GEORGE CHATTERTON proved a perfect understudy in claiming the 2021 Melton Hunt Club Ride crown after receiving an 11th-hour call-up for the ride at Upper Broughton on the Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire border.
“This means the world to all of us, but my brother should be doing it,” said amateur jockey George, who piloted the evergreen 15-year-old former racehorse Distime to victory for the Belvoir.
“[My brother] Billy’s been mapped out for it for the last three months, but he’s unfortunately injured his ankle, so I got the call to ride this week. I was more nervous last night about this than I probably have been for anything riding-related for a while.”
He added those nerves stemmed in part from the “real pressure” he put on himself of not wanting to let his brother down.
“When I crossed the line, the first person I wanted to see was Billy because this is his thing. So hopefully he’ll be doing it and winning next year,” said George, taking home further prizes for highest-placed under-25, thoroughbred and retrained racehorse.
Distime was bought as a schoolmaster for George’s first season point-to-pointing in 2018/19 and retired in 2020 following a solid career of 44 starts under Rules and between the flags.
“He is an absolute legend,” said George. “He hunts, does a bit of team chasing and this was his big day as well. He’s like a family pet.”
The pair tracked the eminent partnership of Rowan Cope and Arthur for the majority of the race, following them across the more direct lower route on the hilly course, before seizing their chance.
“There’s really no one better at these kinds of things than Rowan – and he made the course – so I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to just follow him,’” he added. “He gave me a great lead, I joined him at [the open ditch] three out, which we jumped together. Then I couldn’t quite believe how much horse I had under me.”
The Flemensfirth gelding had so much left in the tank that George was able to swing wide and nip through a gap in the penultimate without losing the lead to Rowan, who opted to jump the hedge in favour of the shorter line.
“The best horse won on the day – I just had a brilliant run,” said Rowan, adding that Distime looked as if George had “just got on him” as the winner drew level with him at the open ditch.
“I never mind getting beaten when my horse has given absolutely everything. I was trying to win it, but when I pulled up I was just delighted that Arthur was sound and that we were here.
“His track record is amazing – he’s finished first or second in every major hunt race – and he is so versatile. I can field master off him, I can do these races on him, my wife Lydia can lead the children off him – he’s one in a million.”
Judgement calls prove key
THE nature of the Melton ride – sponsored by Chestnut Horse Feeds and Retraining of Racehorses – challenges competitors to set their own course across a roughly three-mile route. There are five turning markers, which combinations must pass on the correct side, plus likely places to cross each of the hedge lines. But it is down to riders to use their own judgement and to react to what is happening.
The 2021 fixture, held in spectacular Quorn country thanks to landowners Nick Connors and Andrew and Nigel Robinson, was the first running of the race since February 2019, owing to Covid and the British weather. Organisers were rewarded for their patience with springy, quick ground and cool November sunshine.
The early pace was rapid. The start was in a stubble field over the crest of a hill, with the long first hedge quickly giving way to narrower obstacles. A herd of cattle moving in a neighbouring field was the first sign to spectators dotted across the hills that the race had begun, with outlines of horses appearing along the skyline moments later.
The fence by the copse, five from home, was the real deciding point. Here, riders had to choose whether to go for glory on the most direct route, including the yawning open ditch, or pop the still sizeable hedges on the longer option.
The Heythrop’s Char Edgar, third and first lady aboard Station Master, was among the thrusters to go direct. The combination started in the mid-field of participants, picking their way carefully through the pack as the race unfolded.
“All I was just doing was kicking, looking up and holding on to my neck strap and he just tried his little heart out,” said Char, crediting event rider Lucy Jackson for helping prepare both her and the horse.
The “gentle and happy” 10-year-old gelding, formerly trained by Kim Bailey, is thriving in his varied post-racing career, also enjoying hacking, team chasing, showing, unaffiliated eventing and hunting.
Melton Hunt Club Ride – “We had the time of our lives”
AS with the first two finishers, the last three fences proved the deciding factor for third and fourth places. Iola Hopkinson was planning a “nice clear round” over the long route aboard her brother’s former pointer, Bridge End (Jim), for her first hunt race. The 13-year-old gelding, however, had another plan.
“He jumped his way to the front and we just had the time of our lives,” she beamed. “It’s just the most exhilarating thing you will ever do in your life.”
The pair made the call at the copse to take the quick line – “I thought, ‘Mice become men right now, Jim, come on!’” – before avoiding trouble at the open ditch. In the split second Iola took to catch her bearings ahead of the penultimate, Char zipped ahead.
“Because I had walked the longer route, I wasn’t really expecting to come from that angle,” Iola explained. “That’s where the first lady just pipped me – she completely deserved it as she knew exactly what she needed to do and just nipped across. Good for her, I have a lot of respect for that riding!”
Fifth and sixth places went to Bernie Shonk on Kyteler and Hannah Mahon with her point-to-pointer An Scairp respectively. Zack Davidson on Remarkable Man and Nia Kerslake on Semper Invicta replayed their 2021 Silver Spur close finish – with Zack edging ahead on the line this time – for seventh and eighth.
Edward Chamberlain took ninth, riding Jack The Ginger, and Nicole Lockhead Anderson, as at home crossing the country as she is winning in the biggest showing rings and international showjumping arenas, claimed 10th and best novice riding Mr Jack.
In all, 30 of the 37 starters completed the 2021 Melton Hunt Club Ride. Ross Bentley (12th) was first Quorn subscriber and heavyweight; William Grant (13th) won best veteran for the third occasion, with Josh Cooksley first soldier (24th) and Arthur Purbrick (25th) first line cavalryman.
- This report is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 25 November
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