen. We had some gallops put in last summer and it's really helped. We've only got three in but we're looking for more owners and horses to train."
An enterprising front-running ride from Jordan Nailor saw Monetaire gain a decisive advantage over the closing Santa's Secret in the Chequers Inn Mens Open.
The former Cheltenham Festival runner-up, who won at Maisemore Park just six days previously, was offered to Ettington trainer Martin Wanless after previous owner Allan Stennett felt he'd had enough of racing under rules. "The faster the ground the better for him, and he's got a long enough holiday coming up so he'll keep going," said Wanless.
Nigel Padfield reported that recent Cheltenham four-mile scorer Excitable Island is being readied for the pointtopoint.co.uk Champion Novices' Hunters' Chase (John Corbet Cup), while Phil Rowley stated that winner of that race last season – Now Ben – will return to the track to contest the Pertemps Network Foxhunters Champion Hunters' Chase (Horse and Hound Cup). "Why wouldn't we go there?" said Rowley, "last year's John Corbet was four seconds faster than the Horse and Hound Cup and he'll bounce off the ground. I think he's better than ever."
The final meeting of the season at Kingston Blount, the Berks & Bucks and Staff College & RMAS Draghounds, is on Sunday 27th May.