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30th January 2005
by Richard Hall

We chose to run Sabre in the Intermediate in preference to the Restricted. The field was smaller and, I believed, the opposition no stronger. After falls in his last two races, a clear round was the first priority. Even though I knew anything above that would be a bonus, I still could not resist a fair bet at the 12/1 on offer. In horse racing, particularly as an owner (or part owner), optimism is the first pre-requisite (closely followed by a sympathetic bank manager)!

Lucinda (Barrett Nobbs) looked as nervous as I have ever seen her, both in the parade ring and on the way to post. This was her “home “ hunt and she felt the expectant weight of the large number of once a year members and subscribers that had gathered to support her. She must too have been battling some inner demons. Could she keep on board? Could she bring out the best in him? Could she justify the faith that had been placed in her?

As the tape broke and the race began, she settled him on the outside, and gave him a good look at the obstacles. At each of the first three fences though, the tension in her was clearly visible. Only as they passed the post for the first of three occasions did you see the combination relax. The excitement of the moment had succeeded in suspending all the doubts. From there on she concentrated only on the present.

Lords Euro and Shoveontommy shared the running. Along the back straight for the first time Sabre settled easily in third. He jumped fluently, without a single cause for alarm. After a circuit the field closed up. Westerfield John was the first of the five to drop away, early on the back straight on the final lap. Being a Turner owned horse, he would clearly come on for the run. Charango Star, who, until then, had contentedly been hunted in the rear by Phillip York, responded to his pilot’s constant nigglings to join Sabre for third. At each fence, however, he was outjumped. Lucinda really was getting a tune from our fella. As they started to turn out of the back straight Sabre moved past Shoveontommy to take a clear second. He then closed on Lord Euro. The gap reduced to a solitary length. Behind them Charango Star was still being niggled, and Shoveontommy had hit a flat spot. The owner’s group gathered in the middle of the course began to sense victory. We looked at each other excitedly. I recited again my twelve times table.

Our hopes were short lived. Alexander Merriam kicked Lord Euro on. At the fourth last his lead had grown again to two lengths. Racing to the third from home it increased still further. Sabre was no longer closing; in fact both Charango Star and Shoveontommy were challenging him. In the home straight he found himself relegated to fourth. The lack of a previous run was showing. Just before the last Lucinda felt him gain his second wind. Lord Euro had already flown and Phillip York’s horse was keeping on steadily for second. Shoveontommy, however, was catchable. Sabre hurdled the last in full flow, losing not a millisecond of momentum in the process. He kept on stoutly to snatch third on the run in, convincing us that he will be a better horse next time out. Roll on High Easter in a fortnight! We’ve still got a horse!

Lucinda had begun the day a place higher, finishing second, albeit of two, on Lambrini King in the opening Hunt Race. Her conqueror was stablemate, No Nay Never, ridden by Annie Bowles for her father. It was only the second ever win for the combination, and it came, like the proverbial bus, within a fortnight of their initial success at Ampton.

The turnout for this event was disappointing and, although reasons and excuses can be made for the lack of runners, it opens up the debate on the continued viability of Hunt races. It will be interesting to see if other hunts can fare any better. What can be said in defence of the Waveney Harriers though, is that, aided by an advanced division of the Maiden, they were still able to offer the paying public seven other events for the price of their entrance fee and programme. I, for one, would have been extremely disappointed to have paid full price for this as part of only a six race card!

The Confined bought together Rooster and Deckie, who had finished second and third respectively behind Heisamodel at the last meeting. Whereas the former still carried plenty of condition, Deckie stripped a lot fitter this time. He looked, as they say up north, “like a butcher’s dog”; something that a few punters latched on to in backing him from 11/4 to 2/1.

David Kemp punched Deckie into the lead early on the second circuit. For a while it looked as if Ain Tecbalet, who appeared to be travelling well, would have a big say in the finish, but he weakened on the swooping turn for home, and it was left to Rooster to mount the principle challenge. He came smoothly to sit ominously on Deckie’s hind quarters and it would have been reasonable for those who saw him finish like a train three weeks earlier to have expected a similarly telling burst of pace when they came into the final straight. Today, however, there was no such response. He went out very tamely as Deckie kicked decisively into the second last. Indeed Rooster finished so tired that Ain Tecbalet (perhaps, like Sabre, with a second wind) rallied in the final hundred yards to deprive him of the runners up berth.

Deckie looks as if he might well follow a similar profile to that established last year by stablemate, Madmidge. He won a Maiden on 2004’s corresponding card, and continued improving throughout the year to win all of his completed starts.

Madmidge had begun 2005 with an easy win at Ampton two weeks ago and took a step up in class today when taking on Open company for the first time. Despite losing his place four fences from home, he responded gamely to re-establish himself and claim second place behind the impressive Satchmo, who had been responsible for that telling change of pace when sent on five fences out by owner/rider Gavin Wragg. He quickly established daylight between himself and the chasing pack and won on the bridle,

Step Quick and Greg Wright, another owner/rider combination, came through the pack to take third. Although never put in a position to win the race he finished to some effect This formerly useful steeplechaser promises to give Mr Wright an eventful season, particularly if contesting Novice Rider events.

The race lost some of sparkle with the departure of Matt Mackley from the favourite, Gallant Glen, at the twelfth. The Turner’s, however, must have been pleased with the performance of their summer acquisition, Minster York. He was the only one with the initial gears to go with Satchmo when he made his break, and the fact that he folded tamely (and quickly) was probably due to little more than lack of race fitness. As the season progresses he will undoubtedly improve. It is perhaps worrying, though, that his best performances under Rules were at two and a half miles or under.

Marilyn Scudamore’s Gipsy Cricketer, went of at a searching pace in the Ladies Open. The bulk of the twelve strong field were content to let him, believing he would tire and come back to them. He did no such thing. Coming into the home straight for the final time, only Heather Irving on The Granby had managed to work her way into a challenging position. Travelling marginally the better they jumped the second last within a length of the long time leader. They emerged, somewhat luckily, with a ten length advantage as Gipsy Cricketer suffered a horrible fall. This left the hard ridden (and one paced) favourite Find Me Another a clear passage for second, with Pacon (who had made the four and three quarter hour journey from North Cheshire) filling the third spot. To the relief of the crowd, five minutes after the race had finished, Gipsy Cricketer, who had clearly given his all, got to his feet and deny the attentions of the hastily driven horse ambulance.

Jumping also played a major part in the outcome of the second division of the Maiden. Joint favourite Royal Blazer pulled up after jumping sharply right at both of the first two fences, and market rival, Here Comes Choosey, came to grief at the tenth. Indeed, as the leader approached the penultimate fence, only four of the twelve that went to post were still in the race. That leader was Cosmic Sky. He had established a clear lead after a mile and had successfully seen off the challenge of Jove’s Shadow, who was tiring badly in second. Lucky Return and Pampered Lad were a long way back in third and fourth respectively. Cosmic Sky cleared the penultimate fence with ease. Wanting no heroics, Rupert Stearn steadied him into the last. He stumbled on landing, sending Mr Stearn crashing over his neck and on to the floor. Five seconds later Jove’s Shadow somehow managed to climb over that final flight, with his jockey still on board, and gratefully claim the unexpected honours.

The first division of the Maiden was, on paper, by far the more competitive. It threw up two very nice prospects in the winner, It’sallinthestars (not to be confused with horses with similar names under the care of Paul Keane and Henry Daly), and Ballykilthy. Whilst the Tim Bryce trained runner up will not be long in opening his score, it is Nibby Bloom’s six year old that really impressed me.

I noted It’sallinthestars earlier in the season, when running on into third in a short Maiden at Cottenham, and made a point of looking out for him in the paddock today. He is still a baby of a horse with plenty of growing and filling out to do. Despite that, however, he jumped the first eighteen fences superbly (although it took all of Nibby’s strength and experience to keep him upright after a blunder at the last). He also travelled easily and, when asked to take closer contention on the second circuit, he cut through the field like a knife through butter to sit patiently behind the pacemaking Ballykilthy (who had burnt off the rest of the field) and wait to be asked to deliver his challenge. That question was only asked of him between the final two fences, but, when the license to go was given, the response was immediate. In the matter of a few strides, a two length deficit was turned into a two length lead. In my opinion this was an exceptional performance and, as he matures, It’sallinthestars will be a name we will be hearing a lot more of in the forthcoming months and years

The favourite, Ruth Hayter’s Sort It Out , who had ran so promisingly when second up to Waynesworld three weeks ago, tried to race prominently but never seemed comfortable going Ballykithy’s pace. When it came to the business end he folded very tamely, and continued the stable’s woeful run. This, once prolific, yard are now without a winner since 2003, and it is hard to see where the next one is coming from!

The final race of the day was the Restricted. It was won by No Penalty (who had impressively disposed of Tartar Sabre’s in a Maiden at the course last year). He went off at the unbelievable odds of 5/1 and more than recovered the money Sabre had earlier left in the bookies satchels. His task was made easier when the favourite, Waynesworld, fell, but that should not detract from his performance. With Andrew Braithwaite in the saddle he is no longer as headstrong as he once was, and he now seems comfortable being settled in front. Diamond Stone even headed him for a furlong or two today and, rather than fight for his head, he seemed content to let the jockey ease him back into pole position.

No Penalty came home comfortably clear of the patiently ridden Gillies Nephew, with Naughty Dandy in third. I will continue to follow him throughout the season.

It is pleasant to conclude my report by saying that, in general, the bookies offered better value for money than the previous two weeks (at Ampton and Cottenham). There was only one race where they were worthy of criticism; the second division of the maiden, where the first five (of the twelve strong field) were priced at 2/1, 2/1, 5/2, 4/1, 5/1 – an overround of 130% before you even consider the remaining seven runners!

I do have another cautionary anecdote concerning a family member who had £2.50 each way on a 5/1 winner (yes, he is the black sheep and we do turn away with embarrassment when he places such bets!). He was paid out £17.50. Like Mrs H last week, he went back to query it when we suggested it was wrong. “Oh, we forgot to pay the place part” he was told.

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