The Grafton point-to-point at Edgcote on Sunday 14th May saw an excellent turnout of 61 runners in the seven races, the highest of the season in the South Midlands area and the highest anywhere nationwide since the first weekend of March, thanks to the excellent work of Clerk of the Course Graham Tawell, Estate Manager Hamish Gairdner, and their team.
Nine went to post for the feature race, the PPORA Novice Riders Championship Final, with £1,000 total prize money and £500 to the winner and, appropriately for a novice riders race, it was won by the youngest jockey in the field, 16-year-old Cian Murphy on Give Us A Swig. Always in the first three, the pair took the lead five out, jumped and travelled well and were never in danger as they scored by five lengths and five from Largy Mountain and Cobra De Mai, both of whom were doing their best work at the finish.
Give Us A Swig is trained at Soham, Cambridgeshire by Michelle Bentham – who used to have useful hunter chaser Jurado Express – and her partner Paul Birrane, who is feed man for leading flat trainer Charlie Appleby, and told me how they came by the horse. “We intended to give up training after Covid, but Cian’s mum Marie – who is assistant trainer to Charlie – asked us to find a couple of schoolmasters for him to ride, so we train him and Prairie Town (who was third in the preceding open) from our garden! We don’t have any facilities, so have to box them to Newmarket. We’ll go home and have a think about whether we give him one more race, but I’ll have to dig out my best bib and tucker for the awards at Stratford now!” Explaining his primarily white colours, with some yellow and blue, Paul said, “They’re for my team Leeds United, who’ll probably get relegated this season.”
“That’s my eighth ride, seventh completion (the exception being when Give Us A Swig ran out at Garthorpe when looking the winner) and third winner,” said a delighted Cian, who only turned 16 in January. My Dad Sean, who was a jump jockey in Ireland, rides him every day. It’s always been my dream to be a jump jockey and I’ve had an amazing season. I knew this race would be competitive and he battled on gamely.”
Norfolk-based David Kemp, who is enjoying a fantastic season, went home with a double, initiated by Clara Sorrento in the John White Funeral Directors Mixed Open. A small but quality field of five faced the starter here and jockey Rupert Stearn – on his first ride back since a crunching fall at Fakenham last month – made all on the twelve-year-old, who jumped exuberantly, led his rivals a merry dance and never looked likely to be beaten, eventually coming home eight lengths clear of Dundrum Wood, with Prairie Town 30 lengths third.
Winning owner Simon Stearn – father of the jockey – said, “We bought him from Gigginstown, for whom he had been trained by Noel Meade, and he had to have a year off after Covid with leg and back trouble. Rupert said we should send him to David, because his wife Imogen specializes in Bowen therapy for horses’ backs. We were going to go to Cheltenham, but we only run him if Rupert can ride and he had that terrible fall – he was concussed and cracked ribs, and only passed the doctor on Friday. That was magic – he always front runs and Rupert keeps saying he doesn’t realise how quickly he’s going. We’ll go to Stratford for the Champion Hunter Chase now.”
“I’m a little but rusty after three weeks off and three visits to Peter O’Sullevan House in Newmarket,” admitted the winning rider, who was paying a first visit to Edgcote, “But my ribs are fine now. Clara Sorrento is an armchair ride and probably the best horse I’ve ridden. When the others are galloping, we’re just cantering. We’re lucky to have him, David’s done brilliantly with him, and I just wish he was a bit younger!” It was a 123rd career success for the 38-year-old farmer, who confessed, “I’m well down the back nine, to use a golfing analogy for my riding career. I just ride our own horses and for the Turners now.”
David Kemp completed his double with the Dale Peters-ridden All The Ammunition, who followed up his Maiden victory at the last meeting here in the nine-runner Towcester Vets Restricted Race. Mid-division early, he made effortless progress on the final circuit to go second four out, before taking the lead a fence later and going on to score comfortably by seven lengths from the always-prominent Ultra Viers, with Bestfriend Barnaby two-and-a-quarter lengths further back.
It was a 15th winner of the season (from just 22 runners, with a further five placings) and David laughed, “It’s going ridiculously well! The horses are happy, I’ve learnt how to get them fit and it helps that Imogen is an equine therapist. She’s so good with horses that she can tell me where the issues are and so they all stay sound and well-balanced. Law of Gold (David’s first Cheltenham winner earlier this month) would be nothing without her, for example. We could have as many as four runners at Stratford.” As for All The Ammunition, “He’s a slow-maturing type, although his ability has always been obvious. He had jumping issues in the past, some of which might have been due to ulcers which we’ve used science supplements to treat, and while he made hard work of it here last time, he had a horrible journey. He performed much better today.”
“That was better than I expected,” smiled Dale afterwards. “David’s changed a few little things since his last run here when, even though he won, he wasn’t happy.” Dale, who also trains pointers, was moving on to 16 for the season, including two Hunter Chases and said, “We had a bug in the yard, but the horses have been running well since Easter. Breaking my Cheltenham duck (on Law Of Gold) was a big relief – it was good to get that off my back!”
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