The penultimate Midlands meeting of this season brought the welcome return of spectators to Garthorpe racecourse in Leicestershire.
They were treated to a packed afternoon of sport: two pony races, six races over jumps and a point-to-point flat race to end the day. The welcome rains of the previous two weeks had slowed the ground a little, with the ground taking a cut and the winning times 15-20 seconds slower than at the previous meeting.
It was also a day on which spoils were shared. The leading jockeys of the point-to-point circuit were all in attendance, but none scored more than once, and James King’s win on Kaproyale in the Maiden effectively sealed his victory in the race for the National Title. I’m sure many wish they had backed that result early in the season.
The long-missed spectator picnics had early entertainment in the form of two pony races, preceding the main programme. The first of these, for 13.2 ponies, was won by Albert Mann on Bombay Moonstone. The second, for 14.2 ponies, was won by Zak Kent on the wonderfully named The Green Monk.
Nine runners came forward to contest the opening horse race of the day, a Club Members Conditions race. Just Cause and Al Shahir were the stand-outs on paper, and on the bookmakers’ boards, and so it turned out on the track. Jack Andrews never really needed to make a move on the Robin des Champs-sired Al Shahir, being left in the lead with a couple to jump and pulling away easily to win by seven lengths from Rupert Stearn and Just Cause who weren’t able to really pressure the winner.
Garthorpe has been a happy hunting ground for East Anglian trainer David Kemp in recent times and the result of the Restricted race only emphasised that fact. His own (with wife Imogen) Rebel Dawn Rising lived up to the bookmakers’ expectations by winning this one by five lengths from the trainer’s second horse in the race, The Oak Partnership’s How To Get Away (Alex Chadwick). The latter won the Maiden here last time out, while the winner was second at the same meeting. It’s difficult to imagine David won’t be here in force for the last meeting of the season in a fortnight’s time.
The third race of the day brought another win for a favourite, this time at odds-on. If you want to make a name for yourself as a novice rider then winning the area’s feature race (a four-miler at that) is a fairly good way to do it. So it was that Billy Chatterton, fresh from agricultural college in Shropshire, lined up with a very capable field of novices as hot favourite on his family’s Philip Rowley-trained Minella Friend. His previous success meant a five-pound advantage to his rivals but that didn’t seem to make much of a difference as they stayed on well to win by several lengths. The Chatterton family are local to Garthorpe, and this, combined with the large influx of Billy’s friends for the occasion, brought loud cheers, the likes of which Garthorpe has missed for nearly two years. Enza, John and Jamie Gambin’s Attention Please was the second-placed horse, while relatively unfancied Spanish Arch was third.
Races for older horses have been popular in recent years, attracting good entries and providing great racing. This season Retraining of Racehorses and The Jockey Club have co-sponsored a National Series for veterans, for which this meeting hosted the season finale. A predictably classy field had qualified for a final which the bookies felt David Brace-trained Robin des People (Bradley Gibbs) should win. Approaching the last there was a game of chicken going on, with the favourite leading, tracked by both Bingo Star (Jack Andrews) and Hawkhurst (Izzie Marshall), neither wanting to hit the front early. Anybody who has witnessed a “Hawkhurst Moment” – as many of the Midlands contingent had recently at Dingley – knows that you really need to leave your move as late as possible. Andrews moved Bingo Star to the front before the last but as soon as he landed a length or so in front his fate was sealed as a chasing Hawkhurst showed his class and passed him in the last 50 yards. Surely one of the tactical rides of the season by Izzie Marshall.
The Mixed Open followed this and saw two short priced horses slugging it out as favourite Diplomate Sivola (Ben Sutton) was attempting to give trainer Alan Hill a quickfire double. Sadly, though, it wasn’t to be as the Lucarno-bred Badbad Leroy Brown, with Zac Baker in the plate, headed them to a couple to jump and was able to pull clear and win by six lengths. Badbad Leroy Brown, trained by Stephen Wiles, won his maiden back in 2016 and then didn’t win again until he won the Mixed Open at Thorpe Lodge in 2019 before coming second to an impressive Law of Gold here at the last Garthorpe meeting. Gina Andrews brought Celtic Silver into third, some way behind.
Fifteen declared for the Maiden race, our last jump race of the day. The favourite for this one was local horse Go Go Geronimo, owned by John Chatfeild-Roberts, one of the meeting’s generous sponsors. They have a string of seconds under their belt, most recently at our last meeting here when beaten in the run-in by How To Get Away, trained by Francesca Nimmo and Charlie poster at Station Yard Racing. Once again, the front-running combination , with John’s son Tom in the driving seat, led much of the race. With two to jump, though, Champion Jockey-elect James King moved another Nimmo-trained maiden, this time Kaproyale, into the lead and never looked like losing it, moving away to record a six-length victory. Balinagore (Dale Peters) was third for David Kemp. The sport being what it is, there were smiles all round as the owner of the second horse presented the prizes to the winning connections.
Finally we had a point-to-point flat race over two miles to showcase some of the young talent in our sport. The bookmakers got this one right, too, as the favourite, five-year-old Pour Moi gelding Wild Breeze triumphed under Tommie O’Brien, for Oliver Pimlott. Fishing For Likes (W. Easterby) was second by a length and a half, and Queenhill (James King) was third a couple more behind that.
Fans of Garthorpe don’t have to wait long for another chance to be entertained as the season-ending finale which is the Meynell and South Staffs meeting comes round the corner very quickly, on Saturday 5th June. At the time of writing Clerk of Course Brian Crawford has just reported that he has already moved the bends and fences to provide fresh ground for that meeting. Tickets are available to purchase via the Midlands Pointing website, midlandspointing.com/tickets.