The East Anglian season continued to provide some excellent racing, with another enjoyable, exciting and informative fixture at the Dunston Harriers meeting at Ampton.
The James Owen-trained Just Cause won the opening race for veteran horses, and provided owner Simon Stearn, Ampton's Clerk of the Course, with a thoroughly deserved winner. Simon and his hard-working team had the course in superb condition and it was Simon's son, Rupert, who rode a well-judged race to win by one-and-a-half lengths. Always appearing to travel comfortably within the race, Rupert confirmed his mount runs best when fresh. Last of a bunched field after the first circuit, the pairing made steady progress and finished clear of After Hours and previous course winner Minella Friend Although a recent purchase by the Stearn family, Rupert had ridden Just Cause a couple of years ago at Catterick Bridge and jokingly added he had subsequently been "jocked off".
Don Cantillon has been around the East Anglian scene for several decades, first as a jockey, and in recent times as an astute trainer. His home-bred six-year-old Hunstmans Jog ran away from the opposition in the Open Maiden, winning by a distance, in the hands of Liam Harrison. Don never loses that desire and excitement of developing a young horse and with each success that twinkle in his eye never dims. Liam, from the Stow-on-the-Wold area, works full-time for the in-form Fergal O'Brien stable and has been given some nice opportunities recently, including a third in Saturday's Grade 3 Classic Chase at Warwick. Liam, who was riding mainly for Sally Alner last season, was recording his 10th pointing winner and his first of the season.
The Mixed Open saw the favourite Tullys Touch and Jack Andrews content to bide their time at the rear, before making a forward move up the Ampton finishing hill to overtake long-time leader Chosen Rose. Although the race was run in the slowest time of day, Andrews was impressed with the winner's ability to quicken, and considers the seven-year-old progressive with very little mileage to date. Trainer John Ibbott was also pleased to concede this was potentially the best horse he has had in his yard. Chosen Rose will come on for this run and is due to make her next appearance at Horseheath in early February.
Occupied and Sam Lee comfortably won the Restricted after the favourite, Hard Ground, had fallen when upside two fences out. Sam was more than confident that his mount had the measure of the market leader, and the partnership eventually won by eight lengths from the weakening Taboo, who had led until three out.
The Intermediate saw another favourite, Fox Valley, miss out on visiting the winners' enclosure. Dream Doc (pictured) jumped freely and impeccably in front but was joined by the favourite three out. Just when it looked like Fox Valley and Jack Andrews would go on and supplement their Cottenham success, they were re-challenged by the very game mare Dream Doc who "just kept giving more" for winning jockey Kate Gowing. "She likes to get her own way and she loves it and just doesn't like to be headed" added Kate. Owner/trainer Caroline Fryer was equally delighted, not only by the performance of the mare, who is qualified with the host hunt, but more importantly because part of the winning prize was some Sandringham Royal sausages!
There was a total of 47 runners on the day and 12 contested the concluding Novice Riders' race. The original outcome of the race became immaterial as unfortunately three jockeys had bypassed a dolled-off fence on the incorrect side on the first circuit on the incorrect side and were disqualified. The dolling-off was necessary because of the low sun. After Aspen was always up front and was declared the winner by the judge before the announcement of a Stewards' Enquiry. His level-headed rider Luke Scott was fully aware of some of his rival's erroneous, fence bypassing, and was confident he would retain the race at the subsequent enquiry. At the prize presentation, trainer Laura Horsfall was surrounded by delighted members of her racing club who are looking forward to another successful season, their sixth full season in operation.
So another delightful day's racing with ground and weather conditions as decent as you can expect in early January.