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Saturday 26th April 2008

by Jeremy Grayson

LH 8F, 19J - Good to Soft

With no offence meant to the good folk associated with the Laleston meeting, which I attended last year and enjoyed hugely, my late re-routing from that South Wales course to Guilsborough for working purposes rated something of an unexpected treat. That I had never visited the longstanding (established 1951) venue was one thing, but the prospect of seeing, in Amicelli, a reigning Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase winner back in action between the flags added a further major excitement to the afternoon’s proceedings.

The chances are, though, that not everyone present today had come to Guilsborough solely in the hope of seeing Cherry Coward’s gelding registering a fourth straight win in all contests. This very picturesque course - long, thin and flat like Haydock, with a brook running through it lengthways and a yacht-filled reservoir in one corner – appeals as the sort of place that may appeal to even the most casual of racegoers as somewhere for a nice day out irrespective of the quality of racing provided, certainly on a beautiful, warm Spring day such as this.

Walking the course beforehand, the official verdict on the going of good to soft seemed a little fanciful to this writer’s pair of feet, especially as it had been given as good, good to soft in places on Talking Point the night before and little appreciable rain had fallen in between. In practice, the ground actually rode deceptively sticky, possibly whipped into that sort of condition by a breeze that was not destructive but certainly appreciable. 28 of the 54 horses to run during the afternoon got round safely, but in many cases at long intervals, and the five year average winning race time of 6m 42.2s was breached on only three occasions.

RACE ONE: HUNT MEMBERS (all races 3m)
What looked a straightforward task for TENDER TANGLE judged by the prices on the bookies’ pitches proved to be just that on the racecourse, as Sam Loggins’ 13yo led or disputed the lead for the first two miles or so before increasing the tempo early on down the final back straight and quickly establishing a 15l lead. He barely touched a twig on the way to justifying odds of 1-3, and Stuart Morris could afford himself the luxury of easing his partner down on the run-in with a third victory on the trot earned without turning a hair on this occasion.

Left-hand tracks with long straights seem to suit this Crested Lark gelding, for as well as this win he has won twice previously at Chaddesley Corbett. Not overraced for a teenager, he is far from done with on this evidence.

HALF INCH seems to have gone off the boil a little since a win on her reappearance, and her performance in trying to take the Confined at Kimble for the second straight year most recently was pretty disappointing. Here, she tried to join Tender Tangle at the head of affairs at around halfway, but quickly found herself being ridden to keep tabs on that rival as things started to quicken up. A mistake seven out shunted her back 6l,and the gap just grew from that point.

Indeed, she was no sure thing to repel the late effort of SIR LANCELOT for the runner’s-up berth until that one took a terrible fall at the last. The green screens went up and things looked bleak for a while, but mercifully, the veteran grey finally got to his feet after well over 10 minutes on the ground. Nevertheless, the lameness in his off-fore afterwards was there for all to see, and his season may well be over. His partner Rosie Goodwin was taken to hospital.

The increasingly forlorn SUNDAY LUNCH pulled up at halfway to record a third failure to finish from three this term, and he has to be ailing from something to have lost his form and fight so dramatically aged just seven.

The winner of this second contest is eligible to line up in the Connolly’s Red Mills Final (as won last season by Bon Accord) at Cheltenham in under a fortnight’s time. Frankly, though, any horse other than eventual victor SWEET CITIZEN would not have deserved a place in the line-up on the evidence of today’s performances in a race characterised by some really untidy jumping by all of his serious rivals. Favourite LORD BRUNELLO was comfortably the worst offender, getting in too close to the third fence, guessing at the next, meeting the sixth on a wrong stride, stumbling on landing at the tenth… and so it went on until he finally checked out when ridden and disputing a 3l third. This was a rather disheartening attempt to bring up the four-timer, all things considered.

By the time of Lord Brunello’s departure, Sweet Citizen and BOBBIES RYDE were matching strides, having taken it in turns to join and then pass the long-time leader ROCJA, the former at four out and the latter a fence later. The duel between the two from that point wasn’t as protracted as it might have been, however, as Sweet Citizen and Jane Williams found the better acceleration over the last couple of obstacles and even shrugged off a dive at the last – his only mistake of any substance - to supplement an easy Horseheath Restricted win over Easter.

Restricted to just three appearances in his first three seasons since arriving from Ireland, finishing runner-up in all of them and appearing a bit soft, this Supreme Leader 11yo looks to have turned over a new leaf in terms of resolve in 2008. It would be a surprise if he were good enough to trouble the season’s very best Intermediate animals in the Cheltenham final should he take his chance, but there are still Confineds or fair Ladies’ Opens to be pitched at with him.

Mistakes at the first in the back straight on both circuits might have knocked a little of the stuffing out of Bobbies Ryde, but she still managed to maintain her effort longer than in a Brafield Confined two weeks earlier. Notwithstanding two wins earlier this term, and three in all in points, her overall profile is a little too inconsistent to place maximum faith in her going one better in this grade next time.

There was a further 5l back to CARBON FOOTPRINT at the end, the Turcan family’s 6yo proving too onepaced from the turn for home. A winner of an awful four-runner Charm Park maiden for Maxine Stirk last season when still green as grass, and only just victorious over WALTER’S LADDIE (12l adrift here today after being given plenty to do) when taking a Garthorpe Restricted in March, he has not had a bad second season all told considering his relative youth, and it would not be the worst thing in the world were he to return at this level in 2009 another year stronger.

One of the more jittery betting markets of the afternoon saw FIVE SEVEN LIVE and HOME BY MIDNIGHT swap places as favourite several times before the off, with the former ultimately going off the 2-1 jolly, the latter 9-4 and a third competitor in FREE 5-2. Not only did this trio fill the frame between them at the end of this contest, they were separated by just 1l twice as they flashed home.

Home By Midnight and Five Seven Live kicked on at the start of the final circuit, and were still 12l up on all their rivals turning in, neither one looking to be going noticeably better than the other to this pair of eyes. The effort of being in front for so long started to tell at the penultimate obstacle, however, at which point both came under strong pressure and the lead reduced sharply as Free, running in snatches as he often does, picked up the bit again and ensured three horses slugged out the finish rather than two.

Ultimately it was Home By Midnight who proved to have the most fight about her, holding on to confirm recent – similarly narrow – Kimble superiority over Five Seven Live in landing her eighth pointing victory. As with last season she has been a bit in-and-out in 2008, and she arguably got away with it a touch here as the remaining stickiness in the ground evidently suited her that little bit better than her nearest pursuers (not least Free, whose participation in the race was apparently deliberated over for quite some time by the Hutchinsons).

In between this race and the Kimble one, Home By Midnight had unseated in the Ladies’ Open at the Pytchley meeting over this course and distance a fortnight earlier, leaving the way clear for Five Seven Live to record an easy first pointing success in this country. That score was on far softer going than today’s, but the 9yo’s two Irish hunters’ chase wins during 2006 and 2007 had been gained on fast surfaces, so he may actually have a bit more to offer yet this term if we have a very dry Spring.

Free still has two more attempts to record a fifth career victory at Kingston Blount before season’s end, but his increasingly fitful way of running tempers maximum confidence in him doing so, despite two wins elsewhere already this term. Fourth home IT’S DEFINITE was also gaining towards the end after not convincing all the way round, and he appears to need riding into most fences to lessen the chance of errors checking his progress.

News of AMICELLI’s arrival at the course and intended participation in the feature event certainly seemed to scare off most of the likely opposition. Nevertheless, whilst only three others stood their ground to take him on in the end, they were a good trio - quadruple hunters' chase winner COOLEFIND (also unbeaten in four points at Guilsborough), four-time point winner this season THE HOOKIE BOOKIE, and Huntingdon novices' hunters' chase winner LORD OF THE HOLLOW.

Amicelli looked in rippling good health ahead of his reappearance, and the course executive, alive to the very, very rare privilege accorded to it of having a current Cheltenham Festival champion among its runners, was understandably most keen to let him have a bit of a parade around the ring with the Grafton hounds before his run. He took it all marvellously in his stride.

Come the race proper, Amicelli jumped very well in the main under Oliver Greenall, and looked pretty content to let Coolefind cut out the pace on his own until halfway up the straight on the penultimate occasion (around half-distance), where a good jump took Cherry Coward’s 9yo into a share of the lead with the leader. The two of them then traded blows for about another mile, with never more than half a length in it, until Greenall pushed on between three and two from home.

The response didn't look entirely pleasing to start with, the young rider needing to get after Amicelli to establish a five length advantage two out, and then keep after him from the last as Stuart Morris galvanised another effort from his course specialist. However, one point to bear in mind at Guilsborough is that the horseboxes are situated on the inside of the course between the last two fences, and connections confirmed subsequently that Amicelli had his mind more on returning to these than finishing the job off. In short, he was value for rather more than the ultimate 2.5l verdict, in a race run in the fastest time of the day by six seconds, and there was nothing about his attitude or jumping for the remainder of the race that gave grounds for concern overly.

The race itself was a qualifier for the Volkswagen Touareg Men's Open series final hunters' chase at Towcester on May 12th, though he would not necessarily rate a shoo-in if turning out there in pursuit of a rare Cheltenham Foxhunters’ / Men’s Open Final double – none of his four wins going right-handed have been gained around tracks even halfway as stiff as Towcester. Do all roads lead straight to Stratford – at which he has a long distance hurdle win to his credit – instead for the 50 th Horse and Hound Cup, then? Time will tell.

Chances are that a repeat tilt at the big one at the Warwickshire venue is on the agenda for Coolefind, a staying-on 8l third in the race last year. However, the slow early pace of that contest didn’t really help to dispel any doubts regarding his effectiveness at the 3m4f trip, and these doubts have to remain after a campaign since then simply comprising two runs here at Guilsborough and a floundering fourth in the mud at Huntingdon, all over 3m.

The Hookie Bookie has dispatched some decent yardsticks this winter in Ballylusky, Denvale and Full Minty, but he had run no sort of race in the Lady Dudley Cup seven days earlier and was never a significant factor in this contest, either. Awash with sweat from an early stage and slow through the air at a couple of obstacles, he was readily left for dead leaving the final back straight having never been better than third at any stage. A busy season looks to be taking its toll. He still finished well clear of Lord of the Hollow, though, who was relegated to last with a slow jump at the tenth and didn’t improve for Henry Kinchin’s urgings at that or any other point thereafter.

TEETON SWANSONG’s one previous win in four seasons’ worth of campaigning had been in a Dingley 2m4f Open Maiden exactly two years ago, but many runs before and since then had suggested a terminal inability to stay the regular pointing trip. The fact, then, that Jenny Garley’s 33-1 shot was able to make all here under Dickie Barrett despite never slipping the field by more than 3l until four out, and indeed ultimately skipped away to a 10l score from there, suggests either a lack of enterprise from her rivals in not taking her on, or else that it was a poor contest of its kind.

This writer would probably err a little more towards the latter, as most of the market leaders underperformed. The favouite OPIO, in the colours of BBC Radio Five Live’s Cornelius Lysaght, did at least have the mitigating circumstance of breaking blood vessels at halfway, though his overall profile has increasingly been of a slightly tricky customer latterly and he may not want too many excuses making for him. More interesting than him, and certainly more interesting than the winner as well, is the third horse home, OUR CHESNEY.

Midfield early on, his third place (beaten just under 11l) represented a marked improvement on his British debut last time, which he probably still needed having not been seen out since last May prior to that. His Ballybunion Adjacent Maiden win and subsequent fair fourth in a Limerick hunters’ chase were both gained on lightning fast ground, and it is reasonable to expect better yet if connections can find a similar surface for him somewhere before season’s end.

The racecard comments for runner-up SIDELINE CRITIC included the blunt summing-up of “not always fluent”, and they were proven right once more, as a couple of deliberate jumps on the first circuit and a mistake at the thirteenth did not aid his cause. He must be fed up with the sight of men in a green jersey with yellow yoke, having finished runner-up to another Joan Tice-owned and Jenny Garley-trained animal in Teeton Dazzler two runs ago, but in truth he is not seeing out the trip convincingly and often enough to convince as one to go one better at this level currently.

Reunited with James Tudor following Andrew Braithwaite’s deputisation at Hackwood Park last time out, TOPOL tired sharply in the last half mile and never looked likely to make this writer a rich man ( ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum).

The Millington orange colours were carried to victory in this opening division of the maiden, but on this occasion they were those of owner Rod Millington, with a royal blue distinguishing cap, rather than the more ubiquitous ones with the orange cap of owner-trainer Patrick, as his 8yo mare FRENCH BEY defied a season’s absence to open her account at last. Things could hardly have fallen more conveniently for her, however, as one by one her rivals, most of whom had raced (far too wastefully) nearer to the generous enough pace than her, emptied rapidly and pulled up, leaving her to finish alone.

In fairness her jumping here was entirely adequate for this grade, but she was looking pretty exposed as a horse possessive of little late tactical speed prior to her lay-off, and will still need to answer questions on that score next time we see her.

Trainer Laura Pomfret may have had a one-two in the race had DRACONIAN, over a fence behind when French Bey crossed the line, scraped over the final obstacle rather than put his front legs on the base of it and refused to go any further; but with the greatest of respect the gelding should never have been allowed to plod on as far into the race as this in the first place having been struggling with an entire circuit to go. This writer will leave it for others to decide whether a fine should have been imposed on Russell Nearn for persisting with an exhausted horse (and to give the rider his due, he was definitely not pasting Draconian with the whip to secure the completion), but at the least a cautionary word from the stewards would have been in order – if one was given, it was not announced.

Of the other non-finishers, favourite VELVET RED, ORIENT LEADER and MY DIVA were the other members - along with the winner - of a quartet that went clear of the remainder starting the final circuit, but they all capitulated in quick succession to pull up between four and two out. The first two, neither of whom look devoid of promise, paid for their exertions at the head of affairs, whereas the last-named, waited with for the first mile before taking closer order, looked a bit more of a non-stayer.

MADDIE’S DREAM, who ran out at halfway at Kingston Blount a week earlier, fired James Tudor through a wing in repeating the trick here. Iain Mackenzie’s instant pronouncing of her as a “wretched” creature doesn’t look inappropriate on recent evidence.

Three more got round in division two of the Maiden than in division one, but that had plenty to do with a numbingly slow pace being set for most of the race which resulted in a winning time of 7m 8s, the slowest of the day by a clear 22 seconds. The fancied horses still ultimately came to the fore, though, with joint favourites INITIATE and DELAYED IN DUBLIN finishing first and second, split by 10l.

The 10yo Initiate hadn’t been seen since unseating two out when still in with a chance in second in a Chaddesley Corbett older horses’ Maiden in early February, but this still constituted a reasonably quick reappearance for a horse having just his fifth ever run in an interrupted career to date. He was pretty tidy over his obstacles today, but apart from that it’s a bit hard to derive that much else positive for a future in Restricteds from this extremely muddling affair.

Delayed in Dublin looked to be travelling far better than either of the two just in front of him, the winner and the eventual third TIGER TIM, as they took three out, but the response when James Tudor asked him to go on and seize the race at that point was insufficient and not significantly bettered when driven from the last. He fell in a heap late on having looked ready to pounce four out on his Barbury debut last time out, and this Alan Hill inmate, in the colours of Bon Accord, looks a short-runner at this trip at present.

Tiger Tim emulated his British tennis-playing namesake by remaining competitively involved in a contest before failing late on, but there was still plenty of encouragement to be taken from a racecourse debut in which he had settled, travelled and jumped well before being outpaced from two out.

FAIR PROMISE was the only other one to finish, and a combination of early over-keenness and one or two sticky jumps ensured he had nothing left with which to take on the first three home turning in. BADGER’S CROSS didn’t see out the trip on his own racecourse debut, and NEWNHAM MOLL called it a day seven from home after racing in the last pair throughout on her’s; whereas BANDALONE registered the 21 st non-completion from a total of 22 point-to-point runs by himself, his mother and grandmother combined (all for Tom Wardall) in unseating four out - why bother?

MEMBERS: Tender Tangle
LADIES OPEN: Home By Midnight
MENS OPEN: Amicelli
RESTRICTED: Teeton Swansong
OPEN MAIDEN Div.1: French Bey
OPEN MAIDEN Div.2: Initiate

Sam Loggin
Diana Williams
Lynn Redman
Cherry Coward
Jenny Garley
Laura Pomfret
Gabe Mahon

Mr Stuart Morris
Miss Jane Williams
Miss Hannah Watson
Mr Oliver Greenall
Mr Richard Barrett
Mr Matt Smith
Mr Ryan Mahon

Iain Mackenzie

© 28/04/08 Jeremy Grayson

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