The climate changed again at Chipley Park near Wellington when the short lived mid week ice age gave way to mild and cloudy weather in time for the Tiverton Foxhounds to race on Sunday.
The ever improving Ask The Weatherman, quite an aptly named horse in the circumstances, (actually his dam was called Whatagale), won his sixth consecutive race when upped to Open company in the very testing Chipley going.
This was the best Open race in the Devon & Cornwall area this season. Starting odds-on, the promising seven-year-old Ask The Weatherman was given a tough race by the useful grey Dicky Bob, also seeking his first success at this level after five successive wins last season.
The pair raced locked together on the stiff incline from the bottom bend until Ask The Weatherman began to pull away from his rival approaching the last fence. Ex-chaser Pentiffic finished a creditable third with In Great Form the only other finisher. Hunter chase winner Double Bank was pulled up, but will come on for this race, Dicky Bob lost little in defeat. "He has been eating too many Christmas puddings," smiled trainer Verity Nicholls, alluding that the race fit winner probably held the edge in fitness. "Dicky Bob will probably be seen next at Buckfastleigh next month." Said Verity.
Paul Barber, who owns the winner in partnership with David Martin, described the winner as, "really tough and keeps on going. I wouldn't rule out a bid for the Cheltenham Foxhunter." Last year's leading trainer Jack Barber, who saddled Ask The Weatherman from his Henley, Crewkerne base, showed obvious pride in his charge and commented, "he keeps on improving."
Will Biddick had the mount on Ask The Weatherman. The four times champion jockey came out second best however on another hot favourite from the Barber yard when a tiring Posh Totty was caught close home by the game Whenharrymetsally in the Mares race. The winner, trained by Keith Cumings, was the leading mare in the Devon and Cornwall area last season, and was completing a double for her 24-year-old jockey Matt Hampson, despite the rider losing an iron at the last jump. "She loves the soft," reported the rider who works for the Richard Woollacott yard.
Blinding Lights had initiated Hampson's double when just getting the better of Jepeck in the Hunt race. The winner's owner/trainer Mary Sanderson must have put lots of polish on this trophy since Blinding Lights was capturing it for the third time after her well remembered Jabiru had won it on five occasions.
Welsh jockey Bradley Gibbs was another double scorer. Stony Road drew clear of his rivals in the home straight to set up the rider's double in the Restricted. The winner is trained for owner Jeanne Thomas by Ian Prichard and could be aimed at a maiden hunter chase. "This is the first time I have ridden this horse and got the mount because Charlotte Prichard hurt her shoulder in the week," said the rider.
The consistent mare My Coranna completed the double for Bradley Gibbs when just outstaying Sea Bear in the Intermediate. Bought by owner Claire Sherriff at Ascot sales just over a year ago, this seven-year-old is trained at Ynysybwl, Mid Glamorgan by the jockey's father David Gibbs.
The Open Maiden might have been run in the slowest time of the day, but provided the closest finish with Pauls Conn, well ridden by Nick Lawton, just denying Will Biddick on Athreeothree by a head. The two tired horses were rolling into each other like weary boxers in the closing stages, but the subsequent enquiry into possible interference allowed the result to stand. Seven-year-old Pauls Conn is the first horse owned by Linda Bacon and is trained by Bethen Childs at Carhampton near Minehead. It was a nice touch that this race, sponsored by the Mount Pleasant Inn, Nomansland, was also a memorial race for my late press colleague Brian Armstrong.
There was more controversy following a thrilling finish to the Novice Riders' event. Premier Portrait came to the race with a hat trick of wins to his name this season, with Kirkleigh chasing him home on two occasions. This time 4-6 favourite Premier Portrait just held off his old rival, but Radley schoolboy Gus Levinson failed to weigh in. The race was awarded to the Robert Chanin trained Kirkleigh, owned by Sue Trump and partnered by her grandson Alistair Harvey.