The 2016/17 Northern Area season got off to a great start in Sunday's well supported Ratcheugh Racing Club fixture at Alnwick with 67 runners on the six race card, including 17 from Yorkshire and a further 12 raiders from yards as far away as Denbigh, Oakham and Towcester.
The Ratcheugh Farm course had missed most of the rain which swept across many parts of Northumberland a few days earlier and racing took place on ideal Good to Soft going, which drew plenty of praise from owners, trainers and jockeys.
Winning hurdler, Always Tipsy came up trumps on his first start for Cockburnspath handler, Alan Wight in the Ancroft Tractors NPPA Club Members Race. Previous course winner, Pyjama Game made most of the running under William Ramsay until joined three out by Always Tipsy. The latter found a bit extra in the last seventy five yards to score by a length in the hands of Nick Orpwood, with the promising Whats Left a further five lengths away in third.
Owned by John Cockburn, Patrick Home and Alan Wight, the gelding ran at Cheltenham on the corresponding day in 2015 off a mark of 122. After three seasons under Rules from Nick Alexander's Kinneston yard, this was his debut over fences and a 20th career start.
Weston Flame formed the first leg of a treble for Middleham farrier, Justin Landy in the two and a half mile Colin McBratney Racing 4, 5 and 6 year olds Open Maiden Race. Well ridden by Joe Wright, the 6 year old Westerner mare left her rivals toiling from four out and went on to beat Dynamic Island by five lengths with Bentons Lad a similar margin away in third.
Previously trained by Ben Case, the winner made her racecourse debut in a Listed Mares Bumper at Huntingdon in December 2014. She changed hands for £5500 at Doncaster Sales in May 2016 and now runs in the colours of The Heading for Home Partnership which comprises Justin Landy, Jimmy King, Pauline Southerington (King's sister), Camilla Southerington and Robin Woodward.
Wright said: "She had been working well at home with Ardea and Knocklong and so I was fairly confident that she would be in the mix."
Catherine Walton made a good start to her defence of the Youngs RPS Northern Area Ladies Championship by steering the Justin Landy-trained gelding, Knocklong to a fourth course victory in the Thornton Hickey Ladies Open Race. Always going well, the 8 year old had the prize in safe keeping from three out and coasted home with eight lengths to spare over Fever Pitch.
Making his first visit to Alnwick, Dale Peters made the 490 mile round trip from Sawtry near Peterborough worthwhile by partnering Chipmunk to victory in the Northumberland Leisure Open Maiden Race. Given a patient ride, the 6 year old Kayf Tara mare gradually reeled in the leaders on the final circuit before taking it up at the last and securing a two lengths verdict over the promising 4 year old Cherry Coward-trained gelding, Path To Freedom.
Peters said: "I knew she had plenty left in the tank coming up the hill after four out." Although Peters later fell at the first on Katnapping in the concluding Restricted contest, he has now ridden four winners from six rides this season. The mare's Oakham-based trainer, Kelly Morgan was also making her first visit to the track and has now sent out two winners from two runners this term.
There was plenty of quality among the 17 runners for the Geoff Allan Catering Men's Open Race, one of the biggest Open fields for many years in the Northern Area. Ardea was backed as if defeat was out of the question and the 8 year old duly delivered the goods once again to complete a training treble for Justin Landy and a double for jockey, Joe Wright. After heading the pace-setting Croan Rock four out, he forged eight lengths clear before ex-chaser, Shantou Magic came with a late rattle to reduce the winning margin to half a length.
The winner is likely to reappear at Alnwick or Kelso in January before heading to Haydock Park the following month.
The concluding 9 runner Ian Ferguson Racing Restricted Race was an incident-packed affair with one third of the field out of the contest after three fences and eventually only two finished. Rory Bevin's decision to employ front running tactics on For A Change paid off handsomely as his mount didn't see another rival and kept on well in the closing stages to beat Indigo Island by four lengths.
The win was a real family affair as the 10 year old is owned by Bevin's father, William, who runs the Oakham Veterinary Hospital, and trained by his mother, Louise, a Chartered Surveyor in Nottingham. Bevin, 21, a final year Agriculture Student at Newcastle University, rides out for Mitford trainer, Simon Waugh most mornings. "He actually won the Melton Cross Country Race in February and then showed improved form between the flags before breaking down in May. We had him fired and got the all clear in August to get him back into training. Having fragile legs, it was only a last minute decision to run as we thought it might not be soft enough for him," said Bevin.
The Northern Area season resumes on Sunday 8th January with the West Percy fixture at Alnwick.