by Richard Hall

A day strictly for the enthusiasts. My first visit to Marks Tey, and I thought Fakenham was cold when the winter wind blew! Even the dog refused to leave the car without earmuffs! The hardy bunch congregated around the paddock and the bookmakerís stands waiting for the first race must have wondered if they were unwitting extras for a remake of Scott of the Antarctic. The heavens opened and, propelled by a gale of a million ice picks, hailstones the size of marbles searched for naked flesh to pummel and sting.

Finding shelter in the car, and a flask of hot coffee, we watched Novatara, a strong finishing third to Gatchou Mans at the much sharper Higham course six days earlier, make light work of his five opponents in the Hunt race at the prohibitive odds of two to five. Royal Action was the only one to ever look like a potential danger, but when Andrew Ayers kicked on a mile from home, his chance evaporated as quickly as the hailstones had fallen. The winnerís time was seven minutes forty-three seconds, the joint second fastest of the day.

The next race, a Confined, provided temporary warmth for the spectators. Endeavour, (previously a difficult ride and an unlucky loser at Horseheath three weeks earlier when, clear of his field, he jumped a path on the run in and unseated his rider) was made favourite against seven others that included Native Status (a spectacular winner at Higham last week) and The Rural Dean (previously impressive in beating Tom De Savoie at Ampton before running poorly at Market Rasen). George Cooper for once enjoyed a trouble free afternoon on this lightly raced son of Video Rock and, when he pressed the button three from home, Endeavour quickly opened a up gap that would never be closed. He looks well capable of going on to win Opens and Hunter Chases. Saleel ran on well to chase him before falling badly at the second last, leaving Native Status to claim second and Tartooth, who benefited from the stronger riding of Christian Ward Thomas, third. The Rural Dean never went the pace of the leaders and finished a disappointing and remote fourth.

The Intermediate and the Menís Open cut up badly. Only three runners contested each race, and each had a long odds on, and duly unbackable, favourite. That, at least, meant that punters could find a warm retreat from the biting wind for upwards of an hour as Royal Banker (Nigel Bloom) and Dry Highline (Christian Ward Thomas) in turn gained facile victories in their respective races.

The crowds gave up their shelter for the Ladies Open, the fifth race on the card. Celtic Duke, Linlathen, Mister Audi, and Senso vied for favouritism and, at various points in the exchanges, seven to two was available about all four. Linlathen took the honours in the dayís fastest time of seven minutes forty-two seconds. Sensibly ridden, he joined the leaders at the fourteenth fence and from then on never looked like being caught. Celtic Duke, who had traveled ominously well, went out like a light three from home and eventually pulled up. The most (un)remarkable thing about the race, however, was the riding of the Scottish raider Senso. The eleven year old, piloted by his owner Ms C Eagle, was always going well but for some inexplicable reason was held up over ten lengths adrift of the rear until a mile from home. He was then allowed to race and picked off his rivals one by one with the ease of a knife through melted butter. He finished like a train, still full of running, but by then the winner had flown. I can only speculate that the object of the exercise was a confidence booster for both the horse and the rider, as he had unseated in his previous two races. Nevertheless he looks a certain future winner when ridden more enterprisingly.

Both George Cooper (Mossy Buck) and Christian Ward Thomas (Tap The Father) chased a double in the Restricted. In what turned into a virtual match as the pair kicked clear of the game Mackoy three from home, Tap The Father just got the better in a thrilling finish. Mossy Buck had taken over from the pacemaker a circuit out, but his relatively slow jumping made it easy for Christian Ward Thomas to keep him in his sights. As they went to the last it was still nip and tuck with Mossy Buck finding more as his rival drew upsides. Jumping is the name of the game, however, and Tap The Father gained a length in the air and held on to win by half a length. 

The Maiden divided and the first division may have thrown up a useful recruit in Lord Valnic. The six-year-old debutant always had the leaders in his sights and, although slightly outpaced as Kingfisher Star (ridden by the luckless Tim Lane) kicked for home, he closed gradually from three out to draw level between the last two. Although Kingfisher Star battled valiantly from the last, Lord Valnic was always holding him and went on to win a shade comfortably. I suspect that there is more to come.

Stablemate Supreme Craft was made a warm favourite for the second division by the six remaining bookies that had not given in to frostbite and gone home. It proved to be worth their while as he was always struggling at the back of the field and pulled up after two miles. Pharout and Tartan Shot went of at a phenomenal pace, soon pulling twenty lengths clear of the field. Tartan Shot dropped out after a circuit, leaving a remote Glad All Over as the nearest pursuer. Pharout could not keep it up however, and his lead was slowly reduced. Three from home David Hays had Glad All Over on level terms. Pharout then dropped out tamely, eventually pulling up, leaving Glad All Over to come home unchallenged from the appropriately named Artic Summer who came out of the pack to take second in the dayís slowest time of eight minutes sixteen seconds.