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Avon Vale
Saturday 27th March 2010
by Simon McInnes

An interesting piece of work from the organisers, managing to sandwich four decent races in between a typically under supported members' race and a dud of an older horses maiden at the end of the day. A fine schedule for those inclined to arrive late and leave early, but with the main approach track from the east boasting a tight left handed turn with a long, two foot trench masquerading as a wheel rut, there was always a risk that anyone sneaking away would be caught sharply in the act. And whilst I have not been to Larkhill often, even in the inevitable brisk wind, it was uncannily mild weather-wise. In fact, the chalk horse on a distant hill was clear in view as was a team of multi-coloured aerobatic biplanes chugging along in the distance (the assumption has been made that it was not von Richtofen back to taunt us from beyond the grave). It might almost have been spring...

At one point there was a mercifully brief pronouncement from what was billed as "our MP." This did raise a couple of thoughts. One was to wonder if the Avon Vale's area did neatly move with the judgments of the boundary commission. The other was how many of the crowd, when at an elite venue like Larkhill, come from the Avon Vale area anyway?

Going: Good

race 1: The Ladies Of The Hunt Members
1: Scrappie 2: Tir Gra 3: Kilrogan
Winner owned & trained: Charles Whittaker, ridden: Dan Collins
Only three turned out for this (a race in which three separate trophies were up for grabs), and Scrappie was long odds-on to prevail. Early in the race he showed little interest in acting for the best interest of connections or people desperate to back a 1/3 winner, but Dan Collins was not taking that nonsense laying down, and the shortcomings of the two rivals enabled Scrappie to struggle clear for a hugely unimpressive win, well below his 2009 form. Tir Gra lasted the better of the other pair, but since Kilrogan came to the UK he has been best at around two and a half miles, with a nice break between races, neither of which are suited to the sport being forced to effectively cram a whole season into three months, thanks to the weather.

race 2: Wadworth 6X 4-7 year olds Open Maiden
1: Fort View 2: Allerford Jack 3: Outnumbered
Winner owned: Mr & Mrs Guy Henderson, trained: Polly Gundry, ridden: Robbie Henderson
Firstly it must be made clear that anything associated with Wadworth 6X is inherently good. Secondly, this had the makings of a fair maiden even without the 6X connection. Thirdly, the result was a bit bemusing as it was won by a horse that had looked a dubious stayer showing more stamina than some who had shown promise in far more testing conditions. In fact, the first two had gone clear before the second last, with Allerford Jack generally jumping a bit more reliably than his earlier form suggests is normal, but unable to get the better of Fort View, who battled on heartily. After being runner-up on debut, Outnumbered was popular in the betting, only for his number to be called as early as four out. Whilst he did end up a clear third, the first pair were not threatened in the latter stages. Back in fifth Le Comte tied up badly in the last half mile, having shown enough early on to suggest that there is something within to work on. Had he not pulled up before the last, River Conquest may have nicked that fifth place, and the limited glory that it brings with it.

race 3: Gaiger Brothers Ltd Mixed Open
1: Thisthatandtother 2: Portland Bill 3: The Big Breakfast
Winner owned & ridden: Jack Barber, trained: Richard Barber
This looked a good chance for the aging star to come unstuck against younger, up and coming opposition. Nobody told Thisthatandtother of that possibility, so instead he battered them into submission and won by twenty lengths or more. A bit like an OAP with a crowbar up against a hoodie whose gun is in fact carved from rhubarb. Credit to Portland Bill for being second as his recent form under Rules was terrible, and a change of scene certainly appears to have done him some good. The Big Breakfast was hopelessly tailed off four from home, but came home powerfully to nick third near the post, no danger to Portland Bill. The next two home were Presenting Jack and Thoor Ballylee, who seemed in advance to be ones that could threaten Thisthatandtother, but found the task well beyond them, and in the former case it shot down the theory that he would come on for the run when he was roundly stuffed by the winner in February.

race 4: Witneygrain Ltd Restricted
1: Master Flight 2: Mr Hudson 3: Vintage Class
Winner owned: TF Racing Partnership, trained: Camilla Scott, ridden: Darren Edwards
Being used to the south-east area, where a restricted might contain one promising maiden winner and a handful of horses that could result in you being sectioned should you invest money on any of them, this was very confusing, as in a ten runner race, there were six worthy of consideration for stepping up a bit from this level. Master Flight was definitely one of them and having been prominent all the way, he was one of a trio to kick clear at the third last. A superior jump over the final fence gained him advantages in distance and momentum, and although he hung left on the run-in, the margin gradually got wider. Mr Hudson had beaten Vintage Class here earlier in the season, on his racing debut, and the subsequent win of his victim only served to promote the quality of the performance. The fact that they ran against each other with the same outcome is a big thumbs up for Master Flight, who seems to be coming good in dramatic fashion. Mr Hudson's stablemate Bless My Soul (four seconds and a win before today) stood out in the paddock but he jumped left from the off and his technique got more sloppy as tiredness set in.

race 5: Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate
1: Civil Disobedience 2: Different Trades 3: Cappoquin
Winner owned: Mr R Mitford-Slade & Mrs L Fielding-Johnson, trained: Patrick Bryant, ridden: James Tudor
The bookmakers saw the third Barber-trained hotpot of the day turned over in this, although with a career record of two out of two before the race, Civil Disobedience was hardly off of the radar and may well have ended up narrowly heading the betting. Yet again the serious contenders shook off the rest four out, with High Toby leading at that stage, but he was first to crack and the remaining trio of glory seekers disposed of his services as well. A superior jump at the last gave Civil Disobedience an edge, made greater when a peck there knocked a little of the stuffing out of Cappoquin. This enabled Different Trades to split them (he beat Master Flight last time out - today's form did not take much research to unravel!), but the winner was pretty impressive in the way he kept on to the line. Kings Bitter would probably not have got into the grand final punch up but a bad error, which his rider did well to survive, at the fifth last helped exaggerate the degree of inferiority. There will be easier races than this for him.

race 6: Alec Jarrett Ltd 8 year olds and up Open Maiden
1: Irish Toast 2: Minireturn 3: Ataraxia
Winner owned: PS Awdry, trained: John Dufosee, ridden: Robbie Henderson
Despite the fairly favourable results earlier, the bookies did not price this minefield up until the horses were leaving the paddock and then spent most of the time rubbing out the risible prices for something slightly less absurd until a vague interest was shown. The favourite was Ataraxia, still a maiden after thirteen races, which set the scene for the race. Based on the shouts of encouragement, there was some betting interest in Irish Toast (sixth to Master Flight earlier) and Minireturn (making her seasonal debut but looking ready in the paddock). Approaching the final turn, Minireturn was looking the likely winner, but Irish Toast made his match fitness tell and plugged his way home the stronger. Ataraxia, who had got detached as early as the sixth, having been ridden along even earlier, inherited third by simply not pulling up in a three finisher race. When early leader Taipan Lad unseated at the eleventh he earned the distinction of being the only horse to come a cropper all day.

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