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24 January 2012 Scene & Heard: West Percy - Alnwick

by Carolyn Tanner

CLOSE FINISH: Top Dressing (left) held off Sheriff Hutton by a head
photo: Grace Beresford

John Dawson rode his first winner since undergoing three operations on his anterior cruciate ligament in the summer when landing the Men's Open on Maria Myco's Top Dressing, despite reporting that his mount had not been too happy on the track's undulations.

"He's a perfect gent - I can bring him to the races and deal with him on my own," smiled Maria of the 11-year-old, who battled gamely up the run-in to gain a head verdict over Ollie Greenall and Sheriff Hutton. Maria is assistant to John Wade, for whom John Dawson also works, while Top Dressing is ridden at home by Claire Metcalfe, who knows him well from the time she was based with his former handler Howard Johnson.

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Maria, who had been told by Mick Easterby not to bother to take any runners to the Yorkshire Area Club meeting, as his family would win all the races, had barely got her breath back when her phone rang. "That was Mick," she laughed, "wanting to know how far Sheriff Hutton had won by!"

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Claire enjoyed success of her own in the Ladies' Open, making all to score a wide-margin victory on Sea Scout, who had missed a few days' work due to frosty ground, said Russell Ross. Russell, a farrier, trains Sea Scout for the five-strong ME and U 4 Partnership, one of whose members, Alex Lowther, who has a job which sometimes takes her abroad, was seeing her horse in action for the first time.

Backers of the favourite, Special Portrait, saw their money disappear early on when he overjumped at the second and crumpled on landing, in the process breaking Kelly Bryson's collarbone. By contrast, Sea Scout's owners were more than happy with their investment with the bookmakers.

"He paid for Christmas [by winning here in December]," pointed out one of their number, "and now he's paid for Easter!"

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Lucy Alexander may be making a name for herself under Rules, but not to be outdone, her 20-year-old brother Kit, who is in his second year reading mathematics at Durham University, recorded his first double on a family-owned pair trained by his father Nick.

He won the Club Members' race on Native Coll, who made amends for unseating his rider when in contention at the previous meeting, and the 3m Maiden Division Two on his half-sister Amulree. Both are home-bred out of the unraced Harrietfield, who has now retired from broodmare duties.

Kit's degree course leaves him no time for riding out during the week, so he keeps fit by cycling and going to the gym. He was, though, intending to fit in a few celebrations prior to returning to Durham the following morning.

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"He's probably learning to be a bookie." Nick considers a possible use for Kit's mathematical knowledge.

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Another young rider to impress was Jamie Hamilton, who gave an accomplished performance to win the 2m4f Maiden Division Two on Alastair and Rachel Bell's Rakavilee. The victory was an unexpected one for connections, Alastair considering that the mare looked too big to do herself justice, but she stayed on well in the testing conditions to repel all challengers.

Rakavilee, who was bought as a foal, is a full sister to Cool Mission, a hurdle and Chase winner for Donald McCain. Her regular pilot at home is Glyn Martin, a Hawick postman who rides out after finishing his round.

Jamie, 17, works for Richard Fahey, for whom he has ridden a few times on the flat. He will be partnering the Pointers trained by his mother Wendy, and is also hoping to pick up some outside rides.

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Two more former inmates of Howard Johnson's yard, now owned by Victor Thompson, set Tristan Davidson on his way in a bid to retain his area title. Monogram, who may now go for a Musselburgh Hunter Chase, won a match for the Members' race, and Senor Alco took the first of the 3m Maidens after a battle royal up the home straight with another ex-hurdler, Accordingtotheboss (Joey Richards).

The result may have been a close call as far as spectators were concerned, but Tristan had no doubts as to the outcome. A query of "Who won?" as he entered the unsaddling enclosure was met with "I f...ing did!"

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"I like him a lot," was Tristan's verdict on Senor Alco. "He's learned a lot from his first run, and he'll be better again for this. He keeps galloping, the further the better."

The fact that there had been six weeks since the previous Northern meeting had not met with favour from Victor, who has never been afraid to speak his mind and who was less than happy with the area's handling of the fixture list, pointing out that such a long gap was far from ideal and that horses needed to be able to run at more regular intervals.

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Victor's six runners, though, were all fit enough to cope with the conditions, unlike some of their rivals. The tacky ground meant that almost as many horses pulled up as managed to complete, although this in no way reflected on the preparation of the track. Jockeys were in agreement that clerk of the course Tom Oates, himself a former Northern area champion, had produced an excellent level surface, there being little sign of the pounding from the 79 runners who had raced on it in December.

Tom reported that the course had been put back that evening and the following morning, and there would be fresh ground on the bends for the meeting on February 19th.

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Ian Smith celebrated his 26th birthday by winning the first division of the short Maiden on his mother Gillian's Know The Rules, who had formerly carried J P McManus's colours with a conspicuous lack of success. The seven-year-old, Gillian's only Pointer, - "I just do it for a bit of fun," she commented - is worked on the Middleham gallops, not far from the family farm at East Witton.

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Like Sea Scout, the Restricted winner The Rustlin Rhino, a half-brother to the 2007 Grand National winner Silver Birch, was scoring his second course victory of the season. Given a good ride by Richard Smith, The Rustlin Rhino, who was bought out of Donald McCain's yard 12 months ago, had been continuing his hunting campaign since his December outing, and as he is reported to "jump anything," no doubt handler Caroline Dennis's 15-year-old son Philip has his eye on him as a likely mount for 2013!

Joint-owner Daphne Scott-Harden arrived in the unsaddling enclosure on crutches, having been the recipient of a knee replacement. "They [Caroline and husband Chris] kept telling me when they got him that I ought to come and see him," she laughed. "I eventually made it to the yard in April and bought my share then."

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John Dawson's elder brother Chris, who dislocated his hip in March, made his return to race-riding on Will's Lady Lewis in the second of the 2m4f Maidens, but reappearing in Division One after a considerably longer absence was licensed trainer Phil Kirby, who finished runner-up on Into The Light. "It's 13 years since I last rode," he recalled, "but I thought it wasn't fair to ask someone else to ride a horse which hadn't got round unless I'd ridden it first."

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Debutant Byron Ambrose was taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after the penultimate fence fall of Olmetta in the closing Maiden but was not thought to have sustained serious injury.

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