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Sunday 12th March 2006

by Simon McInnes
photos by Adam Goodburn

A marvellously fresh winter's day in mid-March saw a good crowd unleash themselves for the south-east area's feature day. The racing rose to the task, with the main three events providing exciting finishes. The Kent Grand National field was competitive and the Ladies Confined matched up to Open standard for the area. The Mens Confined was probably better than any Open that is likely to be staged in these parts all season. And, once the tiniest of snow flurries had moved past, on a clear day, there was a nice view over the Thames Estuary to the scenic coastline of southern Essex.

Kevin Ferrett Memorial Hunt Members, Subscribers & Farmers
1: Stylish Dave 2: How Friendly
Winner owned: Mrs J Plumptre, trained & ridden: Lisa Stock
Having attracted a disappointing entry of five, the integrity of the race was maintained as all of them turned out to run. However, Stylish Dave has been competing at a better level than the others and that was reflected in his price of 1/3. He ran out a clear winner, taking it up two out and being in no danger thereafter. The leader to that point was Carvilla, who again put an awful lot more effort into it than has been his preference in the past, and that caught him out as he weakened quickly and was not forced to jump the final obstacle. This left veteran schoolmaster How Friendly (winner of a confined way back in 1997!) to complete in his own time for the minor honours. With one bumper run in six years ago and an early unseated when hampered at Charing making up his career so far, Alphaplus was running a decent race a few lengths off the lead, only to spoil it by running out at the seventeenth. The field was completed by York Rite, formerly combining hurdling and chasing for Richard Guest with indifferent results, who did not make the most inspiring start in points, being tailed off when pulled up after a couple of miles and a bit!

Cluttons Men's Confined
1: Honourable Spider 2: Old Kilminchy 3: Keltic Heritage
Winner owned: Mr EMG Roberts, trained: Suzy Bull, ridden: Peter Bull
Having given him a glowing reference at the end of last season, I have to humbly confess to having abandoned our eight-legged friend, deciding to wait and see if his fall in East Anglia first time out had done any harm to his confidence. Also, this was a far more competitive race than Honourable Spider had tackled in 2005, so there were questions to be answered from that angle as well. A early mistake was the only negative, as he was patiently ridden in an event that saw Keltic Heritage ensure a ferocious pace. Leading after they went around the third last, Honourable Spider did run down the final fence, but fortunately for him, the remaining challengers rather copied the approach, and he held on narrowly from Old Kilminchy, who made his move from off the pace a bit later than the winner and ran as if the trip in the four miler would have been more up his street. At his best under Rules when not taken on for the lead, Keltic Heritage showed that he can compete at this level when things go his way - the 20/1 on offer seemed to have prematurely written him off - and it is not hard to see dominating a smaller field later in the season. Just behind this trio was Newick Park, returning whence he came after running with the big boys, and like the other placed horses, he will find considerably easier races that are nominally at the same level as this confined. The two that caught the eye on the paddock were Lisnagar Hide and Heaven Is Above. After trying to lay up with the pace, Lisnagar Hide dropped out on the bend approaching three out, but Heaven Is Above adopted the opposite tactics. As Lisnagar Hide was weakening, he seemed to be working his way into contention, but the effort was flattered to deceive, and he was losing touch again when a faller at the penultimate fence. Great Jubilee, who had a good 2004, missed all of last season and showed some signs of coming back to his best on his second run back in action.

Invicta Horse Box Hire Ladies' Confined
1: Galeaway 2: Bustling Rio 3: Persian King
Winner owned: Dr Caroline Hargreaves, trained: Di Grissell, ridden: Hannah Grissell
A victory for teamwork, as Galeaway played his part with an exemplary round of jumping (not exactly his strength in the past), and should he have been entertaining any thoughts of easing off from the effort, Hannah Grissell rode a very determined finish to hold on by what was officially a neck, which appeared to slightly flatter the second. Bustling Rio, presumably not named after England's excessively chilled out centre-back, has had a mixed bag of a season so far (so perhaps there is a Ferdinand connection after all), but is progressing as his form is now FR342. This was good enough form to win on a different day, and the same goes for Persian King in third, who had come on a lot for his seasonal debut and was hustling the first pair all the way without quite looking as if he could reel them in. Physical Graffiti again showed that it his stamina limitations make him a suspect candidate for three milers.

Shepherd Neame Kent Grand National, 4 mile Mixed Open
1: Indoux 2: Little Herman 3: The Grey Baron
Winner owned: Mr JA Donegan, trained: Veronica Park, ridden: Cynthia Haydon
A Hollywood scripting for the outcome of this race, as two apparently reformed characters fought out the tightest of finishes in their quest to redeem themselves whilst joining the roll of honour. Indoux, who had looked totally lacking in motivation in previous seasons, brought his winning tally to four from his last six runs, although none of the other races approached this standard, and provided consolation for a jubilant Cynthia Haydon (only the second lady rider to win this) after the loss of Poundsley Mill at Charing. Little Herman had given up the ghost completely under Rules, winning one dire race and surrounding it with pulled-ups last term. Since pointing, he has now had a win and two seconds, and may well have survived in front for this had the last fence not been omitted, as he had taken control of the race by outjumping the opposition comprehensively and another obstacle would have surely been to his advantage. Indoux was travelling noticeably well and crept closer on the long run-in, to nose ahead on the line. The reaction of the connections suggested that Indoux had it, but the result took a long time to be announced, and the trigger finger was getting itchy for backing a dead-heat. The Grey Baron was taken off his feet mid-race, staying on in his typical manner and at least proved that a rumoured tilt at the Foxhunters would have been going a step too far. Christmas Crackle took on Little Herman in the vanguard, and gave nearly as good as he got until a mistake two out knocked all the stuffing out of him. With owner and trainer being surnamed Wales, it was a poetic reflection on rugby events the day earlier - Forza Azzurri. The pre-race word was for Splash And Dash, but it was not reflected in the market, where he was a gradual easer - Splash And Drift? He looked fit enough in the paddock, only to pull up when tailing off after three miles, but even on his best days Splash And Dash had not shaped like the sort of grinding stayer that tends to win this.

McCabe Ford Williams Restricted
1: Selfcertified 2: Funny Money 3: Butcher Bayes
Owned: Mr & Mrs P Bull, trained: Suzy Bull, ridden: Peter Bull
Another apology is due, as after winning a shocker of a maiden at Charing, I suggested that Selfcertified was unlikely to be up to restricted level. In the range of restricted quality for the south-east, this race sat a little below average, but far from the bottom drawer. Also, after about a thousand years of trying, once Peter Bull had his first multiple winner meeting last season, he has been making it almost a habit, and Selfcertified had the benefit of a confident ride. Funny Money, who was marginally favourite over the winner, came from off of the pace, but found that Selfcertified was not slowing down like the others and did not come close to landing a blow. Another William Wales raider from Norfolk, Second Thoughts, set off strongly but faded tamely late on - how long can this theme keep working out, what with a French-bred winning the main event, and a New Zealander cruising to victory in the Hunt race? Butcher Bayes hovered around behind the leaders, only to get caught with nothing in reserve when asked to take them on seriously.

Raymond Briggs Esq, Open Maiden
1: Court Award 2: Buster Mai 3: Another Classic
Winner owned: Mrs JA Parker, trained: Alison Hickman, ridden: J Jarrett
There was hope of a rare divided race, but only fourteen declared to leave us with a single, big melee, which turned out a bit of an upset but lacked the chaos that can disrupt populous maidens. Buster Mai opened odds-on, but drifted a little, due mostly to a plunge from 8s to 7/2 for Red Return, who looked a picture in the paddock but worked up a fair sweat at the start as they waited for the over-zealous Mac's View to get his bran in gear. Having got revved up on his first run since 2003, Mac's View set off at a seemingly silly pace (after a lap, all fourteen went round the far turn in single file, spread over a good thirty lengths), but he jumped more sensibly and clung on to his spot for a surprisingly long time, and ended up fourth. Fairly creditable, but how far do you go in support of a twelve year old maiden? Red Return had been slow at a couple of early fences and dropped to the rear. He made stealthy progress on the far side for the last time, but just when he got within touching distance, he ran out of puff and dropped back again, coming in fifth. Meanwhile the unregarded Court Award (unseated on pointing debut at halfway, and no signs of talent over hurdles) had emerged from the pack to take on the leaders, and steadfastly refuse to let the favourite have his own way. There seemed no fluke about this, so perhaps Court Award has finally found his niche. Buster Mai did nothing wrong, and Another Classic showed plenty of improvement from his debut, enough to suggest he can win a maiden. Newcomer Laguna Beach took everything in his stride and had a poodle round for a couple of miles until pulling up. His jumping needs some work, but he looks likely to show a fair bit more than this.


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