Fontwell, 18/5/17

An update from our special correspondent at dank Fontwell, who gave the waiver “here are my notes, be as rude as you like, but don’t drag my name into it.” So here we go. At the 2015 renewal of this meeting the clerk of the course watered like crazy because in his wisdom he did not think riders like Gina Andrews, Sam Davies-Thomas, Phil York, Phil Hall and others with oodles of experience, plus rising stars like Stan Sheppard were capable of riding on quicker ground. He was then amazed when the herd of fast ground horses that had declared due to this policy not being publicised (for fear of ridicule?) were non-runners. So with the previous day quite rainy and people presumably already suspicious of the good ground threatened, declarations were modest from an entry of over one hundred individuals.

Going: Soft

Race 1: Mares’ Open Hunter Chase [3m 1.5f]

1: Queen Olivia     2: Frelia     3: Distracted

Winner owned: Sarah Dawson, trained: Victoria Collins, ridden: Sam Davies-Thomas

Four runners, two of which appeared to be here to see what place money could be scooped up. The question on the other pair was the ground – Frelia was 5/6 on good on good to soft, but only had one four runner race landed from four tries on soft. That should have made her look like a beatable odds-on shot, but Queen Olivia has only ever been victorious on good ground, and rarely even tried softer, so attention turned back to the jolly as the least likely to have a hissy fit regarding the mud. None of the four set off as if really looking forwards to a trundle in the mud, and the slow pace meant all four were still bunched before the final bend. Frelia was at the back, and in order not to let Queen Olivia get first run, Bradley Gibbs opted to make up ground on the outside of a long bend, which is usually a bad idea here, and even worse when someone else is travelling better. The duo got up alongside Queen Olivia, but from the second last, the winner just eased away again, and never came off of the bridle.

Race 2: Henry Carr 23rd Birthday Celebration Ladies’ Open Hunter Chase [2m 5f]

1: Never Complain     2: Bound For Glory     3: Amigo

Winner owned: Glebe House Racing Club, trained: Fiona Marshall, ridden: Tabitha Worsley

And what do we get to pick from now? Dont Do Mondays, a 130+ rated chaser who likes wet conditions, but has not been the successful convert to pointing that would have been predicted. Fontwell chase form of 131 appeals. The 2016 winner of this and now very ancient Gauvain, who is unbeaten in three runs since and can tolerate soft ground – one win, but the smattering of places were not his best efforts. Amigo, probably not named after the Black Slate song, and who had lots of fun in the mud in France. He also had two pointing wins this season (neither Open level) and a second in a Fakenham hunter chase. Representing the bookend community was Bound For Glory, a winner at the last meeting of the 2016 season and on the first day of the current one. Known to handle good to soft, he had tended to avoid worse ground in the past and his recent hunter chase second was not a close one. Competing the line up, welcome to Never Complain, who had apart from one unseat and one real off day, not finished out of the first three since July 2015, when running at the Galway Festival. The worry was that the off day was the one race on soft ground in that spell and he usually failed on soft or heavy in Ireland – one pointing win a notable exception. So despite only five appearing, not a bad little race. Unfortunately it unfolded like a rather lesser one. Initially it seemed that the conditions and not being a field full of marquees and cake was going to inspire Dont Do Mondays, but his flourish was temporary and Amigo did not manage much either – catching the toiling Gauvain for a distant third is just bullying the elderly. That left a bloodless win for Never Complain at the expense of Bound For Glory, who tried hard but reacted to the mud as negatively as feared.

Race 3: Porto Racing Specialist Horse Racing Saddlery Novices’ Hunter Chase [3m 1.5f]

1: Supreme Danehill     2: Excitable Island     3: Swingbridge

Winner owned & trained: Alan Hill, ridden: Joe Hill

Something a bit busier and not the worst quality race around. The stand out recent form was Excitable Island ending up second at the Cheltenham hunter chase night, and having won his two points this season, at Godstone and Cherrybrook, he would set a tough standard for the others. On pointing form of 11121, it was impossible to ignore Apple’s Queen, but he got absolutely stuffed out of sight in his only hunter chase, and needed to do an awful lot better here. With a lap to go, the realistic contenders were down to two. Excitable Island was one of them, but front running Supreme Danehill has a quite a lead, and was still appearing quite comfortable. For the others, giving an opportunity like this to a horse that has two wins and a second over four miles and was not going to loathe the ground was rather foolish, although it was not certain that they could have stopped him if they wanted to. It was his race to lose three from the finish, but the course of true love never runs true, and apparently Supreme Danehill loves the next fence, as after jumping it at an awkward angle, he found himself galloping towards the rail that should have been to his left. Joe Hill just got him turned around in time. Job done after that. Crack Of Thunder just got run out of third near the line, spoiling the opportunity to write, “Swingbridge, sweet barrier, coming fourth, to carry Bailey home.” So an excuse was contrived to include it anyway.

Race 4: Peter Mendoza Memorial “Jellyfish” Grassroots Hunter Chase [2m 5f]

1: Curraigflemens     2: Swallowshide     3: Brunswick Gold

Winner owned: JRM Ridge, trained: David Kemp, ridden: Sam Davies-Thomas

Another of the 2016 winners appeared here, with Curraigflemens returning to the scene of the crime. He has been rather hit and miss since, but that was part of his make up before as well, so he is one of those not to wade in with at short prices. On the other hand Brunswick Gold has been very consistent this season and the races he has been in tended to work out well. He is better on decent going but has certainly had some moments in soft. Mountain Cliché put in plenty of miles to be part of this, and has the same sort of ground profile – not a dud in the mud. The race was not a smooth one for Curraigflemens, and at a couple of points in the race he appeared to be struggling. Somehow the others chances of an upset all sort of unfurled around the far bend, and whilst out of form Swallowshide dabbed away at the lead with surprising persistence, the final margin for Curraigflemens was quite comfortable. Anyone who backed Brunswick Gold will be confused. He sat just off of the group of the other four, let the gap widen from the fifth last as if he could not handle the going and then was asked for an effort when it was all too late. It is unlikely to have cost him the win, but he ought to have managed second, to the benefit of forecasters, placepotters and betting without the favouriters.

Race 5: United Hunts Champion Open Hunder Chase [3m 3f]

1: Man Of Steel     2: Lets Get Serious     3: Mon Parrain

Winner owned: Toby Hunt & Alan Hill, trained: Alan Hill, ridden Joe Hill

With both Little Chip and Little Legend non-runners for this, it was time for the big ones to make their mark. The two in respectable recent form were Man Of Steel, for whom point-to-pointing allowed him to live up to being something near what we saw of him in bumpers, and Mon Parrain, piloted by the inimitable David Maxwell. Some would say thankfully inimitable. If he finally got back to his best after three and a half years missing from action, Helpston would be a serious player, but he had not looked close to that state at Warwick last month. The race went more or less as expected for 3m 1f. Mon Parrain made the running, Man Of Steel kept tabs on him, and the other trio were in big trouble with a lap remaining. Man Of Steel consistently had problems with the three fences on the downhill stretch, but once on the level he picked off the favourite at the second last. However, both were tired, and had done too much too early and Lets Get Serious (winner of a very weak renewal in 2015) nearly pinched the race. As he was being scrubbed along with a mile to go, there is no case for arguing that the jockey left it too late, the race just panned out in a way that prevented him quite getting there. Mon Parrain sportingly drifting right to give him a gap half way up the run-in helped.
It is slightly possible that the trophy presentation for Man Of Steel looked just like this.

Race 6: Weatherbys Printing Open Hunter Chase [2m 1.5f]

1: Darwins Fox     2: Can Mestret     3: Vering

Winner owned & ridden: David Maxwell, trained: David Christie

A disappointingly low declarations total of four for this. There is a clique of non-staying hunter chasers who usually turn up for everything below 2m 3f, which means the fields are reasonably healthy, even if it is the same horses opposing over and over again. There has not by a surplus of such races lately, so the lack of numbers was unexpected. Again, the incident of note was at the far turn, when Gina Andrews attacked on Can Mestret, threatening to overturn another long odds-on shot. However, the winning pair were patient, and instead of being rushed into a response, they stealthily picked off the leader two out. There was nothing in Darwins Fox’s form that gave him a reason to lose, but a banana skin was placed in his path, and he dextrously sidestepped it. Well done to Vering for finishing – something that had eluded him during his last six runs due to jumping shortcomings more than lack of ability.

Race 7: Westbourne Racing Club Maiden Hunter Chase [2m 5f]

1: Spencer Moon     2: Creative Inerta     3: Cooladerry King

Winner owned: Kevin Salter, trained: Kieran Price, ridden: Byron Moorcroft

A line up that is not going to scour the country sweeping up hunter chase prizes wherever they go, but most of them have been is reasonable form in points of late, so a decent spectacle was on the cards, even though the late defection of reliable Tom Barton weakened the race disappointingly. Spencer Moon’s four pointing wins this season were very eye catching, and although he lost in a hunter chase, it was not by too far, and perhaps on unsuitably fast ground. He is another who was threatening in his youth to get the winning habit someday. Also interesting was Creative Inerta, because within a fairly inconsistent career he has shown that any ground works for him and even finished third in the point-to-point bumper at Aintree last May. It all depended whether he woke up feeling creative or inert. The verdict was creative, but just not good enough. The pace was very cautious, and with the line up still bunched up, Spencer Moon kicked on after the fourth last. It was not easy going for him, and being his second race in five days would surely have been a factor, but those behind were just as laboured. Creative Inerta was a clear second, and Cooladeery King outstayed the other four to get the minor prize.
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