New face Becky Smith clinches pole position in this competitive hunt ride, while a team of non-thoroughbreds head the Foxhunters race
BECKY SMITH capped her stellar first season of hunt races with a win on her consistent campaigner Important Moment in a thrilling finish to the fifth running of the Silver Spur.
The pair were chased home by Mark Heuff and Thegreendalerocket (Rocky), hungry for back-to-back hunt race victories following their Quorn win (report, 29 April).
Mark and Becky cemented their lead in the race’s latter stages, jumping upsides each other three out and rising in tandem again at the second-last. But Becky had the fresher horse and teased a gap in the run-in to the final fence.
Becky, who was third at the Quorn and second in the Wynnstay, said it was watching idol Yvonne Goss (“I’ve always wanted to be like her”) and the “brilliant” Jaffa that inspired her to give hunt races a try.
“I’ve wanted to do it for years and this was my chance. I had a fantastic run,” said Becky, who collected more prizes than she could carry, including first lady and first retrained racehorse.
Zack Davidson and Remarkable Man, third in 2019, set a fierce early pace in the hope of running the rest of the field out of puff. Like all best-laid plans, it didn’t quite survive contact with the enemy. Joe Stevenson came unstuck from his 2018 winner San Cassiano in the brook and the loose horse went on to carry out Zack at fence 10. While the blip cost Zack only seconds to correct, it left the door ajar for Becky and Mark to take control.
“I started further back than I wanted and thought I had a lot of ground to make up, but there was so much carnage at the front, it actually worked out perfectly,” Becky added. “The brook really caught a few people out; a couple went straight in it but ‘Mo’ was amazing. There was a horse to the side of us and I just kicked him and he looked after me.
“I relied on Mark as I know he is one to follow, so I stuck with him [from early on] and the race kind of just opened up for us – we were spurring each other on!”
Mark added his plan was to start in front, but Zack’s blistering pace called for amended tactics. These paid off, as he found himself well placed to escape trouble, before grasping the lead when the opportunity arose at the 11th.
“Last week I was determined not to get in front. This week I thought, ‘Sod it, I’m in front, let’s go for it,’” he said. “I’m delighted with Rocky, he ran really well, I pushed him really hard to second-last and there was nothing he could have done more.
“Becky has been incredibly consistent this season and I was just really pleased with my horse to be consistent two weeks in a row. Last week was a bit of a shock win for me and I didn’t want that to be a flash in the pan.
“In this gig there’s two very good horses who have been around for years. There’s Yvonne Goss’ Jaffa and Rowan Cope’s Arthur. They are brilliant as they are consistent. I just want my horse to try to be consistent – and all these courses are different.”
The Silver Spur, run on old turf in Bicester with Whaddon Chase country, starts straight up a testing hill, before heading back down towards the canal, wiggling through criss-crossing hedge lines and natural ditches.
Mark explained negotiating the ridge and furrow here is part of the challenge.
“You have to realise that you can’t go hell for leather in that last field; if you do, your horse will fall. You have to ride it accordingly,” he added.
Third went to Nia Kerslake who credited her mother, Beth, for the work she has done with the 10-year-old retrained racehorse Semper Invicta.
“Mum does a lot of eventing and showjumping with him, has put in a lot of hard work with the riding clubs, and he definitely does respect a fence a lot more from it,” said Nia, who was also the highest-placed under-25 rider.
“There was a bit of chaos when the ditch came around, there were a few loose horses and it was a bit of a sticky jump there for me as well – he did a fantastic job of finding an extra leg.
“It was a brilliant course, they maintained it beautifully and the rain this week did it the world of good.”
Managing the horses is a team effort for Nia, who works for Fergal O’Brien, and boyfriend Zack, whose job as a driver for Lambourn Racehorse Transport takes him across Europe.
“I thought I’d make it a good test – I went off like the clappers and I didn’t think people would still be on the bridle at the finish!” said Zack, who finished fourth.
Becky Baker and Speedy Bruere were fifth, with William Grant and One Cool King in sixth and Max Comley aboard Alvarado seventh. Sara Roberts on Mushti and Roddy Stanning on Tyson both had flying rounds and were in strong contention, but were unlucky to fall at the penultimate.
“They’ve found their niche”
THE Foxhunters ride featured a new format, with teams competing over the Silver Spur course under a bogey time.
The North Staffs Mixed Pack team, made up of Jonathan Jarrett (Stan), Emily Jarrett (Lordy) and Clare Thomas (Niko), stopped the clock one second over the optimum of 7min 35sec to win.
Emily explained they decided to have some fun after Covid brought hunting to a halt and “never expected” to be on the time as they were all riding non-thoroughbreds.
Stan is a new ride for Jonathan, while Clare described Niko as a “rebound horse” after her hunter picked up an injury at Christmas, and Emily acquired Lordy as a “wedding present”.
“I’d had him for a year, trying to negotiate issues, and the owners realised they were fighting a losing battle, so they gave him to me,” said Emily. “It’s taken seven years, but he is pretty amazing.”
Jonathan added: “All three have tried and failed at something, but have found their niche.
“We only came to get round and have a good time, so to win is brilliant.”
Juniors on form
COURSE specialist Charlie scored his third back-to-back victory in the junior contest, the Tom Nichols cup, run to an optimum time over a shortened Silver Spur course. The 14.1hh Connemara gelding was this year giving Hannah Brunt (pictured) her first ride in the contest. The seven starters were led by Bicester master Anthony McKenzie, with Tim Green ensuring everyone got round safely. Hannah and Charlie crossed the line in front and were also closest to the time. Olivia Lees and Sir Harry Cash were second, with Luli Alderman on Big Dan in third.
This report can also be read in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 6 May
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