by Richard Hall

Fakenham holds a special place in my affections. As a boy, almost forty years ago, I went there every Bank Holiday Monday to watch Black Diamond in the Wales’ check colours win the opening hurdle on every card. When it came to the Hunter Chases the white hoop on dark blue, denoting a Turner runner, was almost as much of a standing dish. As I grew up, through adolescence, youth, and finally adulthood, my father and I continued the visits, although then venturing into the quieter, weekday, meetings where we swapped the excitement of the crowd for the comfort of more space to spread out in. It was a constant that we shared; a common interest that kept us in contact. Over the years, however, the Wales’ runners dried up, although the Turner’s still had the occasional Hunter Chase success.

I cannot go to Fakenham without this association at the forefront of the conscious part of my brain. As I had marked the event well in advance on his calendar, I had hoped that Dad would have been able to come with me again, but he had a stomach bug and was unable to make it. My son, however, wayward and teenage, doing “his own thing” for the last two years with no room or time for us boring adults, did agree, over a midweek telephone call, to come along (although he didn’t have any money to bet with …hint, hint!).

A strong sense of deja vu then, as the aptly named Second Thoughts (David Kemp) in the Wales’ colours made mincemeat of his two rivals to take the opening Hunt Race. No fortunes to be made here though, the odds of 1/3 proving far too prohibitive.

Thanks to considerable watering and the benefit of a shower or two during the week, the going was officially described as good / good to firm in a place. This prompted a rare event in East Anglian point to pointing over the last few weeks to be repeated four times in one afternoon – a race with more than half a dozen runners! The first of them, the Confined, tempted nine to post and the bookies were so out of practise at calculating margins using such immense divisions that many were seen rechecking their calculators as the favourite (Minino) eased out to as big as 3/1 – almost a Grand National starting price!

Minino, as he is prone to, gave the field a ten length start before consenting to run. Within a circuit Chris Gordon had managed to guide him to the head of affairs where the horse clearly wanted to be. Wise Advice surrendered the front running role very easily and, although eventually finishing fourth, probably found the race (his third in three weeks) coming too quickly after a hard fought dead heat at Higham last week. Society Lad, on whom Annie Bowles has had a lot of fun over the last three years, was prominent for a way but broke down with a damaged tendon. He will require a lot of rest and recuperation and, at the age of twelve, will probably not race again. Aughmor River, on who’s back rested a slice of two generations of the Hall family fortune, was never in the race and pulled up before the last. He had looked fit and well in the paddock and perhaps the poor showing can be attributed to the left handed course (all other UK appearances were going right handed)? To Milan also ran a lot worse than his early season form suggested he should, and looked as if he is developing his own ideas about the game. Step In Line, as at Higham last week, was ridden a lot closer to the pace than when showing early season promise at both Cottenham and Ampton, but could not find the same speed to finish as he has done when ridden from a hopelessly long way back. As Minino and Millenium Way quickened three out he was soon left flat footed in third. From that point the race was a duel. Minino, although described by Pointerform as a staying forever, has always struck me as not fully seeing out the three miles when allowed to run from the front. This seemed to be the case today as Millenium Way, having raced alongside for two fences, comfortably pulled a length clear just before the last and extended the margin at will on the run in. The winner carried the dark blue, white hoop, colours of the Turner family. Some things continue to span generations. Will my son’s son witness the same phenomena?

Ten went to post for the Restricted. Despite being on one board early at 5/2 (no, I didn’t get on) Mai Knight was soon clipped to a shade of odds on. I cursed my hesitancy, and sought better value on Run Monty at 7/2, Denis Compton was generally available at 4’s with the rest on offer at 8/1 or better. I decided to take the camera to watch the race at the second last fence. Although I got a decent enough view of most of the race, the wind was in the wrong direction and a lot of the commentary was missed. I am not, therefore, totally sure what happened to Mai Knight. As they went out on the third and final circuit he was announced to have swooped past Paddy’s Dream, Run Monty and Denis Compton (who had shared the early pacemaking between them). Two fences later he was no longer with the field (I later learnt he “went wrong” and was quickly pulled up). As they approached me for the final time Denis Compton (Andrew Braithwaite) held a two length advantage over Run Monty (David Kemp), with Paddy’s Dream beginning to tire a further four lengths away in third. I saw the back end of Run Monty being hard ridden to reduce the deficit to half a length as they jumped the last. On the run in Andrew Braithwaite did just enough with hands and heels to maintain an advantage all the way to the post. Although officially only a head superior, the winner gave the impression of having a lot more left in the locker. Off the course for four years prior to a winning return at Cottenham a fortnight ago, he clearly has more to give. Despite his advancing years he is lightly raced and could be one to keep on the right side of in Confined’s and Open’s next year.

The two Open races cut up badly to produce four runner fields in each event. Both contained odds on favourites who had won the corresponding races at Higham the previous week. They both obliged again, and with the minimum of fuss. David Kemp completed a double on the day on Watchowillie, who toyed with Mr Mighty before sprinting away from the second last, and Amy Stennett led from start to finish without breaking sweat on Cinnamon Club.

Earlier in the day I had been told of “a good thing” in the younger horse Maiden by a friend who saw it run at Dingley the previous week. First and Fourmost (another Wales’ horse) was, apparently, a good second and a long way clear of the third when following the leader off the course before the bend to the second last. This was an improvement on previous performances, and suggested that he might be about to deliver some of the promise he had hinted at during his three runs under Rules he had for Henrietta Knight last year. He opened up at 6/1 and, as the opposition looked largely exposed types, I raced from the grandstand to get on. A few others had similar ideas, and he was soon a top priced 3/1 second favourite to Bede (whom I had backed when he unseated at the last at Higham the previous week). There was also money for Manhatton Storm, who had tired when beaten into second at High Easter three weeks ago by Ravensworth, owned, trained and ridden by Patrick Millington who was this time represented by Bell Rock.

Bede was given a positive ride by Harry Fowler and led for most of the way. Manhatton Storm was always within a couple of lengths and, at the third last, looked to be going like the winner. The pack, however, were steadily closing. So much so that five horses jumped the second last within three lengths of each other. As they emerged from it First And Fourmost held a definite advantage from Present Moment, with Bell Rock in third. As they rounded the final bend, the first two had opened up a ten length gap. David Kemp looked odds on for a treble as First and Fourmost approached the last with a good length lead. Then, as seemingly always when you’re about to land a good punt, the inexplicable happened. First and Fourmost tried to run out. He swerved and slowed so violently that David Kemp was jerked from the saddle and into the wings. The irony was that the horse had left it so late that he had no other exit point other than to jump the fence (which he did perfectly). Nick Moore, on Ruth Hayter’s Present Moment, could not believe his luck. He came home a distance clear from Bell Rock in second.

In fairness to the winner, he is only a five year old and had travelled well. After showing promise on his ptp debut, when tenderly ridden at Horseheath earlier in the season, he had disappointed badly on his latest start when never in the race at High Easter. He may have benefited by the easier course and he may well be progressing. It would, though, have been reassuring to know that the stewards had at least enquired into the reasons behind this significant improvement? First and Fourmost clearly possesses ability but, equally clearly, does not appreciate being asked to exert himself. He should be backed with caution until a more positive attitude is shown. Bishop Castle, a five year old debutant from Louise Allan’s yard, ran prominently for a long while and was not knocked about. He will be better for the experience.

With the exception of the favourite, Quincy’s Perk, the older horse Maiden looked to me to feature a collection of headstrong horses that consistently “blow up” after two and a half miles. I did not think, however, that 5/4 represented good value about a horse making a rather belated seasonal debut, having run inexplicably badly on it’s last outing in 2002. Sentiment forced me to side instead with Camden Loch (a selection shared by my son); he was a Wales’ horse, I had backed him a couple of times before and had been convinced that there was a race to be won with him on a tight course, if only he could be held up. Although he had disappointed at Cottenham a fortnight ago, an early jumping error could have been responsible. At 4/1, I convinced myself, he was the value bet.

David Kemp rode the perfect race on him, restraining him early, putting him into the leading trio at halfway, but not giving him his head until two out. He came away from the front running Young Tribune on the run in to give his jockey a treble on the day, thus allowing both Father and Son to go home slightly in pocket. Artic Snip having only his third race (and first of the season) ran with promise in third. Quincy’s Perk was never travelling well and made a series of jumping errors.

Son had clearly enjoyed the day. “I wouldn’t mind coming to one of these again Dad.” High praise indeed!  Maybe, in a few years time, he’ll be the one in the middle - bridging two generations on a Fakenham raceday?