by Pete Mansell

The National Hunt Festival is looming on the horizon but Simon Claisse was able to take advantage of the lull before the storm and saddle Lead Vocalist for the Mixed Open during Saturdays Duke of Beaufort's meeting at Didmarton.

Work commitments prevented partner and co-trainer Lucy Brack from fulfilling the vital task of getting the horse to the racecourse, so Cheltenham's popular Clerk of the Course was demoted from his normal high profile duties to the more mundane task of transporting Lead Vocalist from their base at Eastleach Martin.

Fred Hutsby, who had literally been engaged at the 11th hour, sent the 13-year-old up to dispute the lead at the 13th and this combination had gone 4 lengths clear of their rivals on the run to the penultimate. A difference of opinion between horse and jockey at the last left the window open for their closest pursuers but the winner kept responding to every question that Hutsby asked of him and they were one and a half lengths clear of the favourite Shobrooke Mill at the post.

It is not often that you see the colours of a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner carried to success in a Point to Point but this unusual occurrence happened after War Paint had stormed to victory in Division III of the 8-year-old and upwards Maiden, wearing the orange and black silks associated with the 1991 winner Garrison Savannah.

A horse of undoubted ability, his earlier career had been hampered by leg problems so Richard Cook was subsequently entrusted with his well-being. This partnership became a familiar site round the lanes of Gotherington and Stanley Pontlarge prior to joining Nicky Sheppard’s yard at Eastnor. After his previous history, War Paint did well to finish third on his seasonal debut at Dunthrop and with the benefit of that run behind him he was able to gallop his rivals into the ground.

Juniper Hill provided Charlotte Hicks with her first training success following the 10-year-olds win in the second of the four Maidens. Juniper Hill left his previous form well behind him and jumped like an old hand after Robert Biddlecombe sent him into the lead at the third from home. The Aylworth based trainer was quick to acknowledge the guidance provided by her mother Caroline (who relinquished her training licence last year) and father Robert who rode his first winner at this meeting 25 years ago.

Fred Hutsby had ridden a treble at Dunthrop earlier in the season and repeated that feat at this meeting. Following the success of Lead Vocalist, Hutsby doubled up on debutante Dark Spark in the 5, 6 & 7 year old Maiden and completed his second hat-trick of the season on Bold Tactics in the Restricted. The former is yet another in the long list of homebred horses that the Hutsby's produce on their farm near Stratford upon Avon, while Bold Tactics was purchased in Ireland.

State Medlar provided 16-year-old Berkshire schoolboy George Walters with a fairy tale start to his race riding career, although it has to be said that fortune was definitely on their side in the first part of the older Maiden. Sir William had this race in his pocket and jumped the last perfectly but for some unknown reason his partnership with Darren Edwards was severed 50 yards after the obstacle which left State Medlar to coast home to victory.

Jumping proved crucial in Division II of this race. Both Lord Supreme and Rodney Trotter made mistakes at crucial times but Coole's Abbot was always going to be difficult to pass and Peter Ponting’s gelding stayed on in determined fashion to hold on by a length.  Rolls Royce engineer Robin Butterworth trains the 8-year-old at Horton after he was purchased privately after he had been through the Sales Ring at Doncaster.

Presuming Ed turned the Members into a procession after taking the lead at the 12th, The 9-year-old is now unbeaten in two races during the current season and must have been the horse who made the shortest journey to the racecourse because owner James Tuck trains about 50 yards from the course at Oldbury on the Hill.