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Charlton Horethorne, 10/3/19

Blackmore & Sparkford Vale

This was a first visit to the course, and it is worth the trip. It was easy to find – from ten miles away just follow the big black cloud hanging down out of nowhere in a clear blue sky. Even on an infamously windy day, it doggedly loitered around, but did wander off just before the first race. Call it a navigation aid. Anyway, Charlton Horethorne. Scenic, good viewing (although the bulk of the crowd hanging around by the paddock make that the worst location), convenient entry and exit as it is onto a relatively uncluttered B road. One or two extra toilets may help but having arrived feeling less than 100% this could be a purely personal perspective. And on a related note, apologies to the organisers for chundering on your course, but it did seem to be all coffee and water (the chunder, not the track). Whilst one visit is not a good sample, there are two apparent local bye laws at work here. All unseats or falls are at the middle two fences in the back straight and at least a third of the field should pull up before the second last. Once you know that, it only takes a bit a of thought to plan who will do what.  *** Later note - there were more toilets but they were put somewhere to minimise the risk of blowing over because swimming in effluent is not most peoples' idea of the real pointing experience ***

Going: Good to Soft, Soft places

Race 1: Woolley & Wallis Open Maiden, Div I (2m4f)

1: Get Prepared     2: Breaking The Ice     3: Bubble O’Clock

Winner owned & trained: Michelle Anne Offen, ridden: Tommie O’Brien

As seems to be the case with every divided maiden that UK-Jumping witnesses in the Wessex area, there was unnecessary extended haggling before ending up with an unbalanced split. In this case there were thirteen in division one and only eleven in division two. The pair of horses that could be traced from the announcements as having changed division were pulled up and third in their eventual races. Strange. The first part was won by an unraced four year old from another unraced four year old, and the same type of horse won the two remaining maidens. Those who believe that the four year olds weight allowance is too big will be spitting feathers but it is hard to tell whether it is the allowance that makes the difference or the quality of horse that it tempts owners to run in these races. For instance, add seven pounds onto the weight of Get Prepared (who did as he was named) and Breaking The Ice (who did not) and they simply would have reduced the margin that they saw off the others by, with five lengths between the first two and ten back to Bubble O’Clock in third. Bubble O’Clock did sort of alright in a couple of Newton Abbot hurdles last season, so could do a job pointing now he has a spin under his belt and gives the form an immediately appealing slant.

Race 2: Woolley & Wallis Open Maiden, Div II (2m4f)

1: Presence Of Mind     2: Five Gold Bars     3: Earth Leader

Winner owned & trained: Francesca Nimmo, ridden: Tommie O’Brien

In the preliminaries Presence Of Mind was a bit more eyecatching than Get Prepared and he went ahead and delivered the result in resolute fashion. The margins were much tighter here so perhaps it was because he had to put in a few minutes of proper work that Presence Of Mind impressed a bit more. It should be noted that Five Gold Bars did not achieve much in Ireland, but two of his three tries were marred by bad errors, which enable us to blame the improvement on better jumping rather than inconveniently mark down the admired victor, who hung right towards the paddock on the run-in and left the distances a little flattering to the placed horses. Five Gold Bars looked like the shorter distance helped for having fewer fences but harmed by demanding pace that he lacks. Earth Leader had been a bit keen throughout but left just enough in the tank to hold third from Second Captain, another whose pointing experience is not a shining waft of potential. Earth Leader’s dam was Full Of Spirit and with a history of going well up to a point then imploding, including a ran out over hurdles and an unseat on pointing debut, he seems to have taken that connection in the wrong way. That is not to say that he can not come good this season. Amongst the also rans the mare Takeabid could improve. This was her debut race and she jumped right all the way before going with the flow and pulling up before the second last. Educational intro done, now to sort out the wrinkles.
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Presence Of Mind looks very pleased with himself. Takeabid pretends to be interested by something in the far distance.

Race 3: Longman Cheese Sales Ltd Hunt

1: Robin De Boss     2: Saffron Wells     3: Blue Benny

Winner owned: Felton, Foulkes, Hepburn & Sunnucks Partnership, trained: Jo Hepburn, ridden: George Hiscock

After winning this in 2018, Robin De Boss was long odds on for a repeat and duly managed the job. He was harassed until quite late by Saffron Wells, making his pointing debug and having his first spin since Boxing Day 2017. However, his record under Rules strongly suggests that he does not make winning a priority and the loss was down more to attitude than fitness. Another longer term absentee (since March 2017), Benvolio unseated at the first leaving us needing more evidence as to how much of his once ample ability remains.
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We can see clearly (now the rain has gone) Blue Benny (2), Railway Storm (5) and Merrion Square (4). Some of Saffron Wells – mostly his cheekpieces – are obvious. And the one totally hidden in Robin De Boss – behind Blue Benny.

Race 4: Manor Farm Partnership Open Maiden

1: Cadzand     2: Doctor Wong     3: You Know The Story

Winner owned: Tom Lacey, trained: Sophie Lacey, ridden: Tommie O’Brien

The most impressive of the trio of maiden winning youngsters, but even more unlikely than the other pair to sustain a pointing career for any further time as the owner will simply whisk him off to his professional yard. After Charlie Brooks’ massive self serving whinge in the Daily Telegraph, dare he not do so? For those who did not read it, he did not like the fact that Larkhill maidens were not open to four year olds because, erm, he has some four year olds to run in maidens. Cadzand did in fact run in Charlie Brooks’ colours, although he was not listed as the owner. The horse is not to blame for what the owner(?) may say and Cadzand took this all in his stride. Maybe he has prepped for racing by dodging toys being thrown out of prams, so however flaky the other horses may have been, he was ready for it. Doctor Wong does not appear to have been progressing in search of a maiden win despite the odd better day along the way but at least he knuckled down to keep second from You Know The Story, whose second in a mares’ maiden in Ireland was recently boosted by the winner being close up when third in a bumper. Fourth was Could Be Better, who could. He was regularly in the frame in Ireland, and after pulling up on British debut he was better this time and may be sneaking along slowly for a springtime peak.

Race 5: Alec Jarrett Ltd Mixed Open

1: Virak     2: Herbert Park     3: Imogens Thunder

Winner owned: CJ Hitchings, trained: Rose Loxton, ridden: Natalie Parker

Going along the far straight, this race looked as if a cracking four way finish could be offered but Virak had other plans and forged clear quite purposefully from the second last to land his third win of the season. As a ten year old he should have a couple of seasons more of productivity at least. Bear in mind that Imogens Thunder had won three of his last four but could not go the pace at the end and Herbert Park was a very decent staying hurdler who has switched to pointing well (and won a hunter chase) thus the success for Virak all adds up to a very smart performance. In fourth was Carraig Mor, who did all the donkey work at the front of the race and even he sets a fair standard on those rare occasions when we see him on a racecourse. Although neither bothered to complete the course, keep a note of Premier Portrait and Tambura, as both were on their seasonal debut and will be better for the exercise.
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Carraig Mor ahead of Virak with just over a lap remaining. The blue blinkers in third is Flights. Herbert Park is the one with a white cap way over on the left and Imogens Thunder is somewhere else.

Race 6: Mrs EV Welby Memorial Conditions

1: Navanman     2: River Myth     3: Saroque

Winner owned & trained: John Heard, ridden: Bryan Carver

Picking the winner of this did not take a genius. Navanman has seasonal form of 11221 and one of the two horses to beat him was Virak, plus that race he has had Northgeorge, who reopposed here, well adrift. Navanman was in no rush to get to the front but once arrived the result was not in doubt and he was value for a bit more than the four lengths winning distance. Northgeorge fared much better this time, coming out best of a clump of horse scrapping for fourth place, only a couple of lengths away from second. That slot went to River Myth, who had been omitted from the racecard. She seems to come good in the spring, so perhaps the printer was subtly trying to plan her racing campaign in disagreement with the owner and trainer – although he left her in the line-up for the Mixed Open. This was a fair enough effort but perhaps the printer had it right. For people who do not like change, Saroque is both a blessing and a curse. Went to post early, caused a near false start, made the running, looked set to give up when headed, rallied to cling on for third. It is his way and one that rarely brings victory these days. He will not deviate from it, however hard we may wish to persuade him. Those also in the Northgeorge Clump were Apples Queen, My Murphy and Minim Mouse but from standing between the last two fences, it was hard to be certain about their finishing order.

Race 7: Church House Investments Restricted

1: Tuff Nano     2: Troed Y Melin     3: Country Legend

Winner owned: PJ Gwyn, trained: Teresa Clark, ridden: Matt Hampton

One of the great pointing maxims is that horse who have played one, won one in maidens are habitually under priced in the betting. That does not mean that they are unable to win one every now and then, and Tuff Nano was in the now and then moment. It helped that only two of her ten rivals finished. It was not discouraging that from her Ballinaboola win, the second and fourth had broken their own maiden tags since. And finally it was in her favour that Troed Y Melin does not seem to last three miles and that winning his maiden routed him into a career dead end. Finally, Country Legend was disappointing as even if her Larkhill win could be quibbled on quality she had run well enough in a Restricted since to think that she ought to have been able to at least make a fight of this. The easier going may have been the issue.
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