The popularity of the Downhills course near Corbridge as a hunt racing venue was shown again on Sunday with a total of 90 runners at the Tynedale fixture, a figure surpassed at only two other Northern Area meetings since March 2008.
Temperatures may only have been a few degrees above freezing, but, at least, punters were spared a wet afternoon when the rain, which had been falling steadily since around 7am, cleared after the second race.
Catherine Walton maintained her position at the head of the National Ladies Championship title standings with her sixth winner of the season on Merry Minster (left) in the first division of the George F White Ltd Open Maiden Race for four, five, six and seven year olds. After being left in the lead when Lord Luso unseated at the fourth fence, Walton's mount didn't see another rival and stayed on strongly from two out to beat the favourite, Honest And True by ten lengths. Walton said of the home-bred 5 year old mare: ''She's a little tool who jumped and travelled well all the way.''
Tristan Davidson extended his lead in the Northern Area Men's Championship with his fourth winner of the campaign on Mandarin Sunset (right,15) in the second division of the Open Maiden Race for younger horses. Given a very patient ride, the 5 year old made smooth headway from four out to join Nickwillis at the last, where a better jump helped seal a two lengths victory. The gelding was one of a quartet bought privately six months ago out of Howard Johnson's yard by Newton-by-the-Sea owner/trainer, Victor Thompson.
Glen Lord (left) was always going well in the Matfen Hall Hotel NPPA Club Members Race and, after heading Windy Hills at the last, stayed on strongly to score by one and a half lengths with Temple Green a similar distance away in third. Nicola Neill's charge has recovered well after fracturing a vertebra in his neck in January 2011 which forced him to miss last season. He could reappear at the Duke of Buccleuch's meeting on Saturday week, with the Buccleuch Cup Maiden Hunters Chase at Kelso on April 2 also on the agenda.
Sea Scout (right,11) sailed in for his third win of the season in the Bedmax Ladies Open Race over three miles and five furlongs. Given another positive ride by Claire Metcalfe, the diminutive 9 year old made virtually every yard of the running and held off a renewed challenge on the run-in from Desert Tommy to score by half a length. Metcalfe, who has been riding winners across the North since 1996, said: ''He flew the last but idled in front on the flat when he saw the crowd.'' This Lomitas gelding has been a model of consistency for his Iveston near Consett trainer, Russell Ross since winning first time out as a 4 year old at Crossford in March 2007, and now has 7 career victories to his name as well as 9 placed efforts from 20 starts. Connections had been hoping for rain all week to ease the ground and their prayers were answered when the heavens opened on Sunday morning, otherwise he probably would have been left at home.
Gunner Jack (left) repeated last year's win in the Brewin Dolphin Men's Open Race over three miles and five furlongs. Ed Wrigley's mount was always lying handy and, after hitting the front four out, forged clear up the home straight to beat Natoumba by ten lengths. Wrigley, a theology student at Edinburgh University, said of the Clive Storey-trained 11 year old: ''He hated the ground at Crossford three weeks ago when trailing in fifth but felt a completely different horse today and was back to his best.
Rakavilee (right,grey) made it three winners from three runners this season for Hawick trainer, Alastair Bell in the Maggot, Wagg-It & Butter-It Restricted Race. Given a peach of a ride by 17 year old Jamie Hamilton, he sliced through the field like a knife through butter on the final circuit to dispute the lead two out with One Black Cat, before quickening clear up the hill to score impressively by a dozen lengths. Hamilton remarked: ''She's a very nice horse and just picked off her rivals one by one to win as she liked.''
Sam Gawn (right) got favourite backers off to a good start by landing the Backworth Metals Ltd Tynedale Hunt Members Race for the second year in a row. Flora Blackett's mount finally got the better of The Green Hat after two out and stayed on strongly in the closing stages to win by a dozen lengths.
Newyearsresolution (left)galloped his fifteen rivals into submission in the concluding TSG Open Maiden Race in the hands of his trainer, Amie Waugh. The 8 year old ex-hurdler, running for the third time in fifteen days, had 3 lengths to spare over Bonnet Rouge at the line. Formerly trained by Nick Mitchell, he was bought for £1500 at Doncaster Sales last August.
The two divisions of the 138cm Pony Race sponsored by Robson & Cowan Country Superstore were won by Clonross Star (William Hill) and Honky Tonk Girl (Harry Reed) , while the 148cm contest went to Judge Fox ridden by Lily Grace Frank.