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Grafton at Edgcote
Sunday 16th May 2021

by Jake Exelby

Another competitive card at Edgcote saw 81 runners in the eight races staged by the Grafton point-to-point, several close finishes and doubles for trainers Alan Hill and Fran Nimmo and owner Graham Henderson.

Alan's first winner was the long odds-on Sir Mangan – owned by Nick Sutton and ridden by son Ben – in the seven-runner Beachborough School Novice Riders Championship Final. Always prominent, the veteran took the lead at halfway and quickened clear three out to score by 40 lengths from Amigo, who was left second when Fleur Du Pommier refused at the last. Nesterenko had been tailed off throughout but kept on for nine lengths third.

"You wouldn't know he was 13, would you?" asked Nick rhetorically afterwards. "He was previously trained by Donald McCain and Dan Skelton and hasn't exactly had an easy life, but Alan has done a fabulous job with him. He's such a character, but so genuine. He should be five from five this season and his form is strong – he's probably running to the equivalent of 120 under rules." Asked if Sir Mangan would be out again to try to add to Ben's tally as he targets the Novice Riders title, Nick wouldn't be drawn, saying only, "He'll probably run again if there's some cut in the ground, but I wouldn't want to advise Alan."

Championship-chasing Ben – now on seven for the season - admitted he's riding better this year, telling me, "When you ride one winner it makes you more confident for the next. Working at Alan's has been a great help and I've been schooling with Yogi Breisner and jockey coaching with David Crosse." Quizzed on his title chances, Ben – who is now three winners clear of his nearest rival – said, "I'm hopeful, but don't want to get ahead of myself, although the closer I get to the end, the more confident I'll be! I've got three to ride for Dad, and Diplomate Sivola will go for a Novice Riders Open at Upcott Cross, and maybe a couple for Tim Underwood."

Alan completed his double with Graham Henderson's Hilnamix, a first ever four-year-old spring winner for his Woodway Farm yard and the mount of Dale Peters, in the second division of the Bagforce 2 Ltd Open Maiden, which had 11 runners. Green, and in rear early, though the youngster went third going down the back straight for the final time, he looked held by the leaders until rallying two out. But he jumped the last well and passed two horses on the run-in to score by one-and-a-half lengths from newcomer Volokohs. Odds-on Whotheman plugged on to pip long-time leader Festival Dawn for two-and-a-quarter lengths third.

"That's a big well done to Izzie Marshall and Georgie Benson," was the first thing the trainer's son (and assistant) Joe Hill said afterwards. "They broke him in, and have done all the work with him and have taught him how to be a racehorse. He was a bit short and ran green on his Mollington debut and will be a lovely horse in time – we'll put him away now as he wants wetter ground. He's not for sale – Graham's a brilliant owner and likes to buy horses, give them time, and run them himself."

Winning rider Dale told me, "He's a lovely horse but just a big baby. Everything happened too fast for him early on, but the penny dropped on the second circuit. While he's forward physically, it's taken more time mentally."

Graham had initiated his double two races previously (and just missed out on a treble in between!) in the Print Concern Restricted race, which – with 14 runners – had the biggest field of the day. His Luscious Lilly, trained by Andrew Pennock and ridden by Charlie Marshall, was ridden close to the pace set by the heavily backed odds-on favourite Post No Bills, made her move coming to three out and joined the long-time leader after the last, battling on to score by a neck, with the fast-finishing Aclassagold the same distance away in third.

"She was disappointing at Dingley last time," admitted winning trainer Andrew, "But the form of her Revesby Park third is really good. She's not our typical horse in that she needs a stiff track and cut in the ground, so I was hoping the rain would come and that stamina would come into play – my instructions to Charlie were, 'Don't give up!' She'll be a horse for the Cheltenham Intermediate Final next year as she keeps on galloping."

It was a first winner of the season for Charlie, who said afterwards, "It's been a slow season for everyone and hasn't worked out for me so far. It's also my first winner for Andrew but we've had a long association, my family buying horses like Conkies Lad and Wonderful Present from him. Today, Luscious Lilly made up ground down the hill and kicked on up the final stretch. She met the last three fences perfectly and I hardly had to go for my stick. I'm looking forward to riding her next year."

I spoke to Graham later and he confirmed, "That's my first double as an owner. Hilnamix has really come on for his Mollington run and Charlie joked after Luscious Lilly's race, 'You really make your jockeys work hard!' Graham has seven pointers in training – four with Alan and three with Andrew – and explained his passion. "Horses were my life when I was a child before I discovered beer and girls! When my son Gareth started riding in points, I got back into it – and when he retired, I couldn't give up. It's too much fun."

Fran Nimmo's Station Yard racing initiated their double rather fortuitously in the six-runner Heygate & Sons Members race. With odds-on favourite Free Of Charge running no sort of a race and second favourite The Triple Pillar falling when making progress five out, the race looked likely to go the way of 16-year-old Brackloon High, who had led virtually throughout. However, the veteran inexplicably ran out when still clear at the penultimate fence, leaving Ange Des Malberaux and Amy Cox to come home 20 lengths in front of Aunty Joan, with Bricks And Beams one-and-a-half lengths third.

With Fran on duty at Tabley (where she also had a double) and husband Charlie playing Laurel to Sam Davies-Thomas' Hardy (or is it the other way round?) on the live streaming, I spoke to winning owner Hermione Harper, the jockey's mother. "He's our only horse – a replacement for Beggar's Velvet, who won five for Amy. Fran and Charlie bought him for us at Doncaster a couple of summers ago. He's a sweet horse who does his best and needed that win, having disappointed since a good run on his debut."

Amy admitted, "We were obviously very lucky, although there was a chance I'd have got back to the leader. I'm a proper amateur jockey who does this for fun on family horses – I run a wedding venues business. That's my sixth winner – I've finally lost my novice status nearly ten years after my first ride!"

The second half of the Station Yard double was also completed in dramatic fashion, in the first division of the Bagforce 2 Ltd Open Maiden, in which 12 faced the starter. The well-fancied Everything Now, under owner-rider Alex(andra) Ingham, was prominent early but soon lost his position and was last and seemingly struggling going out on the final circuit. However, leader Secret Getaway slipped and fell on the final bend, leaving Craven Bay in front before three out, and Everything Now started making progress past beaten horses, finally passing the reluctant-looking Craven Bay halfway up the run-in to win by half a length. Equus Flight was a tailed-off third after Stripe Of Honour stopped to a walk.

The seven-year-old was formerly trained by Tom Symonds and Charlie Poste – temporarily freed from media duties – told me, "We've had a lot of luck with the horses we've had from Tom. Everything Now was rated 115 under rules and was bought by Alex and her parents for her to learn on – he's very different to Kaki De La Pree (on whom Alex rode her first winner last season). They got out of their ground at Dingley and finished well and today, the others started racing early and didn't finish – she gave him a patient ride. That'll be it for the season now," continued Charlie. "I'd like to give Alex a crack at the Ladies Novice Rider title next year."

Alex herself said of how the race panned out, "I wanted to be towards the front jumping off, but they made a fast start, so I decided to let him come back to the others. We were quite far behind but really picked up coming round the final corner." She explained how the association with Fran and Charlie came about, "I was working for Tom Symonds and rode out with Charlie's brother Ben – then started having lessons with Charlie. My ambition is to be a jockey – I just want to see how far I can go."

Nine ran in the John White Funeral Directors Mixed Open and the race went the way of Barney Dwan in another thrilling finish. Prominent early, the favourite led from nine out to five out but – while still close up – didn't look the likely winner coming up the hill, particularly when squeezed between King Of The Clothe and Fifty Shades at the second last. However, Georgie Benson – riding her second winner of the week, four days after her debut British success – didn't give up and fought back to get up by a short-head from King Of The Clothe. Fifty Shades faded on the run-in for 11 lengths third.

With trainer Sally Randell enjoying a well-earned break in the Lake District before heading to Doncaster Sales, she was represented by fellow pointing trainer Christy Mews, who told me, "He's such an old pro. He ran well when fourth at Cheltenham – he needed further – and just keeps going."

Georgie, who hails from Ireland and is in her second season as Alan Hill's novice rider, also rides work for Sally and said afterwards. "He knows what to do but made hard work of it today. He jumped well in the first half of the race but got into trouble at the second last and I didn't think I'd win until halfway up the run-in – I'm delighted we got there. I'm on a lucky run at the moment and want to thank Alan, Sally and all the owners and trainers who are giving me opportunities and the experience."

Closest finish of all was in the Savills Intermediate, which saw ten runners. Benefaktor – another odds-on favourite – led most of the way but faced a battle royal with Drumlynn, who headed him briefly four out and two out. But Ladies champion jockey Gina Andrews – at her determined best – would not be denied, and was given the verdict by a neck, although a dead-heat would probably have been a fairer call. Captiva Island threatened briefly four out but was a never-dangerous 18 lengths third.

In the absence of trainer Tom Ellis ("restocking" at Doncaster Sales), I caught up with part-owners farrier Stuart Spence and Garthorpe Clerk of the Course Brian Crawford. "I thought he'd been beaten, but that was a gutsy performance carrying more weight than the others," admitted Brian. Talking about his recent Cheltenham run (where he was fifth in the Intermediate Final when favourite), he said, "He was taking on more experienced horses there – it was only his sixth race for us and it's a long way from Revesby Park to Cheltenham (!) – and a bad mistake knocked the stuffing out of him him, he showed a lot of courage to keep going. Apparently, he'll concentrate on Ladies races next year – which rules Stuart and I out!"

Winning rider Gina said, "I thought I'd got back again on the line. The horses were exhausted – we went off too fast and were just walking up the stiff finish."

The final event was the Framptons Planning Conditions race and 12 went to post, although only 11 set off after Diamond King planted at the start. While not the closest finish of the day, it was probably the most watchable, as ten were still in contention at the bottom of the final hill, headed by Master Sunrise and Zac Baker, who had led for most of the race. And the 12-year-old produced a brave performance, repelling repeated challenges from the likes of Neumond, Tempelpirate and Wounded Warrior to hold on by a length from the fast-finishing Earlshill, with Frelia just a neck back in third.

Master Sunrise was following up his Shelfield Park Members success for trainer Callum Griffiths, who told me about his background. "I'm from South West Wales and used to work for Paul and Deborah Hamer, then went to Alastair Ralph's for more opportunities – I've learnt so much from him and Liam Treadwell, god bless him. I had a few rides in points on my own horse Little Brian – I wasn't very good so I moved him to Alastair's and backed him at 100/1 before he won a novice hurdle! I train Master Sunrise and two others at a yard near Bridgnorth. He's a great servant and a bit of a monkey, but the blinkers made him more interested. I didn't think he'd like the ground today, but he loved it in front."

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