'VINCITORE LIVES UP TO HIS NAME'
The day of the inaugural Barbury International race meeting - the first ever point-to-point in Britain to welcome Irish-based and professionally trained horses, and the first to include a "bumper" (National Hunt Flat race) - dawned crisp, cold and sunny. Organisers were rewarded with an eight-race card and 92 runners from the entry of 166, of which six travelled across the Irish Sea, including five from "Shark" Hanlon's yard in Bagenalstown, County Carlow. The highest-profile Irishman present was 20-time champion jockey Sir A P McCoy, who arrived early with sponsor Ronnie Bartlett and stayed all day, presenting the prizes for both divisions of the bumper.
It was in the 12-runner second heat of this contest, sponsored by Wilson Dennison, that Shark Hanlon was finally rewarded, after a second and three non-completions. His debutant New List was the afternoon's talking horse and duly delivered in the hands of the experienced Richard Harding, one of two Irish jockeys to come over. The four-year-old moved into the lead after a circuit and, though overtaken by Call Me Sid on the final bend, took advantage of his allowance to hold on by half a length, with the well-bred As I See It a further eight back in third.
"(Committee Member) David Minton came up to me at Ludlow and said would I bring some," explained the winning trainer when asked about his support for the meeting, "And I said 'no problem'. It's been a mixed day, but we've been treated like royalty - and I've come here to get my horses sold, two have already been bought and hopefully the other three will be later!" Shark - whose fearsome nickname dates back to his hurling days - has ten horses in training under rules, including the useful Hidden Cyclone, and 25 four-year-olds for pointing. "They're all for sale," he smiled, citing New List as probably the best of them. "He jumps brilliantly at home." Winning jockey Richard Harding, who has ridden almost 250 winners between the flags and under rules - including the Aintree Foxhunters on Cloudy Lane - was also full of praise for the meeting. "It's a new experience for me," he admitted. "But everything's done right, like on a racecourse, from weighing out to starting. It's more professional than Irish pointing!"
The first division attracted ten starters, and went to the sole Irish runner - Martin Cullinane's Lostin A Fog. Second early, she moved into the lead at halfway and, despite the persistent challenge of well-backed Oliver's Island - the sole British professionally-trained participant on the day - held on by three-quarters of a length, with the always prominent Nos Na Cariad third, five lengths away.
Connections were represented by the trainer's friend, vet Louis Hassett, who laughed, "Martin's a poor traveller!" before telling me, "I bought her as a foal for about £2,200 and sold her as a three-year-old for about £7,500. She won impressively at Boulta last time." Indeed, the mare has already been sold again, and raced in the colours of new owner John Reddington, a builder and property developer, who also rode her. "That's my second win," he confirmed afterwards. "I won a bumper in Ireland on my first ride, as well as a couple of charity races." South Mimms-based Thomas Gallagher will be training Lostin A Fog in future, saying, "I buy a few from Martin. We'll go for a Restricted next, probably at Kingston Blount - I like running my horses there, as the ground is well looked after."
The bumpers may have attracted most intrigue - and were far from being the "breeze-up with betting" suggested by one wizened racegoer before racing. However the feature event was the Mixed Open, sponsored by Weatherbys Hamilton. It attracted the biggest field of the day, 16, and was certainly the most competitive contest, with less than five lengths covering the first eight home. For most of the last circuit, the finish looked likely to be fought out between Sacre Toi, Now Ben and Out Now, but the latter two were swallowed up after the last by the fast-finishing pack and, though Sacre Toi did his best to hold on under a 12-pound penalty, he was caught close home by 33/1 shot Vincitore, who prevailed by a length in the hands of trainer-rider Sarah Rippon. Pentiffic finished late for one-and-a-half lengths third. In winning here, Sarah became the first rider to win an Open taking advantage of the five-pound allowance now given to Novice Riders in these races.
The victory was a dream start to ownership for Saskia Baharuddin, who confessed "I was looking for a hunter and 'Ripper' found 'Vince' for me - so he hunts and points, he's multi-purpose!" Saskia, who has a background in showjumping, laughed when asked about plans for her winner. "He's going out hunting next Tuesday! Ripper's in charge of the racing." Trainer-rider Sarah explained how she came by the eleven-year-old. "He was with Claire Hardwick, but needed freshening up and a change of scenery. I thought he'd need the run but he's so game and tried his heart out. The plan was to hunt round the first circuit," confirmed the winning jockey, "I kept wide to get the best ground, then came down the inside as there was no-one there! He jumped the last two brilliantly." Sarah, who trains from Henrietta Knight's West Lockinge yard, is considering a Hunter Chase campaign for Vincitore.
Another successful trainer-rider was Dymock-based Sam Jukes in the 15-runner Masterson Family Trophy race for ten-year-olds plus, over three miles six furlongs. He took the spoils with the odds-on Iberico - following up his win in the Mixed Open at the last meeting here - although favourite backers didn't have it easy. Having moved smoothly into second place six out, Iberico then lost his position as long time leaders Key People and Upton Centurion kicked on. Round the final bend, Cotillion and Darkestbeforedawn kicked on, but Sam kept plugging away and rallied to take the lead at the last, eventually scoring by two-and-a-half lengths from Cotillion, with Darkestbeforedawn one-and-a-half lengths back in third.
"I always felt like he was in top gear," said Sam afterwards when asked about Iberico's apparent flat spot. "I knew he'd make up ground accelerating down the hill, so I thought I'd save something - but I left it a bit late though!" It was a second winner (from just three runners) for Sam's fledgling training career, but a 68th (they think) for winning owners Clive and Eileen Bennett, who are hoping to get to 100. "We wanted to run Stone in the Open (he was declared, but withdrawn in the paddock)," they explained of their decision to move Iberico down in class but up in trip. "Sam always said he'd stay. We'll see how he comes out of today but he'll have a rest now. He'll stay pointing and probably go for the Open at our home meeting - the Ledbury." There was a poignant note to this win, as Iberico was the last horse bought for the Bennetts by Padge Berry, who passed away on the morning of the race.
Nine went to post for the Highflyer Bloodstock Novice Riders race, which was an eventful contest. Fancied Shan't Agree departed early, soon followed by the prominent Subtitle. Popular grey Argentato, who had led all the way under pointing debutant Will Kellard looked destined to give his rider a debut win, but ducked out at the last, leaving the race at the mercy of Swallowshide… or so it seemed. The leader idled in front and was caught on the run-in by Allerton - who had looked reluctant for much of the race - under a driving finish from 17-year-old owner-trainer-rider Lily Pinchin, getting home by a length and a half. Cyrien Star was a long way back in third.
"I honestly can't tell you how much this means," enthused Lily - who works for Naunton trainer Fergal O'Brien - of her third career victory. "I was given him by Fergal, I ride him myself every day and he's one in a million. If he doesn't want to do it he won't," she continued, referring to the flat spots he often hits, "And I was fortunate that Argentato ran out at the last." Lily, who trains Allerton from her family's farm near Cheltenham, had "Always wanted do pony racing from the age of nine - I won by twelve lengths at Cheltenham one day and that gave me the buzz!"
The other three events on the card were Maidens - one for young horses, one for mares and one Open. The nine-runner opener was sponsored by Tattersalls Ireland, for four to six year olds, and was taken easily by Culmstock-based Tom Malone's Orchardstown Cross, another winning odds-on shot. Second early, he was taken into the lead by Josh Newman - notching up his half-century in points and under rules - at the ninth and never saw another rival, scoring comfortably by nine lengths from Irish raider Emtihaad, with the always prominent Sarazen Bridge a length third.
"I bought him in March," his owner-trainer told me, "And he's an aeroplane at home. He didn't get the trip last time at Larkhill - he emptied after two out and his whole pedigree is two-and-a-half miles, but he'll make a lovely staying chaser." Bloodstock agent Tom laughed when I asked if he'd be holding on to Orchardstown Cross and if he had any plans for the horse. "Don't be silly, my job is to sell them! He can go where he likes - but it won't be with me!" "It was pretty easy on the whole," admitted winning rider Josh Newman, whose career highlight has been taking the 2014 National Hunt Chase on Midnight Prayer. "He's a big galloping horse so I made plenty of use of him, although he was a bit green in front when we were given a lead." Josh, whose modest ambition this season is "To ride as many winners as I can" is most looking forward to partnering Kernel Victor this campaign - the pair won four races together last year.
Smallest field of the day was the seven who took part in the Haynes, Hanson & Clark Maiden for four to six-year-old mares. The race saw a comfortable pillar-to-post victory for Tim Underwood's Irish import Champagne Mati in the hands of Zac Baker. The five-year-old grey led at a slow pace all the way, jumped brilliantly and won easily by eight lengths from the fast-finishing Flights (watch out for her next time), with Upton Princess three-and-a-half lengths third.
"That's my first pointing winner of the season," smiled a delighted Zac Baker. "I'd never sat on her before. She was a spare ride - Yorky (Phil York) was too fat to do the weight! As soon as we jumped the first, I knew she'd be alright, but she's only a little thing - I'm like the Jolly Green Giant next to her!" Asked about his goals for the season, he smiled again. "Ride more winners and eat less so I'm lighter!" Zac, who has had six successes under rules this campaign, only needs one more winner to reach 20 career victories and have his seven-pound claim reduced. As ever, winning trainer Tim Underwood was good for a quote - his first words, asked if Champagne Mati would stay further, were "Three miles? She'll get 33!" He admitted, however, to being in a dilemma as to what to do next. "Do I let my heart rule my head, or send her to the sales?" he asked rhetorically. "I know she'll go through the grades in the right races. She's an ideal point-to-pointer. Jumping is her real forte, she's genuine, she stays and takes it all in her stride - she's like (stable star) Tempelpirate."
14 ran in the three-mile Maiden, sponsored by Albert Bartlett, and the race went to an outsider in the shape of Sarah Gould's The Editor, partnered by Shane Quinlan. The five-year-old may have been fortunate, as he was left in the lead when Shark Hanlon's Global Racing fell five out when going well, but he was always prominent to that and stayed on well to beat Dewi's Mate by eight lengths, with Round Robin a remote and staying-on third.
"He's been going very well at home and we were hoping he'd run a good race," admitted Sarah when questioned if her charge's 25/1 success was a surprise. "We thought it might be a bit quick for him, but the ground's got slower through the afternoon. He's matured since last year and has been working well with Third Chance at home. Sarah, who trains six on her family farm at Cranmore - between Shepton Mallet and Frome in Somerset - wouldn't be drawn on plans, saying merely, "We'll have to see how he is". Winning rider Shane Quinlan, scoring for the second time from just 12 rides in UK points, rides out for Sarah once a week and was recommended for the ride by Martin McIntyre, who was otherwise engaged in this race. "I was lucky enough to catch it," he laughed. "He was weak last year," Shane said of The Editor, "But I've always thought he's a nice horse. I was looking for a lead because he's got a mind of his own," he continued, "But we were left in front a long way out and he dug deep to win."
After the eight races, awards were presented to Shark Hanlon as the Leading Trainer on the day (sponsored by Newbury Racecourse), to Richard Harding as Leading Rider (St James's Place) and to Sarah Rippon for the Outstanding Performance, based on her victory with Vincitore in the showpiece event.