07 March 2011 Scene & Heard: Brecon & Talybont - Llanfrynach
by Carolyn Tanner
Peter Corbett's gloomy prediction prior to racing that his home-bred Upton Legend would not appreciate the ground failed to take into account an outstanding ride by Jane Williams.
The mare, who led the Ladies' Open from flagfall, needed pushing and kicking for every inch of the three miles, and it was only the tenacity of both horse and rider which saw them home by the narrowest of margins to repeat their success in the race last year.
"Everyone says we wouldn't have won it [in 2010] if Cannon Bridge hadn't fallen, so that's put the record straight," smiled trainer Sarah-Jayne Davies, referring to the fact that the favourite finished a well-beaten third.
"I need a stretcher!" Jane Williams's post-race comment said it all about the effort she put in.
Another to retain the trophy he won last year was Men's Open winner Minsgill Mans, jointly owned by trainer Jonathan Tudor and his brother-in-law Jeff Bird. In 2010 Jeff's wife Andrea, Jonathan's sister, had missed the victory due to commitments with their children. 12 months on it was déjà vu, as Andrea had taken ten-year-old son Ellis to a chess tournament.
For Jeff, the success could not have come at a more appropriate fixture. "I used to sit next to Clive Thomas, the meeting secretary, at school," he pointed out.
"I expect we'll go for the usual - the Dunraven Bowl again," laughed Jonathan when asked about future plans. Minsgill Mans has finished runner-up twice in the last three runnings of the contest.
Minsgill Mans would have been partnered by James Tudor had he not gone to Newbury for his boss Evan Williams, so Nick Williams came in for the ride. "He's nearly as old as I am," joked Nick of the 13-year-old, adding "I'm only 25 but everyone keeps telling me it's time I retired!"
John Mathias has had a quiet start to the campaign, but he got into top gear with a treble in the Hunt race, the Restricted and a division of the Maiden.
He won the Restricted on the Kristal Harris-trained Marine Hall, who was bought for owner Paul Evans by Mark Gichero. "I schooled him a lot and his jumping wasn't the best, but he was really good today and better than I gave him credit for," said John.
Mark was also responsible for the purchase of John's third winner, Saint Peray, in the third of the four Maidens.
The French-bred's owner-trainer Dai Rees was at Newbury to saddle his Rimini, runner-up in the Novices' Handicap Chase. Saint Peray may follow the same path as Rimini, who enjoyed a successful campaign between the flags last season prior to going summer jumping.
"I'm not sure if I'm head lad or assistant trainer, but I'm always the first to get a b*****king if things go wrong!" John sums up his working relationship with Dai.
At the start of the afternoon John had walked over for the Hunt race on Richard Mathias's Rugged Gem. It was the third successive year in which the owner-rider partnership had taken the spoils, and the second occasion on which they had had no opposition.
Rugged Gem could have turned out again in the Confined had John not been led to believe he had been booked for another horse. Connections of the latter, though, had neglected to declare, so John missed out on the chance of another ride and Rugged Gem, who had taken a horrible fall at Leicester during the week, was denied the opportunity of a confidence-boosting run.
"We were desperate to get a run into him, as he's just bouncing," admitted John, adding with a grin "Richard's going to have fun sitting on him this week!"
The Confined went to Minella For Food, a first success for his trainer Grace Harris and for his quintet of owners, Shaun Barclay, James Colthart, Dave Harper, Alan Hunt and Carl Jones. He was partnered by Grace's brother Josh, assistant head lad to Evan Williams, Minella For Food's former trainer.
Second past the post Chandlers Cross was disqualified after Paul Tolman had failed to weigh in. His memory lapse left him £60 lighter in the pocket.
Both divisions of the Maiden were split again on the day after declarations, with the fastest of the four winners being Emma Soda in the first of them. She is trained by Paul Davies for David Turner and Tony Chapman, who bought her as a three-year-old. The yellow and blue colours worn by Mark Jackson had not been in use for quite a while, but they were carried to numerous successes some 60 years ago by the winning-most Pointer of 1952, Nylon, owned by David's father Sam.
Mark, one of the senior members of the weighing room, has found a novel way to lose weight, although it is not to be recommended. Mark lost an argument with a young horse he was hosing down at home, and ended up with a broken arm and a slit in his forehead which required 12 stitches. He was also rendered deaf in one ear and most annoyingly of all, for a man who enjoys his food, lost his tastebuds.
"I dropped from 12 stone to 10.3," he explained, "although during the week I had a Chinese, which of course didn't taste of anything to me, and last night I was 10.6!"
Division One Part Two went to Byron Moorcroft on Victoria Shervington's Beyond Dreams, trained by Maggie Kidner-Hughes. "She likes everything her own way," said Maggie of the chestnut mare. Maggie's daughter Rosie is expecting a baby - "a filly foal," laughed Maggie - in June, so during her absence from the saddle the yard's horses have been schooled by both Byron and Will Oakes.
Byron, who rode 24 winners as a Conditional, took nearly a year out from racing during 2010 due to family issues, and has elected to return to amateur status. He admitted that, like most riders who have been out of the game for a while, it was difficult to pick up many rides, but on this evidence he is unlikely to remain under-used for too long.
The final race proved beyond doubt that everything comes to he, or in this case, she, who waits, when the seemingly perpetual bridesmaid Little Miss Monty shed her Maiden tag at the 31st attempt, coming with a wet sail on the run-in to nail Cabinteely on the line.
Owner-breeder Shan Farr's harsh words had obviously had the desired effect on the mare. "I said to her ‘If you don't do something, madam, you're out'," she laughed, adding "A nine mile race would be ideal for her!" Little Miss Monty's dam Miss Montgomery is currently in foal to Dr Massini, and Shan has more of her offspring to run in the coming seasons.
The winning rider, Shan's daughter Emily, was a former top junior show-jumper. Having missed a year of both studying and racing in 2008 after undergoing a serious operation, she is now reading Equine Science at Oxford Brookes University.