by Richard Hall

Normally, if we arrive at a meeting an hour and a half before the first race, we can park the car to give a reasonable view of the course. Not today. We had to settle for a slot five rows back from the railings. Half an hour before the two o’clock start all car parks were full, and still a seemingly endless queue congested both course entrances. This was certainly the biggest crowd of the season and, to accommodate it, the organisers were forced to open up other areas of the course.

The Hunt had clearly gone the extra mile to ensure that this was a real family day and, together with an enormous bouncy castle, had organised a junior hunt members pony race as pre pointing entertainment for the shirt sleeved ensemble. This four furlong dash was fiercely contested with Kate Newman making every yard of the running on her sixteen year old grey mare Marley (by Bob out of The Ghost) to win a Sunday lunch at an Ipswich restaurant for her proud parents.

A small, but select, field of four got jumping under way with the Hunt Members. Rachel Barrow and Mill of the Rags, fresh from an Open win at Cottenham last week, set off to make every yard of the running. On the second circuit they were joined by George Cooper on the enigmatic Endeavour who, despite the odd slow jump, appeared to have decided that today was a “going day”. As the pace increased Tartooth and Layham Low were gradually detached. At the third last Endeavour forged into a lead as his principal rival began to tire. At the post he was well clear of Tartooth who ran on gamely to catch Mill of the Rags for second. As I have said before, Endeavour is an Open class horse, when he wants to be. Highly strung, he has two styles of running and, although he should never be discounted, is simply not reliable enough to back with any degree of confidence. At the even money on offer from the band of twelve bookmakers his victory did not see me return to collect my winnings.

There were only four runners declared for the Restricted but, when the second favourite, Josh’s Choice unseated Andrew Braithwaite at the eight there was, realistically, only one horse in it. Royal Way, at two to one on, galloped home a distance clear of River Gala, the only other finisher, to live up to the promise shown behind Balla D’Aire and Crackrattle at Cottenham seven days earlier. This must surely have been Andrew Sansome’s and the Turner stable’s easiest winner of the season.

The winning connections were responsible for the favourite, Corston Joker, cautiously priced at four to six, in the Mens Open. Andrew Sansome tucked him up at the back of the field early on as Absolute Limit survived a first fence mistake to lead the field for a circuit. After two miles, Still In Business and the well-backed Step In Line swallowed up Dominic Parravani’s tiring mount to dispute the lead. Peafield and the hard ridden Glaisnock Lad moved up to join them with Andrew Sansome taking closer order to sit just behind. Turning for home Sansome pressed the button and, in a few strides, he had flown into the lead. Although Step in Line ran on gamely he did not have Corston Joker’s pace and never looked like troubling the winner. Peafield, who had looked to be going easily half a mile out, plugged on at one pace to take third. Yet another winner for the Turner’s!

As we attempted to wander back from the centre of the course, the flip side of such a large crowd began to get the better of mine and Mrs H’s patience. We had endured the swerving, shuffling, and even pushing, as crowds fought to bet at the bookmaker’s stands (the usual space had been reduced to make room for the increased number of cars). We had stood patiently in line for nearly ten minutes at the bank of seven Portaloos provided to pee in (resolving not to have another coffee until after the last race). We had craned on tiptoe to peer over bobbing heads to get a view of the horses in the parade ring. Now, shuffling at funereal pace, with uncontrolled kids running in and out of our legs and other sufferer’s boots periodically prodding the dog, we decided that enough was enough. We would surrender to the intolerance of increasing age and would retreat to the car for the rest of the meeting. I would venture out, complete with combat gear, to place our bets but, other than that, we would not attempt to enjoy the sport in the leisurely way that we have become accustomed to.

My review of the Ladies Open is therefore limited to what I could glean from the commentator’s remarks (my compliments to James Crispe for painting such a vivid picture). Heather Silk’s fifteen-year-old veteran Strong Medicine made the running. Altar Society unshipped the luckless Emma Bell at the first. Monyman raced prominently until fading five out. Approaching the last Strong Medicine was a length in front of Wrekengale with the rest a long way behind. On the run in Wrekengale was challenging. It was nip and tuck. Mr Crispe decided that he would leave it for the judges to announce the winner. Two minutes later they did; Strong Medicine by a head.

As we marked off the runners for the next, Mrs H saw gaps appear in the lines of cars in front of us. I started the engine and moved up a row. At thirty degrees there was a gap in the third line. I took it. At three forty degrees Mrs H spotted a gap in the second line. We edged forward, half expecting a concealed picnic table to deny our advance. It was clear. There is a god. As I was about to switch off the engine a car moved out of the one remaining row in front of us. Holding our breaths we slid neatly into the spot. We were there. A view of the racecourse. We exhaled in relief. If we sat on the car’s roof we could actually see the remaining two races!

I thought that Pampered Gale, a continually improving Turner inmate who had chalked up three wins and three seconds in his six outings so far this season, was the nearest thing you could get to a racing certainty for the seven runner Confined. I backed him accordingly, and was delighted at the four to six generously on offer. I was not worried when he was held up, six lengths behind the leaders, on the first circuit. Andrew Sansome often employed those tactics. When asked to take closer order, however, Pampered Gale could not respond. If anything the leaders went further away. The horse was eventually pulled up and the stewards later accepted the explanation that “he was never going on the ground.”

Ruth Hayter’s Gatchou Mans and Neil King’s Pangeran shared pace making duties and, when Native Status fell whilst in close contention, were left to fight out the finish between them. It was Pangeran, kicked into a clear lead just before the second last, who came out the better, holding on more comfortably than the official three-length verdict would imply.

The Maiden that concluded proceedings saw a sustained gamble on Run Monty, from 9/2 early to 2/1 favourite. Tim Lane sent him off in front with a “they shall not pass” mentality. Jumping well, he found more every time Mister Chips and Henry Tartar pushed him. As they began the final turn into the home straight it looked as if he had done enough. A two-length lead was established over Mister Chips. Henry Tartar began to fade badly in third. Andrew Hickman, on his only ride of the day, had, however, kept something in reserve on Mister Chips and gradually closed the gap to draw level between the last two. At the last he had his head in front and, although Run Monty responded gamely to Time Lane’s urgings, there was enough left in the tank to repel him.

Debutant Lady L’Orelei caught the eye as one to follow. The five-year-old Baron Blakeney mare jumped poorly for the first mile and found herself outpaced and five lengths adrift of the spread out field as they began the second circuit. From that point she seemed to get the hang of the game, and overtook all bar the first three before unseating four from home when threatening to take a hand in the finish. She will undoubtedly come on for the experience.

A good day’s racing, and a well organised and well attended meeting. Driving home, however, there was a sense of disappointment. We felt that we had not been able to enjoy it as much as we wanted to. Perhaps we were just getting too old not be able to shrug off being pushed and shoved and having to stand in queues? Perhaps, though, the crowds were simply too big for the facilities and the space available? There, perhaps, lies point to point’s next challenge. How can it accommodate an increase in popularity whilst still retaining the small-scale outlook that is the essence of its charm?