by Simon McInnes

By means of backing up the Kent National (four mile mixed open) with a Men's Confined and a Ladies' Confined, the effect was to stage a card that had, by the south-east standards, three races of open quality scheduled, although the Ladies race held up in numbers rather than strength, and the Men's race vice versa. The advance weather co-operated in full, leaving the course good, with easier patches, and totally unfrozen or snowbound. However, the weather on the day was less kind. A strong wind, with ever increasing rain, kept the crowd down to start with and saw many depart early. Even the bookmakers gave up the uneven struggle - although as their boards were facing the wind and rain, actually displaying any prices was an achievement in itself - and by the last only three hardy layers survived. The number board operators showed solidarity with their board brethren by declining to show anything other than the numbers of the runners after the second, and relying on the announcements for changes and additions. For a brief moment after the third, the microphone went into Norman Collier mode, but the potential farce was cured in a sadly short time. And after all this discomfort, the surviving spectators were given a small tribute for their endurance by the commentator during the seventh race, which made us feel appreciated, if no less foolish.

Kevin Ferrett Memorial Hunt Race
Not the one-sided cakewalk that the members races in the area can often
degenerate into, but winner Phar Afield did succeed cosily enough. Jody Sole waited until the second last to deliver the challenge to long time leader Lord Of The Flies, and did not have to exert much to get the verdict. This was assisted by the fact that Lord Of The Flies had not run in aeons, and was only an average handicap chaser when he did. Fatigue was a definite factor as he lost second on the run-in to Ocki, despite that rival being half a length down when blundering and almost unseating at the last. Perhaps after this, connections will pitch Ocki in at a more realistic level than hunter chases? Winward dropped out of contention from six out but held fourth from Amanda's Fancy, who, for the second straight year, was tailed off by the second and ridden with no intention other than completion. She jumped better at the task this year, and it was job done.

Cluttons Mens Confined
Just four lined up from a good entry, but it was a race of solid quality.
The betting saw three runners competing for favouritism, and the nimble and alert may have got in a situation where they had backed Pendle Hill, Real Value and Tricky Trevor with a guaranteed small profit - assuming Oxendale would not win. For steady, unrelenting ploddery, Oxendale is one of my favourite horses, but even allowing for personal bias, the three rivals posed him a big challenge. Which he rose to, despite being fourth. He stayed in touch a long way, and was probably no more than twelve lengths behind the winner at the end. Despite being ridden along four out, as was Real Value, Tricky Trevor made his contribution to Philip York's championship challenge, with Pendle Hill getting the better of the declining Real Value for the minor spot. Pendle Hill, who has already won an Open this season, stuck his nose in front two out, but Tricky Trevor seems a different character since being Yorked, and more success must be on the cards.

Gerald Lukehurst Ladies' Confined
An unusual event, in that the prize for the winning jockey was a candelabra,
which is the Peggy Burden Perpetual Memorial Trophy. It can only be assumed that it was dished out by a confused executor, who found one will item left to execute, one possession left to dispense, and decided to ignore the lack of correlation between the instruction and the object. On reflection, I am considering leaving my Old Mid-Whitgiftian RFC B XV Player Of The Year Tankard (1994) as a perpetual challenge trophy for the open maiden at Catsfield, if only to bemuse the winners. As for the actual race, it was the most one sided affair all day. After his good third at Charing last week, Sarah Ashby rode a more aggressive race on Dick McCarthy, leaving most of the field toiling in his wake. Uncharacteristically (at least compared to the last couple of seasons), Dick McCarthy enjoyed every minute and only a slow jump at the last, when fifteen lengths or more ahead, spoilt it. The only one to take him on for the lead was Jack Of Kilcash, who needs faster ground, and faded from the thirteenth. Teach Altra stayed on from miles back to nab second from Stylish Dave. A flat winner in New Zealand, Stylish Dave had been an encouraging fourth on his pointing debut, but this run suggested that he may need quicker going to see out the trip.

Shepherd Neame Kent Grand National, 4 Mile Mixed Open
The feature event of the area, and Jenny Gordon won it, retaining the
Slottie Dawes Perpetual Memorial Trophy for the successful pilot. And it was hard work too, as the persistant attention of Dixon Varner (last year's runner-up) was only beaten off halfway up the run-in. The winning horse , Robbie's Adventure, had not shown much under Rules since winning three years ago, and fared little better in points. The only possible reasons for the dramatic improvement would be the effect of the jockey and the benefits of the marathon trip. Tell The Nipper was third, just holding the rally of Brackenheath. These four had pretty much dominated the race, and despite the early pace looking strong for the trip and conditions, nothing else got in a blow. Nubro was never travelling well and at the back until pulled up and veteran Prime Course unseated at the eleventh. Favourite was Nomadic Star, and he also was loitering around in the rear, but when asked to make progress, did so only slowly, until he unseated Zoe Lilly by thumping the fifth last at a stage where his prospects of success looked slim.

If anyone thinks that horses have never been cloned, a mere glance at
Asthefellowsaid and Kilvoydan standing next to each other in the paddock would immediately arouse suspicion. However, once the race starts it would be laid to rest. Asthefellowsaid is a young, unexposed horse of some potential. Kilvoydan, on the other hand, is a known dodgepot. Today, Asthefellowsaid won in handsome style and Kilvoydan failed to get beyond the first fence. The winner sat at the back, and did not appear too comfortable in the fierce crosswind, especially in the jumping department - safe, but not 100% sure. However, when Andrew Hickman asked him to attack in the back straight, there was plenty of fuel in the tank, and in the end, the spoils were comfortably landed. Mares maiden winner Kayleigh* was second best on the day, but she was not too far ahead of Red Square Prince, whose success had been in a two runner race, and the expense of the generally unexalted talent that is Glenmont. Since then he had pulled up every run, so he does not act as a great endorsement for the form. Overheard comment of the day came when Tonrin unseated Jody Sole. The horse walked through the fifth and the hapless pilot was cartwheeled over the horses head, depositing the accidental acrobat on his bonce. A droll voice behind observed that, 'he's done a Sean Fox.'
* It is horrendous how many people named their children after that infernal Marillion song, but inflicting it on a horse is beyond the pale. I did suggest once a friend called his son Market Square Heroes, but this advice was inexplicably overlooked.

McCabe Ford Williams Open Maiden
Under the circumstances, the maidens seemed likely to become trials of
survival rather than raw skill, but there were more finishers than might be expected, especially in the Confined Maiden. Although second last week, Royal Cruise had been only tackling two and a half miles, and he did not run on strongly at the death, and definitely a false favourite today. The stamina doubts proved to be valid, as he faded in the last quarter mile from what had been a good lead, and was only third. The winner was a five year old debutant, Balau, who looked absolutely fantastically fit and well in the paddock, but drifted in the betting. In the circumstances, he may have been worth a betting risk, as the limitations of his rivals were fairly transparent, but when conditions are bad, I always wonder whether the best interest of youngsters in their first race is to have a bit of an educational. Gut feeling is that Balau could be a fair pointer in the making. Gale On The Lake made it two non-completions in eight days, but again did well enough whilst in the race to think he has the engine to win a maiden if he can get round. Another paddock pick was See Red Billdan. He has never finished a race but he led, jumping well, until running out through the wing of the sixteenth. Like Gale On The Lake, there seems to be some raw material to work on, but plenty of elbow grease is going to be needed. I actually did him each-way on the Tote, as just before the off he was showing 32-1 for the win (about 10s on the remaining boards) and no place money on him at all. Dreams of scooping the pool were confounded again.

The Castle at Oare Confined Maiden
Having achieved 100% clothing saturation by this stage, the race did not
have my undivided attention, as I was unpeeling the racecard from my pocket. The winner was Street Smart, who defied one or two moments of uncertain jumping to continue the progressive form since the start of the season - U621 is now the record. Second was Rumour Has It, who showed that he had learnt a bit about getting over the fences since blundering round on his debut, just holding the late run of No Reward. The third has a fairly inconsistent record, but he ran an odd race here. In the back straight, he was under pressure and making no progress on the leaders. Having disappeared off of the radar, he made up a lot of late ground and did look less exhausted than the other finishers as he came home. Certainly No Reward was given too much to do, but he may not be fully co-operative with the pilot either. After pulling hard at Charing last week, Master Chief was allowed to bowl along in front. He loved it, and jumped soundly for two and a half miles, but tired very quickly when hitting the wall. He is not yet a lost cause.

The last four points I have been too have now seen a battering by gale force winds, with hail and icy rain; frozen to the bone; strong winds and rain; stronger winds and heavier rain. It's getting harder persuading potential attendees that this is all part of the fun of it!