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East Sussex & Romney Marsh
Sunday 19th April 2009
by Simon McInnes

photos by Adam Goodburn

"The times they are a-becoming, er , quite different," as quoth Seymour Skinner. In this case it was due to an untypically high number of runners at Catsfield, although it did seem to render the betting less competitive. The ground was turned out in good nick, and the experiment with having a mixed open was a partial success. On the upside, there were five runners, the other case is that none had a history of running in Ladies' races, so there might have been five anyway. Overall, this was the best Catsfield meeting, for both quantity and quality, in many a year.

Going: Good (but on a sunny and windy day, it must have been drying rapidly)

Race 1: Friar House Antique Jewellery Members
1: No Reward 2: Major Jon 3: Kingsun
Winner owned: Mrs S Braxton, trained: Rose Grissell, ridden: Matt Braxton
Usually this race sees a smallish field, mostly provided by and ridden by members of the Grissell family, quickly scattered into the expanses of Sussex, and one or two eventually meander over the line. Of the five that turned out today, only two were Grissell trained and none thus ridden - and the quintet remained well bunched for a surprisingly long way. Major Jon made the running, jumping right as is usual, but once No Reward kicked on at the top of the far hill, that foible became the reason why Major Jon could not get back in the race. There was not any need to get too serious on the winner, and the runner-up held off Kingsun quite readily. The in-form Boulliac made a bad error at the fifth and after that did not travel well and made a string of lesser mistakes. On a good day he is a lot better than this, even though his wins this season have featured mid-race flat spots.

Race 2: Media Communications Ltd SE Hunts Club Novice Riders
1: It's Showtime 2: Lord'n'Master 3: Soldershire
Winner owned & ridden: Juliet Hermansky, trained: Cynthia Haydon
On a course that has sometimes struggled to attract runners from outside the promoting hunt, there was a rare long distance raider for this, Moscow Summit having travelled up from Devon. However, it was in vain, as Lord'n'Master and Soldershire set a manic pace and Moscow Summit was detached and struggling from the off. The ferocity of the competition for the lead also proved to be the undoing of Lord'n'Master and Soldershire, who began to suffer for it when they made bad blunders at the ninth (the Master) and the tenth (the Solder). Although niggled to not get too far behind early on, It's Showtime sneaked into the lead before the third last, and was soon clear. He began to tie up on the run-in, where the early leaders slowly ate into his lead, but found that they had burned up too much energy early on. Congratulations to Juliet Hermansky, who has put an inauspicious debut appearance behind her, and bounced back with admirable determination to win on try number three. If this race was restage, however, more patient rides on the second and third could produce a very different result.

Race 3: Ostrich Hotel, Robertsbridge Mixed Open
1: Letterman 2: Highland Chief 3: Honourable Spider
Winner owned: Simon Tindall, trained & ridden: Nick Pearce
A good win for Letterman, who has been working his way through the ranks. It was especially encouraging that the win was such hard work as some of his earlier successes seemed to do no more than prove he would not throw in the towel against lesser opponents. He could be set to be a major force in the area next season, and if tried hunter chasing, his experience under Rules in Ireland will stand him in good stead. Highland Chief has taken quite well to pointing and shows the Letterman effort in a good light. On the other hand, Honourable Spider has had a below par season, and did no better here. He had two handlers in the paddock, which I do not recall being the norm in the past, although there was no unruly behaviour. However, if someone had said at the start of the season that he would run at Catsfield and be on offer at 5/1, you probably would have written them off as a nutter.

Race 4: Charles Stanley Stockbrokers SE Hunts Club Members
1: Jack's Present 2: Master Alf 3: New Street Express
Winner owned: Simon Tindall, trained & ridden: Nick Pearce
All five of the runners had some reason to entertain ideas of success in this, which meant that Jack's Present seemed a less than convincing odds-on favourite - having been well placed to win several races without having to tackle any top drawer rivals. Six from home, she was under pressure, and looking one of the least likely winners. New Street Express, who has failed to finish both in both UK runs, was the one set to take advantage, but he could not quite manage to shake off the jolly and Master Alf. The race was decided at the last, when three came into it almost in line. New Street Express, who was perhaps a neck up, was not fluent, and due to them not jumping it totally straight, he was sandwiched between, and bumped by, both Jack's Present and Master Alf. That left the latter in the lead, and Paul Blagg staging a desperate recovery whilst scratching the top of his horse's forelegs with his nose. A superior pace on the run-in allowed Jack's Present to see off Master Alf, but New Street Express looks to be the one to note for the future, even though the way this panned out left a small question over his staying power.

Race 5: Nick Mills Memorial Restricted, sponsored by John Stevenson
1: Ten Horse Power 2: Balooba 3: Its All About Luck
Winner owned: Christopher Buckley, trained: Daniel O'Brien, ridden: Kelly Smith
With only four runners, this was the only disappointing field of the day, and after the first three runners announced were with cheekpieces, tongue strap and blinkers, Ten Horse Power came across as a spoilsport for not having a visor. That ungentlemanly approach was reiterated when he beat the headgeared trio by a long way. Billie Bay was giving the least feeble chase when he pulled up lame after the third last. Some market support came for Balooba - probably not for him to outbattle Its All About Luck a distance behind the winner.

Race 6: Grants Cherry Brandy Open Maiden
1: Club Captain 2: Hitsfromtheblitz 3: Trenley Lawn
Winner owned: S Garrott, trained: Christine McCarthy, ridden: Phil York
This began in startling fashion - eleven declared. Double figure fields are unknown at Catsfield, and the oddity caused Barry Johnson's electronic odds board to go haywire. Semi-sanity was restored as two were withdrawn before they made it as far as the paddock, but it was a genuinely open maiden, with Devon, East Anglia and the New Forest supplying runners. The race itself was a cracker. Trenley Lawn, whose recent defeats had worked out as decent form, looked outstanding in the paddock, kicked on with seven to jump and then failed to see out the trip. She was being hassled by two opponents, and Club Captain, who had run with a modicum of promise up to now, overcame a length deficit to scramble home on the run-in. This was a sudden improvement, possibly attributable to both the ground and the gain in his experience. Even more extraordinary was the performance of Hitsfromtheblitz. He had not shown a great deal on his debut, but the expectation of improvement caused his opening show to be 3/1. When he entered the paddock, he was still very green, calling out to anyone or anything that would listen. He also began to get a bit sweaty and his price drifted to 12/1. Once the race was under way, he did nothing wrong, and it was only after the last that he faltered. When he gets his head around what is going on around a race, he is probably capable of some much, much better performances.

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