by Simon McInnes

Plenty of runners, and the traditional local voodoo methodology of breaking a dry spell (i.e. put on a meeting at Charing) worked again. Rain is fair enough, but a hailstorm was a bit of an unsporting contribution by Baron Samedi and his mates. The races tended to fall to the top jocks, with doubles for Chris Gordon and Philip York, plus the
Ladies Open falling to Emily Jones really made winning today a cakewalk. Or so any sane person would think... The trouble is that, unlike a couple of years ago, the price of any horse that Messrs Gordon and York climb aboard is invariably quite short, unless the beast in question is utterly talentless.

Gillian Jarvis Memorial Open Maiden
A two and half miler for young horses, and a minor mystery was unveiled. On Wednesday at Folkestone, the owner/trainer/rider combo of Simon Tindall/Jenny Gordon/Chris Gordon had unleashed a racecourse deubtant in
the novice hunter chase over 2m 5f. He showed little and it seemed an odd launchpad. But today showed that it was probably a default selection, as the same trio took this race with Toujours, returning from a year on the sidelines since being placed in Ireland. His jumping at the first three was less than impressive, but it did pick up as time
went by. Runner up was Royal Cruise, who failed to finish in two Irish runs, but at least took a step in the right direction. Any sense of great progress by either of the first pair is tempered by the proximity of regular non-completers Siobhans Quinner and Naughty Noah and the ominously belated stage at which their attentions were still threatening.

South East Bookmakers Restricted Race
There were no upsets in this event as the market and known form was pretty much replicated. With a tune up run under his belt, the lightly raced Rainbow Ranch, who looked outstandingly fit before hand, was given a positive ride, up in the first two most of the way, and burnt off the opposition. In contrast, The Grey Baron ended up second by conspicuously avoiding trying to keep pace with the leaders. At face value, it seemed he had been given too much to do, but the end result was that he probably got the best possible placing his talents could command. This was helped by nabbing second on the run-in from Arctic Penguin. That horse had won a short maiden and did not look like he got the trip today. Being only seven, he has more chance of growing into the task than there is of finding a penguin in the Arctic, although when my pet theory that the narwhal is a bird starts to get the credit it deserves... Irish import Lord Alpha set off like a non-trier but gradually picked his way through the field into fourth without ever looking remotely dangerous. With the run under his belt and less negative tactics, he is not a lost cause in Restricteds. Having been placed in a hunter chase, Madmariea should have been at least able to be a contender but she made
it two unseateds in two runs this season. As a guide to the merits of the race, Tonrin, who often shows his best at this level whilst consistently unable to get a win, was easily dismissed in the last mile. Battle Honours took part in this, just after his full sister Queens Schilling had contested the opener. In an unusually detailed moment of
synchronicity they both found the open ditch a complete bamboozlement, surving mistakes only to be soon struggling and pull up. When one of them wins...

Land Rover Men's Open
The outcome was a minor upset according to the betting, but on known form was not quite so unpredictable. The winner was Satchmo, once a top class handicap chaser. The headliners in the oppo were the legendary Struggles Glory and unbeaten Sheriff's Friend. At thirteen, Struggles was showing a few signs of age and began to labour at the fifteenth, although still well clear of the makeweights. Coming down the hill, Satchmo was still cruising and odds-on Sheriff's Friend was being ridden along, when the latter came to grief four out. On the one hand, Satchmo
was clearly travelling better and was the more likely winner, but Sheriff's Friend has found plenty under pressure in the past and could not have been written off. Additionally, Satchmo was formerly best at trips under three miles, which gives another reason to suspect that Philip Hall may not, at heart, been as confident as he looked when left
in total control.

Hobbs Parker Ladies Open
The race of the day, as the first three whizzed (relatively speaking) past the post in an almost straight line. In and out of the lead all the way, Belvento completed a bounce back to form, with Emily Jones at her most forceful to hold on from Kincora and Dick McCarthy. Approaching the last, Belvento looked certain to hold on, but he was totally drained in the last few yards and gave his supporters a real scare. Given a more aggresive ride than usual, Kincora did nothing wrong in defeat and proved again that his lack of acceleration means that for him to have any chance, the oppo need any turn of foot to be run out of them. Under Rules Dick McCarthy was best at around 2m 6f and recently gave every indication of lacking motivation. Thus it was a minor surprise to see him slowly overhauling the first pair in the final furlong or two. It did seem that Sarah Ashby was trying to kid him along and it may not pay to expect him to crop up in the winner's spot imminently. Regular Ladies Open winner Storm Castle had a bad day, settling a little off the pace and never able to haul himself into contention. This level of competition has been within his ability previously, even as recently as his last race.

Princess Grace Hospital (London) South East Hunts Club Members Conditions Race
A fourteen runner field went to post and they scattered quite quickly. For just about the only time all day, the win went to a horse that had not been to the fore most of the way round. The horse concerned was Tell The Nipper whose placed form last season was not in the greatest of races, but he had at least shown a retention of his finite zip on his
earlier runs this season. Despite having been beaten by a teenager, Indian Wings pointing debut was encouraging in second. He did not appear last season in any sphere and when running under Rules was mostly seen at two miles - admittedly shaping as if needing further. He was left in front four out when clear leader Cedar Chief fell. To the naked eye, Indian Wings appeared to be caught out by rustiness as Tell The Nipper dashed past him, but a stiff track might test his stamina too much, and non-staying here cannot be ruled out. In third, Mister Pepper took a step back to recovering his form of 2003, after pulling up twice this term. The opposite was true of Dancing Fosenby, who was left bang in contention by the fall of the leader, but could not sustain the effort. But would Cedar Chief have won? Stamina does not appear his strong suit (neither does winning, even though he does every now and then), but he did have a commanding lead. Opinions were divided, so let's ignore those who thought that he had it in the bag!

Grants Cherry Brandy South East Hunts Club Maiden (Div I)
The race name implies a confined maiden, but the conditions definitely were those of an open maiden, and the fact that the winner came all the way from Cheshire confirms the latter. A ten hour round trip for eighty quid seems excessive, but as Katie Caldwell was training her first winner, no doubt the net loss on petrol money was incidental. The horse in question is The Sky Is Blue, who had shown signs of an engine under Rules, but lost his way a bit, and gone even further backwards as a pointer. The fact that he won so easily does not augur well for the enemy, but it initiated a maiden race double for Philip York. Second ought to have been a big old lump (or "classic Irish-bred chaser" when he is for sale) Master Chief, but he wasted too much energy pulling hard early and was passed on the run-in by Inis Eile. The fact that most of the others looked fit enough and still delivered zero is another source of discouragement.

Barfields Solictors South East Hunts Club Maiden (Div II)
A slightly stronger division and a much more scintillating finish. The winner, Diamond Stone, had not shown any signs of talent before this, but being only six perhaps he has grown into the job? Or was he simply a bit more off? Yet again, a doubtful stayer given a patient ride grabbed a place from horses that laid down a more direct challenge to the winner. Glen Amber was the spoilsport, getting his third consecutive spot in the frame, at the expense of two horses that had compiled the same record in Ireland. Tupelov and Nocash give the form a solid look and were not too far behind the winner. So, probably no superstars involved, but another maiden winner or two could easily emerge from the race.