by Simon McInnes

Another point, another battering from the winds that only come out when the racing is on. Certainly it has been the theme of the season, and spending a week between points at in Central Norway (where the weather was reasonably pleasant) only served to enhance the sense of persecution. At least the lack of a strong sunny spell meant the fields held up better than usual for the course, but the crowd, perversely, did not. Given the excellent viewing now that the inner of the course is clear of all but parade ring and bookies, plus the fact that the straights are only forty yards or so apart enabling spectators to be close to much of the action and the visibility of the bends on the highest parts of the course, it is a shame that when conditions favour good numbers of horses, the racegoers do not match it.  The results that emerged kept the various area championships still up for grabs, with Dick McCarthy doing the dishonourable thing and going clear of Struggles Glory in the horses list, but keeping Sarah Ashby on the heels of Jenny Gordon amongst the lady riders.

Fynmores Hunt Race
The Grissell yard fielded three of the five runners, and ended up with a 1-2, headed by likeable veteran Dixon Varner, who made all and outjumped his rivals most of the way. The second spot came the way of Brackenheath, who in contrast produced his usual quota of blunders, but again managed to survive them and pinch second from Daydreamer, who was having his first run since 2002. He looked fit enough, but faded late on as if not quite 100%. Expect better if he stays sound. Local MP Greg Barker made his race riding debut and did well enough to prove to the cynics that being a politician does not have to equate to being useless at everything. And his mount, the ever more recalcitrant Jojo, will not be very high up the list of easy introductions for a newcomer, and eventually refused two out, which the rider (reverting to his day job) appeared to deem a moral victory for himself.

Charles Wells Restricted
A ‘most of the way in front’ success for the mare Granny Smith, helped by the manner in which the rivals melted away. Lord Of The North ran like a non-stayer after poking his nose in front at the second last, not a great surprise as he had not looked overloaded with stamina when winning a two and half mile maiden. The other realistic threat came from The Grey Baron, who was bang in contention when he pulled up lame after the third last. The winner’s form this season is now a very honourable 2131, but the form of the races won is a dubious as the continuity of the post-meeting film on Channel 4, ‘The 51st State,’ and she is going to find the going much tougher next year.

Land Rover Men’s Open
A good betting heat for another five runner affair, especially as Splash And Dash opened a shade of odds-on (although he was gradually drifting and may have started longer). Having got his stop-start season going at Parham, he had fallen since, and the price did not really reflect recent form. Although not looking likely to repeat the accident, he made one or two awkward jumps, and when asked for an effort, zip was conspicuously absent. This left the race in the lap of the front-runner for the third straight event. Little Farmer, ridden by Philip Hall, was the lucky fellow, and whilst he has shown that he can go the pace in Open company, he tends to get exposed for lack of toe late on. Having only his second run of the season, Itsmyturnnow looked like he would still benefit from the exercise, and faded from the fifth last. His history is one of inconsistency, but his best form would have him taking his, err, turn, at this level at some stage. After a prolific 2003, Little Worsall has not been buzzing the same way, and he was again unable to get competitive.

Calcutt Maclean Standen Ladies’ Open
A decently competitive ladies race that was run at a good pace, and the field were in Indian file with the back markers struggling a lap out. There were several potential pace setters in the line up, so this was no great surprise. What may have surprised a few is that Dick McCarthy was amenable to a patient ride and emerged for his third win of the season. The move to Sarah Ashby has totally refreshed his enthusiasm, and the petulance that he had shown under Rules remains absent - for now. With two Opens under his belt already this year, Cedar Chief was not disgraced in failing the hat-trick attempt by being a fairly close second having been outjumped by the winner at the final fence. At the age of seven, Cedar Chief has time to branch out into hunter chase company. The form of the race looks good as third placed Tom Cobbler (five wins in Opens) had been booted along to keep up soon after halfway and Kincora (four wins in Opens) found it even tougher going.

Gaby Hardwicke Solicitors Confined
This was another well contested event and produced the best finish of the day. After missing 2003, Tod’s Brother found his form last time in a weakfish race, but continued the recovery by delivering in this harder task.  He had a fight on his hands all along the home straight, with Tricky Trevor snapping at his heels, although never looking quite likely to do enough. On a positive note, Kenny Davis was third, showing that he can still compete when his jumping holds up - something it had not done in his last three races. As late as the third last fence, River Bailiff was a contender for the honours, but when he ran out of steam, it happened rapidly, and he barely held on to fifth in the end.

Grants Cherry Brandy Open Maiden
With the afternoon having been free of chaos up to now, the maidens did their best to rectify the state of calm. Two went at the first, including Pistol Knight, whose previous placed efforts meant that he figured prominently in the market. More seriously, Noel Wilson, who came off of Spruce Goose, was down for a long time afterwards, and drew the attention of the entire medical staff on course when the race was over, and the experts seemed reluctant to attempt to move him. The win came the way of Siobhan’s Quinner, ridden by David Phelan. I had previously referred to the jock as Dan Phelan, due to the name ringing a bell for a reason unclear. With a fierce headwind in the back straight, several called time before tackling the uphill bend into the home run, and after the fourth last, the Phelan/Quinner pairing were clear and going much better than the remaining opposition. When Sword Fighter fell at the next, the race was settled.  Making a hash of the last made no difference, and even if the team had parted company, there was plenty of time to remount, as the only Royal Cruise was still going, and he had long since targeted nothing more than completion.

Quote of the day came from one of the bookmakers. When Sawbridge, who has yet to complete a race, was edged out to 25/1 on one board, the call was, ‘Oi! I thought we agreed before racing, no 25/1 today.’ He did not appear to be joking, and Sawbridge was never thus longer than 22/1.