Dale’s double delight
Barbury was surprisingly balmy last Sunday for its first meeting of the new season.
Watching the action during the point to point meeting at Barbury Castle
The day dawned bright and sunny and any overnight frost had disappeared from the ground long before racing commenced.
Clerk of the Course John White and his team had done an excellent job to ensure good going and the grass covering was superb. A number of frosty mornings leading up to the meeting had helped ease the ground and racegoers were rewarded with a reasonable turnout of 50 runners from the 102 entries
Sawtry-based trainer-jockey Dale Peters was the star of the day, a double in the saddle taking him to three for the season (plus one second, from just four rides) and into an early lead in the jockeys championship. "It's about the only time I'll be ahead of Will Biddick," joked Dale about the five-time champion jockey.
Dale's opening success came on the Tommy Morgan-trained Teeton Power in the six-runner Jockey Club Mares Maiden. The odds-on shot won as a hot favourite should, moving into the lead at the fourth and staying in front throughout, eventually coming home 11 lengths clear of Suntanned, with Delineate moving into third close home.
Melton Mowbray trainer Tommy Morgan is another enjoying a fine start to the season, with two wins and a second from three runners, and he laughed afterwards, "I'll let you off today Dale," (referring to a controversial incident at Cottenham where many thought Tommy's horse should have been awarded a race instead of the Dale-ridden winner!).
"We're only a small yard," he told me. "We've got just five in and own most of them ourselves, but we had 11 winners in 2015 and 12 last season."
"This horse was trained by my girlfriend Liz Harris last year," Tommy continued, but Mrs Tice has supported us a lot."
Mrs Tice – of course – is Joan Tice, most of whose horses over the years have run with the Teeton prefix, after the village where she lives.
"She's a home-bred. I've been breeding horses all my life," confirmed Joan of the daughter of Teeton Priceless, who won seven races for her. "We've got a lovely group of youngsters at home and will race the geldings and breed from the mares."
Asked about plans for the mare, she smiled, "If anyone offers me a figure with a lot of noughts, I'm interested – otherwise she's not for sale!" Her handler – whose sister Kelly also had a winner at Cottenham and whose father Kevin trains at Newmarket – has a Restricted at Thorpe Lodge in mind for his winner, but counselled, "I'll see what Mrs Tice thinks."
Dale Peters completed his double on Wither Or Not, who he trains himself, in the concluding Maiden, run over two-and-a-half miles and sponsored by the Valley Equine Hospital at Lambourn, for which 13 went to post. The ex-Irish six-year-old, who also runs in Dale's colours, was a third winning favourite of the day. Always prominent, he went second at the ninth, jumped into the lead four out and just held on by a head from the fast-finishing debutant Troed Y Melin, who looks one to follow. Long-time leader Palmaria was third.
Part-owner Andy Dickins – landlord of the Fox & Hounds at Great Gidding and a neighbour of Dale's said afterwards, "He ran very well. He was getting caught but had the power. We'll get a few bottles in tonight, starting with the crate of Fullers for winning this."
Wither Or Not is likely to run again in a month and will "definitely go left-handed," according to Dale, who added: "The horse wants three miles and needs to concentrate, as he idled in front.
"We fancied him and may go Hunter Chasing later in the season."
The winning trainer-jockey was realistic about his plans for the season. "To ride and train as many winners as I can. I've started off better this year – we don't normally get going until Christmas. The horses are in good form – I'm just steering them!"
Dale, who rides his own string as well as for Tommy and Kelly Morgan, admitted, "It's hard to ride out for anyone else as we've got 12 in at home."
Another trainer-rider who has got off to a cracking start is Laura Thomas, based at Hackpen Farm just a hop, skip and jump from the track.
She enjoyed a double (as well as a close second) at Black Forest Lodge on the opening day of the season, and kept her position as leading trainer when riding her own Karinga Dancer to victory in the opening Dodson & Horrell PPORA Novice Riders Race. The well fancied 7/4 shot, second favourite of the seven runners, was always close to the front and took over jumping the twelfth. While Swallowshide tried to close him down, it was always a losing battle and Karinga Dancer prevailed by 20 lengths, with Gizzit a long way back in third.
This was Laura's fourth career success in the saddle and was an inexpensive purchase from Doncaster Sales, as she explained. "I was looking for a horse for (owner-rider) James McNeile, but he didn't have form at three miles, plus I thought he'd be out of our price range. But I checked with (the horse's former trainer) Harry Fry and there was nothing wrong with him. He was sound and I got him for £3,000!"
"He'll probably go Hunter Chasing with Johnny Bailey now," laughed Laura when quizzed as to plans for the ten-year-old. "Seriously, I haven't thought. Maybe Chaddesley Corbett or Cottenham – he loves good ground."
Asked about the form of her local yard, she laughed again: "I'm worried the drug testers will turn up!
"They're trained the same – it's good luck and better horses. We've got 11, as well as eight empty boxes (!) and we're treating them as individuals. Plus, we appreciate coming up here to Nigel Bunter's all-weather gallop."
It was a good day for Lauras, as second-season trainer Laura Horsfall, who is based at Highfields near Towcester, took the five-runner Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate qualifier. The eight-year-old, given a confident front-running ride by last year's champion male novice Jack Andrews, made all and always looked comfortable in front.
Sister Gina tracked him for most of the race on favourite Missing The Babe, but her horse went wrong approaching the last and was overtaken on the run-in for second by Chasforgold, who finished five lengths behind the winner, with Live For Today a close third.
"I'm so pleased – that's a bit of a shock. He never runs a bad race – he's so gutsy, a little terrier – but you don't know whether you've got them right" exclaimed Laura afterwards, telling me why she had been hopeful rather than confident. "He jumped amazingly… but always manages to muff the last," she added of Roy and Bridget Hunt's eight-year-old, who is now qualified for the Cheltenham final of this series.
She also revealed the secret of her first winning seasonal debutant. "We got the horses in earlier," she confirmed of her four-strong string. "Plus we took them to Dan Skelton's for an away day – that perked them up a bit!"
Winning jockey Jack Andrews refused to be drawn on my tease that he had outridden his sister, saying simply, "We planned to make it. I was happy because there was no one around me so I could keep my momentum and do anything I wanted. When we turned in, I gave him a squeeze and nothing got close to him." 18-year-old Jack was also guarded about his season's ambitions. "Like everyone else, to stay in one piece and ride as many winners as possible. Mr Biddick will be hard to catch!"
Laura's stable sponsored the 10-runner LJH Racing PPORA Conditions Race, for horses who hadn't won a race – apart from a Members – for two years, a "moderate" contest beloved of meeting chairman Steven Astaire.
However, Laura's chance of winning her own race evaporated as Katnapping faded on the final circuit and the contest went to the well-backed favourite Princely Player, a horse who is anything but moderate, having been rated 139 when last seen winning under rules in June 2014. Jockey Sean Houlihan gave Karen Hobbs' nine-year-old a wonderfully patient ride. Always mid-division and handy, the pair crept closer to the leaders in the back straight and, while Ed Bailey and Royal Riviera kicked on three out, Princely Player jumped into the lead at the penultimate fence and won by a cosy four lengths. Long-time leader Creepy, given a fine ride by debutant Charlie Dee, was seven lengths back in third.
"I'm so pleased," enthused the winning trainer, explaining that the decision to run was made after the frost eased the ground. "He used to be with my brother-in-law Philip and we were training him last year but he had some minor stresses so, as we rather like him, we put him away. And here he is first time out – we weren't expecting it." Karen and husband Peter train Princely Player for a syndicate of eight – the KP & The Nuts Racing Club.
"We put it together over a boozy lunch at the Queens Arms in East Garston" laughed Karen of the partnership, who also have Rise To It with her and owned the useful Commander Kev. "Hopefully he'll come back in one piece as we'd like to go Hunter Chasing."
Jockey Sean Houlihan, who is stable amateur for Philip Hobbs, confirmed that everything went to plan. "He loved the ground, jumped and travelled well and learnt from his mistake at the third. It's been a long two years with niggling problems and it's great to get him back." Sean, who has now partnered 13 winners between the flags and one in a Hunter Chase, aims to beat last season's total of eight and has no immediate plans to turn Conditional, admitting to preferring to be "a bigger fish in a smaller pond."
Clive and Eileen Bennett are long-standing supporters of pointing, so it was fitting that their still-improving Iberico should take the feature race of the day, the Barbury International Racing Club Mixed Open. A first training success for jockey Sam Jukes, one of three trainer-riders to win on the day, Iberico quickened clear of favourite Our Chief three out and was not troubled to score by 15 lengths from Shy John, with The Gunner Brady doing his best work at the finish in third.
"Didn't he jump well?" said Eileen, of the ten-year-old, who was the last horse their regular source Padge Berry found for them from Ireland. "We didn't expect him to win – we'd have been thrilled if he was placed." Clive and Eileen were reluctant to commit to plans for their winner, Clive cautioning, "It all depends on the weather."
The pair, who admit to being "both nearly 80, and scaling down", have eight pointers in training split between Sam Jukes and Emma Alvis and have high hopes for Stone this season. Asked how many winners they've enjoyed over the years, Clive admits to having "no idea, but more than 50", but cites the classy but fragile Balinova as the best they've owned.
"To be honest, I'm overwhelmed," was Sam's response to the victory. "It looked like a hot race and, like my owners, I'd have been delighted with a place. "He's not the easiest to train," admitted Sam of Iberico. "His weakness is his jumping, so I went back to basics, jumping him over poles this week instead of schooling him, and he went straight as a die."
The rookie trainer – who has taken over the Bennetts' Dymock yard from Kirsty Adcock, who is expecting a baby – was enjoying his eighth success in the saddle. "I just want the horses to run to their best, stay safe and finish the season sound and well," was his grounded response to my enquiry about plans for the season.
The next meeting at the track, the Barbury International point-to-point, is on Saturday 14th January and – for the first time ever in Britain – is open to Irish horses and jockeys. Advance tickets can be bought at the special price of just £1 before December 23rd. For more information, visit www.barburyraces.co.uk