CAMBRIDGESHIRE HARRIERS HUNT CLUB, COTTENHAM, NEW YEAR'S EVE
All photographs kindly provided by Richard Weller-Poley
The glorious uncertainty of racing was never more starkly illustrated than in the last race of a highly successful Cambridgeshire Harriers Hunt Club Point-To-Point at Cottenham on Sunday.
Some of the huge crowd had left, but those that stayed were treated to a thrilling finale as Tank Top fell at the last fence when seemingly in control. This left the unconsidered 33-1 outsider, Top Boots, who is trained at High Easter near Chelmsford, by Simon Marriage as a narrow leader.
Battling on gamely, Top Boots managed to sneak home to a shock success but runner-up High Rank, who was badly hampered by the departure of Tank Top, was a fearfully unlucky loser, going down by just a length.Top Boots was a spare ride for Alex Merriam, from Eye, and one could not help but feel sympathy for the onlooking Nicky Barnes, who would have been aboard but for injuring her ribs in a fall earlier in the afternoon.
That race was the last of the three two and a half mile Maidens that had to be split twice on the day, making nine contests in all, such is the enduring popularity of this season-opening fixture.
Only two of the other events fell to the 'home' team of East Anglian-trained horses.
The Novice Riders' event was dominated by the locals and was sprinkled with no little controversy. An extremely ragged start saw the favourite, Hot Plunge, who is trained and ridden by Newmarket's Kelly Smith, forfeit over 30 lengths.
His chance was apparently gone, but Smith never gave up hope and her mount finished so strongly that he got up late to snatch a close fourth and must be considered most unfortunate.
Homme de Fer was 'retired' after he won the West Norfolk Hunt Race in April and turns 15 years of age of today. But, bearing in mind his continued good health and the fact that Greenock missed out on riding him for a whole year after breaking his leg last December, connections had a rethink and this result fully vindicated that decision.
Sure Future was a length and a half second behind Homme de Fer but his owner-rider, 26-year-old Lucy Franks, soon gained compensation when Chanticlier, trained at Langham, near Colchester, by Wilf Tolhurst, scored a clearcut success in the older horse Maiden.
Originally from Sutton, near Woodbridge, but now living in London, where she works for Merrill Lynch, this was a second career triumph for Franks, who bought Chanticlier for 12,000 guineas at the Doncaster Sales in May.
Much of the rest of the meeting was dominated by Richard Burton and James Tudor, the riders that finished first and second in the 2006 National Jockeys' Championship.
Welshman Tudor notched a double, courtesy of Gillie's Nephew, in the Restricted Race, and Bon Accord, won took one of the Maidens. Burton replied by landing the feature Volkswagen Touareg Me's Open Race on Ballylusky, who is trained in Shropshire by Sheila Crow.
Another top class jockey on show was Julian Pritchard, the winningmost pilot in the history of the sport, who made every yard of the running to take the opening Club Members' Race aboard the Worcestershire-trained Krac d'Argos.
One from even further afield was the Ladies' Open hero, Interdit, who travelled all the way down from Richmond in North Yorkshire.
Finally, the best prospect for the future from a day that saw no less than 122 horses come under orders was Rash Move, a brilliant debut winner in the first of the three 2m 4f Maidens.