by Richard Hall - East Anglian Correspondent
Photos by David Ruddle

There are many times when we have good cause to complain about poor value, or about being overcharged. A plumber’s £50 call out charge to fix a leaky washer, or being compelled to bet in a 250% over-round book (as at Ampton last week), being just two examples. Every now and then, nature compensates us with a bargain. Sometimes it appears in the most unlikely places and we pass it by, rationalising that it must be too good to be true, and “there has to be a catch somewhere”. Usually we are right to do so. Very occasionally, however, it is the genuine article.

Such a bargain came my way today; a late Christmas present perhaps, or a reward for hours of form study on the Racing Post website? I had gone through the chances of all seven runners in the Hunt Race several times in my head. Initially my analysis had been done at home with the prediction of soft or heavy going. At the course I had to modify it when the stewards announced the ground to be genuinely good. Whatever the going, I came to the same conclusion every time. Bar a fall, there was no doubt whatsoever. I was so convinced that Highland Rose would win that I was prepared to break one of my gambling rules and “buy money” by backing at short odds on. I had £40 in my hand, and arrived in the ring early. I waited for the bookies to price up, hoping to grab an early 4/6.

Imagine my delight when the very first bookie to put pen to board (Richard Gray) bypassed Borrow Mine (whom he obviously thought would be favourite) and scribbled a carefree 4/1 against my selection. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time. My bet was accepted in full. The price was halved. Three more punters were accommodated before it was halved again. At the off Highland Rose had eased to no better than 6/4 (still, in my opinion, wonderful value). All she had to do now was win. It was no good getting a bargain if you couldn’t get it home undamaged!

I did not have a moments worry. Alex Embiricos, in the familiar “Aldaniti” colours, took the lead after the first fence and quite simply galloped the competition into submission. She came home the proverbial country mile ahead of Borrow Mine who ran on to deprive Ballad for second.

There was no such value in the second race on the card, the Intermediate. Course specialist, The Red Boy, was a best priced 4/9 favourite of the ten strong field to record his third victory of the season. “In running” layers on Betfair would have been trampled on at 1.01 as he jumped the last. He was seemingly hard held and enjoyed a five length lead over Sheila McKenzie, on whom Tim Lane had been hard at work for a long way. Within a matter of strides, however, the complexion changed completely. The Red Boy suddenly emptied. His stride shortened and Tim Lane saw his chance and went for it. Andrew Braithwaite tried to galvanise the leader, but his mount’s only response was to swerve to the right when asked for more and by then it was too late. The initiative was lost. Sheila McKenzie had gone passed and flown.

The stewards found Andrew Braithwaite in Breach of Rule 126 and added that he had dropped his hands whilst holding a clear advantage. In my opinion, it was not so cut and dry. The Red Boy’s strength is in resolute galloping, and he is notorious for travelling well but finding little off the bridle. At Marks Tey last year he was in a similar situation and, there too, he folded into a heap when asked for more. He later had to be seen by a vet because he was so exhausted and struggling for oxygen. Andrew Braithwaite would have had this in his mind as they cleared the last. He, quite rightly, would not have wanted to give the horse a harder ride than necessary. When he saw the danger he did everything he could to recover the situation. His mount would not, and could not, give any more. He simply ran out of steam.

Sheila McKenzie was not winning out of turn. Since her heavy ground Maiden victory in 2002, she has promised much (notably in the Men’s Open at Cottenham’s opening meet in 2003) but delivered very little. She is still only a seven year old and, ridden for the first time by Tim Lane, she showed a good attitude. Perhaps this victory will be the stepping-stone to realising her undoubted potential. Some people will undoubtedly describe the win as fortunate. I think she won on merit. Time, as they say, will be the judge.

The Mens Open saw the belated seasonal reappearance of many JFF forumites fancy for the Cheltenham Foxhunters; the Hickman yard’s Splash and Dash. . He looked slightly big in the paddock but, rated fourteen pointerform points superior to anything else in the race, was still sent off the odds on favourite. Although he travelled well for most of the race (just off the pace) backers knew their fate from two out when, under pressure, he failed to reduce the deficit. 

The race was won by the eight year old Yorkshire raider Omni Cosmo Touch. He had been put to sleep for the first circuit and gently bought into the race to challenge two from home. He finished a couple of lengths ahead of the front running Little Farmer (who was suffering his first ptp defeat) who, in turn, held a similar advantage over Cape Stormer, who had finished second to subsequent winner Guilsborough Gorse on the opening day of the season.

The winner is still only eight and had enjoyed a few successes under rules with Oliver Sherwood in 2001. In 2002, however, he went sour. His record shows that he refused to race on five of the seven occasions he was sent to post. In 2003 he had one ptp outing for his new yard, that of Sue Smith, winning a Mens Open at Wetherby in convincing fashion. He has clearly been rejuvenated by exploits in the hunting field and, providing his connections are not tempted to come back to the well too often, could well continue to farm similar races in future.

Those holding ante post vouchers for Splash and Dash should not despair just yet. Last year he came on a tonne for his first run (also a defeat at Cottenham, that time by Rob Mine) and reversed the form in spectacular fashion when the pair met again at Marks Tey. In my view, he is much better horse going left handed on a galloping track. Although he may have disappointed in the opening skirmish, he is still very much a leading contender for the bigger battles ahead.


The Ladies Open saw the early exit of two of the six strong field. Ical, who had ran loose at Higham three weeks ago, deposited the luckless Caroline Rogers at the first fence, and Louise Allen had to pull Grand Ambition up when his bridle appeared to come completely off his face! As one who had backed the latter I was somewhat miffed that the stewards did not appear to inquire more deeply into the matter!

The race developed into a match between Zoe Turner on The Wiley Kalmuck (who had won the race the previous year) and Supreme Citizen (was had fallen in the same race twelve months earlier). This year Jane Williams’ mount put in an error free round and reeled in his old adversary without too much effort, and comfortably justifying his miserly 1\2 odds in the process. Gatchou Mans, who had been outpaced when Zoe Turner had tried to kick clear six fences from home, ran on in eye catching fashion to finish a close third.

Jane Williams had a much more difficult task in the Restricted. Riding her recent purchase, Step and Run, who had shown progressive form in Irish points last year (culminating in a ten length Maiden victory), she found herself seriously outpaced when the gambled on Yorkshire raider, Banana Ridge, broke away from the field a mile from home. Her mount responded to her urgings however and, along with another Irish acquisition, Pa Pierre (on whom David Dunsdon had employed extremely confident and exaggerated waiting tactics) had managed to close to with a couple of lengths at the last. 

Half way along the run in Pa Pierre had joined and passed Clive Mulhall on the gallant Banana Ridge. Step and Run, under maximum assistance, was still a length adrift in third. David Dunsdon looked home and hosed, but Jane Williams did not give up. Whether her horse found more, or whether Pa Pierre had thought he’d done enough, I don’t know. What I do know is that somehow she managed to get her charge up to win by a length at the line. A remarkable display of riding against two senior, and respected, male jockeys. Polly Gundry watch out, you may have a serious challenger to your title this year! 

There was much to like about each of the first three home. The winner is obviously gutsy and will gallop forever. The second was having only his third run (he won his maiden in Ireland on only his second outing) and showed a good turn of foot to close on, and overtake, Banana Ridge from two fences out. The third has undoubted ability, and his mid race injection of pace quickly opened up a wide margin advantage. He probably does not quite get the three miles (his Maiden victory was over four furlongs shorter) and subsequently may struggle to find a race between the flags. He did, however, recently finish a promising fourth of sixteen in a Market Rasen bumper and a career over shorter trips under rules, or Hunter Chasing, may prove more fruitful.

Despite thirty three entries, the older horse Maiden did not divide and thirteen runners went to post for it. Less than half that number completed the course. There was only one leader throughout, that being the Paul Cowley ridden Longville Lad who had sweated up badly at the start. Despite showing a reluctance to pass the horsebox bends when being sent out on the final circuit (a manoeuvre that allowed Tidal Race, his only serious challenger at any stage, to get within a length) he showed an abundance of pace throughout. He eventually finished a distance ahead of No Reward, who had been given a trademark, confidence boosting, ride by Andrew Hickman to run on through beaten horses. Tidal Race, who tired badly from four out, came home leisurely to claim third spot.

With the possible exception of the runner up, I saw nothing in the race (other than the winner) to note for the future. Longville Lad could do little else but win easily however, and may well be capable of following up in Restricted grade. He is still only eight, has had less than a handful of races, and he did finish last season with a promising head second to Judicious Norman in a thirteen runner Garthorpe maiden. It would not be unreasonable to expect the progress to continue.

There were two divisions of the younger horse, two mile four furlong, Maiden. Both gave punters and bookies alike precious little form clues. Many in each race were making their debuts, and an equally large number had letters, rather than numbers, denoting their racing history.

Division One went to Andrew Martin on his own It’s Missy Imp who outstayed the warm favourite, Philip York’s Drumdowney Lad (third to the impressive Viscount Bankes at the opening meeting). Rash Moment, who had fallen in Viscount Bankes’ race, put up an eyecatching performance and held every chance at the second last when in getting too close. He was not given a hard time after that and his shrewd trainer will surely not be long in finding a race for him.

Division Two saw a pillar to post victory for the French import, Sonnant, who completed a double on the day for Paul Cowley. He had faded badly over three miles, after leading for today’s trip, on his previous outing at Larkhill and may be hard pushed to take the step up into Restricted grade. Nailed On, another Andrew Martin owned and ridden debutant, plugged on for second with the same stable’s Lady Baronnete, ridden by Ian Howe, finishing strongly in third after being outpaced earlier on. Unlike the winner, she will definitely benefit for a step up in trip.

I cannot allow my report, on what I consider to be both an enjoyable and eventful day’s racing, end without a mention of those we all love to hate; the bookies. In general, the odds on offer were considerably better than those seen for the Restricted at Ampton last week (they could hardly have been any worse!).

The Highland Rose episode reinforced my belief that, by and large, the majority of the bookies are fair and courteous people, capable of paying up with a smile on those rare occasions where they do take a loss. They do become wayward at times, however, and I do believe that a form of policing should be introduced to limit the over-rounds to decent levels.

Not all the bookies fall into this “fair and courteous” category, and punters should exercise caution when investing their hard earned cash. Some rarely (if ever) offer better prices than their neighbours, and are frequently under priced on a large percentage of the runners. Their sole tactic seems to be none other than “we’re here to get as much mug money as possible”. To illustrate this I attach pictures of one such bookies board just before the off on two of today’s races. The first shows an over-round of 175%, and the second (if you insert the favourite at the 4/5 offered elsewhere) at 174%. Punters beware; they are not always “much of a muchness”! 

On this occasion, names have been removed BUT if this "daylight robbery" continues, they will be "named and shamed"...
you know who you are!!!

P.S. If anyone is interested in receiving any better quality copies of David Ruddle’s  pictures please e-mail me through the site and I will pass on your details. On average he takes approx. 100 shots per meeting!