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Imperial Esprit produces poignant win in Edgcote's Young Riders Final

20-May-2024 16:26
in General
by Russell Smith

SEB Mead remembered the late Keagan Kirkby after claiming a poignant victory on Imperial Esprit at the Grafton Point-to-Point at Edgcote, near Banbury, before looking forward to a summer spell with Willie Mullins.

With a good-sized crowd basking in the spring sunshine on Sunday, Mead shone brightest aboard the Robert Varnham-trained 10-year-old in the PPORA Club Members Conditions Race (Level 2), for Novice Riders Championship Final.

Previously Kirkby's mount before the 25-year-old died while riding at Charing in February, Imperial Esprit struck the front at the fourth-last in the contest sponsored by Savills and PPORA, before storming up the hill to win by two-and-a-half lengths.

Runner-up Striking Out was subsequently disqualified after Bella Oliver failed to draw the correct weight with The Composeur and Jack Wilmot promoted to second.

Mead, 22, said: "It was a very classy performance. Full credit to Robert for still having him running well at the end of the season."

And reflecting on the loss of his weighing room colleague, he added: "He is always in our thoughts. I knew him well from when he could come down into the south-east to ride."

Mead is based with David Phelan at Brook, near Ashford in Kent, and his boss has fixed him up with a dream trip to Mullins's all-conquering Closutton stables in County Carlow.

"It's brilliant," said the excited rider. "I can't wait. I would love to train in the future, so it is the place to go. Hopefully, I will learn a thing or two."

Varnham's thoughts were also with Kirkby after his charge's success. "He did that for Keagan," commented the trainer, who is based at Bramley, near Guildford. "He will be watching down on us. At the beginning of the season, we said we would go for this race."

Kirkby's grandad, Dave Young, was watching the live stream, and is a member of owners the Gunshot Paddocks Racing Club, along with Chris Knotek, Clive Penfold, Sally Marks, Alan Wilson and Andy Gallagher.

With clerk of the course Graham Tawell and his team working wonders to produce Good ground, 50 runners faced the starter at the picturesque track nestled in the Northamptonshire countryside.

Dawn Ball, who trains out of Paul Webber's nearby Cropredy Lawn stables, celebrated her first double when Well P and Billy Two Rivers took the opening two races under Ellie Callwood.

The trainer had gone nine years without a winner before Well P scored at Mollington 13 days earlier, and the seven-year-old repeated the dose in the Grafton Hunt Members, Subscribers & Farmers Race.

The contest, sponsored by Heygates Country Foods, was open to horses entered for last month's abandoned Bicester with Whaddon Chase Hunt meeting, and the move paid off with nine runners.

Callwood always had her mount in the firing line, before forging clear to pass the post 15 lengths ahead of Nasee and Ellie Miller with Fiftyfifty a length back in third.

Ball, who owns the gelding as part of the Paddy Pea Club, with her mother, Joyce Ball, James Stride and Mick and Harriet Curran said: "I think we have something special for next year. With the Bicester being abandoned, I'm grateful that the Grafton have allowed us to join them."

Things got even better for Ball and Callwood when Billy Two Rivers opened his account in great style in the Maiden Race, sponsored by a Gentleman.

Callwood tracked the front-running Whatchagotder before hitting the front at the third-last and her mount, owned by Ball's partner, James Stride, powered clear to score by 16 lengths from Sean O'Connor's mount.

"Wow, what can I say," exclaimed the trainer. "I think he is some machine. He only turned five this month, but mentally he is so mature."

The gelding came from Turlough O'Connor, and Ball added: "He couldn't run on bottomless going in Ireland. I have had no winners for a long time and now I have had a double. It is amazing - three winners in two weeks!"

The double took Callwood's tally for the campaign to 10, beating her previous best, and she said: "He is a very smart young horse for the future. Moving yards to Kelly Morgan has given me a big helping hand. I started with Tom and Gina Ellis, and I owe a lot to them."

Caryto Des Brosses bounced back to winning ways in a high-quality Mixed Open, sponsored by John White Funeral Directors.

Pulled up in the mud at Cheltenham last time, Thetford trainer David Kemp's 12-year-old appreciated the sounder surface to make it a dozen wins between the flags plus two hunter chase successes.

Dale Peters maintained a strong gallop on the prolific winner to foil Golan Fortune's bid for a four-timer by two-and-a-quarter lengths with Jetaway Joey 11 lengths back in third.

Kemp said his charge would probably not go to Stratford on May 31, reasoning: "He needs to run right-handed because he has some arthritic issues in the left side of his neck, and he is not so comfortable going left-handed."

Owner John Ridge added: "I had it in the back of my mind that he would retire at 12 but after that performance I am not sure."

And Peters said: "He has been a hero for my career. He has been very unlucky not to win a good one."

Step Back rolled back the years to take the PPORA Club Members Veteran Horse Conditions Race (Level 3) for Oxfordshire trainer Lily Bradstock and rider Lexie New.

Winner of the 2018 bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, for whom he is now a Retraining of Racehorses Ambassador, the 14-year-old came clear up the straight to upset 1-3 favourite Benefaktor and Gina Andrews by eight lengths in the Framptons Planning-sponsored contest.

With Letcombe Bassett handler Lily taking the veteran back to the lorry park, her mother, Sara, said: "He is teaching Lexie lots. He is having a lovely time, and his feet are too bad to do anything else. Our farrier, Paul Logue, has done an incredible job of keeping him sound."

She added that there were no plans to retire the gelding, who runs in the colours of the Cracker and Smodge Partnership, named after owner Jamie McCloud's nicknames for his children.

New commented: "He is a very cool horse. I feel very honoured to ride him. Up the hill I could feel them all around me and I knew he would keep going."

Capparattin followed up his Mollington maiden win for Francesca Poste's Ettington stables, near Stratford, with a game success in the Restricted Race, sponsored by Towcester Vets.

Charlie Case's mount was challenged by Chabichou Dupoitou from the fourth-last, and the pair were locked together up the run-in, but Capparattin dug deep to fend off Izzie's Marshall's mount by a short head.

The Bumble Bee Racing Partnership, headed by Jane Burton and made up of her daughters, Lucy and Annabel, Trudy Gleed, Mark Styles and Mark Pugh, took over the nine-year-old's ownership from the late John O'Neill.

Jane said: "He is gamer than I thought he was. He took it up from the front and every time they came to him, he said 'No, no, no'. John would be so proud."

Case added: "He jumps for fun. He only does what he has to and saves a bit for himself."

Nick Wright's first visit to Edgcote proved a memorable one although he had to endure an anxious wait before Mount Pleasant was confirmed the winner of the Owner-Trainer Conditions Race (Level 2) following a stewards' enquiry.

The seven-year-old hit the front going to the third-last in the NFU Mutual-sponsored contest under Alex Chadwick, before holding on by three-quarters of a length from the rallying Secret Cargo and Katie Featherstone.

Wright, who is based at Chippenham, near Newmarket, said: "All the credit must go to Ali Warboys, who has done the training while I have been away. Hopefully, he will go to Stratford for the Restricted. This is a beautiful course. I have never been before."

Brothers Harry and Oliver Vigors, from Aldbourne, near Marlborough, completed a family double in the two pony races, sponsored by Ben Case Racing, to be crowned the South Midlands Area Leading Riders.

Oliver, 12, triumphed in the 138cm and under contest aboard Little Anne, before Harry, 14, took the honours on Obi 1 Knobi in the 148cm and under race.

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