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Archived Reviews


5th February 2005
by Richard Hall

I have not yet been to Horseheath when Richard Burton has been riding for Shelia Crow and seen the combination come away without a winner. Why, oh why, then did I let An Capall Dubh, their representative in the Mens Open, go off unbacked at 14/1? It was one of my most stupid betting decisions, particularly as I had adjudged Cantarhino to be no value at 4/7 and, after a quick paddock inspection, “sure to come on for the run” (i.e. nowhere near as fit as the Kemp horses can be). In my search for value I went instead for the 6/1 offered against Swincombe, trained and ridden by Sara and Andrew Hickman.

Richard Burton employed the tactics he normally adopts on Crow horses at the course. Nothing complex, just go off like Michael Schumacher on a practise lap, and stay there. His cause was helped by Cantarhino swerving at the start and losing fifteen lengths, and the fifth fence departure of Cross River, who was the only rival who had attempted to stay within thirty lengths of him. At the end of the first circuit he was so far ahead that I had time to take his picture and pour myself a coffee before the any of the remaining runners came within focal range!

As An Capall Dubh approached the twelfth fence it looked as if Richard Burton may have misjudged his horse’s fitness. The chasing pack, now headed by Cantarhino, had closed to within three lengths and a number of them looked capable of playing a part in the finish. He was only allowing his mount a breather however, and they increased the pace again as they began coming down the hill to the fifth from the finish. Tribal Run was the first of his pursuers to drop off, closely followed by Teeton Priceless. This left just Cantarhino and the sweet travelling Swincombe, who had been put into the race very quietly by Andrew Hickman, as the only possible dangers.

Cantarhino, who was showing signs of tiring, clouted the fourth last and was allowed to pull up shortly after. It was then a two horse race. Both of them came up the hill strongly. Between the last two fences Andrew Hickman made his move, easing Swincombe closer to the long time leader. At the final obstacle he was within a length and looked to have a sprint finish left in him. An Capall Dubh took it better, however, and Swincombe’s slight mistake was enough to hand back the initiative. Shelia Crow’s charge maintained his advantage all the way to the post to win, as they say, “a shade cosily”. Swincombe lost nothing in defeat and finished a distance ahead of Tribal Run, who stayed on better than Teeton Priceless, to take third.

In the preceding race, the PPORA Club Members, Richard Burton, this time riding for Caroline Robinson, had to be content with second place on Airoski, who is now becoming a perennial bridesmaid. He finished twenty lengths behind Caroline Bailey’s Denvale, who had the race won a long way from home and, at seven years of age, looks to have a big future ahead of him. Ardkilly Warrior was a parish away in third, a neck ahead of Runningwiththemoon who would probably have been a lot closer to Airoski had his challenge not been hindered by a blunder four fences from home.

Westfield John is probably the only other in the race worthy of a mention. James Owen employed front running tactics and the combination were still going well at the twelfth fence when Denvale came past him with an Ellen McArthur wet sail. He tired quickly after that, but it was probably the most promising performance seen so far this year from a representative of the Turner stable. It will be surprise to me if he turns out to be Mr Owen’s first winner of the season in those famous navy blue, white hoop, colours.

Fair Exchange carried those silks for Zoe Turner in the Ladies Open. This customary front runner led for only a few strides midway through the race before crying enough when pressed again by the pacemaking Owen’s Pet, and the always prominent Step and Run, just before the twelfth of the eighteen fences. It is hard to imagine that two years ago Fair Exchange was one of the best pointers in the region. His decline has been so dramatic that there has to be something wrong with him?

Although fourteen went to post, very few got into the contest. The lightly raced Owen’s Pet, who was ridden very positively by Tash McKim and eventually finished third, ensured a good pace from the onset. Jane Williams on her family’s Step and Run had always been in the leading group, and took it up with just under a mile to go, quickly establishing daylight between herself and her pursuers.

Alex Embiricos had been biding her time on Highland Rose, however, and came easily past Owen’s Pet to cover Step and Run’s move. By the fourth last she had closed the deficit to within a couple of lengths, and then tucked herself easily in, planning to be tugged up the stamina sapping hill to deliver her challenge between the last two fences. It all went perfectly to the script, apart from one small detail; Jane Williams had managed to save enough on Step And Run to repel the thrust when it came. Highland Rose did eat into her lead, but she could not overhaul it.. At the winning line Step And Run still held a winning margin, albeit less than a length.

The first three will probably all go on to win more races during the season, although I was most impressed with Highland Rose. All her previous form had been at Cottenham where, in her last three runs there, nothing had got within twenty lengths of her. She showed she had developed a new facet to her character in handling this much stiffer course, and could well make the successful graduation into Hunter Chase company later in the year.

Josie Sheppard, who used to train Fair Exchange with her late husband, was responsible for turning out Catch On, the winner of the younger horse Maiden. The seven year old, an impressive runner up to Madmidge in a hot race last year, had little trouble seeing off the fourteen strong field to go one better on his seasonal debut. Paul Taiano hunted him round for the first circuit, before giving him the office to coldly and efficiently dispose of all opposition, which he did with the minimum of fuss. It was probably not a particularly hot race, but he could hardly have been more impressive. As far as future investments go, I would advise a degree of caution however. In his first season, his performance on his second outing was vastly inferior to that of his encouraging debut. He could well be one of those that are “best when fresh”.

David Kemp introduced Cantarhino to the pointing world in this race two years ago, and he chose it this year to mark the first racecourse appearance of Fiftiesonfire. The seven year old, also a son of Alderbrook, eventually finished third, just behind Erris Express who came from the pack to deprive him of second spot in the final quarter mile. David Kemp gave him the ideal introduction. He jumped smoothly throughout, was sent on five from home and given every opportunity to win his race, but was tenderly handled once Catch On had asserted his superiority. Definitely one for the notebook!


George Cooper won the Restricted by a convincing margin on Monarch Ruler. The form may not amount to much, however, as the opposition did not appear to be too strong, and much of what there was either failed to complete, or looked badly in need of the outing. Federal Case for the Ruth Hayter yard led for most of the way and was still in contention when throwing Alex Merriam to the turf five fences from home. Two fences earlier Balau had looked to be making a telling challenge, before unshipping Peter Bull; a fate James Diment had also suffered a circuit earlier on Persian Silk.

Monarch Ruler had tracked Federal Case closely for the first circuit, but had found himself tapped for toe when the pace increased. When the leader fell it was Nick Pearce on Teeton Fizz who was best placed to take advantage. The combination quickly helped themselves to a four length lead but ran out of stamina on the long, uphill climb to the finish. Monarch Ruler, who simply stayed the better, found little resistance when they met the level ground again. He coasted clear from Ballyhackmore, who was having only his second outing since 2001 and came from a long way back to head the exhausted Teeton Fizz at the post.

The day had begun with quite a rare event in East Anglia: a competitive Hunt Race. It had been achieved by opening the event to all three of the hunts that use the racecourse, and had attracted six closely matched runners. Surely this initiative could be copied by other hunts in the area? It would avoid the sorry and embarrassing spectacle of organisers desperately trying to justify the resultant two or three horse exercise canters as a meaningful contest within the six race programme, well worthy of their ever increasing admission charges?

For the second successive year the race went to Tim Lane aboard Barbara Czepolkowski’s General Confusion, who was allowed to dictate matters and, despite tiring towards the end, held just enough in reserve to thwart the double pronged challenge of out and out stayers Master Club Royal and Ruperts Choice by two necks.

Holywell Girl was made favourite, on the back of pleasing efforts at Cottenham earlier in the season, but she jumped slowly throughout, and was niggled at after only a mile. I marked her down as being of doubtful character and one to avoid in future.

Ten went to post for the concluding race on the card; the older horse Maiden, in which Northall Lad was sent off the 5/4 favourite. He looked destined the bridesmaid’s slot a long way from home as Gibraltar Bill, having his first public appearance since 2003, seized the initiative and quickly pulled four lengths clear approaching the final hill. The advantage seemed safer still when Northall Lad clouted the third last but, between the final two fences, Gibraltar Bill’s stride began to shorten and the distress signals were there for all to see. Paul Cowley, hitherto content with yet another runner’s up berth, responded to the opportunity immediately and rode Northall Lad for all he was worth. He joined and passed the luckless Thomas Ellis with a fine leap and sprinted away on the run in. Mr Ellis, in contrast, virtually had to carry his mount over the line.

I did not see another finisher, but I must confess I was not looking to hard. Annoyed at being put off backing the winner by it’s skinny price, I was quickly in the car and anxious to get near the front of the queue for the exit. I wanted to get within the frequency span of Radio Norfolk as soon as possible. It was half past three, and Norwich had an important game with West Bromwich Albion. The loser, all the pundits agreed, would have no chance of avoiding the big drop. For the winner, a slim hope remained. Just over an hour later, as I was approaching Diss, Damien Francis fired in what proved to be the deciding goal. My spirits were lifted. We are still in there with a fighting chance!

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