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Although many parts of Northumberland were still covered in snow on Sunday morning, there were no weather problems for the well supported
Ratcheugh Racing Club fixture at Alnwick which launched the 2015/16 Northern Area season in great style.
For the second year in a row, the six race card attracted a total of 65 runners. Taking into account the 6 double entries,
this means that a healthy 75.6% of the 86 individual horses entered faced the starter.
After being sidelined for eleven months with a shoulder injury, Richard Smith made the perfect comeback with a double on Summoned and Catchamat.

Summoned (right yellow, at the last) was always going well in the Thornton Hickey two and a half mile Open Maiden Race and, after being headed two out,
found another gear on the run-in to regain the initiative and score by half a length from The Highlander.

The 4 year old, who had run three times in Irish Points in October,
is owned by Alnwick land agent and meeting secretary, George White, who said:
‘’All my other horses had gone wrong and so when Susan and Chris Grant told me he was available,
I decided to buy him privately in Ireland six weeks ago. He is still just a baby and will be even better next year.’’

Former eventer, Crazy Diamond (right white cap,after last) doesn’t have many miles on the clock for an 11 year old and made it four from four at Alnwick with an impressive eight lengths victory over Senor Alco in the Stockdale & Reid Men’s Open Race. Robin Will (Tom Hamilton) finished a promising 3rd on his first start for Cumbriam handler, Gemma Anderson. Crazy Diamond was always going to win once he hit the front on the bridle two out. Ian McKie, husband of the gelding’s owner/breeder, Victoria, thought that a first-time tongue tie had made a difference.  Winning jockey, Nick Orpwood added: ‘’He’s a pleasure to ride. He met two out on a great stride, landed running and put the race to bed with another great leap at the last.’’
Nowurhurlin (right, red on run to last) easily justified odds-on favouritism in the Imperial Racing Ladies Open Race under a confident ride from Emma Todd. After being sent on approaching two out, her mount sprinted clear on the run-in to beat ex-chaser, Frontier Spirit (Jacqueline Coward) by eight lengths. It was good to see Coward in the famous Imperial Commander colours, which were brought to Alnwick by part-owner Ian Robinson, who had driven up from Cheltenham. Kirkbymoorside owner/trainer, Sarah Jane Stilgoe said of the winner: ‘’ That was a great confidence booster and he heads next to Kelso on January 17 to try to win the Hunters’ Chase for the second year in a row.’’
With regular pilot, Catherine Walton riding at Carlisle, Smith deputised on Catchamat in the Northumberland Arms & Percy Arms Open Maiden Race. The favourite, Greensalt led from four out under William Easterby but couldn’t prevent Catchamat (right,red at the last) edging in front inside the last fifty yards. This 6 year old home-bred half sister to Central Flame is held in high regard by Flotterton near Rothbury-based owner/trainer, Jimmy Walton, who said: ‘’I always thought she would be suited by plenty of cut,’’ while Smith added: ‘’ She cruised up the hill from four out and would have won a bit easier had she been more fluent at the last.’’
Recent Cottenham scorer, Lilbitluso (right,at the last)  justified the 430 mile round trip from trainer, Joseph O’Shea’s Kelsall near Chester yard with another runaway success under Gillon Crow in the Northumbrian Leisure Ltd Restricted Race. In command from the seventh, the 7 year old kept up a relentless gallop to run his rivals ragged and, despite being eased right down on the run-in, still beat Quorn raider, Bravehearted Harry (Rory Bevin) by fifteen lengths. ‘’You’ve just seen the Subaru Restricted Final winner,’’ said O’Shea. Crow, who has ridden more than 60 career winners between the flags, added: ‘’ He has proved here that he acts on any ground but will be even better on a sounder surface and is a really exciting prospect.''

Exciting times lie ahead for the winner, who is owned by Justine Davis-King, Alex Gould, Steve Horton and John Crook. Some of them had travelled even further than O'Shea and were full of praise for the hospitality received on their first visit to Alnwick.

Knocklong (right, blue cap,on run to last) ended a losing run stretching back to May 2012 on his first start for Middleham farrier, Justin Landy in the Banks Group NPPA Club Members Race and provided Joe Wright, 17, with a dream winning debut ride between the flags. He hit the front three out and stayed on strongly down the home straight to beat the favourite, Dun Faw Good by one and a half lengths in the best time of the day. Landy said of the former Christy Roche and Ben Haslam-trained gelding: ‘’He was an under-achiever in his last two yards and I didn’t really expect him to win. Although he had been going well at home, I thought he would hate the ground.''

Wright, originally from Carlisle, moved across Middleham from Phil Kirby’s yard to join Micky Hammond in late 2014. ‘’ I started off in pony racing and had my first winner under Rules on Minella Hero at Hexham in June. Knocklong jumped and travelled well and when he pricked his ears coming to three out, I knew there was plenty left in the tank.’’

The Northern Area season resumes at Alnwick in the New Year with the West Percy fixture on Sunday 24th January.

Ratcheugh Racing Club 13th December 2015 - By Peter Burgon