by Richard Hall

A day that reminded me why I enjoy point to point so much. A day that emphasised how much I’d miss it if it wasn’t there. A day when the niggle over Tony’s trendy appeasement to the townie politicians, with their Disneyesque view of animals, became a real concern.

For the moment, however, it was business as usual. A pleasant greeting from the hunt member on the gate as he took our fourteen pounds admission, the good cheer of the programme seller in the car park, and the smiles from the hunt supporters manning the Tote. No need for a dress code or fashion. The friendliness of the crowd. A noticeable absence of beer swilling lads or ladettes in souped up Escorts booming bass from over powered stereos. The lack of a police presence needed to control them. The freedom to roam wherever we wanted without aged bouncers checking we had the right badges. The families that felt comfortable letting their children run free. The awareness those children instinctively have about not infringing on other people’s enjoyment. The honesty of the contestants; all anxious to give their best, even though some had very little hope of actually winning. Even the olde worlde bookies with chalk boards, polite banter, and modest ambitions blended with the genteel surroundings. Low key and amateur it may be, but that is its essence; fuelled by enthusiasm, it is genuine, it is all-inclusive, and it is incorruptible.

Anyway, enough of the eulogy, on with the racing.

Hunt Members
Won by Shuil Daingean who had little previous form but must have been doing something at home because he was backed from 10’s to 5’s. He led from halfway and found a bit more when challenged at the last.

Lovelock, the favourite, looked like landing the odds as they turned for home but stumbled after jumping the last upsides. He was the first ride in public for his owner, William Stone, who, according to the announcer, put up twelve pounds overweight (this was later corrected to seven pounds by the race commentator).

Harkness Warrior was given a typically patient ride by David Dunsdon and looked likely to play a big part in the finish before falling at the second last.

The enigmatic and previously headstrong Endeavour, for once ridden from just off the pace, was going well when unseating George Cooper at the ninth. This horse is clearly talented but is never one to take too short a price about.

Village Copper made it two wins in a week with a pillar to post victory. He was a spare ride for Nigel Bloom as his regular partner (Christian Ward Thomas) was “under orders” at home waiting for his wife to give birth to their first child. As at Ampton last Sunday, he looked spot on in the paddock and also won the best turned out award for Tina Hayter. He has clearly recaptured the form of two seasons ago and may well have improved. One to follow until beaten.

Moneyman, now at the veteran stage, showed he still retains his enthusiasm (and some ability) to run on past Lord Knox and Verulam to take second at the post, albeit a distance behind the winner. This horse finished second in a Hunter Chase at the back end of last season and it could be that he comes into himself at this time of year. Perhaps he still has a small race left in him?

Ballad had shown improved form to win at High Easter a couple of weeks ago but disappointed badly here. Never seeming comfortable with the pace, he was pulled up just after halfway.

Men’s Open
This was all about Dry Highline, who had previously led the field for a while in the Foxhunters at the Cheltenham festival. He again set off as if he had a train to catch, establishing a twenty-length lead after four fences, and this time he wasn’t stopping! This horse promised to be something special when first bought over from Ireland two seasons ago but at that stage, always looked prone to the odd jumping error. There was no evidence of that today though, and he easily provided the Ruth Hayter stable with a quick double. This time Stuart Morris benefited from Christian Ward Thomas’ enforced absence.

Bowlingher was the only one that did come out of the pack to look as if he might make a race of it. At one time the deficit was as low as three lengths! Turning for home, however, he was clearly tiring and gave Richard Hunnisett an uncomfortable moment or two when falling at the last.

Ladies Open
On the strength of unconvincing victories in small fields earlier in the season Imperial Dawn was sent off as the odds on favourite. This time he won impressively, taking the lead seven from home and galloping on resolutely.

Celtic Duke, who had been held up a long way from the pace, finished full of running to take second. Perhaps more enterprising tactics will be used next time.

Mai Point was always thereabouts and given every chance. He simply could not match the pace of the winner

Jymjam Johnny made a lot of the early running and seemed to be weakening badly three from home. He found a second wind, however, and was running on well at the finish.

Castle Road, after six races this season, seems to be losing interest and, with it, his form. He jumped badly and never looked like figuring at the business end.

This race provided the day’s closest finish with three horses all in with a shout approaching the last.

River Bailiff took the lead four out, lost it three out, and regained it two out. When asked for a renewed effort in the home straight, however, he found little. He will undoubtedly come on for the race.

Daydreamer was held up in the rear on the first circuit but made good progress to join the leaders five out and take up the running three from home. Andrew Hickman was content to surrender the lead back to River Bailiff at the second last but, once the final fence was in sight, he quickly found another gear and reasserted his authority.

Find Me Another, confidently ridden by Rowan Cope, had stalked Daydreamer menacingly throughout the final mile. At the last he drew level but, as Daydreamer sprinted up the run in, he did not have the finishing speed to go through with his effort. He looked to be travelling well until then and would possibly benefit from more enterprising tactics.

Maiden (Division One)
A fine performance by Tim Lane on Crackrattle to seize the initiative at the end of the first circuit, inject pace six from home to build up a lead, and to galvanise a finish when challenged by Barbed Broach on the run in. Crackrattle, a half brother to Kingsmark, was second to Greenwich here at the opening meet of the season and appeared to have improved for the better going. From the brief look we got at him in the paddock (he only arrived in it thirty seconds before the jockeys mounted) it seemed as if Nicola Pollock had left plenty to work on. I would not be surprised if he showed still further improvement next time.

Brookfield Bass, a six-year-old son of El Conquistador, made his debut for the treble chasing Ruth Hatter stable. He emulated Village Copper by winning the best-turned out award, but there the comparisons end. He jumped the first fence over big and violently to the left, giving jockey Stuart Morris an ambulance ride from the course.

Baron Halep, a Baron Blakney five year old, raced prominently for a long way and was given a tender introduction to the game by Neil King.   

Whatamonkey, a big, imposing grey, appeared to be badly outpaced on the first circuit but seemed to wake up on the second. He made eye catching progress to finish third.

Maiden (Division Two)
This looked to be Sydney Hobart’s race on paper and he duly attracted a few sizeable wagers in the betting ring. Punters did not have to wait the customary six minutes to know their fate however. He fell at the ninth!

The race then appeared to be at the mercy of the second favourite, Camden Loch, who had finished a long way behind Sydney Hobart in Pampered Gale’s maiden at Higham in February. He was going ominously well when challenging at the fifteenth and unseating his jockey. Still only a seven year old, and having only his second outing of the year, he will surely lose his maiden tag before long.

In his riding of Helmsley Flyer, Andrew Sansome showed why he is leading the East Anglian Jockey Championship. Recovering from a false start (when he shot off too eagerly) Mr Sansome held his mount up in front and preserved his stamina by not letting him run away with himself. Every time he was challenged, he released a little bit more rein. Three out, with David Bruce and Cardinal Way assembling close behind, he kicked for home and quickly established a winning five length lead. In the home straight Light the Sky came from out of the clouds to deprive Cardinal Way for second.

As the majority of the crowd made their way home, I assumed the now familiar role of following Mrs H to the bookies to collect her winnings. It was her fifth success of the day and she was in an upbeat mood. In the car she counted her ill gotten gains and promised a Chinese meal in celebration. I poured coffee from the Thermos and reflected on another good day’s racing.

From the back of my mind again came the overwhelming Commons majority for a complete hunting ban. I had not really thought about it seriously until watching an article about it on Newsnight earlier in the week. If hunting was banned the hunts would disband. What then for point to point?  Who would underpin it all? Who would provide the labour, the horses, and the courses? Where would the atmosphere come from? Who would provide the tradition that underpinned it all? Channel Four? ITV Digital? Ladbrokes? I think not. They would put it through the mincer and regurgitate it as a TV circus whose prime purpose would be the milking of money from every possible angle.

The tradestands were dismantling, the horseboxes were filling up, and last of the bookies carried boards and satchels back into the public car park. We switched on the ignition and began the long journey home. In a short while the sun would be setting.