GEORGE Henderson, whose riding career was put on hold for five years due to horrendous injuries, made a fairytale return to the winner's enclosure on The Caller at the Savills Heythrop Hunt meeting at Cocklebarrow, near Aldsworth, in Gloucestershire on Sunday. The 26-year-old had ridden 21 point-to-point winners plus one hunter chase success before breaking his pelvis and back in an accident following his finals while at Reading University. Having finished second on Newsworthy on his comeback in a Taunton hunter chase three weeks ago for his trainer-father, James, who is based at Buscot Park, near Faringdon, he struck on his first mount between the flags since May 2014. Sent off the 12-1 outsider of four in the Knight Frank Heythrop Hunt Members', Subscribers' & Farmers' Race, The Caller stayed on for a four-length triumph over Gallery Exhibition to give Moreton-in-Marsh trainer Dougie Gittins his first winner. Henderson, who works in finance in London, commented: "It is brilliant. Dougie called me this morning and said he had done his shoulder and I was the lucky beneficiary. It was my second ride back after five years. It has taken time to get through various things with the BHA and to be fit and firing." Gittins explained that he bought The Caller, who runs in his mother Nicky White's colours, from Warren Greatrex, for whom he works as media manager. "I have dislocated my collar-bone," he said. "I've had two hunter chase winners as a rider on Dolatulo, including the four-miler at Cheltenham, but training is much more nerve-racking." Henderson's success also saw him win the outstanding performance award of a £500 voucher from Dubarry, the Irish country clothing brand.
Peter Mason, who trains at nearby Ablington, recorded a popular local success on Pithivier in a thrilling finish to the Smith & Williamson Lord Ashton of Hyde's Cup Men's Open over 3m 6½f. Mason sent the nine-year-old into the lead approaching the fourth-last in the first of the sport's four "classics", and his mount dug deep on the run-in to fend off How About It by a head. Mason, who owns the gelding with his wife, Niff, and Sally and Hamish Anderson, said: "We had him last year and it took a while to get used to him. We thought this was set up for him with it being left-handed and good ground. My dad, Alex, always wanted to win this and I don't think he ever did. We only live three or four miles from here, and it is great to do it with friends."
Lily Bradstock moved a step closer to fulfilling her dream of riding at the Cheltenham Festival with a clear-cut victory on Southfield Theatre in the Skinner's Ladies' Open over 3m 4f. The 11-year-old gelding, trained by Bradstock's mother, Sara, at Letcombe Bassett, near Wantage, needed to claim a second point-to-point win to qualify for the St James's Place Foxhunter on March 15 and despite a mistake at the last, Southfield Theatre galloped home eight lengths ahead of Tb Broke Her with last year's winner, Dabinett Moon, two lengths back in third. Lily, who must now obtain her Category B licence at Doncaster next week to line up at Cheltenham, is relishing the prospect of riding Angela Yeoman's charge at the Festival.
"That would be incredible," she said. "It is what everyone in racing dreams about. I think he would love it. He has already won there and been second in the RSA Chase."
Tim Underwood, who trains at Beedon, near Newbury, landed a double with Irish import Timmie Roe and stable stalwart Tempelpirate. Phil York never saw another rival after bouncing out Timmie Roe from flagfall in the Carter Jonas Restricted to saunter home a distance clear of Ka Maresco.
Underwood, who bought the eight-year-old through Martin Oliver from Eoghan O'Grady, said: "He could be quite smart. I thought he would win because of the way he has been working at home." Tempelpirate, beaten a head in the King's Head Inn, Bledington PPORA Club Members' Conditions Race for Novice Riders last year, had fortune on his side in a dramatic renewal this time. Tristan Durrell's mount looked booked for second when Susquehanna River and Harry Arkwright, who had been left clear after Pantxoa unseated at the third-last, ran out at the final fence. Tempelpirate took advantage to claim a 23rd career success with a length verdict over Net Work Rouge. Underwood said: "That is the reverse luck from last year when he got beaten. He didn't win on merit." Durrell, who works for Dan Skelton, added: "It was lucky for me. The other one just ducked out to the right."
Underwood's hopes of a treble were dashed when Streets Of London found Magna Sam three lengths too good in the the Red Savannah Four, Five and Six-Year-Olds Open Maiden over 2m 4f. Luca Morgan's mount stayed on dourly to give Glyn Slade-Jones, who trains at Lyonshall in Herefordshire, his first winner of the season. Magna Sam was bought for £48,000 at Goffs UK Spring Store Sale at Doncaster in May 2017, and owner Stephen Price said: "He is still maturing. He is a Black Sam Bellamy and he will not be at his best until he is seven or eight."
Owner-trainer Robert Waley-Cohen, from Edgehill, near Banbury, has enjoyed all sorts of success, but he had never won a race by a distance until Lucarno Express spreadeagled his rivals in the Wurzel High Speed Broadband Six-Year-olds And Over Open Maiden. The eight-year-old gelding powered clear under Robert's son, Sam, with a yawning gap back to Winola, who took second after Orchard Moon refused at the last, before jumping the fence at the second attempt to claim the minor honours. Robert said: "It is great to have a winner with a home-bred. He has had a lot of problems with his breathing. He has had an operation and Katie Mawle has done a fabulous job with him."
The meeting was preceded by two pony races, sponsored by Webblite, for riders who hadn't ridden a winner. Harry Atkins, from Bourton-on-the-Water, took the 138cm & Under Novice Riders' Race on Seabrook Rock Serenade and Elliot England, who lives at Naunton, near Cheltenham, swooped late aboard Buddys Girl to claim the 148cm & Under Novice Riders' Race.