Two young female riders from the Cotswolds notched up their first success in the saddle at nearby Cocklebarrow Races on Sunday, and one – 18-year-old Grace Knowles – did so on her first ever ride.
In an effort which serves as an exemplar to any Point-to-Point committee, the Heythrop event drew in a large crowd, many of whom had paid in advance, to enjoy an afternoon's entertainment in the crisp air of a January Sunday. It can safely be said that there were more spectators than at Warwick the same day. Indeed, many of our professional trainers had eschewed watching their charges at Lingfield and Warwick to attend Cocklebarrow instead, notably Hughie Morrison, whose Our Jester won the opening valuable Bumper at the Surrey Winter Million meeting.
Grace Knowles took the 14-runner Kings Head Novice Riders Race on Stacks Mountain and belied her inexperience with a patient ride, which saw her win the Dubarry Outstanding Performance Award and receive a £500 voucher to spend with the sponsors. Mid-division early, she went second going out on the final circuit then took the lead three out and came home four-and-a-half lengths clear of the always-prominent Ellipsism. Hot favourite Old Guard was one-and-a-quarter lengths away in third but never got in a blow.
A sizeable entourage of family and friends cheered the winning combination into the enclosure as Sally Randell – representing winning owner-trainer Fergal O’Brien – explained how they came to buy the nine-year-old. “We bought him from Henry de Bromhead in August,” said Sally. “Grace – who bought her first racing pony three or four years ago and has been riding out for us ever since – is with us full-time for a year before she goes to university and Henry said he’d be the perfect ride for a novice. He travels well and jumps economically but is foot perfect. To be honest, we were just hoping to get round, but Grace was mega!”
“I’m 18 and am going to university later this year to study physiotherapy,” confirmed a beaming Grace. “I raced ponies but didn’t come close to winning and can’t thank Fergal and Sally enough for giving me the ride on Stacks Mountain. I hope I can keep riding him in Novices races and maybe get a few outside rides this season.”
The other Cotswold youngster to ride their first winner was 22-year-old. Megan Fox – no relation to the Hollywood actress, but grand-daughter of trainer Jimmy and daughter of former jump jockey Sean. She took the opener – the five-runner Knight Frank Heythrop Hunt Members Race – on Raven’s Tower, another professionally-trained winner, this time by Ben Pauling. The twelve-year-old went into the lead passing the finishing post with a circuit to go, quickened a few lengths clear before the final ditch and always had enough in reserve to repel the persistent challenge of favourite Lord Scoundrel, winning by three-and-a-half lengths. 2020 winner Pomme De Nuit was a very distant third.
“We’ve had him a long-time,” Ben said of Raven’s Tower. “He was the first horse I bought – for just £2,000 – and was very good when he was younger, but lost his way. The plan is to stay pointing with him and give Megan some rides and we’ll see how we go before looking for a better races. That must be the best spin of Megan’s life – we were worried about the trip, but she gave him a peach of a ride.”
Megan told me, “I used to work for Andrew Balding and joined Ben just over two years ago. My Dad didn’t want me to become a jockey but eventually gave in! I’ve had three rides on the flat, two over jumps – which I prefer – and that’s only my second ride in points, and the first for nearly two years. What’s my ambition? To ride a winner, and I’ve just done it!”
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)