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Siddington offers a welcome aperitif to our card next week

21-March-2023 12:29
in General
by Peter McNeile

Siddington, near Cirencester, is one of the longest standing point-to-point courses in the country, having first raced in 1909. The VWH meeting has been run on the track since 1934 and this year’s renewal on Saturday 25th March kicks off at 1.30. Five point-to-point races are scheduled, for which 55 entries have been received, and the day concludes with a “scurry” – the Siddington Challenge Cup, sponsored by Stacks Property Search. This is a new race over one circuit of the course open to all riders, 16 years or over, who do not hold a Point-to-Point jockey’s licence and to horses who are not in training. The winner will be the horse closest to an optimum time and eight have been entered, including Nick Phillips and his former Cheltenham winner and Foxhunters’ third Cousin Pete.

Clerk of the Course Peter Mason said on Monday morning that, “The going is still Good to Soft, Good in places. We have the possibility of heavy showers on Tuesday night and a further update will follow the official course inspection on Wednesday.” He also confirmed that the fence after the finish, which is usually the ninth, will not be jumped, leaving each race with seventeen obstacles.

This historic course hosts one of the sport’s most venerable races too, in the form of the Pegasus Club Members Race. The race was first run on 10th April 1895 at Coombe, near Wimbledon and has been held at various venues since then, including – since 2009 – Siddington. The original condition that only barristers can ride has been removed and The Pegasus Club Race is now open to any qualified rider. To maintain the history of the Club, all horses must run in the name of a barrister and, to encourage entries this year, an arrangement has been made to enable owners and keepers who are not barristers, to enter their horse in the race, provided they are content to lease it for the day to a barrister.

This has resulted in an improved entry of eight this year and organisers are confident that the race will not be a walkover, as it was in 2023. Lord Scoundrel, last year’s “winner”, is again amongst the entries and trainer Myles Osborne – who could also rely on Supreme Johnson – told me, “Lord Scoundrel is a lovely old horse. Macy Genco will ride him again and he should give her a good spin. As his owner, Graeme McPherson, is a barrister, it’s the obvious race to go for. Supreme Johnson is also entered in the bumper at Exeter, but I’ve got another horse for that, so he’ll probably run here. Good to Soft will be fine for him and he’ll run in the name and colours of race organiser Chris Smyth.”

Leading trainer Alan Hill may also run two, though plans are ground-dependent, as he told me. “(Cheltenham Foxhunters’ disappointment) Mighty Stowaway will run if it’s Good to Soft after pulling up last Friday. I rode him myself earlier in the week, he’s come out of the race well and he’ll run in the name of David Woolley. The Cranfields, who own Knight Bachelor, would like to support the race and George Cranfield’s father-in-law is a QC, but he won’t run if it’s Soft as he doesn’t get the trip on that ground.”

John Smith-Maxwell won the last competitive running of the race in 2019 on How About It, and he has two possible mounts this year, the classy Pont Aven, who ran in the Foxhunters at both Cheltenham and Aintree last season and Ecco, who was been placed on both outings this season. Sumkindofking, an easy winner of the Members’ at Didmarton on Ed Walker’s riding debut, is definitely worthy of consideration. However, note that he has three entries on the card.

Centrepiece of the meeting is the Arkell’s Brewery Mixed Open Race, which has 14 entries. Alan Hill has Getting Closer, who is also entered at Exeter on Sunday. Alan admitted, “It depends on the entries for both races, but I’d like to run at Siddington on Good to Soft or Soft ground. He came back from his Leicester third with a tight back after not jumping as well as he can, but that’s sorted now.”

Another also entered at Exeter is Moratorium. “We’re in two minds about where to go,” said trainer Myles Osborne, “And the race at Exeter might even be weaker looking at the entries here. He pulled up in the Cheltenham Foxhunters as he didn’t like the going but he’s come out of the race fresh and well. He wouldn’t want it any worse than Good to Soft.”

Maxine Filby has entered Lift Me Up – owned by Red Bull Racing supremo Christian Horner and his wife, former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell – in both this race and the conditions race. Maxine said, “He’s also entered in a Hunter Chase at Newbury on Friday and where he goes depends on jockey availability and ground – he wouldn’t want it too Soft.”

James Henderson will reply on Frisson Collonges from his two entries, saying with a smile, “We won a Conditions race at Larkhill, so now it’s time to try an Open. He’s a nice horse and seems well. The only problem is that I love hunting him so much that the boys (sons Fred and George) will have to lock him in the stable to stop me taking him out on Saturday!”

Fred Hutsby is unsure whether to run Zee Man, saying, “The race comes quite quickly after his Fakenham fall, so I’ll ride him later this week and make a decision. It might depend on whether the race cuts up. He’s not a bad horse, but tricky to work out as he jumps brilliantly out of good ground, but less well when it’s softer.”

Four of those not mentioned above have won this season, including Cheltenam De Vaige at Badbury Rings, Mr Snuffles at Brocklesby Park and One For Rosie at Garthorpe. The latter is trained by former top jockey Jason Maguire, who has also entered the formerly useful Barney Dwan (both are also in the Conditions Race). Evergreen 15-year-old Southfield Theatre was leading horse last year and has been runner-up on both outings this season, and another of interest is pointing debutant Sunset Showdown, who took a Market Rasen chase in the colours of J P McManus on his last outing under rules in July 2021.

14 entries have also been received for the Strutt & Parker Conditions Race, six of which are entered elsewhere on the card, so it is difficult to predict at this stage who will actually run. On paper, the aforementioned Jason Maguire-trained pair look best, along with Francesca Poste’s Largy Mountain, who has not been at his best this season, but has been running in good company.

One intended runner is Port Of Mars, trainer Myles Osborne telling me, “He definitely goes. He ran a nice race last time in a good Open and should have improved from that. I expect him to be thereabouts if he runs the same race as he did at Buckfastleigh.”

The opening contest is the Members Race, sponsored by the Earl and Countess Bathurst, and four have been entered, including the rare sighting nowadays of an unregistered hunter, in the form of Jan Maat – who won in Ireland when trained by Henry de Bromhead – for Georgina Bathurst from the sponsor’s family. It’s For Alan will need to improve on two placings at Larkhill in small fields.

The class in the race is provided by Max Comley’s Wagner, who took two Hunter Chases last season and won easily at Higham last month. Max told me, “He should win, even with a 7lb penalty, as he’s an Open horse. He scoped badly after Larkhill but is back to his best now and this is his prep race for the Aintree Foxhunters’.” Bloodstone has been placed twice this season, last time at Cocklebarrow behind the progressive Tara Storm. His trainer James Henderson said, “His last run was quite good, behind a decent horse and it would be nice to see him progress. It’s taken a bit of time, but his jumping’s coming together now.”

James himself intends to ride Viking Honour, who won the Old Berkshire cross-country race recently for him, in the Siddington Challenge Cup that closes the card. “I hunt him every Saturday and I’m trying to persuade my sons to run him in the Maiden at Lockinge on Easter Monday if he goes well this weekend,” he laughed.

The final point-to-point race is the Sewell Mullings Logie Solicitors Maiden Race, which has the highest entry of the day, 15. Alan Hill intends to run newcomer No More No and explained the background to the horse. “My son Joe bought him in Ireland, brought him back and broke him in. Lynn and Martin Redman and Maurice Thomas took a liking to him, and Lynn named him. We schooled him at Brafield-on-the-Green this week and I’d like to run him with Izzie Marshall on board – Siddington’s a nice place to take a maiden.”

Myles Osborne was bullish about Chief Black Robe’s prospects. “He’s my best chance on the day,” opined the young trainer. He’s got two URs this season but was actually brought down both times. I was delighted with his run at Milborne St Andrew in a big field then he plugged on well in tacky ground at Cothelstone. He’s better than his rating suggests and should jump well out of nicer ground.”

Fred Hutsby confirmed Joe Kidd a definite runner and expects him to improve on his two pointing starts to date. “He came to us this year,” Fred told me, “Having shown form over hurdles but has fallen in both his races for us. He goes like a nice horse at home and will be a good ride for my son Tom, who turns 16 in November, next season.”

A Jet Of Our Own, bidding to give 18-year-old Freddie Philipson-Stow a first winner, must be one of the best maidens in training, having already been a close second twice, including when looking likely to win at Chipley Park before a terrible blunder at the last. Breffni Brave represents a shrewd operation and is likely to improve on his Garthorpe run, seasonal debutant Equus Flight has been placed on multiple occasions and should finish well on this stiff track, Idols’s Eye was a close third at Cocklebarrow and Just In A Bit is another interesting newcomer for Phil Rowley.

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