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20 February 2012 Scene & Heard: North Hereford - Whitwick Manor

by Carolyn Tanner

It was a day of doubles at Whitwick, with two winners apiece for trainers Sheila Crow, Sarah-Jayne Davies and Tom Lacey, and for jockeys Sam Drinkwater and Jeremy Mahot.

Sheila saddled son Alastair's Current Exchange to take the Men's Open under Tom David. "He'll be better in a stronger run race," opined Tom. "He came off the bridle before Over The Phone, so he's a good horse to do that when things aren't right for him."

Never shy of nominating possible future targets for the chestnut, Alastair enthused that the chestnut would be tailor-made for the La Touche Cup at Punchestown, with the pointtopoint.co.uk John Corbet Cup as an end-of-season goal.

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Trainer and jockey were on the scoresheet again the following day, winning at Chaddesley with My Flora, while Tom also triumphed on Zara Phillips's Aubrey de Vere and the Crow inmate My Dads Horse took the Restricted with Tom Weston.

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Changes to the racecard are chalked up on the number board at Whitwick, but it was not always thus, as was shown by a pile of beautifully painted name plates laid beside the structure. On top of the heap was "Miss L Crow" - Alastair's sister, the ladies' champion in 1989, hung up her boots over 20 years ago!

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Their mother, having recovered from the shock of Alastair's 12-year-old son Henry wagering a vast sum of money (earned from selling the eggs from his chickens) on Current Exchange, doubled up in the Jockey Club PPORA Mares' Maiden with David Rogers's half-sister to My Flora, Molly Oscar.

Described as "an uncomplicated person who jumps and stays," Molly Oscar "will be a bit of fun," said rider Paddy Gerety, adding "Although you wouldn't put someone on her who didn't make her work, because she doesn't do more than she has to."

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Paddy was one of four winning riders who ended the afternoon on a low note by hitting the deck, the others being Tom David, Sam Drinkwater and Dave Mansell. The latter stood himself down from a later ride after being badly kicked on the lower leg

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Shernally, off the track with a leg problem after her victory at Whitfield almost exactly a year earlier, made a winning return against some sub-standard Ladies' Open opponents, quickening impressively under Jane Williams to score in a style befitting her odds-on tag.

"She was meant to go to Thorpe," explained joint-owner, with handler Dick Baimbridge, Graham Fisher, "but there was a virus in the yard - not the horse but the trainer!"

The next day it was business as usual at the Baimbridge farm, Dick having let Graham know that he and Shernally had been out rounding up the sheep!

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"You just have to work b....y hard - you don't need these walkers and swimming pools." Dick's recipe for success has served him more than well over the years.

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Jane's victory earned her some points towards the AGA Total Control championship, and at the end of the day she shared top spot with Gina Andrews.

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Graham had walked the course on Thursday to check that conditions would not be too fast for Shernally, and someone else who was happy with the track was Tom Lacey, who sent out Chiquilline to win the Restricted and Avidius Cassius to take the first of the three Maidens.

"He's a bit quirky but if you keep to a routine he's happy," said Tom of Chiquilline, who wears earplugs in his races, and who needs the lid kept on him at home, commented jockey Sam Drinkwater.

Owner Tessa Blazey, who has worked for several years at Queen's Club, the tennis and squash venue in London, began the campaign by training Chiquilline herself, but he proved to be too much of a handful for her.

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The raw and backward four-year-old Avidius Cassius who, when he fills his big frame, is surely a Chaser in the making, completed the double for trainer and jockey in the Maiden Division One. Bought for €32,000 at last year's Derby Sale, Avidius Cassius made the most of his 21lb allowance, and will be returning to the ring in due course. "That's his last run for us," pronounced Tom, who owns him with Charlie Brooks. "He'll have his hind shoes off tomorrow and will be off to the sales."

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Another winner who may now be put away for the season is Peter Corbett's Upton Centurion, who took advantage of the departures three out of Bennybelucky and Roiofthetigers to provide his owner-breeder with what was surprisingly his initial first time out success.

The victory owed everything to the horsemanship of his rider Jeremy Mahot, who had broken in the five-year-old. "It's the first time ever I've had a horse in the yard that I've never sat on," smiled Sarah-Jayne Davies. "Jeremy's over the moon because he's done everything with him. He's been a b....r to break in - it's taken three summers in a row, plus a fourth time in the paddock!" This referring to the fact that Upton Centurion had been rearing and digging in his toes in the preliminaries, and needed some quiet words of encouragement from his jockey.

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Upton Centurion looked to be carrying plenty of condition, but Sarah-Jayne was quick to point out that he was, in fact, quite slim compared to his usual appearance. "That's why he's called Centurion," she smiled. "He's just like a tank. He's more like a hunter or eventer, and he's been the butt of all our jokes, so he's stuck two fingers up at us today."

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Jeremy had earlier steered Miss Lightning to her third successive victory in the Members' race. The mare had given connections a scare by appearing to be lame two days previously, but fortunately the problem was temporary. 

There was no mistaking her owners - Sarah-Jayne's mother Sue, Pip Vaughan and Ann Williams - who were proudly wearing their hand-knitted scarves in their racing colours, royal blue with a grey star.

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Someone who probably had not had the needles out, though, was former champion and record-holder Julian Pritchard, whose Jack Russell was sporting a rather smart hooped number.

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Heavy rain for the first part of the meeting rendered the ground quite tacky, and the Maidens in particular found it tiring, with very few managing to complete. It proved no problem, however, to Following Dreams, successful in the Maiden Division Three in the hands of Liam Payter, who described his partner as "a really nice staying type."

It was a first triumph, with his third runner, for Alastair Ralph, who has retired from riding in order to concentrate on training and has six in - "Although I've room for more," he said.

Alastair, who is assistant to Henry Daly, for whom Liam is stable amateur, trains Following Dreams for his mother Diana and Susan Rimell. It was at Whitwick that he rode his first winner, Un Jour A Vassy in 2006, but he was not inclined to name the Herefordshire venue as a lucky course. "I'm bringing a couple of babies to school tomorrow so we'll find out," he laughed.

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Despite carrying a 6lb penalty, Keith Bayliss's Mister Kay Bee battled gamely to land the Confined for the husband and wife team of Dave and Julie Mansell. "He's very lazy," admitted Julie of her charge, who was helped by the spurs worn by his rider. "He's got plenty of ability but he likes to look after it, and he's not quite up to taking on the Open horses. As soon as you put blinkers on him he's very hard on himself, so he never has an easy race."

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"Pauline [his daughter] and I had an argument about what to call him," smiled Keith, who purchased Mister Kay Bee unraced at Ascot. "She wanted Buzz Lightyear, but that wasn't allowed so I said we'd call him after me!"

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