It was a bright sunny crisp winter day at Larkhill on Saturday when the Royal Artillery held their point to point. With most National Hunt courses either abandoning their meetings due to waterlogging or having to report heavy going the free draining course at Larkhill comes into its own with ground reported as no worse than good to soft. This gave rise to some very competitive racing at the Wiltshire course with the highlights being a dominant performance by Monsieur Gibraltar on his seasonal reappearance, a dramatic conclusion to the Maiden race, a double for rider Zac Baker, an improved performance by Chase Me in the Conditions race and an impressive debut in the first ever Bumper run at Larkhill.
Monsieur Gibraltar continued his love affair with Larkhill when making his return to racing in the Mixed Open race run in the memory of the late Peter and Jane Bailey both strong supporters of the Royal Artillery Hunt. Having been the leading horse at the course for the previous two seasons he was sold during 2019 to David Maxwell and is currently unbeaten when ridden by his new owner. However as David was riding at Haydock the mount was left with Angus Cheleda who other than being hampered by the fall of Expedite at the tenth fence made the task look very simple with a fifteen lengths victory over Chasforgold. His trainer Rose Loxton indicated that Monsieur Gibraltar would now be campaigned in Hunter Chases for the rest of the season whereas his successful rider recording his fourth win of the season would be going hunting on Monday for his boss Paul Nicholls.
The outcome of the Hunt Members race sponsored by the Honourable Artillery Company was decided at the second last fence when the two surviving runners Fleur du Pommier ridden by Alex Edwards and Adrenalin Flight ridden by Charlie Pike approached it in virtual unison. Whereas Fleur du Pommier jumped it well Adrenalin Flight crashed out leaving the mare to finish alone. Owned by Stan Rawlins and trainer Harriet Waight she was supplementing her course win at the last meeting and is building a good partnership with the former champion jockey. Stan joked that the colours that Alex was wearing were first worn at Nedge in about 1984 and had done sterling service!
The Maiden race sponsored by Lambourn Salt Therapy and New Barn Farm Stables proved to be a fortunate winner for the favourite Byzantium Lad ridden by Zac Baker for trainer Fred Hutsby. He was a well held second when Famous Clermont ridden by Martin McIntyre and trained by Christopher Barber jumped the last but landed rather steeply and gave his rider little chance of staying in the saddle. This was a welcome winner for Fred and his wife Caroline who owns the six year old Yeats gelding who they acquired via Mark Gichero last summer. Described as still learning his job there should be further improvement to come. Fred and Caroline had made the comment to Zac before racing 'it was about time that you rode us a winner' so Zac was pleased to oblige.
The Novice Riders race sponsored by Ladies of the Hunt was won in good style by course specialist Storm Lantern ridden by his owner Jennifer Harbison. His jumping was excellent and he had too much in hand over his five rivals recording a ten lengths victory over Mahlers Star. Acquired privately from Robert Waley-Cohen two seasons ago this was his second Larkhill victory for Jennifer and his fourth overall at Larkhill. Recording her fifth career winner, Jennifer is a vet and runs the Equine Vet and Reproduction Limited based at Brackley in Northamptonshire.
The Conditions race sponsored by Cordings of Piccadilly proved to be a duel between the favourite Coco Live ridden by Matthew Fielding and Chase Me ridden by Zac Baker. Coco Live took up the running after the second last and looked the likely winner but Zac had other ideas. Having made most of the running with Merrion Square ridden by Martin McIntyre he switched his mount to the inside and took up the running again on the run in to record a two length victory. Trained by James Ridley the nine year old Mahler gelding is still improving and has connections considering a Hunter Chase option later in the year.
Tim Underwood looks to have un-earthed another useful mare in the shape of Miss Massey in the Restricted race sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Loriners who recorded a comfortable win under Philip York. A half-sister to the prolific Timmie Roe she broke her maiden status at Edgcote last April on her English debut and then was entered at the sales. Failing to meet her reserve she returned back to Tim's yard to continue her racing career and on this evidence more successes are likely.
The concluding Bumper (a 2 mile Flat race) was a first for Larkhill and twelve of the sixteen entries declared for this race. At the two furlong marker there were many in contention but turning into the home straight Grand Knight ridden by Peter Bryan quickly accelerated away from his rivals to record an impressive eight lengths victory. Owned by Helen Macphail and trained by her partner Gearoid Costelloe at Marlborough he was bought at the Tattersalls Derby Sales last June for 90K Euros. Gearoid explained that he had bought 10 horses as three year olds last year to run in point to points and bumper races this season. This Slickly gelding is the most forward of his purchases and as he was born on 24th January this is not totally surprising. Behind the winner were two home bred mares Madame Hannah ridden by Tommie O'Brien and Aunt Lily ridden by Martin McIntyre so there is still hope for breeders!