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28 March 2011 Scene & Heard: Puckeridge - Horseheath

by Carolyn Tanner

The veteran Northall Lad, who had run so well in defeat at the previous meeting on this track, proved far too classy for his three rivals in the Men's Open, cruising home in the fastest time of the day with rider Andrew Braithwaite taking leisurely looks over his shoulder all the way up the home straight. The only surprise was that he started odds against, with Parkinson being preferred in the betting.

"I was surprised how well he ran last time on the soft because he prefers this quick ground," said trainer Joan Johnston, who had seen her charges finish second nine times since she saddled her previous winner in 2009.

Joan and Jennifer Harbison have a share in Northall Lad along with breeder George Cook, who worked for James Delahooke for 43 years and who has a five-year-old unbroken half-brother to Northall Lad at home. Joan and George go back a long way, as it was in 1987 that she won Stratford's John Corbet Cup on another of his home-breds, King Neon.

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Louise Allan, who scored on her first ride at Cottenham 19 years ago, completed a half-century between the flags when King du Berlais won a match for the AGA Ladies' Open, despite giving 7lbs to Maranach, who pressed him all the way up the run-in.

"I'd love to ride him in the final at Cheltenham," admitted Louise, although owner Joe Turner was of the opinion that he was unlikely to be good enough to compete.

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King du Berlais was also completing a first double for Louise, who had earlier taken the Maiden on Sud Nivernais. Until this season she had usually confined herself to riding in Ladies' races, but she was pressed into service to partner the young horses when the Turner stable jockey James Owen was injured on this course in early February.

Sud Nivernais was purchased in France from Francois Doumen, for whom he was twice placed, but "He [Doumen] didn't think he was good enough for his job," smiled Joe.

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It was a mixed day for the Turner yard, as Bavard Court, odds-on to complete a treble for owner and rider in the Restricted, never went a yard and was eventually pulled up. The race was won in good style by Gleeson, who was given a confident ride by owner James Turcan, Executive Director of a property investment company based in Uppingham. He was providing a belated extra present for James and for trainer Stuart Morris, both of whom had celebrated a birthday earlier in the week.

Gleeson had been out of sorts since winning his Maiden under Stuart on this track in 2009, but when his connections decided to sell him Stuart recommended his purchase to James. His fairly late start to the campaign has been due to the amount of hunting he has done with James, and also to the fact that he cut himself when out in the field, but this could, Stuart considered, have been a blessing in disguise. "He's useless on soft ground," he stressed, "so it's no bad thing he couldn't run earlier."

Stuart was quickly on the phone to convey the good news to his girlfriend Alexis Withers, whose retired eventer he had borrowed as a travelling companion for Gleeson.

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Stuart had walked no fewer than three courses the previous day to check out the going for his charges, and had been impressed with the efforts made to produce safe ground. It was, though, unfortunate that the announcement that watering would take place was not made until after entries closed, but the organisers are hoping that owners will be more willing to enter their horses in future.

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The Club Members and Intermediate races, like the Ladies' Open, were two-horse affairs. The former went to The Rodeo Clown, from whom James Owen had his fall. Owner-trainer John Ferguson, bloodstock advisor to Sheikh Mohammed, was away in Dubai but the news was instantly relayed to him via mobile phone by his parents.

The Rodeo Clown, who is a bit quirky - "He's got a good reach with his hind leg," laughed John's head girl Charlotte Morrall - was ridden by Dicky Collinson, deputising for Jack Quinlan. Jack was stood down after a Fakenham fall the previous week, but is due to go for a concussion test today (Monday) and hopes to be back on Thursday.

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Ilikehimmac, who had run well at Horseheath before, showed his liking for the track by winning the Intermediate for owner-trainer-rider Paul Blagg, his wife Lindsay, Martin Boutcher and Paul Hollis. "He's a very easy horse," smiled Lindsay of the chestnut, who has been with his present connections for five years and is a half-brother to the 2003 Midlands National winner Intelligent.

Paul [Blagg] left the police force in 2008 after 30 years service, and now works for an agricultural contractor. He is also a former race walker who competed for Great Britain in the Olympic Games of 1988 and 1992.

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The Horseheath leading rider for 2011 was Gina Andrews, who had gone to Parham for one ride but was unfortunately brought down. She enjoyed better luck at Brafield the following day, winning the Restricted on King's Chase to take her season's tally to 14.

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