by The ‘Clipboard’, Published on www.pointtopoint.co.uk on the 30th January 2015
“I’ve always told [owner] John Symes that this is the best horse he’s got, but he doesn’t believe me!” laughed Richard Woollacott, after the John Mathias-ridden Parkam Jack had defied a 19-month absence to land the Mixed Open at the expense of last year’s winner and odds-on favourite Certain Flight.
A former winner of two Points, a Newton Abbot novice hunter chase and a Worcester maiden hurdle under Woollacott’s trainership, but now representing wife Kayley’s Pointing string, the Grape Tree Road gelding showed no signs of ring-rustiness despite an extended break owed to a leg problem, and having been allowed to switch off in rear up to halfway found plenty for driving to fend off his closest pursuer by an eventual half-length margin.
“He always wins driven out, but that’s just him!” Woollacott continued. “In fairness he’s always been our best work horse at home, but he doesn’t always do it on the track for you. We didn’t do anything special to get him fit after his leg, just a lot of galloping, and we knew that was enough. We knew he was fit for today.”
Although already proven over Rules fences by expedient of that Newton Abbot victory, a return for Parkam Jack to Richard’s side of the yard any time soon is by no means assured. “We knew he was good enough to be worth giving a year off and bringing back for this job [Pointing], but we won’t go back under Rules except perhaps for a hunter chase. We know exactly what he is – he’s a solid 112-rated sort of horse, and no better.”
Five winners for the season for Kayley Woollacott quickly became six, as Larkhill Restricted dead-heater Jepeck sprung himself from Intermediate class at the first time of asking with a victory rather more emphatic than that recorded in Wiltshire three weeks earlier. Momentarily under pressure approaching three out, Jamie Thomas’s mount produced an irresistible renewed effort between the final two fences to win going away.
Success here qualified the son of Westerner for both the Connolly’s Red Mills and Exeter Racecourse Intermediate Finals at a stroke, but thoughts are yet to turn to either target in earnest – perhaps unsurprisingly, coming as they would nearly six months into a campaign that started at the season-opening Black Forest Club fixture.
Kayley Woollacott ventured further: “He’s still only six and we wouldn’t want to over-race him. Even this was a quick reappearance after Larkhill, but there wouldn’t have been anywhere to go with him for a while after as he has to go right-handed.” A trip to Buckfastleigh was briefly considered in the winner’s enclosure, before those present remembered that track had of course switched from Jepeck’s favoured clockwise configuration to anticlockwise in 2013.
Kayley could confirm one definite immediate plan, however – “Keeping him from Richard!”
A well-backed favourite, Jepeck was not unfancied by the Woollacott raiding party – and one in particular. “Our head lad said on the way down we’d have a double today – this horse and one other”, smiled Kayley Woollacott, adding: “Unfortunately he got the other one wrong!”
By a process of elimination, that “other one” could only have been Robin Will, a warm order to add the Hunt Members contest to the Open Maiden success he gained on his one previous course visit two years ago.
The cutest of waiting rides from John Mathias reaped less reward than it deserved, however, as the combination of a limited response off the bridle after two out and a last-fence error condemned the half-brother of Grand National aspirant Unioniste to a four-length defeat at the hands of Blinding Lights, whose winning rider Matt Hampton doubled his score for the season in the process.
“I was hunting with the Tiverton yesterday, and they were asking me what I was running in the race”, beamed successful owner-trainer Mary Sanderson afterwards, “and I told them it was Blinding Lights. ‘Will it win?’ they asked, and I said it would be a blinding shame if he doesn’t!”
Not that it was always a certainty that the 10-year-old son of a niece of Burrough Hill Lad would still be holding a place in the Sanderson string long enough to record this latest victory for her. “The girls in the yard love him, but I nearly sold him last year – he didn’t pass the vet, though. There’s nothing wrong with him now,” recalled the Calverleigh-based former publican, who further advised that Blinding Lights was “never 100%” during a 2013-14 campaign tempered by issues with backside muscles and an abscess in the mouth.
A neck second to Turthen under the same rider in the 2013 renewal of the same race, having made every yard in the hands of the now-conditional Kieran Edgar twelve months before that, Blinding Lights’ success constituted an eighth in the Tiverton Members for Sanderson in just 15 seasons.
However, the gelding still has some way to go to emulate former stable star Jabiru, winner of the same race five times between 2001 and 2006; and nor is he ever likely to effect quite the same sort of boilover as achieved by 2008 scorer Hollandia, winner of a three-runner renewal at odds of 50-1!
No less celebrated a finisher in the Members race following a wholly respectable 27l fifth on Weston Lodge, 52-year-old first-time rider Alex Muirhead returned to the paddock to a rapturous reception from friends and well-wishers… and to the challenge cup (swiftly filled with champagne) for the first resident in the Tiverton Foxhounds country to pass the post.
Resplendent in tartan-apeing red and green diamond-patterned silks during the race and the ceremonial headgear and coat of his beloved City Of Exeter Pipes and Drums after it, the veteran debutant – a chandler by trade – had not wanted for expert tutelage from the likes of Rodi Greene and (brother-in-law) Jamie Osborne ahead of this realisation of a long-held dream.
Robin Will’s reverse in the opener was the first of two for John Mathias in the opening couple of races, with joint-favourite Shanks A Bunch producing the shortest-lived of threats before weakening right out under the Welshman in the Restricted that followed.
That could hardly have lain in starker contrast to fellow jolly, the Will Biddick-partnered Bien Connu, whose effort in repelling Mangans Turn (Josh Newman) to lead home a Jack Barber-trained one-two betrayed no evidence whatsoever of the mammoth 38-month absence which had preceded it.
Last seen running away with a Thames Valley Club Maiden at the sadly now-dormant Tweseldown in December 2011, and turning out here for only the third time in his life, the Bienamado gelding’s effort understandably had connections beaming afterwards. “That’s very pleasing. He’d not been quite right any previous year that we’d brought him back in, but he’s been better this time around, having come back in September,” explained Barber, the current National Trainer’s Championship leader. “He had a leg, and it’s just taken time with him – firing, a long time off, and a lot of work.”
In light of Bien Connu’s protracted previous absence, it would not surprise were short-term aspirations for the nine-year-old not to have extended beyond returning cold legs the following morning.
Present to shout on John Mathias from the sidelines, win or lose, proud father Philip also found time to impart a little further information on the new course at Llwyndau Farm, the venue for this year’s Banwen Miners Point on Monday, May 4th following the sale of the previous Pentreclwydau site.
“[BHA course inspector] Peter Hobbs and I walked the course the other week, and it’s very encouraging – the grass cover will be good, and it’s really a better site than we could have dared hope for at such short notice. The landowners are completely on board, and so proactive in getting things in place between each planning meeting.” Mathias explained of a site located around five miles west of Pentreclywdau.
As to the layout? “It’s sort of a d-shaped 1m1f circuit, and quite flat, with a straight home run and a bend in the back straight. I’d think it would lend itself better to being left-handed, but that’s to be decided.”
Fifth place was the best that Silver Token could manage in the Mixed Open on this card twelve months earlier, but the combination this time around of a drop back in class, plus the assistance of emerging talent Harry Cobden, proved just what the Silver Patriarch gelding required to land a first Pointing success in over two years in the Dodson & Horrell PPORA Novice Riders’ event. Sent closer at the start of the final circuit, the 10-year-old grey finally wore down the gallant Ladyvie (Hannah Welch) in the final 75 yards, following a good tussle over the final two fences.
For the Lydford-on-Fosse based Cobden, 16, victory here represented a first success between the flags on only his third attempt, as well as an altogether happier experience than a slip and unseat from Cock Of The Rock on his Pointing debut at Wadebridge two weeks earlier. “He was hopping mad after that,” recalled self-described “long suffering mum” Sarah, proudly watching on along with the rider’s grandmother Gill and Rules trainer Anthony Honeyball.
Active in pony racing since the age of nine, and the winner of – by his own reckoning – no fewer than 33 events in that sphere, Cobden schooled at Sexey’s in Bruton until turning 16 last November. “He came out of school early – you’ll have the Schools Service on us!” laughed Sarah. In actual fact her son remains in education, combining home tutorials with five weekday morning shifts for principal employer Honeyball and Wednesday afternoons spent riding out for David Brace.
Cobden has plenty for which to thank the last-named, in particular; “He was pony racing in Ireland last October, when Mr Brace approached him and asked if he’d like to work for him,” Sarah continued. Already qualified by Brace this term with the Llangeinor, the well-established duo of Cock Of The Rock (jointly owned by Harry and granny) and Silver Token (owned by the current trainer of both horses, Honeyball’s partner Rachael Green) look well bought if intended to help the rookie realise his stated ambition of becoming the champion Novice Rider – between them, the duo withstood 19 hunt race outings in 2013-14.
Another partner of a licensed trainer to oblige on the afternoon was Pat Bryant, handler of the Pointers at his and Caroline Keevil’s Motcombe base and on the mark here with the Philip Thomas-ridden General Girling in division one of the Open Maiden.
Winless in 15 starts under Rules for Keevil and latterly rated as low as 73 over hurdles, the son of General Gambul has taken a far greater shine to the discipline of Pointing and entered this contest on the back of three second places from as many recent starts, two up on Salisbury Plain. “If he can go that close at Larkhill, he ought to win something,” laughed breeder Jane Girling, present to see the homebred she has loaned back to the yard’s racing club for the season break his duck at last.
“He jumped well enough over hurdles, but we tried him once in a chase and he was much too careful,” continued Keevil, adding: “He’s also not always known for his resolution, but he showed a lot of guts today.” That comment could just as readily apply to his partner, as the crowding from eventual runner-up Just Imagine It up the run-in cowed neither General Girling nor Philip Thomas out of converting the winning opportunity. Formerly based with John Joseph Murphy and Caroline Hobbs before joining the Keevil-Bryant axis, 30-year-old Thomas was recording a third Pointing victory.
“I’m happy with that – it’s the ideal start,” summarised Poundsgate handler Simon Partridge after a clever ride by Darren Edwards secured stable star Lucette Annie the TBA Countryside Alliance Mares’ and Fillies’ event for the second year running.
The competition had a thinner look about it with last year’s runner-up Popaway sent to contest the afternoon’s equivalent contest at Higham this time around, and the 4-9 favourite was not overly taxed in recording a clever 2.5l success over the Hannah Welch-partnered Romney Marsh (the rider’s second runner’s-up finish inside 40 minutes).
A winner every season since 2010, and running in the colours this year of Clare West as well as longstanding owner Janet Humphrey, the daughter of Alflora made light of conditions (officially good to soft) just a touch drier than preferred. “I’d like to take in a hunter chase with her again this season, but she’d need cut in the ground for that,” Partridge reasoned, “though we do get away with it on quicker ground in Points.” A ninth career visit to her local stomping ground of Buckfastleigh is in the offing before anything else, however: “It comes nicely for her in three weeks’ time, so I don’t suppose we’ll see her out again before then.”
Lucette Annie won’t be the only representative from the Partridge yard between the flags this season. “I have a five-year-old youngster called Sandy Park set to debut in Maidens – he’s been following Lucette Annie up the gallops. Blue Abbey [an 11-year-old maiden half-brother to Asian Maze and Quantitativeeasing] is still with us and still chasing her up the gallops, too!”
“I am so chuffed with that ride – that’s just what she needed,” enthused owner Julia Batho on greeting the returning Midnights’mischief, punched out by James Jeavons to land the second leg of the Open Maiden at the expense of odds-on shot Porlock Bay (Darren Edwards).
Head girl to Alastair Ralph this season, Batho had insisted to her current boss that Midnights’mischief, a mare she’d acquired in 2011 as a three-year-old, made the trip up to the Downton Estate north of Ludlow with her as part of the arrangement. “I said, ‘I’ll bring my horse with me if that’s alright, but she isn’t very good.’ She’s a bit better than that now!”
A tenure with Nick Williams had preceded the move to Ralph, but whilst there Batho struggled to get her daughter of Midnight Legend fit enough to do herself justice on the racetrack, as perhaps evidenced by pulled-up efforts at Kilworthy and Trebudannon last spring.
Before that, the 37-year-old had worked for Tor Collins prior to the latter’s own move to Shropshire from the Sandhurst Area, and whilst based there had recorded her one win as a race-rider in the 2009 Hampshire Hunt Members race at Hackwood Park on Lord Alpha, a horse she trained herself for Anthony Ward-Thomas. The Batho connection to Collins endures up to a point through Midnights’mischief, whose dam Pipes A’Calling foaled her after winning a Godstone Mares’ Maiden for that handler in 2007.
Although the commencement of the Welsh Borders Area season remains a good few weeks off, a busy time is assured for Batho and all working for Alastair Ralph before then, as the now former assistant trainer to Henry Daly begins to unleash the yard’s big guns such as John Corbet Cup third Following Dreams. “Alastair’s got about 11 or 12 Pointers in this year; a few young ones, but not too many maidens. One less maiden now, in fact!”
Midnights’mischief was a first ride for the Ralph yard this season for James Jeavons, 24, and a second winner for him all told. The Sarah-Jayne Davies/Jeremy Mahot-trained Upton Centurion in a PPORA Novice Riders race at Brampton Bryan last April was the first, and he hopes to be riding for that operation as well as for Hannah James and for Ralph this term.
Porlock Bay’s second to Midnights’mischief thus left Pointing Plus columnist and Attheraces host Luke Harvey having fared two places better than brother Dominic’s Hunt Members fourth Lightening Jack, but at the same time still bereft of the victory he’d hoped to tease out of his Dr Massini gelding before taking in a skiing holiday a few days later.
No matter. “I love this sport, and hailing from barely five miles away I love being here at Chipley,” Harvey beamed whilst warming down Porlock Bay in the box park after racing. “You couldn’t get me to go racing on a day off, but I’d do this any day of the week. This is the longest I’ve gone without a beer all day, though!”
Prior to watching his charge Tucumcari finish unplaced in the Intermediate, handler Norman Thomas had clasped your writer by the hand on their first meeting for nearly three years and exclaimed, “I thought you were dead!” It’s always nice to be able to dispel a rumour…
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