By Mike Ashby

The perfect ten was achieved, on Sunday, with the full complement of scheduled East Anglian fixtures taking place on their original dates, whilst other parts of the country have endured waterlogged courses, resulting in disheartening postponed or abandoned meetings.

The West and North Norfolk meeting at Fakenham upheld the high standard of superb racing, seen throughout the year, to bring the 2023/24 East Anglian season to a close. Throughout the afternoon, including the two pony races that commenced proceedings, there were some closely fought finishes to thrill the above-average crowd.

Top honours, on the training-front, went to David Kemp who saddled two winners and his first success came in the Conditions Level 3 race where Back It Up, partnered by Alex Chadwick, strongly pressed Good Source, round the final bend and ran on gamely to withhold a renewed challenge from their rallying rival. Chadwick was back in action after being badly bruised and shaken when Dragon d’Estruval slipped up at High Easter the previous weekend. After returning with a winner at Parham on Saturday, on his own admittance there was still some after-effects especially the visible facial bruising but he had been passed fit to ride after a CT scan on his head, earlier in the week. The ride he gave Back It Up was exceptional and fully praised by trainer Kemp and owner John Ridge as the sharp bends of the course, plainly, didn’t suit the winner’s galloping and stamina-based style so the 6-y-o had to be pushed all the way which would have tested Chadwick’s fitness to the limit. No direct plans for the Back It Up’s next appearance, other than he will be seen again this season and likely to be aimed at Open contests next campaign.


The grey/almost white Clara Sorrento and Rupert Stearn, repeated last year’s victory in the Mixed Open race with another scintillating front-running, jumping performance, to give Kemp his second success, of the afternoon. It gave the Stearn family sheer delight to see their grey horse bowling along and jumping spectacularly and this exhibition display also warmed the hearts of the crowd, on a chilly day. The other declared runners in this contest were more than capable opponents but not one was able to land a blow with Captain Biggles and I K Brunel eventually filling the minor places. Tullys Touch who had won handsomely at High Easter, the previous weekend, “ran flat and didn’t jump well” according to Jack Andrews, who had the ride, and finished in fifth, a place behind Not That Fuisse, which shows the calibre of the race. The winner is now 13 years old and has won 6 times for owner Simon Stearn and his son Rupert, who post-race described his partner as ”fantastic today and we’re lucky to have him. He made some tremendous leaps  and he saw a stride, even if I didn’t”. Rupert was is some agony after dismounting as he suspected he had twisted his upper torso when Cereal Killer ran out, in the previous race and the injury occurred when successfully attempting to maintain his balance, in the saddle, and not plough through the wing of the fence.


Ten-times national Ladies champion, Gina Andrews, who finished  a creditable 12th in last weekend’s Grand National, partnered Lunar Contact to victory in the Restricted race when the pairing swept past their toiling rivals, round the final bend and jumped the last fence, impressively, to win by 5 lengths. This reduced Izzie Marshall’s lead to two in this year’s title race and it’s all to play for, in the coming weeks. The winner is owned by irrepressible Keith Loads and his partner Kate Bowling and is in training with Gina. Keith couldn’t hide his pleasure in seeing his colours being carried to victory at Fakenham, a course he has supported in many ways, over the years.


An excellent afternoon for jockey Dale Peters who rode two winners. Peacocks Secret ( Veteran Horse Conditions race ) and Jersey Fromentin ( Maiden ) to bring his tally for the season to 18 making him a clear 3rd in the race for the national Mens Championship title. Dale’s best total for a season currently stands at 23 and this is imminent danger of being surpassed before the season ends, for the likeable and extremely competent jockey from Sawtry in Cambridgeshire.

Peacocks Secret was entitled to win the Jockey Club and RoR Veteran Horse Conditions race Level 2 having performed adequately, including a victory, in three hunter ‘chases around the Norfolk course, in the past. In this his first point outing around Fakenham, saw Killinkere and Josh The Plod take control of the early exchanges but the latter was not jumping at all fluently, despite Charlie Buckle’s urgings, from the saddle. Peacocks Secret was taken into the lead by Peters, going out on their final circuit and at the open ditch, three out, Killinkere and the improving Back Bar were the nearest pursuers. It required a foot-perfect jump, at the last, to seal the win which Peacocks Secret executed to win comfortably by 4 lengths from the Alan Hill-trained Back Bar with Killinkere another 3 lengths further back.


Peters victory on the Andrew Pennock-trained Jersey Fromentin, in the concluding Maiden showcased the jockey’s powerful finishing attributes in a closely fought battle, on the run-in with Graveside Lad, after the pair had jumped the last virtually in unison. The winner had three outings in Irish points and by all accounts was unlucky on his GB debut at Thorpe, at the beginning of April, when a rival jumped across him and in the resultant collision, Dale was unseated at the 4th fence. The odds-on favourite Vango Vick and Jack Andrews led the tightly packed field for over a circuit with Fiftyfifty their nearest challenger but as these two began to fade it was the Ed Turner-trained Graveside Lad and the eventual winner who homed-in on the final fence with Jersey Fromentin, surprisingly friendless in the betting market, snatching the victory by ½ length.


Ed Turner may just have been pipped in the Maiden but the day had started exceedingly well for the Ampton- based trainer when Take To Heart justified favouritism, in the opening PPORA Veteran and Novice Riders’ race. Cian Murphy, having his first ride for the Turner Family in their famous colours, led from the start and the pairing kept up a relentless pace to be 6 lengths clear, at the finish, from Sum It Up. Murphy was also successful in the same race last year and this was the 5th career win from just 15 rides, for the young jockey. This was Take To Heart’s 4th point win since the Turner’s acquired the gelding and has a notable background having been bred by the late Queen Elizabeth and won two hurdles races and a novice ‘chase when trained, under rules, by Nicky Henderson.


So the curtain comes down on another East Anglian season and this last fixture was an entertaining and successfully administered meeting. No doubt we will reflect, throughout the summer months, how excellent the racing has been during this season, and look forward to the action returning in December.