REVIEW Grafton Point-to-Point , Edgcote
Sunday 15th May 2022, written by Jake Exelby
The Grafton point-to-point at Edgcote on Sunday 15th May – sponsored by Michael Graham – saw 33 runners in seven races, several hot favourites turned over and doubles for two trainers and a pair of jockeys.
Just two went to post for the feature race, the Beachborough School Novice Riders Championship Final, with £1,000 total prize money and £500 to the winner. It was won by Billy Chatterton on the outsider of the duo, Phil Rowley’s Francesco Du Clos. Long odds-on Captain Bucks, aiming for a fifth win in a row, attempted to make all but could never get clear and Billy always had the leader in his sights, joining him four out, taking the lead at the penultimate fence and scoring by an easy ten lengths.
“We planned that all year!” was Phil’s tongue-in-cheek reaction immediately afterwards before telling me, “Seriously, we were going to bring Minella Friend for Billy to ride in the Open and thought, ‘It’s his last year as a novice rider, so why not go for it?’ The rain softened ground was perfect for him today and his last race – when he was second – probably came too soon, just eight days, after he’d won his Restricted. He’s a nice horse and, while it’s up to the owners, that’s probably it for the season.” Reflecting on a campaign that has brought him 17 winners, Phil admitted, “It’s hard for us as a dual yard (wife Mel holds a professional licence) because, while we love pointing, a lot of the pointers – including maidens – are going under rules as there are a lot more options for them.”
Winning owner Mike Chatterton, grandfather of the winning jockey and a farmer in the Vale of Belvoir in Leicestershire, told me, “We’ve got four horses – split between Phil and Kelly Morgan – for Billy and his brother George to ride, and we’ve had six wins this season. Both the boys came up through pony racing, my son Mark rode and I did too.” A delighted Billy admitted, “I probably wasn’t expecting that, but I didn’t think there would only be two runners. Phil’s done a fantastic job with a raw, backward maiden and to win the Novice Riders Final has just topped the season off!” The 22-year-old, enjoying his third season in the saddle and about to complete a course at Harper Adams College, was riding his ninth winner – and seventh this campaign.
Former champion trainer Phil had initiated a double with Dragon D’Estruval in the previous race, the John White Funeral Directors Mixed Open. A quality field of six faced the starter here and jockey Ben Bromley – completing a brace of his own – held up the nine-year-old in rear for most of the race, before quickening down the back straight and soon going clear of his rivals. A bad mistake four out didn’t slow his momentum and he scored cosily by three-and-a-half lengths from Kilbrew Boy, making a promising pointing debut. Joint-favourite Virak was twelve lengths third.
Winning owner Anna Bromley – mother of the jockey and wife of leading bloodstock agent Anthony – explained how they came to buy the horse. “He was owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, for whom Anthony buys, had raced for Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins and needed to do another job, so the opportunity came up for us to have him. He runs in the colours of Tessa Watson, Ben’s grandmother. The season’s gone well for him on the whole with three wins, although he didn’t enjoy Hunter Chasing last time, and that was a good end to it… although my heart was in my mouth four out! Plans for next season depends on whether Ben turns conditional, but we’d like to keep a couple of pointers.”
“That’s my first double,” beamed Ben – for whom it was a tenth success of the season – afterwards. Talking me through his tactics, he confirmed, “I wanted to do the same as I’d done the race before, as it had worked! It’s a stayer’s course, very steep and it’s riding testing, so I wanted to hold on to him up the hill about ten lengths behind the leaders, who were slowing coming past the winning post each time. Rather than lay-up with them, I just wanted to get him into a rhythm.” Ben confirmed he intends to turn conditional, saying, “It’s still up in the air where I go, but hopefully it will pan out nicely. It’s been brilliant riding for Phil, and he’s taught me everything.”
As he said, Ben had employed similar tactics on Billy Aprahamian’s Bayley’s Dream in the previous race, the four-runner Savills Owner-Trainer Conditions Race. Held up in third, the pair made rapid progress at the final downhill fence in the back straight, quickening into the lead from Gold Mountain, who had also resisted the early pace. While the runner-up tried hard, his efforts always looked to be in vain and Bayley’s Dream won by a comfortable five lengths. Bentons Lad was third, eighteen lengths further back, and odds-on favourite Frisson Collonges was pulled up two out.
It was a first win in over three years for the 13-year-old veteran and his owner-trainer admitted, “He’d lost his form, but he did a leg in 2019, last year was up in the air because of Covid, he ran nicely at the last meeting here and it was rattling fast at Dingley – which is a speed track – and he couldn’t keep up. I thought the race here would suit him, they’ve done a cracking job on the ground and Ben gave him a classy ride.” It was also a first winner as a trainer for Billy, who retired from the saddle in December and who has been working as assistant to Nicky Henderson for the past three years. “The scales were telling me the wrong numbers every morning,” he laughed. “I’m about to get my licence to train under rules at Adstone, about five miles from here, and I’m hoping that Conceal – who was my last ride – will be my first runner.”
Also in double form were Francesca and Charlie Poste’s Station Yard Racing, who took the final two races on the card, both with Alice Stevens in the saddle. They opened their account with La Gomera in the NFU Mutual Open Maiden Race, in which six ran. The four-year-old mare, making here racecourse debut, was held up in mid-division behind long-time leader Mighty Mustang before moving into second going out on the final circuit. Taking the lead at the first fence in the final straight, the filly held on to score by two-and-a-half lengths from Mighty Mustang, who ran well for Sean Clarke on only his second ride. Flashy Kate was a never dangerous twenty-five lengths third and hot favourite Papa John, another pointing debutant, pulled up.
“I’m so happy, that’s probably my favourite winner of the entire season,” said an exuberant Charlie Poste. “She was bred by Robert and Jackie Chugg and Robert (who passed away in February) meant the world to us. She came to us late and is still a baby but she’s by Kayf Tara and has a nice pedigree. I think she might be our first winning four-year-old filly and – while I need to speak to the partners we own her with – she’ll probably go to the Newmarket Tattersalls Sales.” Jackie added, “The dam is a half-sister to (former useful chaser) Cogry and we’ve now had three point-to-point winners in a week, including one in Ireland, all from the same family.”
La Gomera was a 50th career success for Alice Stevens, who told me, “I’m so pleased to ride a winner for the late, great Robert Chugg, who I first met a few years ago. She’s also the first four-year-old winner I’ve ridden for Fran and Charlie. She was a dream today, she was where I wanted to her to be every time, corrected herself when she needed to and saw the race out well.”
The day’s closing contest, the Framptons Planning Conditions Race, for veteran horses ten years old and over, had the biggest field of the day, with seven taking part. It was won by Dounikos, returning to form after some below par performances for owner Carlos Baird earlier in the season. The 11-year-old, whose professional career included runs in the Aintree and Irish Grand Nationals, ran in snatches throughout but joined long-time leaders Master Sunrise (last year’s winner of this race) and Neumond two out, took the lead jumping the last and kept on to win by two-and-a-quarter lengths from Master Sunrise with Neumond seven back in third.
“He’s been brilliant for Carlos all season, and they’ve had a lot of fun together,” said Charlie Poste of Dounikos. “His girlfriend, Annabel, has broken her leg so he couldn’t ride today but he was keen for the horse to run anyway. Dounikos has been educating his owner-rider but a change to stronger handling has made him go about his job – Alice really had to chivvy him along. We’ll take him to Chaddesley Corbett next.” Reflecting on another excellent season for Station Yard racing, Charlie confirmed, “That’s 24 winners now – our best ever. We’re building momentum and getting more older horses, but our big things are still the ‘Academy’ (their youngsters) and owner-riders. The season’s highlight? Probably winning with Salt Rock then selling him for £205,000. We’re keen to promote young British pointers.”
Alice Stevens smiled afterwards, “That was hard work! He’s a real monkey and wouldn’t go the early gallop. I knew he’d stay, but we almost got there too soon. That’s my 16th pointing winner of the season and 20th in total – I had two ambitions for the season, to ride 20 winners and get my career 50th and I’ve done them both in the same afternoon.”
Will Biddick continues his relentless pursuit of an eighth male riders title, and he travelled from his Somerset base to win the five-runner Jackson-Stops and Staff Restricted Race on Magnetic Zero for Nigel Padfield, who had won his Maiden at the last meeting here. The first winning favourite of the day, the odds-on shot jumped well throughout, took the lead at the final open ditch and – though harried by market rival Access Granted – was unextended to win by eight lengths. Idee De Garde was always behind and finished thirty lengths third.
His owner-trainer explained afterwards how the winningmost rider in British pointing history came by the ride. “Will rode Excitable Island for me in the John Corbet Cup once. Gina Andrews (who phoned Nigel immediately after the race to find out how Magnetic Zero had done) would have ridden him again but has gone to Tabley – she spoke to Will at Cothelstone the other day and asked him to ring me if he wanted the mount. He gave the horse a beautiful ride – they were never off the bridle,” continued Nigel, “And rode him to plan – waiting with him before stretching clear. Will said he did everything easily and has hardly had a race, but that will probably be it for the season.” That’s four winners for the season – from just four horses – for Nigel, who laughed. “I always want more!”
The opening race on the card, the Heygates Country Foods Members Race, went the way of the popular mare Aunty Joan, trained by Richard Pringuer and ridden by Charlie Case. Three of the four entries took part, and the 12-year-old took the lead at the top of the finishing straight first time round and – jumping superbly – was never headed thereafter, scoring by 14 lengths from outsider Jonjoela with Ange Des Malberaux, the first of several hot favourites on the day to disappoint, a further three-and-a-half lengths behind.
Aunty Joan – who won this contest as long ago as 2017 – was winning her ninth race and her second in the space of a week, having not scored for three years before then, and trainer Richard Pringuer – winning this event for the third time and who owns the mare in partnership with wife Becky and course farrier Andy Hartgrove – gave me a novel reason for her turnaround in form. “She likes a crowd and a buzzy atmosphere and didn’t enjoy racing during Covid,” he laughed. “I train her differently too – I only have one horse now and my main job is as an architectural technician – so I ride her myself across farmers’ fields. Charlie’s a big factor too – he’s young, keen and ambitious and she jumps well for him. Now I’ve got her in good nick, she might run again at Dingley, which she likes.”
“She’s in great form,” confirmed Charlie, “And gave me some ride last week at Dingley. I didn’t know if one of the others would want to make it today, but she totally outjumped them.” It was a third winner of the season for Charlie, who has just finished a degree course in Real Estate at Oxford Brookes University and joked, “I plan to do another year of race-riding than Dad (professional trainer Ben) will want me to get a proper job!”
The first of the two pony races, sponsored by the aforementioned Ben Case Racing, went to Wee Antony, winning his seventh race of the season and ridden by 10-year-old Finn Murphy, son of former top jockey Timmy – while the second was won by Madame Mimi and 14-year-old Jack Doughty, the pair enjoying their first victory after three consecutive seconds.