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APRIL 2004
by Richard Hall - East Anglian Correspondent

With the Bank Holiday circus firmly behind us, a healthy crowd of puritans willingly embraced the return to normality as they made the pilgrimage to the Cambridgeshire Mecca for it’s final meeting of the 2004 season. 

They were not disappointed. The good to firm ground attracted a respectable number of runners, with a total of forty-three horses contesting the final five races on the card.

Proceedings began with a disappointing turn out of two for the Hunt Race. Those who bothered to watch were treated to a performance of David versus Goliath proportions when Andrew Corbett rode a patient race on Gunner Be True to outstay Andrew Sansome on Carvilla, and ride his mount stylishly out for a four length victory.  

Racing proper began with a PPORA Club Members Race for Maiden Mares, which attracted a field of ten. Di Grissell’s Gale On The Lake was made favourite on the strength of her recent third to Red Adhere at Penhurst. Philip Hall looked to have given her a gem of a ride, confidently stalking the leaders for two and a half miles before allowing her the license to go and win as she pleased. When he did, however, the response was not what he was expecting. Gale On The Lake’s challenge sunk without trace and she could only plug on, as if treading heavy water, to claim a remote third spot.

Play Alone and Memsahib Ki Behan had shared pace making duties for most of the race and, as the climax neared, both looked set to play a major part in it. The latter, however, does not see out the three miles and, as she has done on previous visits to the course, flattered for a long while only to drop tamely away before the third last.

It looked too as if the perennially one paced Play Alone (Nibby Bloom) would once again be swamped for toe when Laura Pomfret’s debutante, Northern Breeze, came from out of the pack with a wet sail to devour the leaders approaching the second last. As it turned out Matt Mackley had timed his challenge just that little bit too early, and, in the face of Nibby Bloom’s driving finish, his mount could not maintain the two length advantage he held at the final bend. After jumping the last within a length of each other, the combatants separated and, in true duellist fashion, each chose their own individual rail to run against.  With the width of the course between them, they charged into the mouth of the crowd for the glory of the post. At the line Play Alone was adjudged to have got back up to claim the prize by half a length.

Matt Mackley was not long in gaining his deserved compensation. It came courtesy of an enterprising ride on Mill Lord in the Maiden, where the combination were allowed to build up a soft twenty five length lead from the second fence. His rivals, led by Stuart Morris on Tooley Park, made no effort to close the gap until halfway around the second circuit. By then, however, it was too late. Matt Mackley had managed to squeeze a breather or two into Mill Lord and had plenty left to see off Tooley Park’s mistimed challenge.

The result was a classic example of a jockey winning a race by catching his rivals on the hop. In fairness to Stuart Morris though, Tooley Park was clearly was not at home on the firmer ground, and the result would probably have been no different had he decided to race closer to the pacemaker. Indeed the winner, after an unsuccessful career under rules, was making his debut in an English point and may well go on to prove his victory to more than a fluke.

The old adage of “horses for courses” certainly seems to be holding true for lady jockeys this year. Following MacFin’s three wins out of three runs for Louise Allen at Horseheath, Highland Rose emulated the feat for Alex Embiricos at Cottenham when taking the Ladies Open. Whilst MacFin has to be admired for his battling qualities, Highland Rose, at least at Cottenham, seems to be in a different league to anything put up against her this year. She positively spread-eagled this field, in the same clinical way she had done on her two previous visits, in the day’s fastest time of just under six minutes.

Hannah Grissell, demonstrating that she is anything but a muppet rider, produced a fine tune out of Village Copper on the final circuit to steal second place from Templebreedy. The latter, under Sam Beddoes, had set off to emulate his Horseheath success by making all the running. He was, however, easily brushed aside when Alex Embiricos unleashed her course specialist, and may well have found the going too fast. A similar comment may also apply to fourth placed Quick Response who, despite his advancing years, looked a real handful in the paddock and certainly seems to have retained his enthusiasm for the game.

Andrew Sansome overcame his Hunt Race disappointment to produce the South Eastern raider Belvento with a well-timed run to take the Men’s Open from Hatch Gate. The latter, positively ridden by Phillip York, had kicked for home fully a mile out and looked to have done enough until Belvento found the extra gear that pulled from him from the chasing pack.

The third horse home, fourteen-year-old Gratomi, made a very promising seasonal debut. Ann Lee’s charge set off in his customary trailblazing style but, when passed, hung on doggedly to keep within five lengths of the first two. If he follows the same path as last year, a Hunter Chase campaign on lively ground beckons. On this evidence, an imminent visit to the winner’s enclosure looks far from unlikely.

The Restricted saw the return to Cottenham of Viscount Bankes, who positively sprinted away with a “short” maiden here on the opening day of the season. Since then he has supplemented his standing with credible performances in Hunter Chases (albeit at distances considerably less than three miles). His form looked a grade or two better than anything previously shown by any of his rivals, and he was made a short priced favourite to complete a “first and last day” double.

He shared the early pace making with Wincy Spider, an ex hurdler who had won a weak Horseheath maiden on his only start in points. Clearly the tactic was to hold the pace up from the front and preserve his suspect stamina for a late surge. His jumping was sloppy though (probably due to the restrained speed), and when asked to go and win his race the effort was short lived. He was soon caught and passed again by Wincy Spider, and, eventually, by virtually all of the chasing pack. He has obviously had one race too many this year, but, at only six, still has many seasons ahead of him.

In contrast, Wincy Spider, at ten years old, should be on the downward curve. The relentless gallop he maintained to see off this field, however, suggest the reverse is true, and that he is still improving. Gillies Nephew threatened briefly to make a race of it on the run in, but when James Diment asked Wincy Spider to quicken again he was not disappointed with the response. The combination held on to record an impressive five-length success.