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Bumper entry for Lockinge offers best ground of the season so far

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WITH its reputation for fast-draining ground coming on the back of an exceptionally wet winter, the Old Berkshire Hunt point-to-point has been rewarded with the biggest entry of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend for its meeting at Lockinge, near Wantage, on Monday (2pm).

Trainers eager to run their horses on a sounder surface have been attracted to the course's chalk-based old downland turf with the six races boasting 112 entries. The forecast is unsettled, but the going was described as Good on Monday, increasing hopes that there will be plenty of runners to thrill what is traditionally a bumper crowd.

Among those handlers keen to see less testing conditions is Gina Ellis, whose first three runners between the flags since taking over the licence from her husband, Tom, produced a treble at Garthorpe on Saturday.

She is set to rely on Champagne Noir, a winner at Ampton last time out under Ellie Holder, in the Webbs Builders Merchants Mixed Open, which carries prize money of £1,000 with £450 to the winner plus the Lockinge Challenge Cup. "He looks a strong stayer and has been waiting for the better ground, so hopefully he will get that there," said Ellis, who is based at Marton, near Rugby.

Fellow Warwickshire trainer Fred Hutsby landed this contest 12 months ago with Zee Man, and bids to repeat the dose with Drop Him In, a fine third behind Gaboriot and Windsor Avenue in a Catterick hunters' chase earlier this month. "He is a consistent little horse," said the Wellesbourne handler. "He ran well on ground he hated and surprised me. I am hoping he will run a big race."

Francesca and Charlie Poste will weigh up the options for Deise Aba, a two-time winner this season for their Ettington yard, near Stratford, before deciding whether to run here or at Maisemore Park on Sunday. Charlie commented: "For all that he won on very slow ground under rules we are coming round to the idea he needs nicer ground, so Lockinge could be a good fit for him."

Also, among the 20-strong line-up is Jack Teal's Camdonian, who is unbeaten in five starts between the flags, and Tara Storm, who has the option of tackling the Luck Greayer Bloodstock Shipping Keeper-Jockey Conditions Race (Level 2).

Eve Hobbs's eight-year-old hasn't been out of the first two in eight starts, finding the smart Fier Jaguen five-and-a-half lengths too good at Didmarton last time out.

Lily Bradstock, from nearby Letcombe Bassett, has entered Myth Buster, who was fourth to Itacare at Milborne St Andrew last time, here and in the feature race, together with Southfield Theatre.

Fama Et Gloria, a winner at Didmarton for Michael and Robert Hawker, also has strong claims along with Sarah Ashby's Charing runner-up Monkey Puzzle and John Smith-Maxwell's High Easter third Ecco.

Southfield Theatre is the stand-out entry in the Moss Fallon Solicitors Old Berkshire Hunt Members, Subscribers & Farmers Race.

Now 16, Bradstock's admirable veteran has won 18 of his 30 starts between the flags and never been out the first three. He may not be the force of old but can still be expected to serve it up to his younger rivals.

Champagne corks were popping for Nick and Rebecca Romain, from Ardington, after Terrierman gave them their first winner when taking this prize by 30 lengths last year. The 10-year-old is back to defend his crown but doesn't arrive in such good form this time.

Buscot Park-based James Henderson plans to run Frisson Collonges, second in conditions races at this meeting for the last two years, as the nine-year-old bids to make it third time lucky.

All Loved Up, trained by Olive Nicholls at Kingston Lisle, gave Hugh Lillingston a winner on his first ride with victory at Larkhill on Saturday, and could attempt to follow up.

Ellis is hopeful better ground can help I'm Spellbound, who is also entered at Thorpe Lodge, make amends for a last-fence fall at Larkhill in the Bear at Wantage (Arkell's Brewery) Conditions Race (Level 2).

She said: "He doesn't want the ground too soft, so Lockinge would probably be better than Thorpe. He was 10 lengths clear going to the last. He has recovered well. He is a pretty good horse, but things have not worked out for him yet."

Hutsby could run Ampton winner Shoal Bay, although he believes the 11-year-old may be up against it. "He is a classy old horse, but he will probably struggle in this sort of race," he said. "He probably wants dropping back into a novice riders' race, but there are not enough about."

Jacqueline O'Neill's The Composeur, a winner at Cocklebarrow before finishing fifth on soft ground at Garthorpe, should appreciate the return to a sounder surface, while Nicky Sheppard's A Jet Of Our Own is another with claims.

Ellis also believes Creapapy will appreciate the prevailing going in the Charles Russell Speechlys Maiden.

She said: "He had a very good debut run at Ampton and was then disappointing at Garthorpe where the going was probably too soft. He then ran okay at Larkhill without setting the world alight. Again, he probably likes nicer ground."

Hutsby took this contest last year with Joe Kidd and this time runs Jepsone, who has been pulled up in both his starts between the flags.

"He shows plenty at home but has been disappointing when he has run," he said. "He has been too gassy and does a little bit too much early on. We will change how we ride him."

Sheppard's consistent Money From America looks a leading contender along with the Postes' Jullou de Grissay, who has the option of going to Paxford.

Charlie commented: "He is still a bit of a frame, but he has a future in him, and nice spring ground should help him. He will be winning before too long. Hopefully, it is this weekend."

Henderson, who will be looking to Islo to step up here on his third to Lavorante at Garthorpe, will assess Bloodstone before deciding whether to let the gelding bid for a second successive win in the Dubarry of Ireland Restricted.

The nine-year-old stormed home by eight lengths in the 2m 5f contest last year but has been pulled up three times since. "If Bloodstone is right, he will run with a penalty for winning it last year," said the Buscot Park owner-trainer.

Gill Anderson is leaning towards running her Cocklebarrow second Quickcharge here rather than at Kimble, saying: "I think he's got the pace for the 2m 5f trip and he'll be suited by the better ground there."

Bea Coward's Larkhill winner Douglas Longbottom and Thatshalfthebattle, who was second at Charlton Horethorne for Jo Priest, look the other main contenders.

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