We have just past the vernal equinox and, if you were an
alien looking down at East Anglian point to point meetings this year, you
would have thought three quarters of the human population had just come
out of hibernation. The car park was full long before racing. Ford
Fiesta’s and 4 x 4’s alike sprouted picnic tables around which people
sat in canvas backed chairs eating salad and chicken and ringing townie
friends on mobile phones to talk of life beyond the McDonald’s
roundabout. Casual jackets and trainers replaced country tweed coats and
green wellies as the prevailing fashion. The purists of the sport were
swamped by the fair weather brigade. History tells us that this will be
the pattern now until the season ends. With the firmer ground the quality
of racing will diminish, but that does not matter. Fun, fresh air and
frivolity will replace the dour sincerity of those who were just there for
the sport. Spring is now, winter is history, and summer is the promise of
a better future around the corner. It is a good time to be alive, a time
for change, for the young and the rejuvenated.
Not many of the sport’s new “sunshine” friends would
know the difference between a Hunt Race and a Confined, nor would they
care. It is a subtlety that only the regulars would understand. In general
the all season loyalists tend to sneer at the Hunt races on the grounds
that they attract small fields and are contested by jockeys with bags of
enthusiasm, but limited experience or ability, riding horses who’s
better days are either behind them or who will never come. To the rank and
file Hunt member, however, they are the highlight of the year. This is the
one chance they, and their one horse, have of realistically winning an
event. It is not open to the semi-professional yards from other areas; it
is contained to their hunt. They have the arena in which they can race
against the people they gallop alongside in the hunting field. For some it
is the pride that is important; they need to show that they either are, or
own, the best in the vicinity. For others it is the opportunity it can
give them; either to taste victory or to expose their riding skills to
those in a position to offer more mounts.
Lucinda Barrett Nobbs fits very much in to the latter
category. She works as a groom to the Waveney Harriers Hunt Master, John
Ibbott, who has helped her entry into the sport. Last year she rode a
schoolmaster, Mr Foodbroker, around most of the East Anglian tracks
without ever troubling the judges. This year the yard have put up Dancing
Ranger, a purchase from the West Country pointing fields, for her to
compete on. Injury kept him off the track for most of last season. Today
was his seasonal debut. He would come on for the run but, although now a
twelve year old, the formbook suggested that he could still play a part in
the finish. The bookies and punters agreed. He opened at 3/1 and was
backed down to 2/1 second favourite in the five runner field. Treasure
Dome, owned and trained by the Hon Secretary and former trainer under
rules, John Whyte, was the 4/6 favourite. He was to be partnered by Alan
Coe who was by far the most experienced of the jockeys and the only one in
the field not affiliated to the Waveney. Harry Tartar from the Parker
family, and ridden by son Dominic, was the third favourite at 5/1. Annie
Bowles, unable to ride her Society Lad due to the unsuitable going,
partnered Musical Hit (the second of the three Ibbot runners) who was
generally available at 7/1. Jack Bevan, one of the hunt whipper-ins,
completed the field riding his own horse; the 33/1 shot Bright Torino, a
cast off from the Bloom yard. Although he had no real chance of winning,
Jack was positive that the horse (who had given him “one of the best
experiences in life in jumping downhill fences at Ampton and Horseheath”)
would translate the improvement shown on the gallops onto the racecourse.
It was the experience, and the “showing improvement”, that was
important to him.
Dancing Ranger led for the first couple of fences. He jumped
big and easy, without losing ground. Treasure Dome joined him at the third
with Musical Hit and Harry Tartar tucked in behind. Bright Torino was
slowly away and trailed by ten lengths. They raced at a comfortable pace
in that order for the first circuit, the lead alternating easily between
the first two in the betting, and Bright Torino closing to condense the
gap between first and last to six lengths. At the tenth Harry Tartar
unseated Dominic Parker. At the fifteenth Alan Coe kicked for home on
Treasure Dome. The move caught Lucinda unawares and coincided with her
mount “going lame for a stride or two”. A five length gap was quickly
established. It looked as if Dancing Ranger would be hard pressed to hang
on for second as Musical Hit closed, and appeared to be going easily in
third. Bright Torino could not respond any more and Jack allowed her to
come home in her own time.
At the seventeenth Dancing Ranger seemed to gain a new lease
of life. He not only had repelled the now tiring Musical Hit, he actually
began to close again on the odds on favourite. As they approached the last
he had drawn level. For probably the first time, Lucinda, and most of the
crowd, actually believed that she would win. She jumped the better and
landed marginally in front. All she had to do was get to the post without
being overtaken. Not surprisingly Alan Coe did not make it easy for her.
He was fitter, stronger, and, having been in that position many times
before, certainly more experienced. On top of this one sensed that,
between the last two fences, he had tried not to use all the petrol in
case a driving finish was called for. He blazed for the line, whip
flashing and riding for all he was worth, demanding his charge give the
required response. Lucinda made him fight. She kept Dancing Ranger up to
his work without showing him the whip. It was close. The official verdict
was a head. It was not a fairytale ending. David had not slain Goliath.
Experience had prevailed, and Treasure Dome, second in the race last year,
was led into the winner’s enclosure.
An exhausted Lucinda Barrett Nobbs, barely able to carry the two
and a half stone of lead in her saddle to the weighing room, beamed with
exhilaration. Only later would the “if only” scenarios play out in her
mind. She must console herself with the fact that she is very much in the
springtime of life. There will be many summers ahead.
The second race of the day, the Confined, was contested by
horses in the autumn of their careers. The youngest of them, Pampered
Gale, was ridden for the first time this season by James Owen and clearly
benefited from the stronger handling. He gives the impression that he has
been allowed to “get away” with not giving his all this year, and was
clearly expecting to be allowed to drop off when the pace quickened on the
second circuit. James Owen however niggled at him and kept him going, only
easing off when the first two had flown.
When Pampered Gale lost touch five fences out, Pangeran (the
odds on favourite) and Wise Advise had the race between them. It was the
former who made the first move, which the latter covered before lack of
stamina told two fences from home. From that point the Neil King horse
came away as he liked to record the trainer’s first victory of the
season in the saddle.
After the race I reflected on Pampered Gale’s performance.
He was a favourite of mine last year, yet seems to have lost it completely
this term. Today’s performance was probably his best of the year and
James Owen’s determination not to let him just give up when it got
uncomfortable may prompt a resurgence. It may, however, just reinforce the
horse’s obvious belief that racing is not fun.
It is at this point I see the flip side to the situation
regarding the Turner’s and their former jockey, Andrew Sansome. I had
previously hinted that the decline in the Turner fortunes might somehow be
linked to the fact that Mr Sansome no longer rides for them. Yet, whilst
Andrew’s hard and uncompromising style may have conjured up victories,
they may have had a cost. Pampered Gale and Bruan (who was to contest the
Intermediate later in the afternoon) are obvious exhibits in support of
this theory. Both have unquestionable ability, and both won more than once
for Sansome last year. They both, however, ended last season with a sharp
reversal in form and a definite reluctance to respond when asked to exert,
a trait they have carried into the current campaign. At the time no-one
could have criticised Andrew Sansome’s jockeyship (as those who saw
Bruan get up in the final strides to beat Holy Moses at Horseheath will
testify) but could it be, with the wonderful benefit of hindsight, that
the long term fortunes of the stable would benefit from a gentler
approach? Maybe the
Turner’s have reached this conclusion?
On the other hand I could just be reading too much into the
situation. The horse may simply be “wrong”, in that he has an
In racing there are so many more questions than there are
The Men’s Open was a much simpler affair, or so the betting
would have suggested. Jackie Jarvis who had annihilated a Hunter Chase
field on firm going at Fakenham a couple of week’s earlier, was sent off
at 1/3 in the six strong field where the only real question was who would
finish second; Gatchou Mans, who had responded to the more experienced
handling of Christian Ward Thomas to win a Hunt race at Ampton a week
earlier, or Royal Action, who’s only victory of the campaign had been in
a Hunt race at Marks Tey?
All went according to the script. As they rounded the turn
for home Jackie Jarvis seemed to be travelling easily in front, six
lengths clear of Gatchou Mans who had jumped patchily but was beginning to
stay on. Royal Action had clearly lost the battle for second and was out
of contention a further ten lengths back in third. The finish appeared to
be a formality.
Christian Ward Thomas clearly brings out the best in Ruth
Hayter’s grey and the pair had obviously not read the script properly.
They closed the gap. At the last Phillip York and the favourite still had
a two length lead. It was not enough. Gatchou Mans stayed on strongly to
take them on the run in and come away to win a shade cosily. This was clearly an improved performance and the runner up,
obviously useful, did nothing wrong. He should be backed until beaten.
The Ladies Open presented odds on favourite backers with an
opportunity to recoup losses. Mai Point never gave those who took it a
moment’s worry. Rachael Barrow afforded Paula Twinn’s ten year old a
perfect ride; settling him to stalk the leaders before asking him to take
it up two fences from home. He responded efficiently and without undue
exertion. This is progressive form, following the pattern of last year
where he clearly needed the opening runs of the campaign. Now that he has
hit form he is another that should be followed until beaten. O’
Fiaich’s Hope ran another solid race in second, with The Wiley Kalmuck
The Open Maiden, the fifth race on the card, has to be a
contender for the worst Maiden of the season. The only one of the thirteen
strong field with any recent form at all (other than pulled up, refused,
or fallen) was the 6/4 favourite, Sounds Promising, who was just collared
by Nelsun at Cottenham a fortnight earlier, with the third a long way
Sounds Promising again set off as if he had a train to catch.
He was fifteen lengths up after three fences. Matt Mackley got a breather
into him on the second circuit when Barbed Broach and Bede both managed to
get within four lengths. He kicked on again four out however, and was the
easiest winner of the day. His winning margin was helped by Bede running
out at the fourth last and, and by Barbed Broach pulling up a fence later
with something clearly amiss.
Dominic Parker had pronounced himself unfit to ride Henry
Tartar following brother Harry Tartar’s early exit in the Hunt Race.
Lucinda Barrett Nobbs was the jockey to benefit and, armed with the
confidence of her earlier efforts, rode a mature race to bring the Parker
horse home in second place. Although never in with a chance of victory, he
made smooth progress through the field on the second circuit and had both
Bede and Barbed Broach comfortably in his sights before their premature
exits. He is still only an eight year old and, despite the dire nature of
the opposition encountered here, may have done enough to suggest that he
has a race in him.
The final race of the day, the Intermediate, saw Phillip
York’s Star Glow attempt to gain his sixth victory of the season. At 1/3
he was a short priced favourite to dispose of his five opponents. They
were headed by Run Monty (previously a Maiden winner at Marks Tey) who was
priced at 5/2. The Turner’s Bruan was 20/1, with 33/1 available about
each of the other three, New Ross, Nousayri, and Pharangel.
Star Glow’s task was made easier by the first fence fall of
Run Monty, and as they began the second circuit, he was travelling so well
that the result looked a formality. It was not Phillip York’s day,
however, and Star Glow fell at the same fence his main rival had a circuit
earlier. The fence faced the sun and, whilst it was not low enough to be
directly responsible, perhaps both horses (or jockeys) had been
temporarily blinded in their periphery vision?
This left the reluctant Bruan in a clear lead. James Owen
gave him a lovely ride (as he had done earlier on Pampered Gale), gently
urging him to give the little bit more that he did not want to yield
voluntarily. He kept him in front until just before the last, where lack
of fitness told and he tired badly. New Ross, under Alexander Merriam,
kept on at the one pace to deprive him of victory. Pharangel went badly
lame on the run in allowing Nousayri to claim a remote third.
As the bumper crowds fought for the exits, I stayed behind
and watched the last race runners make their way to the paddock. James
Owen’s body language spoke volumes. He was hunched and dejected, clearly
a young man who feels he can do little right. He should, however, take
heart from the fact that lasting success is not built instantly and the
firm patience he extends to his mounts (particularly the “problem”
ones) will undoubtedly pay dividends in the long term. Like Lucinda
Barrett Nobbs, he is somebody with fair number of summers ahead of them.