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07 February 2011 Scene & Heard: South Midlands Area Club - Whitfield

by Carolyn Tanner

"I wanted to train a winner at 80, and now I have." Dick Baimbridge has trained nearly 500 winners between the flags, but few will have given him as much pleasure as Shernally, who won a hotly-contested AGA Ladies' Open under a fine ride from Jane Williams.

The mare finished a bit sore and was dismounted by Jane after crossing the line, but Dick's expert hand could reveal no immediate sign of tendon damage.

"She's the easiest I've ever had," said Dick, who does everything with Shernally himself. "Riding's no problem but arthritis makes getting on difficult," he explained. "But she stands by the mounting block and doesn't move until I've got both feet in the irons. She's so idle that I have to work her in spurs."

Shernally was bought at Ascot on Dick's behalf by Claire Allen, who phoned him to say "She's chestnut with white legs, so you won't like that, for a start!" Dick then rang Graham Fisher who, despite not having seen the mare, said he would take a half share.

"I was in Tesco's at the time," Graham recalled, "so I came out with some potatoes, some broccoli and half a horse. I did complain to Dick afterwards that I didn't get any extra Clubcard points for her!"

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Earplugs proved the answer for Nomadic Dreamer, who put up the fastest time of the day with an impressive victory in the Men's Open in the hands of Liam Payter. "He was too fresh at Chaddesley," explained David Minton, whose wife Juliet owns him in partnership with Ann Tolhurst. "He was very buzzy and ran his race on the first circuit."

David bought Nomadic Dreamer, a half-brother to Big Fella Thanks, as a four-year-old for Ann's husband Wilf, but after the latter's tragic death in 2008 he returned to Shropshire and was sent to Phillip Rowley, who described him as "A little bit quirky at home - every day's different with him."

The chestnut is likely to stay Pointing in the immediate future, but a Hunter Chase could be on the agenda later in the season.

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Joan Hitchings's Over The Phone is being campaigned with the Connolly's Red Mills final in mind, and he earned his ticket with a comfortable Intermediate success under Tom Weston.

"We don't mind what the ground is at Cheltenham," said trainer Andy Hobbs, who confessed to having had butterflies in his stomach before the race. "When I get butterflies I know they're good horses," he admitted. "I used to get them with Saint Reverien."

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Tom had earlier won the Brightwells/PPA Maiden Conditions race on Robert Chugg's Jacalou, the jockey's first ride for trainer Tom Lacey. Jacalou had moved to the Lacey yard after her unruly display at Chaddesley, where she had refused to start, but, explained her rider, the Worcestershire track may have held some unhappy memories for her. "She slipped up there last year," he elaborated, "and got galloped on by half the field so she was pretty sore."

Jacalou was bought as a foal at Newmarket's November sales, and acquired her name in unusual circumstances. Robert's wife Jackie had gone to the ladies' cloakroom, which has loudspeakers installed, and had nearly jumped off the loo seat, revealed a laughing Harry Fowler, who was acting as auctioneer, when she heard the announcement that the filly had been knocked down to her husband!

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"I'm gobsmacked, and I think the horse is, too," smiled Annie Connell after saddling her son Jonathan's The Fast Frog to win the split-on-the-day Restricted Division One. "We used to think he was a good horse but we couldn't find the right button - he was such a funny moody horse."

Admitting that she would have pleased had he run into a place, she went on to give credit to rider Richard Spencer. "He's not an easy ride," she said, "but Richard got on with him really well when he schooled at Lambourn."

It was a third career success for Richard, who celebrated his 22nd birthday just two days earlier and who has been pupil-assistant with Barry Hills for five years.

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"Not very user-friendly, is he?" Phil York sums up after Ringa Bay, who eventually finished fourth in this race after reverting to his Cottenham behaviour by attempting to run out on the first bend.

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Runner-up to The Fast Frog was Ashtown Boy, whose rider Sam Waley-Cohen finds himself without a ride in both the Cheltenham Foxhunters and the Aintree equivalent. Sam, whose experience over the Liverpool obstacles is second to none, had been looking forward to partnering Roulez Cool in both classics, but his father's home-bred has sustained a knock which will keep him out until later in the season. "If anyone's got a good spare I'm available," was Sam's hopeful comment.

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Division Two went to Mark Wall on his Comealong Cornwall, whose dam Batease is a half-sister to the 1995 Aintree Fox Hunters' winner Sheer Jest. The mare had been ready to run at the Heythrop fixture, but Mark had not dared to chance her on ground which he considered to be too firm.

"She was bouncing then, but she's been a bit quiet since so I wasn't sure what to expect today," he admitted.

A new routine has helped Comealong Cornwall, who has tended to tie up at home. She now lives out permanently, including at feed times, while a change of diet has also been beneficial.

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Another for whom earplugs worked the oracle was Maiden Division One winner Doctor Kingsley, who had been prone to light up in the preliminaries. "He hated racing when he came to us, and he also hated wearing a visor," explained Pauline Harkin, who trains him for her husband Doug.

The Harkins, in whose yard he was last year, bought him from his then owner-rider Ben Brackenbury, who unfortunately has been unable to sit on a horse since a bad fall at this track over ten months ago but who is hoping to start riding again very soon.

Doctor Kingsley was ridden by Will Telfer, who now works at the yard every morning.

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The second division was won by another who has had his share of problems, Caroline Mackness's Gemini Ahhs, who made his racecourse debut in 2007 but was having only his sixth outing here. "We bought him because he's got the same birthday [June 2] as my husband Dickie," laughed Caroline, for whom the half-brother to Comply Or Die was placed in all five runs under Rules for her.

He was then trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and is now with the latter's head lad Fergal O'Brien. "He's a bit fragile," said Fergal's wife Jelly. "He doesn't like fast ground and his legs were hurting him under Rules, otherwise he would have won."

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Gemini Ahhs's rider Sam Drinkwater would perhaps, on balance, have counted the day as disappointing. He was £80 lighter in the pocket after failing to weigh in on Plettenberg, who finished second past the post in the Brightwells Maiden, the odds-on favourite Dammam ran no sort of race in the Intermediate, and he ended the afternoon by taking a crashing fall from Posh Trip in the closing Maiden Division Three.

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This went to William and Angela Rucker's That's Ben, a first success of the season for rider Richard Burton. "He's quite lazy," was trainer Sheila Crow's opinion of the strapping six-year-old. "He's not the best work horse at home, and he'll improve for that."

However much the victory was expected, Sheila will have felt a huge sense of relief. "He [That's Ben] was only just beaten by Kilcrea Kim in Ireland, and he won at Sandown yesterday so Sheila really had the pressure on," grinned William.

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Despite the fact that one race had to be divided on the day, all nine contests went off exactly on time at the stipulated 30 minute intervals. The smooth running of the meeting reflects much credit on the organisers, as it does on the South Midlands declarations team, who must be far and away the most efficient in the country.

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