As Point-to-Point racing restarts again next Monday, the opening race at Maisemore is one in which we can all share. The Hunt Members Race combines the respective races of the Ledbury, Cotwold, Cotswold Vale, Heythrop and Monmouthshire, with representatives from each making up an entry of 21, writes Pete Mansell.
The Ledbury look to hold a strong hand with Ballyboker Breeze, Trio for Rio, Chase Me, Miss Seagreen and No Limitations colours nailed to that mast. Ballyboker Breeze lack of a recent run could prove problematic, whereas Trio for Rio holds Miss Seagreen on their running in a Ludlow Hunter Chase a few weeks ago, and that form is better than most. The Heythrop have two worthy representatives in Blackwater Bramble and Pithivier but this looks a tough race so they may struggle, while Thumb Stone Blues looks the best of the Cotswold Vale representatives.
Risky Gold, trained by Linda Delahooke, and ridden by Albi Tufnell, learning the art of jockeyship at Fergal O'Brien's, represent the Cotswold, and try as we might, we don't hold a strong hand. Risky Gold failed to finish in his only run this season.
A total of 187 entries has been made for the card, more than double the other three fixtures over March 29-30 - an illustration of the appetite to get the sport back underway in the county. Stupendous efforts have been made to pull together the fixture, one of only 50 or so remaining across the UK before the Torrington Farmers sees out the season at Umberleigh on June 12.
A lot has happened since the last West Midland Area meeting on 6th December with Alex Edwards turning professional, while the Area’s leading trainer Mel Rowley now has a Rules license. Phil Rowley has reassumed responsibility for the Point-to-Pointers at the family’s Morville yard and normal service should quickly be re-established in the 4 & 5-Year-old Maiden.
This race is dominated by runners from “sales” stables who use these events to market their wares, and that includes Rowley’s representative No Authority who is sure to give a good account of himself. Only one of the fourteen runners have any racecourse experience which means that the Fran Nimmo trained Adjournment has an advantage over most of his rivals. He sets the standard as he was narrowly beaten on his racecourse debut at Larkhill last March and looks to have a major chance.
The Lacey’s Woolhope yard took the honors at the Wiltshire venue and they also have a runner in this race. They have an impressive strike rate in this type of event but other stables have got on the bandwagon and these races have become more competitive. Algesiras could join the long list of winners to emerge from the Herefordshire yard. Lacy’s near neighbor Clive Boultbee-Brooks has proved adept in his new role of training Pointers and will be hoping that Guinness Village proves better than his rivals with the market providing the best guide to his chances.
Tom Ellis saddles Another Mystery and any runner from this yard must be treated with respect, while West Country trainer Chris Barber has four horses entered in the Boundary Stables Partnership colours.
Hindlip trainer Tom Weston relies on Stumps or Slips and Walk in Clover, while the Peter Mason trained The Eminent Goose is another that catches the eye.
Entries for Open races at these early meetings have proved disappointing and only 13 horses have entered at Maisemore - a rare blip in the entries glut for Tuesday.
Bradley Gibbs pairing of Rio Bravo and Highway Jewel can add to their tally, although Diplomate Sivola won well for his new connections at Barbury but may not have the skill set to trouble Gibbs’s selection, while Benefit of Luck’s form has gone downhill over the last 12 months. Mickey Bowen is a chip off the Peter Bowen block and it will be interesting to see if he can revive the careers of More Buck’s and Phoenix Rock, while Phil Rowley will be hoping to get Vivaldi Collonges back to winning ways.
The Skinners sponsored Ladies Open looks at the mercy of the Gina Andrews ridden Dubai Quest who is unbeaten in his last four outings. Master Baker had good form last season but has struggled to maintain his high rating but will be there to take advantage if the favorite has an off day. Aqua Dude and Court Minstrel are potential mounts for Eleonor Williams but both look on the downgrade which means the likes of Hey Bill, Hit the Highway and West Hardin could pick up one of the minor placings.
Shiskin impressed at the Cheltenham Festival and her half-sister Shometheway is an interesting entry for the Ladies. She was pulled up on heavy ground at Leicester and will appreciate less testing conditions and we all know that Clive Bennett likes to have a winner at Maisemore.
Waterloo Warrior never runs a bad race but has suffered two narrow defeats this season including one over this course in October. He is sure to give you a good run for your money but a 10 lb penalty tips the scales in his rivals favour.
These include Daly An Sceil who has to be feared if making the journey down from Yorkshire, while any horse owned by Judy Wilson and trained by Stuart Morris has to be placed on the short list.
Ryans Fancy scored on the opening day of the season and is capable of taking the next step up the ladder while the odds are in No Limitations favour in connections sidestep engagements earlier in the afternoon.
The Conditions (42 entries) is a race that is likely to require division, although several entries have other options elsewhere on the card.
Big Casino scored for Emma Alvis at October’s meeting when this gallant veteran showed the exhuberence of a horse half his age and back on familiar terriority he could regain the winning thread. Chase Me has been kept on the go in Hunter Chases while Point to Pointing has been shut down so it would be no surprise if the return to smaller obstacles proved beneficial. Diamond King finished third behind Trio for Rio in a Ludlow Hunter Chase so he could be one to follow, while According to Harry, Azure Fly, Ballykan and Midnight King all look capable of taking a hand at the finish.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)