The 2011 Northern Area season finally got under way with Sunday's well-supported West Percy meeting at Alnwick.
Clerk of the Course Tom Oates and his team deserve great credit for getting the track in such great shape after one of the coldest winters on record and they were rewarded with 78 runners, including 26 Yorkshire raiders, on an eight-race card.
Indian Print (right) reaped the benefit of an outing at Cottenham three weeks earlier by making his superior fitness tell in the Carrs Billington West Percy & Percy Members Race. Sent on after five out by Tristan Davidson, he never looked like being overhauled down the home straight and still had five lengths to spare at the line over Saddle Pack. Victor Thompson's stable star may run next in a Market Rasen Hunter Chase on February 8.
Catherine Walton made a great start to the season with a double on Sacred Mountain (left) and Dystonia's Revenge. Sacred Mountain's career has been blighted by injury in recent years but the 10-year-old made a heart-warming comeback to land the Optipro Ltd NPPA Club Members Race. Catherine gave him a breather a mile from home before delivering a well timed challenge to head the tiring favourite, Badger Foot, approaching three out. Her mount stayed on well to beat Rathowen by five lengths and provide Flotterton near Rothbury handler Jimmy Walton with a first training success since May 2009.
Dystonia's Revenge made most of the running in the G A Smith Haulage Ltd Restricted Race and jumped superbly to make it three wins from four starts between the flags. The favourite, Boxbury was unable to get in a blow at the leaders and eventually finished fourth.
Farriers Flight upset more fancied rivals when providing Kate Leckenby, 22 the previous day, with a memorable first winner in the three mile Thornton Hickey Open Maiden Race. In command on the first circuit before being headed by Skipping Chapel, Kate's mount regained the initiative three out and maintained a relentless gallop to beat the favourite Quick Live by a couple of lengths. The home-bred winner's dam, Farriers Favourite, won three Points for Kate's mother Judith in the 1990's.
Mister Splodge led or disputed from flagfall in the first division of 2m4f TSG Open Maiden Race but had been headed by Bonnie Baloo when falling at the last. The latter, a five-year-old mare home-bred by Doncaster farmer Rod Metcalfe, would probably have won in any case and was left to coast home 15 lengths ahead of Coole Murphy. Her Malton-based Rider/Trainer, Miles Seston, said: '' She jumped impeccably. I tried to get a lead as long as possible and had to take a pull approaching two out as she was going so well.''
The other division also went to a Pointing debutant in the shape of Markadam (left), ridden by John Dawson. The youngster, formerly trained by Elliott Cooper, lost his way in the last couple of years under Rules but has been rejuvenated since being switched to Jackie Williamson's small yard near Aspatria. Always going well, he led six out and stayed on well to beat the well backed Cosmic by two lengths. However, the latter was subsequently disqualified as he hung badly right after jumping the last and jumped a small wooden hurdle off the racing line before straightening up again.
John Leadbetter's evergreen 13-year-old gelding Another Rum showed his younger rivals the way home with a second course win in the Warcupskene Mens Open Race. Well ridden by Nick Orpwood, he still had plenty to do three out but finished like a train to collar the leader, Jaunty Flight inside the last fifty yards and secure a neck verdict.
Guiseley-based Owner/Trainer/Rider, Sam Drake, 23, made her first visit to Alnwick one to remember by landing the Lilburn Estates Ladies Open Race on Queen Of Diamonds. Her mount quickened four lengths clear on the testing climb into the home straight and easily held off a late thrust from the odds-on favourite, Minouchka, by one-and-a-half lengths. The eight-year-old, successful in lower grade contests at Flagg Moor and Heslaker last year, is still on the upgrade and looks a shrewd buy having been picked up for only £1,600 out of Kate Walton's yard at Doncaster Sales in May 2009.