The pupil got one over the master when Alex Merriam rode his first winner in extraordinary circumstances as the Point-To-Point season got under way with a superb Cambridgeshire Harriers Hunt Club meeting at Cottenham on Sunday.
The fixture somehow survived the ravages of flooding and frost to provide some spectacular sport for a large and appreciative audience on ground that was no worse than soft.
Merriam, 18, from Eye in Suffolk, made it 13th ride lucky when guiding Always On The Line, who is trained near Wymondham by Mike Bloom, to a narrow victory in the Restricted Race. But that tells only part of the story.
Most of the running was made by Helmsley Flier, a chance mount for Bloom’s son, Nigel, the man who has taught Merriam how to race ride. His protege needed all those recently-acquired skills to keep his balance following desperate blunders at the third and second last fences.
Then, having conjured a great jump to hit the front at the last, Merriam kept his cool to hold off his teacher’s desperate late rally by a neck.
As usual, this meeting attracted runners from all over Britain, but for once the home team more than held its own with East Anglian horses landing two of the other seven contests.
Trainers Angus and Sam Hodge, who have recently moved from Hertfordshire to a farm at Saxlingham Nethergate near Norwich, hit the bullseye with the first runner from their new base when Andsuephi, bought at the Doncaster Sales last May, lifted the Gerrard Ladies’ Open Race.
Given a positive front-running ride by Mrs Hodge, Andsuephi made a mockery of his 3,700 guinea price tag with a two length defeat of Gill’mar. However, the race was marred by the fatal fall of the odds-on favourite, Imperial Dawn, which left jockey Amy Stennett with a nasty dose of concussion.
The opening Club Members’ Race also witnessed a local triumph as Rob Mine, trained near Bishop’s Stortford by his joint-owner, Christopher Sporborg, beat Splash And Dash by a length and a half in the fastest time of the day.
The result was further evidence of the depth of young talent within East Anglian jockey ranks as Rob Mine was partnered by Andrew Braithwaite, 21, while fourth-placed Parsonhumfrywebber was in the hands of 17-year-old Emma Bell.
Adrian Wintle, one of the nation’s leading amateur riders, was on the mark on his comeback ride after breaking his neck, getting the Gloucestershire-trained Philtre home by half a length after a great battle with Cock A Hoop in the Men’s Open. But Philtre would surely have been only second but for the unlucky fall of Real Value at the ‘bogey fence’ – the second last.
East Anglia’s newly-appointed Prestige Race – the Countryside Alliance Novice Riders’ event – produced another epic finish as Tirley Gale touched off Dixon Varner by a head to give Welsh jockey Sam Thomas, 18, his first success.
Top trainer Caroline Bailey, from Northamptonshire, rarely leaves these early-season meetings without a winner and Whichway Girl gave her some compensation for earlier reverses when taking the Older Horse Maiden. Aughmor River, trained at Great Yeldham by Robert Gardiner, was only two lengths back in second and should be winning soon.
Ballycotton, trained near Market Harborough by his owner-rider, Patrick Millington, was a surprise winner of the division one of the two and a half mile maiden. Much the quicker of the two divisions produced a fitting finale with Chocoholic, trained in Wiltshire by former National Hunt jockey Guy Landau, getting the better of the Welsh visitor, Braceys Girl, by a hard-fought half-length.
Race One, Club Members’ Race.
1 Sir Chips Keswick and C Sporburg’s Rob Mine (Puckeridge) (A Braithwaite),
2 M Smith’s Splash and Dash (East Sussex and Romney Marsh) (A Hickman),
3 D Edwards’ Jorodec (S Salop) (R Burton).
Also: Parsonhumfrywebber (4th), Kentish Bard (5th), Wrekengale (6th), Cinnamon Club (pu), Gunner Boon (pu), Oxendale (pu), Wade Road (pu). Distances: One and a half lengths, 15 lengths. Time 6:20. Tote: Win £8.80, DF £13.10, SP 4/1 (Splash And Dash 7/4 Fav).
Race Two, Restricted Race.
1 AWK Merriam’s Always on the Line (Dunston Harriers) (A Merriam),
2 Miss J Garley’s Helmsley Flyer (Pytchley) (N Bloom),
3 A Martin’s I’m Dreaming (Heythrop) (A Martin).
Also: Daisy Fay (4th), Kingfisher Star (5th), Golden Gent (6th), Ad Lib (pu), Campbellhill (ref), Karzhang (pu), Surprisedly Gifted (f). Distances: Neck, 20 lengths. Time 6:24. Tote: Win£13.20, DF £55.50 (winner with any other) SP 8/1 (Karzhang 2/1 Fav).
Race Three, Men’s Open Race.
1 J Callow’s Philtre (Albrighton Woodland) (A Wintle),
2 A Coveney’s Cock A Hoop (Old Surrey and Burstow) (C Gordon),
3 G Thomas’ Inis Cara (Monmouthshire) (S Thomas).
Also: Coble Lane (pu), Do It Again (pu), Evan’s Collier Boy (pu), Freedom Fighter (pu), Jemaro (pu), None Stirred (pu), Real Value (f), Sheila Mackenzie (ur). Distances: Half a length, 10 lengths. Time 6:24. Tote: Win £14.80, DF £5.20 (winner with any other), SP 7/1 (Real Value 11/4 Fav).
Race Four, Countryside Alliance Novice Riders’ Race.
1 D Smith’s Tirley Gale (Cotswold VF) (S Thomas),
2 F Marshall’s Dixon Varner (East Sussex and Romney Marsh) (owner),
3 Mrs S Shirley-Beavan’s Jazz de Chalamont (Jedforest) (C Shirley-Beavan).
Also: Forest Fountain (4th), Cormeen Lad (5th), Good Heart (6th), General Assembly (ur). Distances: Head, three lengths. Time 6:31. Tote: Win £20.50, DF £32.90 (winner with any other), SP 7/1 (Dixon Varner 6/4 Fav).
Race Five, Gerrard Ladies’ Open Race.
1 Mrs I and H and Mrs S Hodge’s Andsuephi (Puckeridge) (Mrs S Hodge),
2 M and Mrs V Wiggin’s Gill’mar (Ludlow) (Miss C Thomas),
3 M Eddery’s Winter Gale (Middleton) (Miss L Eddery).
Also: China Lal (4th), Dawn’s Cognac (f), Imperial Dawn (f). Distances: Two lengths, a distance. Time 6:21. Tote: Win £5.00, DF £47.30. SP 5/1 (Imperial Dawn 4/6 Fav).
Race Six, Eight-year-olds and over Open Maiden Race.
1 Mrs D Flory’s Whichway Girl (Pytchley) (J Docker),
2 B Belchem’s Aughmor River (East Essex) (A Ayers),
3 A and Mrs J Bowen’s Tall Hat (Fernie) (J Pritchard).
Also: Act On Impulse (pu), Bandsman (pu), Chatabit (f), Cold Class (f), Dozmary Pool (ur), Little Dish (pu), Mister Party (pu), Moon Rising (pu), Over My Shoulder (pu), Paddy’s Dream (pu), Pakochino (pu). Royal Alibi (pu). Sharpaman (pu) Vertical Air (r/o). Distances: Two lengths, 15 lengths. Time 6:30. Tote: Win £3.40, DF £9.30, Sp 4/1 Fav.
Race Seven, five, six and seven-year-old Open Maiden Race Division One (2½ miles).
1 P Millington’s Ballycotton (Fernie) (owner),
2 Mrs N Pollock’s Javelot de Thaix (Fernie) (N Pearce),
3 T Vaughan and Mrs M Griffiths’ Roboastar (Llangeinor) (T Vaughan).
Also: Creaton Covert (pu), Head Lady (pu), Headwrecker (ur), Killough Hill (bd), Pharout (pu), Susie Sinatra (f), Sutton Courtenay (f), Troubleshooter (f). Distances: Eight lengths, distance. Time 5:16. Tote: Win £63.60, DF £1.70 (any horse with second), SP 12/1 (Javelot de Thaix 7/2 fav).
Race Eight, five, six and seven-year-old Open Maiden Race Division Two (2½ miles).
1 Mrs J Thornton’s Chocoholic (Wheatland) (R Burton),
2 D Brace’s Bracey’s Girl (Llanginor) (C Williams),
3 Mrs S Shirley-Beavan’s Junior des Ormeaux (Jedforest) (C Shirley-Beavan).
Also: Game On (pu), Jims Belief (pu), Karinga Lane (pu), Lismahane (pu), Ravensworth (f), Togani Walk (pu), Tormentoso (f). Distances: Half a length, 20 lengths. Time 4:59. Tote: Win £3.70, DF £5.20. SP 5/2 Fav.