by Alison Morris

The delayed meeting at Howick took place on Saturday after a fairly mild and frost free week. The snow that had caused havoc in South Wales the week before had softened the ground, but not enough to prevent the quick pace that normally prevails at this track. Runners were in abundance; many choosing to come across the bridge is search of the better ground, with reports of firm coming from the Beaufort meeting on the same day. The long gap in scheduling between Wales’ opening day meeting at Erw Lon and this meeting also had a lot of trainers anxious to start the season and give their charges a run.

The first race on the card, the Members, saw the shock departure of the well-fancied Questionnaire at the ditch. This mare was one of the least likely to succumb to an early season fall, especially at her home track. This left the way clear for Coole’s Abbott, a decent enough performer on his day to take the spoils followed home by Steel Gem. 

The restricted race was split on the day and still produced two large fields. The first went to Twilight Dancer under a beautifully timed ride by Fiona Wilson. Having spent most of last season on crutches with a damaged tendon, Fiona has lost none of her “bottle” and is as intent as ever on notching up the winners. The favourite, Pete the Painter was always just held in second. (Attheraces viewers will be pleased to know that James Tudor had his teeth with him and they were NOT as commented on “still in the mud at Kingston Blount”).

Division 2 went to the even money favourite BallyAlbert, whose previous performances can only be described as inconsistent! Jeroboam and Daisy’s Choice filled the minor placings in what was the slower of the two divisions.

The confined was the “warmest” race of the day and produced the expected exciting finish. Sohapara and Wales’ hardy annual Dai Jones took command at the top of the hill and despite looking wayward coming to the last, held on to continue this mare’s impressive tally of victories. Former Irish chaser Inis Cara followed them home in second with the rather unlucky Gilzine, who had done the splits two out, in third.

The Men’s spoils went across the bridge to Sir Dante and Andy Martin who were chased home by Quickswood and Smile Pleeze, neither of whom, despite game, efforts could peg back the leader.

The Ladies Open left the course looking rather like a battlefield after the crashing falls of Nigel’s Boy and Buckland Boy. Fiona Wilson, sent to the floor by Nigel’s Boy after taking up the lead, passed the doctors later in the day, although her fiancée was heard mumbling about the doctors doing a mental health check when he heard she was fit to ride. Angharad Herries was not so lucky and the fence was bypassed as she received attention. Isobella Thompsett reaped the benefits of the carnage and steered Ashfield Orchestra home in front of Cowanston Prince.

The maiden had been split at entry and produced large fields on the day. The first going to the very impressive Gypsy Girl ridden for David Stephens by his son Robert, and the last to Call Me Sonic and Dai Jones, making his tally two for the day. It was good to see Ruby Dante, the leader, get to his feet after a horrible incident three out.

The Welsh season has a rather different look to it this year, with the decampment to the ranks of professional by Christian Williams as jockey and Evan Williams as trainer.  Christian’s younger brother Nick and West Wales’s Marc Barber are both busy under rules, and James Tudor is committed to the yard of Lawney Hill. Add this to the “maternity” break of reigning ladies title-holder Lucy Rowsell and there is a large gap in the rider’s book. This season should provide some Novice riders with good opportunities for success, although they will have to unplug the ‘phones of Dai Jones and Tim Vaughan to get through to any owners!