Mark Heuff takes the lead at the last minute to claim the win in this competitive race, with favourites Lydia Cope and the consistent Arthur less then a length behind
MARK HEUFF and Thegreendalerocket (pictured) saw off a competitive field at the Quorn’s new hunt race to snatch victory on the line from local favourites Lydia Cope and Arthur.
“I had a clear plan to follow Lydia, and I have to give her all the credit – I just mugged her on the line – but ‘Rocky’ jumped and travelled fantastically,” said Mark, joint-master and field master of the Taunton Vale.
When Rocky’s trainer, Richard Woollacott, sadly died, the Oscar gelding needed a new home, so Mark acquired him with these races and team chasing in mind.
“I’ve brought him on slowly in the three years I’ve had him; we’ve done some team chasing and races like the Silver Spur and Yeomanry Ride,” said Mark, who is managing director of Brooke Energy, a renewable energy company.
“I wanted to test him a bit more, so we joined the Fox Grant team chasing squad last autumn, and it was good to run him at proper speed. He was very fit, but I only wanted to see if he could be competitive with the big guns, and it was a wonderful surprise to win.
“He’s a sweet horse but he does have a nappy streak, and a standing start at the beginning was his worst nightmare. But I managed to kid him out of it and we jumped off and were right behind Lydia all the way. We were about a length behind her at the last, so I just kept driving and nicked it by under a length.”
Mark paid tribute to his wife Johanne who, he said, “does a huge amount to help me”. “We achieved our lifelong dream of building a stable yard at home just before Christmas, so it was lovely to get this great result here so soon afterwards,” he said.
It was Lydia’s turn to ride Arthur, as her husband – race organiser Rowan – had won the Wynnstay race on him three weeks earlier.
“She was amazing and so was the horse – I’m very proud of both of them,” said Rowan.
Lydia admitted that she was “gutted”, but felt that the 3½ stone of lead that she had to carry to make the minimum weight of 12 stone may have cost them victory.
“However, Arthur is home safe, sound and well. He did all the spade work and he doesn’t know that he didn’t win, but we’re treating him as if he did, as we always do,” she said with affection.
THE three-mile contest over Brian Henton’s land at Ingarsby comprised hedges and timber, with the odd “rider-frightener” such as a gaping elephant trap and a trakehner.
“I felt sick about the trakehner for two days before the race; I took Arthur to my friend Bo Wilson’s place a few days beforehand as there are two trakehners there,” Lydia said. “Neither is scary, but Arthur saw the first one, whipped round and I was hanging round his neck. But when we came to the trakehner in the race, leading the field, I just kicked. He is quirky at home, but when his blood is up, a train couldn’t stop him.”
Nor could Lydia at one point in the race, and they missed a turn to a tiger trap. The group behind her carried straight on as well, but Lydia quickly nipped round and kept her lead.
Third-placed Becky Smith – second to Rowan and Arthur at the Wynnstay – also had to carry more than three stone of lead.
“That caused a bit of drama as there wasn’t enough lead and Dad had to rush home and get some more,” she said. “Everyone else was already on their horses, but I just managed to get on in time.”
She and Important Moment finished around four lengths behind Mark and Lydia in their second real attempt at hunt races.
“He knew what was going on this time and was psyched – he couldn’t wait to get out there,” Becky said. “The pace was a lot faster than at the Wynnstay and the fences were quite beefy, but he took it all in his stride.
“I had been concerned about the ground, but when I walked the course I was pleasantly surprised. It was firm, but it had a good, spongy grass covering. I was also worried about the trakehner, as he hasn’t seen anything like that out hunting, but he jumped it huge. He was incredible.”
Mid Surrey Farmers’ Draghounds joint-master Peter Bull was fourth on River Finch, with Nicholas Wills and Jo Hirons fifth and sixth. William Grant, winner of the Scurry of East Sussex recently, was seventh, and John Mann, Rose Grissell and Rupert Onslow filled the remaining spots in the top 10.
“This race will take off, and next year we will hopefully have lots of spectators,” said Rowan Cope. “It was a really fun evening with a great atmosphere. After such a dry month the ground was firm, but really level and consistent, and the horses seem to have come out of it very well.”
Mark Heuff said: “It was a great course; challenging with some big scary bits, and the horses bounced off the ground nicely. Rowan deserves a lot of thanks for all the work he has put into making this happen.”
This report can also be read in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 29 April
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