A hardy crowd of Midlands point-to-point enthusiasts braved a very chilly Sunday for the opening meeting of the season at Garthorpe.
Clerk of course, Brian Crawford, and his team did wonders to make the ground fit in plunging temperatures, as volunteers from all Garthorpe Hunts covered take-offs and landings during the run-up to the weekend to save the important fixture.
Strong sunshine then helped to warm up the surface in time for the scheduled noon start.
And their efforts proved worthwhile as the Cottesmore meeting produced some top quality racing.
Gerald Bailey’s training team enjoyed a double, winning the Men’s Open and Nine-year-olds and upwards races, while Claire Hardwick scored an impressive victory in the Ladies.
A field of 10 came to post for the opener, the Garthorpe Hunts Conditions Race, including well-rated horses.
Much of the running was done by Ignite A Light (Alex Vaughan-Jones) who led until the field turned for home round the final bend.
Here the nine-year-old grey, In A Blue Dust and jockey Archie Wright, son of Cottesmore Hunt chairman Nick, took over. They rode clear to take the race by nearly three lengths and give this their second win of the season.
Favourite Extreme Appeal looked well placed but made a mistake three out, while relative outsider Merrydown Black impressed in second. Love Manhattan (Tom Chatfeild-Roberts) was third.
* If the first race shook up the ratings, the PPORA Club Members Race for Novice Riders race went exactly by the book.
The 6/4 favourite Bayley’s Dream (Billy Aprahamian) paced the leaders throughout before taking charge with five or six fences to jump.
He was chased home by Ballycahane (Milo Herbert) who trailed the winner by a length at the line.
Crowded Room (Callum Bickers-Price) was third.
Winning owner John Aprahamian confirmed they would return to Garthorpe to contest the Dodson and Horrell Novice Rider final at the Quorn meeting.
* The Men’s Open provided a great race, primarily between Mrs Moody’s TheTalkingHorse and Robert Waley-Cohen’s Facile Bien (Sam Waley-Cohen).
Despite looking off the pace at times, the Gerald Bailey-trained TheTalkingHorse had too much for the younger rival, despite carrying an extra four pounds. Top-rated starter Ardkilly Witness was third a few lengths further back.
* There were a few surprises in the Ladies’ Open among a strong field.
Queen Olivia (Miss L. Tickle) and Popaway (Miss I. Robinson) led the market as they came to post, but the race produced an impressive display of speed from the relatively youthful Golden Tobouggan (Mrs C. Hardwick).
The pair hit the front and stayed there. When challenged a couple out by L’Eldorado (Miss M. Micklewright) the leader found more and held on well to win by two lengths, with Popaway trailing off in third.
* The Conditions race, for nine-year-old and upwards horses, saw an impressive display by Mr Madeit (George Greenock).
Having led in the early stages he was headed with three fences to jump and looked to have lost out to Rockinrolldixie (Alex Edwards) and Gunmoney (John Russell).
But the Diana Ralph-trained Rockinrolldixie ran out of steam before the last and Mr Madeit found enough to rally again and win by three lengths. Arkose (Will Thirlby) was third by about the same distance.
* Longer-odds horses were also victorious in the Restricted as Mirs Choice (Miss S. Bowen) and Quirky Kirky (Philip Armson) took first and second at 14/1 and 25/1 respectively.
The running had been made by Castle Cheetah (Miss A. Stirling) who looked strong until two fences from home where they weakened.
This allowed Mirs Choice, who had been completely off the pace at one point, to come past and win by two lengths. Second-placed Quirky Kirky couldn’t quicken enough to overhaul the winner.
* The plethora of maiden entries saw the race split into two divisions with 10 runners in each.
The first was won well by Top Garry (Miss P. Fuller), a recent arrival in the Harkin yard. Left slightly behind by the end of the second lap they made progress during the third, taking the lead before the last fence and pulling clear on the run-in.
Aint No Limits (S. Lee) was second by six lengths, and Dulwich Hill (Tom Chatfeild-Roberts) was third.
* The second division produced the day’s most comfortable winner as Encounter A Giant (Alex Edwards) took the lead with two to jump and ran out well to win easily.
Thomas Todd (Tom Strawson) was second with Unseen (Rory Bevin) third.
* The next Midlands area fixture at Garthorpe is the Belvoir meeting on Saturday, March 17.