It was a brave decision to move the North Herefordshire Hunt point-to-point to the Autumn, and to build a brand new course at a fresh venue. But the seeds of the first meeting will surely grow and flourish in future seasons.
Eaton Hall Farm, home of the Price family, has been connected with jump racing for decades, and 1994 Champion Hurdle winner, Flakey Dove, had been trained around the precious river meadows that ‘Ernie’ Price offered for transformation into a point-to-point course. And transform it the hard-working supporters did, into a white-railed flat oval, nestled invitingly beside the River Lugg.
Despite arranging an Open day to introduce the new course, these monumental efforts only attracted a meagre entry. Even this did not deter the organisers of the re-branded ‘Leominster Races’, who laboured on to produce immaculate going for their inaugural meeting.
Mindful of the occasion, starter John Hughes handed the flag to landowner Ernie Price to dispatch the brace of runners for the very first race at Eaton Hall, the Bake Phillips Members Race, and history began to unfurl.
Immy Robinson sent the favourite, Irish Anthem into an early lead, though Hillview Lad and Callum Bickers –Price put in an excellent round of jumping to stay in touch, and finish strongly behind his superiorly-rated rival. Unfortunately, after sportingly congratulating Immy Robinson on her historic victory, Callum deviated from his route to weigh-in, resulting in disqualification from second place. Irish Anthem, owned by the Roach family, was the first of a splendid trio of winners for trainer Joseph O’Shea from his only 3 runners. Road to Rome was declared a ‘serious animal’ by jockey Tommie O’Brien after making all to best his only rival Pearlesque (Natalie Bower) in the Morspan Construction Restricted Race for the second leg. The treble was completed by Mr Snuffles and Henry Crow, providing a memorable 70th birthday celebration for owner Don Constable when taking the Tenbury Farm Supplies ‘Young Horse’ Maiden, overtaking the handsome front-runner Dublin Indemnity (Bradley Gibbs) three fences from the finish. The 3rd and 4th horses, Bonnie Lily (Sarah Bowen) and Magna Sam (Charlie Todd) also both made pleasing seasonal debuts here.
The feature race of the day, the Radway Bridge Garden Centre Mixed Open had the largest field with five quality runners. Pantxoa (Jacob Pritchard-Webb ) made much of the running, but turning into the home straight for the third time, Bear’s Affair could contain his enthusiasm no longer, and Alex Edwards cruised him into a commanding lead, finishing 9 lengths ahead of Western Diva (Clare Hardwick), who ran a very respectable race, as did Pantxoa in 3rd. Reigning champion rider, Alex was clearly thrilled with the exultant performance that gave him his first victory of the season, telling Phillip Rowley, current champion trainer, “ He’s never felt better! He loved it!” Ears pricked, the bright-eyed 12 year-old certainly looked happy with his day.
Welsh jockey, Byron Moorcroft notched up the first of his five winners over the weekend when making all with Jason Warner’s Mr Burgees in the R.T Anthony Confined race. Sacre Toi and George Daly stayed on well to finish 2nd, ahead of How About It (John Smith-Maxwell) in 3rd.
Martin Oliver’s Irish purchase, Cavs Girl, a daughter of Mahler, took control of the Sunderlands & Jockey Club Mares Only Maiden, given a stylish ride by Zac Baker. “She will improve for that,” Zac informed trainer Max Young, who agreed. Her only rival, debutante Quite Remarkable was given an excellent patient ride by Jack Tudor and finished with confidence, having ballooned the first fence. Both these mares now have points for the Jockey Club Mares Maiden Series.
Bradley Gibbs got his season well underway with a 20-length victory in the Farmers & Mercantile Insurance Brokers Maiden for Geldings and Horses, partnering Ryan Potter’s charge Light Flicker, owned by the Tewksbury Partnership. The six year-old son of Royal Anthem did not put a foot wrong, with his only 2 rivals, Double Dipper (Jack Tudor) and King Nidge (James Jeavons) finishing 2nd and 3rd to complete the card without a faller, and only one non-finisher on the day.
Hats off to all who had a hand in this bold venture, which was run in a friendly, country atmosphere. Very particular congratulations to secretary, Hilary Bubb, who calmly orchestrated the meeting and the schooling session the following day despite a horribly stressful week that included her partner being hospitalised for serious surgery. A totally new venue is always a learning curve, but it was plain that the horses enjoyed the course and respected the fences –there were no fallen horses or riders at either the meeting or the schooling session.
It is to be hoped that this enjoyable first meeting in the Welsh Border Area will be the beginning of a set of successful future fixtures.
Report by Stella Havard