06 December 2011 Scene & Heard: Point-to-Point Owners' & Riders' Club Day 2 - Barbury Racecourse
by Carolyn Tanner
Both winning Open race riders had more than tactics on their minds at the start of the day, as the first hurdle that Angela Rucker and Nick Sutton had to overcome was that of watching their respective offspring making their debut in the Dodson & Horrell Novice Riders' contest.
Happily for their nervous parents, the two 16-year-olds, Emily Rucker and Dominic Sutton, proved themselves equal to the task and completed the course without mishap.
"He was as white as a sheet," laughed Nick's sister Tracey Bailey after saddling his Offshore Account to land the Men's Open. Both Tracey and her daughter Pandora, who does much of the work and schooling with the 11-year-old, rate him a better horse this season.
"He's beefed up and put on more condition," Tracey pointed out, "and he's doing his work so much easier."
Offshore Account, who will mix Pointing with Hunter Chasing, has as his main target the Aintree Fox Hunter Chase, in which he finished third early this year to Baby Run.
Kicks For Free, owned by Angela and husband William, had triumphed in the very first AGA qualifier in 2010, and he justified favouritism in their sponsored Ladies' Open on Sunday, despite being considered to be a bit short of work.
He had a truncated campaign last time after taking a battering when brought down at Tabley in April. "It took a long time to put him back together. His back was terrible and his neck was out," explained William, adding with a smile "but it looks as if he's all right again now."
Kicks For Free may have had his work cut out, though, had not the clear leader Mount Sandel, who was showing no signs of stopping, slithered to the ground at the 13th, an undeserved conclusion to the positive front-running ride from another 16-year-old debutant, Francesca ‘Frankie' Hickman. On this evidence Frankie, whose parents Peter and Alison clocked up plenty of winners between them, looks a young rider to follow.
There could have been no more appropriate victory in the Novice Riders' race than that of Page Fuller, whose father Richard is not only the course sponsor but Chairman of the Point-to-Point Owners' & Riders' Association. Page, also 16, looked extremely accomplished on her racecourse bow, pushing out Mount Benger very coolly to get the better of the favourite Barneys Mate after being headed over the last.
"The pony racing definitely makes a difference," stressed Page's mother Charlotte. "And she didn't have a thoroughbred, just a Welsh cross, so she had to work harder at it than some."
Page is a first-year ‘A' level student, studying maths, further maths, chemistry and economics, at nearby Marlborough College. She has ridden out for Patrick Chamings since she was 14 and now goes to Alan King's once a week.
Mount Benger, who has scored on the flat and over hurdles and fences, took his knees down to the bone when falling on the road a couple of years ago, and he was given to the Fullers by his then trainer Dai Williams with the thought that, should he stand racing again, he would make Page an ideal schoolmaster. He is now trained for the family by Harry Whittington, who runs a satellite yard for Nicky Henderson.
Another of the first-time riders to get round safely was Elizabeth Smee, who was achieving a long-held ambition to ride in a Point-to-Point. "She's been on at me for years," grinned her mentor Phil York. "I told her ‘When you're a doctor, which she now is, and can afford to get yourself a proper schoolmaster, which she has, then you can have a go.'"
Richard Barber and Will Biddick chalked up a third success of the weekend in the first division of the Horses & Geldings Maiden with the newcomer Toby Lerone, carrying the well-known colours of Graham Regan, whose Niche Market had finished second in Aintree's Becher Chase the previous day.
Toby Lerone, whose full sister Rising Time won the Tattersalls Ireland Sales Bumper at Fairyhouse in April - coincidentally Will Biddick himself was runner-up in that race on the Colin Tizzard-trained Theatre Guide - and whose pedigree goes back to Dawn Run, was bought in Ireland from Tony Costello by Graham, who co-owns him with Jimmy Dunning, Alistair Petty, Simon Morgan and David Gibbs.
"The daughter of one of the owners said all the nice boys at school are called Toby, and everyone loves chocolate, don't they?" laughed Graham, explaining the choice of name for the four-year-old, although the only person in the unsaddling enclosure who had apparently not worked out the play on words was Toby Lerone's trainer!
Unsurprisingly, Will ended up as the leading rider over the two days. He was presented with a memento, sponsored by photographer Linda Charles, by Terry Selby.
Division Two of the Maiden went to What A Laugh, a first runner for owners Richard and Sarah Davies-Cooke. The victory provided a little compensation for trainer Gary Hanmer, who sadly lost Princess Fusion earlier in the afternoon.
"He's been working like a serious horse at home, so it wasn't unexpected," admitted Gary, whose charge had come recommended by bloodstock agent Aiden Murphy. Aiden had been prepared to back his judgement - "He's given me some money to put on for him," smiled Gary.
What A Laugh's main target is the Members' race at the Flint & Denbigh, the hunt with which Sarah is closely associated, particularly through her involvement with Pony Club activities.
The island fence was omitted from this race on both circuits, the reason being given as low sun. As the cloud cover made any brightness barely, if at all, discernible, this decision raised a few eyebrows and left some racegoers understandably perplexed.
Division One of the Jockey Club PPORA Mares' Maiden, which had to be split when declarations exceeded the safety factor, went to Marcus Foley's highly-regarded Kahlua Cove, on whom Sam Painting needed to sit pretty tight on several occasions. Her jumping may have been less than fluent at times, but there was no doubting the engine power as she cruised to victory.
It was the six-year-old's first outing for 18 months, although her absence was due not to injury but to the fact that nobody wanted her. "I couldn't get anyone to lease her so she had the year off," explained Marcus, who is still looking to form a syndicate of owners for her and is hoping that her impressive performance will encourage prospective members to come forward.
Kahlua Cove is a half-sister to the winning hurdler Amaretto Rose, who was partnered by her current owner-trainer to her first success, in a Towcester Bumper.
Marcus, who runs a breaking and pre-training yard a stone's throw from Barbury, rode for Nicky Henderson as second jockey to Mick Fitzgerald for several years, and is a former champion Conditional.
The second division went to Pretty Penny, partnered by her trainer Peter Mason for owner Charles Mathew, who owned the 1989 Midlands National winner Gallic Prince. She was bought at Doncaster as a four-year-old by Charles, an Oxford County Councillor.
After three uninspiring runs over hurdles earlier this year, when the trip was considered to be too short for her, she returned to Peter's yard, from where she twice finished second in 2010. "She's had muscle problems," said Peter's wife Jennifer, "and Charles has been very patient."
Riders of the minimum age were out in force, and yet another to catch the eye was James Martin, who rode Trifollet into third behind Pretty Penny. James is looking forward to riding against (and beating!) his father Andy before the season is out.