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East Anglia raiding party meets success at Edgecote

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The Grafton point-to-point at Edgcote on Sunday last saw an excellent turnout of 61 runners in the seven races, the highest of the season in the South Midlands area and the highest anywhere nationwide since the first weekend of March, thanks to the excellent work of Clerk of the Course Graham Tawell, Estate Manager Hamish Gairdner, and their team.

Nine went to post for the feature race, the PPORA Novice Riders Championship Final, with £1,000 total prize money and £500 to the winner and, appropriately for a novice riders race, it was won by the youngest jockey in the field, 16-year-old Cian Murphy on Give Us A Swig. Always in the first three, the pair took the lead five out, jumped and travelled well and were never in danger as they scored by five lengths and five from Largy Mountain and Cobra De Mai, both of whom were doing their best work at the finish.

Give Us A Swig is trained at Soham, Cambridgeshire by Michelle Bentham – who used to have useful hunter chaser Jurado Express – and her partner Paul Birrane, who is feed man for leading flat trainer Charlie Appleby, and told me how they came by the horse. “We intended to give up training after Covid, but Cian’s mum Marie – who is assistant trainer to Charlie – asked us to find a couple of schoolmasters for him to ride, so we train him and Prairie Town (who was third in the preceding open) from our garden! We don’t have any facilities, so have to box them to Newmarket. We’ll go home and have a think about whether we give him one more race, but I’ll have to dig out my best bib and tucker for the awards at Stratford now!” Explaining his primarily white colours, with some yellow and blue, Paul said, “They’re for my team Leeds United, who’ll probably get relegated this season.”

“That’s my eighth ride, seventh completion (the exception being when Give Us A Swig ran out at Garthorpe when looking the winner) and third winner,” said a delighted Cian, who only turned 16 in January. My Dad Sean, who was a jump jockey in Ireland, rides him every day. It’s always been my dream to be a jump jockey and I’ve had an amazing season. I knew this race would be competitive and he battled on gamely.”

Norfolk-based David Kemp, who is enjoying a fantastic season, went home with a double, initiated by Clara Sorrento in the John White Funeral Directors Mixed Open. A small but quality field of five faced the starter here and jockey Rupert Stearn – on his first ride back since a crunching fall at Fakenham last month – made all on the twelve-year-old, who jumped exuberantly, led his rivals a merry dance and never looked likely to be beaten, eventually coming home eight lengths clear of Dundrum Wood, with Prairie Town 30 lengths third.

Winning owner Simon Stearn – father of the jockey – said, “We bought him from Gigginstown, for whom he had been trained by Noel Meade, and he had to have a year off after Covid with leg and back trouble. Rupert said we should send him to David, because his wife Imogen specializes in Bowen therapy for horses’ backs. We were going to go to Cheltenham, but we only run him if Rupert can ride and he had that terrible fall – he was concussed and cracked ribs, and only passed the doctor on Friday. That was magic – he always front runs and Rupert keeps saying he doesn’t realise how quickly he’s going. We’ll go to Stratford for the Champion Hunter Chase now.”

“I’m a little bit rusty after three weeks off and three visits to Peter O’Sullevan House in Newmarket,” admitted the winning rider, who was paying a first visit to Edgcote, “But my ribs are fine now. Clara Sorrento is an armchair ride and probably the best horse I’ve ridden. When the others are galloping, we’re just cantering. We’re lucky to have him, David’s done brilliantly with him, and I just wish he was a bit younger!” It was a 123rd career success for the 38-year-old farmer, who confessed, “I’m well down the back nine, to use a golfing analogy for my riding career. I just ride our own horses and for the Turners now.”

David Kemp completed his double with the Dale Peters-ridden All The Ammunition, who followed up his Maiden victory at the last meeting here in the nine-runner Towcester Vets Restricted Race. Mid-division early, he made effortless progress on the final circuit to go second four out, before taking the lead a fence later and going on to score comfortably by seven lengths from the always-prominent Ultra Viers, with Bestfriend Barnaby two-and-a-quarter lengths further back.

It was a 15th winner of the season (from just 22 runners, with a further five placings) and David laughed, “It’s going ridiculously well! The horses are happy, I’ve learnt how to get them fit and it helps that Imogen is an equine therapist. She’s so good with horses that she can tell me where the issues are and so they all stay sound and well-balanced. Law of Gold (David’s first Cheltenham winner earlier this month) would be nothing without her, for example. We could have as many as four runners at Stratford.” As for All The Ammunition, “He’s a slow-maturing type, although his ability has always been obvious. He had jumping issues in the past, some of which might have been due to ulcers which we’ve used science supplements to treat, and while he made hard work of it here last time, he had a horrible journey. He performed much better today.”

“That was better than I expected,” smiled Dale afterwards. “David’s changed a few little things since his last run here when, even though he won, he wasn’t happy.” Dale, who also trains pointers, was moving on to 16 for the season, including two Hunter Chases and said, “We had a bug in the yard, but the horses have been running well since Easter. Breaking my Cheltenham duck (on Law Of Gold) was a big relief – it was good to get that off my back!”

The NFU Mutual Open Maiden Race, in which twelve – the biggest field of the day – ran, went to the oldest horse in the race, ten-year-old Equus Flight, ridden by the oldest jockey, Phil York, who had ridden his 400th winner the day before on his 57th birthday. Placed six times previously, Equus Flight can be prone to tailing himself off before coming with a late rattle but while held up again, his jockey kept him in contention and took closer order going out on the final circuit before moving into third four out and taking the lead at the penultimate fence. Dennis El Menace had every chance but was eventually beaten a length with the fast-finishing Hugh De Lacy a neck back in third.

There were emotional scenes in the winner’s enclosure and Rory Lawther, the meeting starter and husband of trainer Karen, laughed, “When was our last winner? When was the last coronation? (It was actually Titan’s Approach, at Northaw in 2018). That was well-deserved. We bought him from Peter Bowen, and he had some lovely form over hurdles – he was rated over 120 – so we thought he’d win his Maiden, but it’s been a struggle. He’s a bit of a brainbox and needs good ground, so I didn’t think it would suit today, but he stayed on well up the hill. It’s nice to put Yorky on his way to 500!” Equus Flight is the only pointer trained by Karen, who has had useful types like Tanager and Caught In Time.

“I don’t know what they said to him today, but he perked up and behaved like a racehorse today!” was the winning jockey’s reaction. “The race panned out well and they went a good gallop.” To read Phil’s views after his landmark success, click here

Another one-horse trainer to come away with a win was Harry Stock, whose mare Chenery, in the hands of Zac Baker, took the Savills Owner-Trainer Conditions Race in the closest finish of the day. The odds-on shot looked to be struggling for much of the race as another mare – Heaven Scent – attempted to lead all the way and looked likely to do so jumping the last. However, she was passed by Padjoes Legacy on the run-in, who was in turn overtaken by a late run from Chenery, galvanised by her jockey to get up by a neck and three-quarters of a length.

“She was never going and never happy. You need to ride her from the front, so I’m surprised she pulled it out of the bag” admitted the trainer. “She may have been in season. She’ll have a break now, having won three in a row, and go again next season.” Harry, who used to ride in points and trains Chenery from Heather Butler’s yard Toddington near Cheltenham, is possibly the only trainer to claim chimney sweep as their full-time employment! “I also ride out for Martin Keighley,” he confirmed. “I bought Chenery last summer on the recommendation of former jockey Mikey Hamill and brought her in late this year to take advantage of the lighter evenings and I train her differently, with lots of flat work and showjumping with my girlfriend Beth Whittle. She enjoys not being on the gallops.”

“She wasn’t travelling for the first two circuits,” confirmed Zac, “But picked up when I went for her and, despite meeting a few traffic issues, I pushed as hard as I could and robbed Gina (Andrews, rider of the second) on the line.” It was Zac’s ninth winner of the season and he stated that his aims are, “To get to ten and win the Novice Hunter Chase at Huntingdon on Kaproyale.”

The opening race on the card, the Heygates Country Feeds Members Race, sponsored by the same company for 40 years, went the way of another odds-on favourite in Champagne Noir, trained by Tom Ellis and ridden by owner Ellie Holder. Six of the seven entries took part, and he was always going well behind leader Creadan Grae. Taking it up four out, he was unextended to score by 11 lengths from the runner-up, who gave Jemima Taylor a great first ride. The Borobodur was three-and-a-half lengths third.

“He’s been a great little horse and Ellie’s learnt so much from him – she also gave him a great ride in defeat at Mollington,” said Tom of Champagne Noir, winning his fourth race of the campaign. As for Tom, whose record-breaking 68 wins so far make him certain to be champion trainer for the fifth year in a row, “It’s been a really good year, with lots of horses progressing through the ranks and some smart four-year-old winners. Wicked Thoughts would be one of the best – he was very impressive at Eyton-on-Severn – and it was great to sell him and Touch Me Not to Ireland. It’s a big thing when the likes of Gordon Elliott buy your horses.” Asked about goals for the rest of the season, Tom hopes to win the Restricted final at Stratford with Captain Biggles.

“That’s the best fell he’s given me all season,” said a pleased Ellie of her horse. “He jumped well from the off and took quite a hold. I’ve had seven winners this season (she is third in the national female novice rider standings) and can’t complain, even though you always want more, don’t you? Next year, I’d like to have more winners than this, and pick up more outside rides.” 

11 took part in the day’s closing contest, the Framptons Planning Conditions Race, for veteran horses ten years old and over. It was won by Craigmor, a first success for 19-year-old Walter Barnett. Rear early, they made steady progress on the second circuit, took the lead four out and, despite hanging on the run-in, took the spoils by four-and-a-half lengths from the strong finishing Dr Des, with It’s For Alan – who was always close to the front – three lengths away in third.

Joe Hill, representing his trainer father Alan, exclaimed happily, “It’s fantastic to give a young lad his first winner. Walter came to us having been with Paul Nicholls and Chris Down, works hard and will be coming back to ours next year. He rode perfectly to instructions – I said he should sit a length and a half in front of Gina (Andrews, on unplaced favourite Pass The Glass). He kicked on but I hadn’t told him what to do in front! It’s also great for the Sunday Night Partnership, a bunch of local owners.” Reflecting on a season that sees Alan sitting a lower than usual fourth in the trainer table, Joe said, “It was a long winter as the horses weren’t quite right, but they’re going well now, we’ve still got lots to run and are taking three to Stratford, including I K Brunel. I’m off to Ireland tomorrow to find next year’s crop!” 

Walter, the “young lad” in question, is 19 and hails from Devon, where he pony raced and would love to ride in a point-to-point. He talked me through the race, saying, “I jumped off to get a position and, with lots of pace on, I was always tracking the favourite. He jumped well throughout, and I took the lead coming out of the back straight. I thought I might have gone too early, but he had loads left. I can’t believe it – that’s just my sixth ride, all for Alan and (wife) Lawney, who are great to work for and give me lots of opportunities to school. I’m now off to Gordon Elliott’s for a few weeks this summer.”

The first of the two pony races, sponsored by Ben Case Racing, went to 15-year-old Scarlett Dorricott and Nomoreanun – while the second was won by Here We Go Now and 12-year-old Isobelle Chalmers.

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