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Westcountry Weekend - Exeter Haldon Gold Cup 04/11/22



No, the photo about wasn't taken at Exeter but in Newport where Mrs Nott and I enjoyed Thursday night at the Welsh Racing Awards as guests of the Lovell brothers, James and David of DragonBet. It was an excellent evening, thanks very much to them. If you've not heard of the uniquely Welsh-centric DragonBet, here's a link to their website Cliciwch yma/Click Here

The drive to Exeter was a glorious one, bathed in sunshine as was the course up on top of Haldon Hill, rather more famous for horizonal rain and weather only for the hardy. The betting ring was full of bookies and packed with punters keeping them busy. That despite the opening heat, the Betway Novices' Hurdle featuring an odds-on chance, Paul Nicholls' Outlaw Peter. With eight-runners the bookmakers were taking plenty of small each-way bets. It was nice to see my mate Andrew Mount had made the trip down from Market Harborough, tipping up in one of the boxes and Armaloft Alex from one of the nicer parts of the south coast for what is Exeter's flagship day. Despite there being three rows of bookmakers, I couldn't find one that had laid the jolly to a bet of size at all. So, when Paul Nicholls' Outlaw Peter sauntered home unchallenged under Harry Cobden, the only danger from a long way out being a loose horse, most of them wouldn't have come to much harm. 

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The Nicholls yard saddled another odds-on chance, Lallygag, in the Extra Places Every Day At Betway Novices' Hurdle which followed. Walking around the betting ring, the bookmakers were busy, but once again they weren't able to lay the favourite. The jolly drifted from 8/15 out to 8/11 for a time on course. Bo Brown chirpy as ever told me that he'd only taken £6 out of the favourite and that as a consequence his book had six losers. Bo would have had a winning race, the 8/13 market leader won unchallenged but unbacked to anything worth writing about on course. Where have those big punters gone? 'Saving for their mortgage payments' was John Lee, trading as George Edwards, summing up. Just to brighten up proceedings there was a couple having a row right in front of the press room window. The general gist was, what was his money was her money unless it was won on a horse, they soon appeared to kiss and make up anyway. 


Next up and the Betway 'Challenger' Mares' Handicap Hurdle where 15 of the original 16 went to post. Height Of Fame was sent off the 7/2 favourite. She won the race for Kieran Burke under Gavin Sheehan making it three out of three jollies in a row. She had to battle though, last year's winner Martha Brae was a persistent challenger, but the winner was very game in her victory. Still no big bets to report in the ring but it wasn't the sort of race you'd expect them in anyway. To put things in the ring in perspective, Jane and Dave Hazell gave me the biggest bet I'd heard in the ring so far, £1000 - £100 each-way on the unplaced Whiskey Express. Only three went to post for the Betway 'Future Stars' Silver Bowl Novices' Chase. Philip Hobbs' Thyme Hill attracted some bets, yes there were cash punters in the house after all. Two bets were struck, £160 - £300 and £250 - £500, yes I know, hardly Terry Ramsden lumps but it was nice to know they were out there. Mind you, the books that laid them probably wished they hadn't. Thyme Hill made it four jollies from four races winning cosily under Tom O'Brien despite a small rick at the last. I had to have a word with young Archie Metcalfe on the Pickwick-Bevan joint, spotted puffing away on a gasper. I pointed out to him that smoking fags ceased being cool last century, though my fears it would stunt his growth appeared to fall on deaf ears. 


The ante-penultimate, the Betway 'Challenger' Stayers' Handicap Chase was a more competitive looking heat and that's what it turned out to be. 'A very good betting race' was Jo from the Ivor Perry firm's summing up. The business was brisk and a lot of horses were backed, but none of them to any large amounts, the feature of the day. Racegoers and ITV viewers were treated to a race that lived up to the betting, despite the four fences in the back straight being omitted. Jumping the last it was still all to play for any one of five were still in with a chance. The race ultimately went to 7/1 chance Masters Legacy winning a neck under Micheal Nolan, landing a quick-fire double for trainer Philip Hobbs and stopped the run of jollies. Between races another I bumped into another racecourse regular that I'd not seen for a while. Big Shaun had landed a right old touch back in the day here at Exeter with a horse called Norton's Saphire. A day which we enjoyed reliving along with Armaloft Alex, happy days, but not for the bookies on that particular day. Shaun, I think I wrote a wrong digit on your phone number, give me a shout. 

The feature race of the day and indeed the season at Exeter, the Betway Haldon Gold Cup attracted just five runners. Jo on the Ivor Perry joint said that the punters just piled on Third Time Lucki. Dan Skelton's charge went odds-on in running but clobbering a fence four out, put paid to his chances. However, there was no stopped Paul Nicholls' Greaneteen which won under Harry Cobden from stable mate Dolos, the eighth time the Nicholls yard has won the race, The winner returned 7/2 which may look like a good result for the books, but one layer was hit with a bet of £1500 at that price. He told me that he 'shared it around the ring a bit' which no doubt pleased some of his brethren, at least it would have done had the beast not obliged. Hardly a bet all day then the biggest one wins, as the age-old cry from stung bookies goes, 'How do they know?' 

The lucky last, the Betway Handicap Hurdle was a tricky looking getting out stakes where they bet 7/2 the field but the race where it all came alive in the ring. Brian Barr's Begin The Luck had been 20/1 with a rule 4 last night an 11/1 chance in places this morning but punters on course were happy to get stuck in at 5/1, £1500 - £300 struck, 4/1 to the tune of £2000 - £500 a couple of times then at 7/2 £2100 - £600 and £3500 - £1000 three times. That was more like it. There was also money for Mini Yeats, £2750 - £500 laid and Testflight, £3000 - £150 each-way. The punters on Begin The Luck were sadly out of good fortune, thwarted. Sent off at 3/1 favourite, the gelding failed by just three quarters of a length to get past the winner, 10/3 chance Gerard Mentor with Testflight back in third. Yes, spare a thought for the bookie that laid the each-way. Nasty for that firm but hopefully some of them copped on the last and made it a winning day. 

Anyway, the whole travelling circus heads to Wincanton tomorrow, for the second leg of the Westcountry Weekend. The initiative appears to have captured racegoers imaginations with plenty of people saying they have come to the region for both days. I'll be at Wincanton tomorrow, thanks for reading. 

Simon Nott 


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