Larkhill Racing Club review.
The loss of the Harkaway Club meeting at Chaddesley Corbett to the weather allowed owners and keepers to switch their charges to Larkhill and at least three of the winners on a very competitive card would have run at the Worcestershire course. Even Larkhill which can absorb a lot of rain was at its most testing and several fancied horses including the Aintree Foxhunters winner from 2023 found the conditions stretching. During the day it remained mostly dry with a full rainbow across the course on two occasions before the heavens opened for the final race. It was another good day for James King with a riding double, two highly promising four-year-olds to follow and two quality ex steeplechasers showing a revival of their form.
Deise Aba was an easy winner in the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings in the opening Conditions race ridden by Zac Baker and trained by Fran Nimmo. Previously trained by Philip Hobbs and the winner of three steeplechases and was placed in a cross-country race at Cheltenham in January 2023 he had been transferred to Fran’s stable in the hope that this would reinvigorate his enthusiasm. He did not enjoy his opening point to point but this time held up by Zac he was in command in the second last and had twelve lengths in hand at the winning post. Fran explained that ‘he needs better ground to show his best form’ and the drop in class from his rules races helped. Fran took him hunting with the Bicester and he was an interesting ride particularly over a set of rails. Zac was delighted to have won the race run in memory of Godfrey Maundrell with whom he had a good association at the start of his riding career and in particular on Arthurian Legend on whom he won six races.
Viroflay maintained his unbeaten record at Larkhill when holding off the challenges of Champagne Noir ridden by Ellie Holder and Viva Lavilla ridden by Shannon Holmes in the Ladies Open race. Ridden as usual by his keeper Olive Nicholls for her father Paul and John Bolton he decided to lead after the second fence and despite the efforts of his rivals none could get past him. Described by his proud rider as much stronger than last season, he is another who appreciates better ground and his next outing is likely to be a potential repeat of his Coronation Gold Cup success from 2023. He might contest a Novice Hunter Chase later in the season but the going will be critical for this.
David Dennis introduced an impressive fencing debutant in the form of Gasmani, a four-year-old gelding by Getaway in the Open Maiden race. A big field of sixteen horses faced the starter but once James King set sail for home from the second last there was never any doubt about the result. Bought by David as a 3-year-old store he had a couple of runs in point-to-point Bumpers last season, showing some promise in his second outing. Described by his owner and keeper as still babyish and green, he hopes that he might be able to match the achievements of his half brother Cyclop who is David’s stable star having already won eleven races in his career. James who schooled him last week reported that ‘he jumped well then and I was hopeful he would repeat that on the racecourse which he did’ Future plans have yet to be decided but he is likely to have a career initially over Hurdles for David’s NH yard.
James completed his double when recording an extremely easy win aboard Joan Hitchings’ Grace A Vous Enki in the Mens Open race. Repeating his triumph from the New Forest meeting in December he has enjoyed his move away from National Hunt racing and the different training regime at Nicky Sheppard’s yard. Despite the presence of the Aintree Foxhunters winner Famous Clermont Nicky explained that ‘you should not be frightened off by one rival’ as advised to her husband Matt by the late Mercy Rimell and this was fully vindicated. Future plans will be decided by Clive and Joan Hitchings so we will have to wait for this news. He would have run at Chaddesley which is much closer to where the Hitchings live. Famous Clermont did not seem to enjoy the more testing going and surrendered the runner up spot to Drop Him In on the run in.
Horizon D’Ainay repeated his success at Larkhill when gamely beating a competitive Restricted race field of eight rivals. Trained for the Pitchfork Partnership by Justin Brotherton his keeper was thrilled with his gelding’s success describing himself as being ‘over the moon’ and delighted with the ride the gelding received from Toby McCain-Mitchell. He had thought that the softer going would not play to his strengths, but this proved not to be the case. His conqueror at Badbury in November Jay Bee Whiskey had franked the form when winning again at Alnwick and this gelding is now gaining in confidence on each occasion he runs. He is one to keep on the right side of for the rest of the season.
The Novice Riders race was an excellent example of the success of owner/riders who are still the backbone of our sport with the first three places filled by horses trained for their owner/rider or family members. Tara Storm was a revelation last season for Eve Hobbs and it looked like the partnership were going to start their current campaign with another victory. However, A Jet of Our Own ridden by Fred Philipson-Stow had other ideas and delaying his challenge until the last minute he swept past Tara Storm in the shadow of the post. Owned by Fred’s father Edward and trained by Nicky Sheppard he is another who would have run at Chaddesley but Fred was delighted to record his first Larkhill victory and his fourth career win. Fred, 18, has been working for Will Biddick for the last 6 months and regularly rides six or more lots a day at Will’s new stable at Vale Farm near Yeovil. He has been grateful for the support and advice received to date from Will and is looking forward to learning more from him.
The finale, the Open Maiden race over the shorter trip of two and a half miles, was run in atrocious conditions with hail and rain mixing to make viewing virtually impossible. As the field emerged from the gloom approaching the second last Wolf Walker ridden by Will Biddick was in command and he easily beat Deep Purple ridden by Zac Baker for Fran Nimmo. Owned by Robert Fear and Andrew Ham and trained by Chris Barber he had been sourced by Ed Bailey initially as a foal and subsequently after his first point to point outing in Ireland but had been unable to secure a purchase as the price was too high. After his rather disappointing last run in Ireland Ed tried again and this time was successful to be able to acquire the four-year-old gelding and Chris persuaded friends Robert and Andrew to take him under their ownership. Whilst Robert is well known to the pointing community and is currently the Course Inspector for Larkhill Andrew from Bradford on Avon was having his first point to point runner although he explained that ‘ I have had runners under Rules – the best probably being Mr Medic who was trained by Robert Walford’ Chris saddling his first winner of the season was keen to give credit to Jamie Thomas for his work with the Diamond Boy gelding who is not easy but is clearly very talented and is an exciting prospect for his owners.