The popularity of the Downhills course near Corbridge as a hunt racing venue was shown again on Sunday with a total of 83 runners facing the starter on near perfect jumping ground at the Tynedale fixture. Thankfully, despite a gloomy weather forecast, the rain held off until the second last race.
One of the North's most experienced jockeys, Andrew Richardson took his career tally to 100, including 6 under Rules, with victory on Coastley (right) in the Matfen Hall Hotel South Northumberland Hunts Club Members Race. Always prominent, his mount surrendered the initiative following a bad mistake five out but was back in control at the second last and had ten lengths to spare over Border Flora at the line. The 12 year old, making only his second appearance since breaking down in the Grade 2 John Smith's Hurdle at Wetherby on 30 October 2010, is a credit to Hexham owner/trainer, David Carr, who has patiently restored him to full health.
Richardson, 47, who opened his account on Geordies Express at the corresponding meeting on 14 March 1999, said of the winner: ''That was his first serious piece of work this year. I had to sit tight when he dived at the final downhill fence and was on his nose but otherwise he was never asked a question and will come a lot for the run.''
The Mick Watson Memorial 4, 5, 6 and 7 year olds Open Maiden Race, sponsored by Strikemorebait & Northumberland Tea Company had to be divided on the day after 22 of the 24 entries were declared. The first division resulted in a debut win for Philippa Shirley-Beavan's French-bred 7 year old gelding, Tambour Major (left) in the hands of Nick Orpwood. After taking closer order on the final circuit, he took up the running from Parlour Of Dreams between the last two fences and kept on well to score by one and a half lengths. Bought as a foal in France, he was actually ready to run last April when he sustained badly skinned legs in a freak accident with a wire fence in a field at Philippa's Bonchester Bridge base.
The second division, run in a marginally slower time, provided Kate Leckenby with a third career winner on Hardy Oscar (right). The 7 year old made virtually every yard of the running and drew clear from three out to beat Oscar Stanley by five lengths. Bought for £2200 at Doncaster Sales in May 2013, the gelding has shown steady improvement since joining Kate and looks capable of holding his own in a higher grade.
Cave Hunter's triumph (left) in the Metnor Property Group Ltd NPPA Club Members Race, in the fastest time of the day, maintained a 100% record this season for Hawick trainer, Wendy Hamilton (3 winners from 3 runners) and formed the first leg of a double for son, Tom. Adopting identical front-running tactics to those employed successfully in the West Percy Restricted on January 19, he had the prize in safe keeping when his nearest pursuer, The Falklander, fell at the last. Hamilton said of the Niel Manning-owned winner: ''He pricked his ears and picked up again as soon as The Falklander came upsides and won as he liked.''
Sea Scout (right) might be small in stature but has the heart of a lion and landed the 3m5f Bedmax Ladies Open Race for the third year in a row. Under a positive ride from Claire Metcalfe, he was never out of the first three and overcame a slow jump at the last to beat Anotherbuck by a couple of lengths. Since opening his account as a 4 year old at Crossford in March 2007, Sea Scout has been the flag-bearer for the Iveston yard of trainer, Russell Ross. This latest success takes his winning tally to 12 from 30 career starts and he has also finished runner-up eight times.
The unfancied Indian Print was produced with a well-timed challenge by Toby Speke to head Forge Valley at the last before securing a two lengths verdict in the 3m5f Brewin Dolphin Men's Open Race for the coveted William Bell Memorial Gold Cup. The favourite, Gunner Jack probably found the ground a bit too lively and after staying on gamely to finish eight lengths 3rd was disqualified after losing a weight cloth. This was a 14th career win for Victor Thompson's charge, who set a Northern Area record when he won seven in a row in 2010.
Northallerton farmer, Philip Greaves, 24, celebrated his first winner on Blue Bertie (right) in the concluding Knight Frank eight year olds and over Open Maiden Race. His mount repelled all challengers on the final circuit, and galloped on relentlessly up the home straight to prevail by two lengths from The Brig At Ayr. A delighted Greaves said: ''We've got 450 sheep to lamb at home on the family farm and I probably lambed about 20 in the early hours this morning. Blue Bertie jumped better than ever today and was suited by the stiffer fences. He was still tanking along up the final hill and it was a struggle to pull him up.''
Tom Hamilton completed his double on the progressive Kalastar (left) who supplemented his recent Jedforest Maiden success in the Backworth Metals Ltd Restricted Race. The 5 year old finally overhauled the long time leader, Who'slaughingnow approaching the last before pulling four lengths clear up the run-in. This was a fourth training success of the campaign for Galashiels-based Katie Scott, who said of her charge: ''He is still a big baby and very green at home but he stays all day and my only worry was that the bare three mile trip here might be a bit short for him.''