After missing last month's Ratcheugh Racing Club card, Catherine Walton made the perfect start in her defence of the Northern Area Ladies Championship with a short-priced treble on Dun Faw Good, Knocklong and Catchamat in the West Percy fixture at Alnwick on Sunday.
Dun Faw Good comfortably defied top weight of 12st 4lb in the Carrs Billington West Percy Members Race to provide Walton with her 100th career winner, comprising 64 between the flags and 36 under Rules. Leading most of the way in a slowly run affair, he quickened up after the last to beat Summoned by a couple of lengths. The 9 year old, owned by Alnwick Clerk of the Course, Tom Oates and trained by Walton's mother, Claire, ideally wants better ground and is likely to go hunter chasing later in the season.
After ending a three and a half year losing run at Alnwick in December, Knocklong wasted no time in following up in the Apartment Group Ladies Open Race. Another fluent jump at the last sealed a three lengths victory over the favourite, Nowurhurlin. The winner is owned and trained by Mark Johnston's farrier, Justin Landy, who said: "It's been a great benefit to have the Middleham gallops on the doorstep and so we've not been held up by the bad weather. He's a dream horse to train, is very tough and will probably return here on February 14." Landy added: "I must give credit to my uncle, Jimmy King, who spotted Knocklong in the Doncaster Sales entries last September and I managed to buy him privately."
Catherine's red letter day was completed on Catchamat in the JH Greenwood & Company Restricted Race. Jimmy Walton's home-bred mare travelled supremely well before taking a clear lead two out and going on to win by 10 lengths from Mickey Miller. "She's still very green but much improved from last season and there's more to come," said Catherine, who for the record opened her account on Be A Better Boy at Mosshouses on 7 May 2006.
The experienced Wicklow Lad, previously successful in 8 of his 60 career starts under Rules, landed a dramatic 10 runner Hazelrigg Racing NPPA Club Members Race under Kit Alexander but had luck on his side as stable companion, Royal Chatelier was about eight lengths clear when unseating two out. After being left in front, Wicklow Lad almost pulled himself up on the run-in but just had enough in reserve to repel a late challenge from Barachois Silver by half a length. Alexander said: "He's been keener than ever at home so we tried him in a first-time hood but the visor will be back on next time. He settled well and probably needed the run and definitely wouldn't have caught Royal Chatelier."
In a slowly run two and a half mile Ancroft Tractors Open Maiden Race, 5 year old debutant Nobuttaboy only had to be shaken up after the last by John Dawson to beat his solitary rival, Ballybough Best by two and a half lengths. Bought as an unbroken 3 year old at Tattersalls Ireland in August 2014, the winner is trained by Malton-based Guy Brewer and owned by his father, Colin. "Jumping is his strength and this was an ideal introduction," said Guy.
Spare a thought for Dawson, who was kicked by his mount in the winners enclosure and sustained a badly bruised right leg , as well as his wife, Alice, who spent Saturday night in hospital after a hunting fall left her with cracked vertebrae in her back.
Unusually, the Northern Structures Men's Open was the slowest race of the day. Gwladys Street set a modest pace and was still one length up five out. In a tactical affair, the favourite, Crazy Diamond led after the next from Kilmacallogue Bay. There was little to choose between them over the last two fences but they were both swallowed up on the run-in by the Gemma Anderson-trained gelding, Robin Will, who quickened away under the in-form Richard Smith to score by one and a half lengths.
Previouly trained in Devon, the imposing 11 year old, who stands over 17hh, now carries the colours of the Carlisle-based Six Thix Partnership, headed by John Reay, after being bought privately in September. This was a 4th winner of the season for Smith, who said: "He's a hold up horse and has to be delivered as late as possible. A gap appeared at the right time after jumping the last and he picked up well."
The concluding Sintons LLP Open Maiden Race saw Tom Hamilton open his 2016 account on the odds-on favourite, Danehills Well. After being held up on a tight rein, he moved smoothly through to tale a narrow advantage five out and was never headed from that point. Here's To Harry, who made a pleasing comeback from a near 23 month absence, went in pursuit from three out but never looked like overhauling the leader, who stayed on well to secure a 5 lengths verdict. Hawick-based owner/trainer, Gavin Hamilton said of the 8 year old: "He's settling much better in his races than he did but it's been hard to work out his ideal trip. He's a great jumper and probably wants better ground."
After 2 of the 4 Alnwick meetings, Catchamat and Knocklong are joint leaders in the Ratcheugh Races Champion Horse Award, sponsored by J R Adams Transport, which carries a £500 first prize.
Underfoot conditions were as testing as they have ever been at Alnwick but Tom Oates, Jimmy Walton and their team of helpers deserve plenty of praise in getting the meeting on after the atrocious weather in North Northumberland since the December fixture. Taking out the 10 double entries, the seven race card had a very respectable total of 35 runners (70% of the 50 individual horses entered).