The spectre of the coronavirus hung over Larkhill on Sunday, with the extra bio security measures put in place by the course and the potential that there may be limited, or possibly even no, point-to-point racing after this weekend.
The weather did not help either with rain for the start of the meeting before becoming drier at the end of the day, and as a result the ground became more testing, particularly by Larkhill standards. The highlights of the meeting were riding doubles for Will Biddick and Tommie O'Brien, a brace for owner Tom Lacey and a victory for Captain Buck's for leading trainer Rose Loxton.
The Mixed Open, the feature race, over the shorter trip of two and a half miles proved to be to the liking of the favourite Captain Buck's. Beaten at the prohibitive odds of 1/7 when last appearing at Larkhill, he started at more generous odds to beat his nine rivals and this time he was partnered by Angus Cheleda. Not the easiest of rides, Angus took up the lead two out and forged clear approaching the last, but his mount idled on the run in to defeat Azure Fly, ridden by Peter Mason, by five lengths. Owned by John Gane, who missed the victory, and Paul Nicholls, he has appreciated being in a smaller stable with a different routine than he enjoyed when he was trained at Ditcheat.
Another former inmate of Paul Nicholls stable, Ptit Zig (pictured) turned back the clock when recording a victory in the Oriental Conditions race under Will Biddick. A previous winner of the Dipper Chase in 2015 at Cheltenham and a Grade One hurdle at Auteuil in 2016, he was gifted to Mike and Lucy Felton in an attempt to see if his enthusiasm could be rekindled by a change of scenery. An encouraging fourth behind Chameron in the Coronation Gold Cup, he followed Order in Court until taking it up approaching the last. Ridden around the Felton's farm he has had a very different routine than he enjoyed at Ditcheat.
Tom Lacey introduced two four-year-old newcomers Kaphumor and Grizzman in two of the three maiden races run on the day, and both were victorious under Tommie O'Brien. Kaphumor won one of the divisions of the three-mile Maiden from the favourite Wykham, ridden by Sam Waley–Cohen, by three lengths having taken up the lead at the last. Described by his owner as still very weak, he may next be seen in the Aintree sales, which is hoped will still take place.
Grizzman, an attractive son of Al Namix, fought out his race, the shorter two-and-a-half-mile Maiden, with another four-year-old Adjournment, ridden by James King and trained by Fran Nimmo, and prevailed by half-a-length. Entered in the Goffs Doncaster May Sales in 2019, he failed to appear and was bought privately from his owner by Tom in August. He should be better on good ground, according to his owner, and both the winner and runner-up look nice prospects for the future.
The other division of the Open Maiden provided a welcome winner for trainer Stuart Penny when O'Faolains Lad beat another four-year-old Saquon, ridden by Alex Edwards. Owned by friends of Stuart's, Marion Hiron and Tony Pond, he was acquired via Tom Malone having run five times in Ireland, having pulled-up on four occasions. Diagnosed with ulcers, he is testament to the training methods of Stuart and his assistant Teona who have nursed him back to full health. Ridden by Tom Doggrell, 19, the jockey was recording his third winner at the weekend having ridden two winners at Cothelstone the previous day.
Will Biddick recorded his second winner of the day aboard Norman Thomas's Voie Dans Voie in the Restricted race. Patiently ridden by Will, he was an easy winner by 12 lengths to Cashmoll, ridden by Zac Baker. Trained by Norman's daughter Laura, she described him as very easy and a kind horse to look after. An Intermediate race ought to be well within his compass.
The concluding race, the Novice Riders, was won in convincing style by Vivaldi Collonges, ridden by Ben Bromley. Previously trained by Paul Nicholls, he was in James Owen's yard last season but then moved to Philip Rowley where Ben now works. Last seen on the opening day of the season at Cottenham, he has not been quite right behind the scenes since November but is now back in good form and easily accounted for Victarion, ridden by Isaac Buncle, and nine other rivals.