by Simon McInnes

There is always a decent crowd for the hunter chase meeting, and it is a proper hunter chase card with no namby- pamby amateur riders' hurdle races, but the attendance shot through the roof. The car park was full, a huge queue was still waiting to get in as the first race was off, the bars were jammed, the food outlets sold out and when it rained there were less covered spaces than floor area occupied by people needing it.

And whilst Arena Leisure's much publicised promise to turn Folkestone into an elite jumps venue seems to be yet another Arena publicity stunt that is then quietly dropped, it was never going to work if the place cannot cope with more than 1200 people. Perhaps a voucher scheme to ensure priority treatment for the hardy few who brave the December/January sleet and rain fests can be implemented. Sadly for the huge crowd, none of the races had a tight finish, but that did not stop some rousing receptions - or was I coincidentally standing next to connections of every winner?

4WD Sandgate Safari Novice Hunter Chase (for the Guy Pete Memorial Challenge Trophy) [3m 2f]
The prize here was Belvento's from a long way out, despite the fact that he worked up enough pre-race sweat to look like he had been through a car wash without a rinse option. He had certainly given the impression of being up to this class in points and started favourite, but 3/1 was a bit longer than might have been forecast. He went to the front early on and was never headed. The race was sealed when he quickened after the fourth last and no opponent could respond. A brief scare came when taking the last a bit slowly, but it was probably caused by a little too much caution in approaching it. As is becoming familiar, Storm Castle was held up and ran on to secure second without ever looking likely to overhaul the winner. Third went to Labula Bay, who held off the threat from River Bailiff, running better than when defeated more narrowly in Restricted company earlier this season.

Grant's Cherry Brandy South East Novice Hunter Chase [2m 5f]
The field for this had all qualified via running well in a large array of races for young (or slow developing!) horses between flags, which meant that at face value the form figures all looked encouraging, and assessing the talents meant passing judgement on the merits of the horses they had beaten. Once this had been done, three likely candidates were identified, and of those Hatch Gate had been badly served by the recent wet weather - good to firm is a bit on the muddy side for him! A complication was that the commentator's PA packed up, and another was that one of the prominent challengers had a complete colour change - as well as a couple more having silks that were in reality only slightly resembling the official description. Ultimately being certain of what was happening proved nigh on impossible especially as I was wandering the betting ring as the field went to post and did not see these idiosyncrasies first hand. Success came to Tough Terms, who under Rules was ironically disinclined to battle terribly hard, but has found easy opportunities in points and won here with a comfortable margin despite often jumping left. The unidentified horse that eventually finished second was the unreliable Snowboy (not one of the four greys in the race!), who can easily fall or refuse but has ability when taking neither of those options. He lost second with a mighty thwack of the third last but David Turner sat tight and got Snowboy going again to recover the runner-up spot from Kingfisher Star.

Tiger Inn Stowting Open Hunter Chase (for the Royal Judgement Challenge Trophy) [3m 1f]
Not that long ago, Folkestone instigated 3m 1f chases for no obvious reason and did not eliminate the 3m 2f option. Today, in a vulgar bout of showing off, they raced over both distances. It enabled Peter Bull to complete a quick double, as his veteran partner Rightsaidfred made it four straight wins here, spread over a mere seven years, and getting the loudest welcome of the night. It was achieved by a resolute display of galloping, put in a good perspective by the performance of the runner-up. Maggie's Brother had won his last two, including a  Cheltenham race, so it was surprising to see him priced as long as 13/2. He sat at the back until there was about a mile to go and then made smooth headway, jumping efficiently, to pass the majority of the field. The plan then went off the rails as every effort made to catch Rightsaidfred saw the eventual winner respond to it. Had Maggie's Brother been in a more prominent position for the first couple of miles we might have had an exciting finish. Spring Gale managed third, running totally out of synch with his opposition. A near refusal to race saw him concede well over twenty lengths at the start, a fast mid-race got him up to second, but the effort took it's toll and he weakened into a well beaten third. It was reported to the stewards that the ground got the better of Noyan, but he ran as if a bit jaded last time and a rest would probably help.

Shepherd Neame United Hunts Open Champion Hunter Chase [3m 7f]
Unusually for such a trial of sticking power, most of the contenders were either proven over the trip or shaped as if it should hold no fears. It produced another pillar to post victory, this time for Christian Williams and Dancetillyoudrop. With all of these extra obstacles, the horse surprisingly failed to clout one or two and a slight acceleration four out soon had all his rivals floundering. Outsider Alska plodded on from the rear to take second place late on, which does imply that the pace was strong enough to find out even solid stamina specialists. Third place Hatcham Boy is a good example as he is always worth an each-way in these sort of events (not often quick enough to win) but he finished very tired as three rivals bore down on him after the last. The Turner expedition from East Anglia found Corston Joker copying his stablemate Spring Gale in playing up at the start, but took it a step further by not deigning to take any part in the race.

Country Club UK Maiden Hunter Chase (for the Cuckoo Maiden Challenge Cup)[2m 5f]
Another strong pace, courtesy of Namron whose effort expired with a mile to go, and Andrew Hickman became the second double scorer of the evening, as a sound round of jumping saw Ballinure Boy amble home quite comfortably. Amazingly, Commasarris managed second, in the frame on merit with three fancied runners. He had never completed under Rules, and since his last win in 1998 had not got home in many points either. Kincora, who has won Opens this season, but perhaps not against the greatest of competition, kept on at one pace for third, from a very tired Village Copper. Dragon Lord looked a danger in the back straight, but he was stopped in his tracks by a bad mistake at the twelfth and came to grief at the next.

Baker & Rushby United Hunts Open Hunter Chase (for the United Hunts Cup) [2m 5f]
A race for non-staying pointers! The field had an array of form over trips from 2 miles and upwards, but the race was rendered farcical by the omission of the three fences in the back straight, reducing the challenge to nine obstacles. This was attributed to the angle of the sun, but by the time that the race was off, the far side of the course appeared to be in the shade. Yet again the winner made all, as Primaticcio gave Christian Williams a second winner, meaning only three jockeys had tasted ultimate glory all night! Rustic Revelry slogged home after him with Brackenheath, one of those greatly advantaged by the reduced skill of the challenge, third.

That brought proceedings to a pleasant close, and due to a lorry blocking the only exit road from the track, it took just another hour to get out of the place. Never will the mid-winter fixtures seem so inconvenient again!