by Mal Davies

It was probably more hospitable in downtown Spitzbergen than at Whitwick Manor on Saturday as a bitter wind off the Welsh hills and a couple of blizzards chilled the usual good crowd to the marrow. Eternal optimist of the day was the owner of the ice cream van. The afternoonís major blizzard came when the Ladies Open was just about to come under orders but was so bad that the starter held the horses at the post for a good 10 minutes. Each of the 9 riders and horses should have received a medal just for being out there.

Still, at least Mr. Softee was in situ at 12 noon, which is more than can be said for the full paramedic complement. With the horses for the members race shivering their way around the paddock an announcement came that racing had been delayed 30 mins. Half an hour became an hour and a half as the replacement ambulance was diverted to a road accident and the meeting, the seasonís first for the Welsh Borders area eventually kicked off at 1.30. There would be no divisions on the day and balloting out would come into force if the safety factor was exceeded in any race.

Rachel Reynolds and GOLD N SHROUD won the 7 horse members; it wasnít a strong field and although not appearing to relish the soft conditions, he had too much class for Dai Mansellís Gorsey Bank and won by 6 lengths. Third was an unraced nine-year-old mare Isla May, who impressed in the paddock (unlike two or three others) and made a fine debut.

The Confined was a strongish race and Julian Pritchard gave ROCKET RADAR a peach of a ride to score by 30 lengths from Hoodwinker and Jane Williams, who collared a tired Star Changes (Richard Burton) for second place. Against the Agent as usual set off like a scalded cat and was twenty lengths clear when he fell on the second circuit. The winner should certainly enjoy further success in better company than this and might be worth another try under Rules (he won a hunter chase in 1999).

The Menís Open field was slightly substandard. After his easy win in the confined, the money was for Julian Pritchardís Daddy Dancer, who had run a fine second to Parahandy at Dunthrop. It was though Nick Shuttsí FIGHTING TIMES who powered home for the ever-reliable Gary Hanmer. The winner benefited from the fall of Richard Burtonís Sammorello (formerly a Huntingdon specialist with Nigel Twiston-Davies), three out. High Alltitude, another with a decent recent run was third under Robert Biddlecombe.

Eyecatching performance of the day was SPRIGHTLY PIP (Tabitha Cave) who landed the Ladiesí Open in some style. Always well placed, the eleven year old grey showed several gears in the worsening ground to score from No Fiddling  (Rachel Reynolds) and  Upton Adventure (Lucinda Sweeting). The winner, a Roselier, acted well on the increasingly poached ground and is another who is worth a chance to add to his one hunter chase win.

The weather abated and the Restricted Division 1 saw an exciting three horse battle with the unfancied GENEREUX (Steve Blackwell) who had been pulled up in a weaker race at Weston Park last week taking the spoils by 3 lengths from another Shutts-Hanmer combination, Slip The Ring. Horton-cum-Peel (Adrian Wintle) is showing improved form and followed up his second at Mollington with a battling third place. Richard Burton was on the deck again on Andrew Daltonís favourite In Your Interest, and he made it an unwanted treble when Cashew Cache came to grief in the first division of the confined maiden won by the impressive JUST CLIQUOT, completing a double for Gary Hanmer. Well supported in the market, the six year old Gunner B mare was always in command of the race, and only Julieís Glen (Micky Hammond), a brave second could keep with her on the final circuit. Ray Rogers coaxed Romabit Tom into third, a fence behind the first two.

The second division of the restricted saw the reappearance of Maquilleux, the easy winner of a Nottingham maiden. The nine-year-old chestnut jumped well for Mark Rimell and had the dead wood well strung out early. But the 4-7 shot was no match for COWANSTOWN PRINCE and Adrian Wintle, who put last seasonís poor form behind him to take up the lead at the final fence (two out actually, as the final fence had been omitted by now) to score by 5 lengths. Caught at Dawn was two lengths further back for Mark Rodda.

The Confined Maiden Division 2 saw the dayís biggest shock as the previously very moderate CARIAD CYMRU took advantage of the pace duel between The Welder and Julian Pritchardís hot favourite Cider Man to prevail for Mark Jackson. Cider Man should make amends, he was jumping well and bowling along in front when he made a bad blunder 5 out and quickly stopped to nothing. To his credit, The Welder (half brother to Eskleybrook) battled on well for Dai Mansell, and claimed a deserved second place. Persona Pride and Robert Hodges stayed on past beaten horses for third.

There was a third division of the confined maiden, but at this point, with only about three bookies left in the ring, and with hypothermia closing in, as the old saying goes, I made my excuses and left.