by Mal Davies

The wonderful early Spring weather brought out a massive crowd to Eaton Hall on Sunday, for a competitive eight race card. Indeed, so busy was the traffic that your correspondent missed the Hunt race, which was apparently won by THREE SAINTS. Presumably there was a race (only three entries) as opposed to a walkover.

The ground looked like perfect jumping ground, though perhaps had some give as Eaton Hall is not a well draining track, even given the recent dry spate (an ambulance treating an injured rider at the first fence got stuck and had to be towed away by a tractor).

The first division of the maiden was a tightly contested heat, and saw Russell Dobney aboard PEARLY’S SONG lead for most of the last circuit to claim a battling win from Chris Stockton on The Smuggler, with Charlie Barlow on the fancied Hill Of Kilfeacle back in third. One to note was the running on Jupiter George. He is the subject of some barbed comments in this year’s MacKenzie, not without good reason, but this was something of an improvement, and if maintained could result in him winning an ordinary Maiden.

Chris Stockton was runner up again in the second division of the maiden, when his Clodagh Valley failed to catch the winning favourite UNDERLEY PARK ridden by Kevin Pearson. The Carrie Ford trained nine year old gave his backers a few worrying moments before rallying to reach the line first. Back in third came Deal A King (Adam Wadlow), who, like the runner up, looks well up to winning a maiden.

Richard Burton notched his only winner of the meeting on INVOLVED in a decent looking Confined, but was made to battle far harder than a 1-2 shot ought to, before prevailing from the Gary Hanmer ridden Analystic, who seems just as good as ever at 13. The winning margin was 4L, with Sue Sharratt’s Mr Kermit 25L adrift in 3rd. Honourable mention here for bookie Keith Johnson, who had the guts to price up the rags in this race at ‘proper’ prices. Berkeley Moss was 100-1 (20’s elsewhere), Dunston Gold also 100’s (16-1 down the line), and Jimmy Jumbo 33-1 (just 8-1 on most books). The overrounds at North Western meetings have rightly come in for some stinging criticism from our Webmeister, and with good reason. It’s nice to see a sporting layer on the circuit.

For the record, one board’s overround for this 12 runner race (not even a maiden, and with lots of exposed types) was a criminal 202.76%. That is frankly appalling but unfortunately most Sunday afternoon punters don’t realise they are being taken for a ride.

Talking of exposed types, the Mens’ Open was the equine equivalent of a SAGA coach tour to Margate, with the formerly useful Lord Of The West (14), Whatafellow (13) and Step On Eyre (13), amongst others in opposition. The youthful Sam Quale (a mere 11) attracted plenty of support in the ring, but, fittingly for Eaton Hall, it was the horse who was once owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster, STEP ON EYRE who battled to a stirring victory under the driving of Chris Stockton. The ex Henry Daly star had too much for a decent outsider in the shape of the Gary Hanmer ridden The President, with Whatafellow, back in third. The margins were 3L and 10L. The Sheila Crow trained favourite, ridden by son Alistair is certainly living up to his Mackenzie and Selby squiggle at the moment.

The Ladies’ Open was one of the stronger heats on the North Western circuit, and the excellent Hannah Kinsey gave SEA TARTH a peach of a ride to score. She judged the pace to perfection, and overcame a couple who, on the form book, she should not have beaten, in the shape of former Cheltenham Festival winner Wandering Light and Manvulane.

Wandering Light probably needs further than 3 miles anyway, but unless he goes hunter chasing (which at 14 may not be much of an option), he is likely to find run of the mill Opens too short for him, and he was well held in second by the winner, the margin of victory being a comfortable 4L. Zamhareer was a further 7L back in third. Warner For Players (Sue Sharratt) was well backed, but fell at the first.

The penultimate race was a qualifier for the Mares Championship Final (to be held at the Melton Hunt meet at Garthorpe in May), and Sheila Crow’s FRUITY FARM (ridden by Joe O’Brien), despite jumping left, had enough in the tank to last home from even money favourite River Moy (David Greenway). The runner up has of course already won a maiden, only to be disqualified because Tom Greenway forgot to weigh in at Alpraham.

It would be something of a surprise if any of the first four (Ridware Rose 3rd and Simply Divine 4th) featured at the business end of the Final of this series. One to watch from this race is Ghetto Superstar from the Groucott yard. Never put in the race by Will Hill, she jumped well, and could well have featured if given the office. She ought to win a maiden this season.

The finale was a solid looking Restricted and Gary Hanmer was seen at his best in powering CHARLIE KEAY to a one and a half length victory from the equally enterprisingly ridden Lemmar Boy (Chris Stockton who had a good day generally). Pam Sykes ran three in the race, with Richard Burton opting for hot favourite Petrouge. He looked to hold every chance turning in, but was soon outpaced and finished fourth. Given that the second in the maiden won by Petrouge at Chaddesley (Hill Of Kilfeacle) also ran below expectations, it may pay to be wary of the form of that particular race. It was another Sykes horse Donrico, who took third, staying on really well past beaten horses. He ought to be winning soon.